Be a Trailblazer

Inside IT: Blazing Trails of Innovation
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A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to work with two Latino high school students from Los Banos, California. They sought advice and coaching on their oral presentation for a national science competition. The boys were freshmen who had defeated older and more experienced students at the local, regional, and state contests. They wanted to sharpen the presentation that led to the national finals in Philadelphia.

The duo had collaborated on creating a prosthetic arm. The device was an impressive contraption. Their presentation was excellent and needed just a few adjustments on style and substance. It was clear to me from the outset that these young men were engineers in the making who have the talent and potential to be executives someday.

I was giddy about their unlimited futures until reality set in. The Washington Post printed an article in February that confirms what Latinos in Silicon Valley already know to be true – Latinas and Latinos are grossly underrepresented in the valley’s workforce, especially in management.

Apple, Inc. was highlighted in the Post article. The piece indicated that “only 7 percent of the (company’s) leadership is Latino and 3 percent is black, according to Apple’s website. Blacks and Hispanics each make up 8 percent of the company’s tech workers.” That’s double the percentage of other major high-tech firms. Twitter is in the basement with only 2% of its workforce identifying as Latino.

Unfortunately at Apple, the lack of diversity isn’t changing anytime soon. The Post article cited an Apple spokesman speaking off the record “that the company prefers to promote within its ranks, so change at the senior level will take time.” Without a doubt, the rest of Silicon Valley maintains the same hiring and promotion practices.

Silicon Valley managers have long pointed out that there’s a lack of qualified Latino candidates and the education system isn’t providing a pipeline of talented people of color. This is a common response for organizations and institutions that claim that the problem exists with the talent pool, not hiring practices. It’s noteworthy that the National Society of Hispanic MBAs alone has over 30,000 members in 40 chapters across the country, including Silicon Valley. Somehow that fact has evaded Valley decision-makers.

It’s clear that Silicon Valley has some work to do in recruiting Latino talent. According to a 2015 Washington Post article, Valley executives were beginning to understand that there are “unconscious biases that have given preference to white men.” Two years have passed without any progress and it could be decades before the bias demons are exorcised.

Latino professionals can’t afford to wait for society to catch up with the reality that there is a large pool of candidates already in the pipeline. In the meantime, what are smart, talented, and ambitious Latina and Latino professionals to do?

Be a trailblazer. Take matters into your owns hands.  Here are few tips to get you started:

  1. Work Hard

I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Getting ahead takes an enormous amount of effort, commitment, and perseverance. There’s no other way around it. All of the successful people I’ve ever encountered were passionate and dedicated to their craft. This can take a million hours a week or far less, it just depends how you manage your time. Just make sure to give it your all. A college education gets you to the front door. Hard work gets you to the corner office.

As I made my way up the corporate org chart from manager to director to vice president, I was the first to raise my hand when upper management was looking for someone to take on an extra project. When the corporate office executives needed support for an initiative, I packed my bags and traveled throughout the country to lend a helping hand. It’s not just about working hard, it’s about working smart too. The hardest and smartest working employees get first crack at a promotion.

  1. Find a Mentor

Learning to master a craft from a successful person is the best education you’ll ever get. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice once said that aspiring leaders should, “search for role models you can look up to and people who take an interest in your career.” In my career, the best mentors have been people who truly cared about my future. I’ve been blessed to have five men in my professional life that fulfilled that role.

The most valuable asset each of these men brought to me was a sincere interest in my growth and development as a leader. There are people like this in everyone’s life. You need to identify them and seek their guidance. One more piece of advice from Secretary Rice, “you don’t have to have mentors who look like you.” Just make sure that they genuinely care about your potential as a leader.

  1. Keep Learning

According to Pulitzer Prize historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, this concept is one of the ten qualities that made President Abraham Lincoln a great leader. Lincoln spent countless hours with generals in the White House and on the front lines of battle to better understand the science of warfare and the causes and effects of his decisions. He’s perhaps our nation’s greatest wartime president.

Make your personal development a priority. As a student of Goodwin’s theory, I’ve never hesitated at an opportunity to take advantage of leadership development. I studied community leadership as a fellow with the American Leadership Forum of Silicon Valley and corporate leadership with the Comcast Executive Leadership Forum. Today, I continue to learn from the talented people I encounter in my role as an executive coach.

The most exciting thing about the Latino future is that it’s happening right now. As a Latino professional, you have a chance to chart your own leadership path until the rest of society recognizes that you have what it takes to move into the corner office. There are countless Latinas and Latinos in the pipeline. Those two young men from Los Banos and others like them are counting on you to lead the way.

P.S. The boys earned second place in the national competition!!

Be a Risk-Taker

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In my last post, I wrote about how the ability to take a risk is a key factor in growing personally and professionally. Not possessing the inborn inclination to step out of comfort zones could be a major barrier to that growth. Can people who aren’t natural gamblers learn how to undertake calculated chances? The short answer is, “yes.” I believe that anyone can learn how to take on new opportunities that are uncomfortable.

In my work coaching emerging Latina and Latino leaders, I’ve learned that the fear of losing a well-paid and comfortable position keeps many talented people from seeking leadership and executive roles. From my own experience and through many years of thinking about this issue, I believe that the way society views Latinos and our acceptance of that perspective are the leading causes of the reluctance to push the career advancement envelope.

I can’t say for sure what comes to mind when non-Latinos think about the Latino community. Given a lifetime of interactions with people from all walks of life, I can say that the perception isn’t very good, not to mention grossly inaccurate. Images of Latino drug dealers, gangsters, “illegal” immigrants, and welfare moochers flood the media.

The good news is that in recent years we’ve reversed the “lazy” myth as most Americans now believe that Latinos have a strong work ethic. The bad news is that belief applies only to those who toil in menial and back-breaking physical work. The white-collar Latino hasn’t even reached the American consciousness yet.

Despite a growing population and modest inroads in economic and political influence, generalized (and negative) Latino impressions still result in unjust misunderstandings. How do I know this? In more than two decades working at the highest levels of the corporate, local government, and education worlds, I’ve heard non-Latinos say the darnedest things about us. I don’t believe these off-the-cuff comments are made in malice or with racist intent. The comments are just plain ignorant.

Latino professionals subconsciously participate in the perpetuation of these images. We tend to play it safe once we’ve “made it.” When the discussion in the conference room gets heated, we shy away from engaging in the ruckus. Our working-class upbringing teaches us to work hard, and keep our heads down and mouths shut. Let’s be honest, white folks in power positions can be intimidating. We’re worried that we might say something wrong, or worse, something stupid. We’ve all been there.

There’s some justification for that reluctance to speak out. This reality was played out last week on the national stage when Senator Kamala Harris (a black woman who served as a prosecutor and California’s attorney general before election to the senate) was rudely reprimanded by Senators John McCain and Richard Burr for “harassing” Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a senate hearing. No other senator on that panel was subjected to that kind of intrusion. Senator Harris, a seasoned interrogator, continued her questioning without missing a beat.

Society has a way of making people of color, even those in leadership positions, appear a cut below their colleagues. That could lead to self-doubt. How can we respond like Senator Harris? The solution is for you to just believe in yourself. Sounds easy, huh? Confronting the fear of taking risks and fighting negative stereotypes can be discouraging and tiring. But you have to step out of your comfort zone to advance.

I don’t mean the “fake it ‘til you make it” philosophy that seems to be all the rage today. That doesn’t work. You should never fake it! By definition, that means that you’re not qualified. I’m talking about taking stock of your successes and confirming that you’re the real deal.

I’m currently working with a Latina executive who’s contemplating a career change. She has extensive experience in her field and has progressively advanced to higher leadership roles in the organization. Her teams have earned several industry awards in addition to the individual recognition mementos that gather on her desk.

She has three options in front of her: (1) make a lateral move into management at her organization’s headquarters, (2) seek advancement opportunities within the industry, or (3) stay in her current role. I’ve advised her to take a serious look at options #2 and #1, in that order. Both are risky. Her initial response was to question her own qualifications and preparedness.

We did a simple exercise to get that absurd notion out of her mind. She dusted off her resume and started listing her professional accomplishments and accolades. When the dust settled, she had an amazing resume that impressed even herself! She had been so busy being successful that she didn’t realize the extent of her experience and preparation.

Once it was on paper, I could see in her eyes that she truly believed in herself. She’s still nervous about the possibility of taking a leap. The natural sense of anxiety that comes with stretching one’s boundaries will still linger as she thinks about her next move. At least she now believes that she has what it takes to achieve her goals.

The moral of this story is to block out influences that are barriers to your success, obstacles like fear of taking professional risks and the negative effect society has on our tendency toward self-doubt. These are powerful forces in keeping talented Latinas and Latinos from striving to occupy the corner office.

As a Latino professional, you’ve educated yourself and work hard. Learn how to take regular stock of your accomplishments to remind yourself that you have professional value and worth. This will give you the confidence needed to take that risk that will lead to the next level in your personal and professional life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a Leap Into Leadership

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Freezing rain couldn’t dampen my excitement the first time I went to Washington, D.C. Looking out of the window into the night sky during the unsteady landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport, the sight of the glowing Capitol Dome, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial was mesmerizing. This was also my first trip to the east coast. I was in my mid-30s and a manager at a large telecommunications company.

The regional VP of the department had asked if I was interested in participating in scheduled meetings on Capitol Hill in place of her boss who was unable to go. I saw this as an incredible opportunity given that I had been with the company for just 6 months and no one else at my pay grade would attend. I had never left Sandra and the girls for an extended period of time – Marisa was 4 years old and Erica 8 months. This was uncharted territory for me.

When I told Sandra, she asked if I had to go. I hadn’t thought of that question and didn’t know how to answer. We both grew up in working-class neighborhoods where it was common knowledge that extra work meant overtime pay. I learned in my first job out of college that that wasn’t the case in the professional world. Added to the fact that there was no financial benefit to going, I had a young family at home to think about. Did I have to go or did I want to go?

Making the trip would be a calculated risk. If I made a fool of myself, a career with that company probably would have ended sooner than later. If I stayed home, I probably could have had a comfortable career as a manager. If I performed well during the trip, my opportunities with the company could grow. I came to realize that the question was a false dilemma. The answer to both questions was “yes.”

Twenty years later, the thought of deliberating about such a simple opportunity seems quaint. But at the time, it was a big deal. When I decided to make the trip, the conversation with Sandra was somewhat tense. Sandra and I lived in our childhood homes until we were married, our fathers worked at the same jobs for decades, we rarely ventured out of the neighborhood. Family first and being home for dinner were considerations when making social or career decisions.

I remember being a boy listening to my dad’s friends talking about work. Hourly wages, fringe benefits, and keeping a good job forever topped the conversations. The men I looked up to would list the many reasons not to seek advancement: too much pressure and responsibility, salaried employees didn’t get overtime pay for extra work, too risky.

Sound familiar? For many working-class families, taking chances could lead to disaster. Giving up a good job for something that might not work out could put paying the bills in jeopardy. Once you have a good job, the older men would say, playing it safe and not rocking the boat is the smart thing to do. However, I was now in a different world with different rules.

I encourage those who were raised in a similar environment to be confident in your education and experience. Take a leap into the world of leadership and opportunity.

The ability to venture out of comfort zones is a rare quality. Those who are born with this trait are innovators and game changers. They’re not afraid of failure and rejection. They keep taking chances with the sincere belief that the next attempt at success will be triumphant. Thomas Edison personifies this type of person with his oft-quoted observation, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

In my work developing, supporting, and advising Latino leaders, I’ve seen how reluctance to take risks can be a barrier to personal and professional growth. I understand the hesitation. I’ve been there. This is a common thread with both mid-career professionals and high school students. The pros get anxious about losing a job or a title on a business card. Kids fear putting themselves out there to be ridiculed by their classmates.

We all know that getting ahead requires hard work and dedication. But that’s just part of the equation. Stretching oneself intellectually and professionally is needed as well. Those who don’t have the natural tendency to embrace uncomfortable situations must overcome their concerns about the prospect of failure. The best way to do that is by taking on uneasy and unfamiliar roles.

That’s what I did during my first trip to Washington, D.C. two decades ago. Although I had a minor function during the meetings, I held my own. When the VP noticed me chatting with my congressional representative and local elected officials in the hotel lobby after-hours, she recognized me as someone who could provide value to the company. That week turned out to be the first step in a climb up the corporate ladder.

I learned an important lesson on my first journey back east. Taking risks, although riddled with unknowns, results in personal and professional growth. Can taking risks be learned? I think so. I’ll share my thoughts on that topic next time.

 

INVEST IN YOURSELF

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Taking a scroll through social media could lead you to believe that Latinos are thriving in Silicon Valley. This is partly true. Although a vast majority of Latinos continue to struggle economically in the one of the country’s most expensive places to live, there’s a burgeoning Latino middle class driven by higher college enrollment and graduation rates. As a community, we still have a long way to go. Fortunately, we’re headed in the right direction.

Those of us who have taken advantage of education and career opportunities invest in comfortable living spaces, luxury cars, and exotic vacation destinations. Who can blame us? Growing up on the east side, I never imagined that one day I would be able to relax on the shores of Maui or sip a rum and coke in old San Juan. When I was promoted to a VP position, I literally ran out and bought my dream car.

We deserve these opportunities as fruits of our labors, right? Damn right…with one caveat. These are short-term investments that may or may not yield more opportunities for the future. I’m not just talking about financial investments. I’m talking about you investing in yourself. Investing time into your personal and professional development is just as important as maxing out on your 401K plan (I hope you’re doing this).

Here’s why: Smart, talented, and compassionate Latinos like you need to seek out leadership roles in business, education, politics, and community service. These four sectors form the core of any successful community. State demographers project that more than one out of every two Californians will be Latino by 2030 (that’s only 13 years from now, folks). Economists say that the 24-55 age group needs to be successful for a community to be economically stable.

Today, California is the 5th largest economy in the world. I’m not that great at math, but I can see the numbers clearly on this one. California needs Latinas and Latinos to fill business, education, political, and community leadership roles for the state to maintain its role as a global economic powerhouse.

The statistics today in all four sectors are abysmal. For example, Latinos represent just 9% of public school administrators in California, and that’s the highest rate of the four sectors. The tech industry doesn’t even release those numbers. Recently, Google shared with Congress that Latinos make up 3% of its entire workforce. One can only imagine what the executive suite and management offices look like.

This data brings me back to Latinas and Latinos making investments in personal and professional growth. I’m not suggesting that you stop treating yourself to fancy (my mom’s word) things, cars, and vacations. I encourage you to balance those investments with a solid retirement plan, personal growth opportunities, and community service. Investing your time and treasure in yourself will pay financial, self-fulfillment, and public benefit dividends many times over.

Beside earning a college degree, the two most valuable investments I made in my personal and professional growth was participating in the American Leadership Forum of Silicon Valley and the Comcast Executive Leadership Forum. Combined, these programs came at a busy time in my life. My family and career were growing. I participated in both programs my own time and partly on my dime. Fortunately, Comcast financially sponsored my participation in these high-profile leadership development organizations.

For two years, I invested time in what equated to having an additional part-time job, without pay. Raised in a working-class Latino family, doing work without getting paid wasn’t looked upon too favorably. Once I overcame that cultural barrier, I embarked on a set of experiences that was priceless. I learned from and worked alongside some of the country’s top executives and academics. The skills culled from the forums laid the foundation for my future leadership endeavors.

It’s time that you too invest in yourself personally and professionally. It will make all the difference in the world when you walk into a conference room with confidence or knock on your boss’s door to explain why you deserve that coveted promotion. Self-investment comes in many forms: leadership programs, additional education, a personal coach, spending quality time with a trusted mentor. The best results come from taking advantage of all of the above.

Self-investment is a concept that we Latinos are still trying to understand. We’re taught to take care of everyone else first, but we need to understand that taking care of ourselves will make us better caretakers. Don’t fall into the trap of, “I don’t have time” and “I don’t have enough money.”

There will be an abundance of executive, administrative, and public service positions available to smart, talented, and ambitious Latinas and Latinos over the next two decades and into the foreseeable future. You’ll need the personal and professional skills required to step into a leadership role when opportunity comes knocking.  Balance how you use your money and time. Invest in yourself. You’ll be happy that you did.

 

 

 

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #71)

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Author’s note: The following passage is the first excerpt from Chapter 9, “August 4th,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 71st excerpt in the blog series.

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Chapter 9

August 4th

 Just five days after the tracheotomy procedure, doctors decided I was ready to move onto the first phase of recovery. The daily X-rays showed that the haze that ominously covered my lungs was dissipating. I was able to breathe with less mechanized oxygen.

My heart, defying the strain caused by ARDS, weakly and steadily pumped blood to my hungry organs. The latest CAT scan and MRI demonstrated no loss of brain function. I was becoming more alert every day as the last remnants of the sedative medication left my body.

Without the distraction of the vivid dreams caused by ICU Psychosis and the sedatives, I was beginning to understand what was happening. The dreams gave me bits and pieces, but I still had no real understanding of the puzzle that had become my life. I had a dream that a distinguished politician and his wife visited and gave the girls tickets to the red carpet opening of a new teen movie.

While the specifics of the dream were pure fantasy, I learned that my friend, California State Assemblyman Joe Coto, did find his way into the ICU. Completely unrelated to that visit, the girls went to a popular movie that summer and told me all about it while I was in a semi-conscious state. My brain connected these separate incidents into one thought, and added the red carpet tickets.

I also dreamed of a rusty pail stuck on my head with its handle serving as a tight chin strap while a hose was lodged in my throat. Perhaps that was when the doctors put me on the BIPAP machine. Following doctor’s orders, Sandra tuned the television to channels I liked and played music that would keep me brain active.

Whether I was in a hot and dusty refugee camp unable to move or in a convalescent home with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin tunes playing in the background, there were several consistent themes to my dreams. An object in my throat, the inability to move my limbs, an insatiable thirst, friends and family in weird places all desperately trying to help me out of unrealistic predicaments.

As my mind cleared, I began to realize that I was in a hospital, paralyzed, with tubes and wires connecting me to all sorts of things. On August 1st, doctors removed me from intensive care to the ICU Step-Down Unit. The unit was an interim stop between the ICU and a regular hospital room.

I no longer needed a dedicated nurse caring for me around the clock. Physical, occupational, and later on, speech therapy would intensify. In the ICU, therapists provided exercises that Sandra could do with me to begin waking up my muscles that had deteriorated during the month I was on the paralytic medicine.

Following the therapist’s example, Sandra would lift my legs and arms, and gently raise my head up off the pillows. Rotating my ankles, she would strengthen my lower leg and feet muscles. Doctors told her that it would be a long and difficult road to recovery, but I would be able to fully function as the paralysis was related to muscles rather than nerves. I don’t have a memory of those first therapy sessions in the ICU.

The day I moved to the Step-Down Unit was blurry to me. I remember my bed being maneuvered through long hallways and going into an elevator. The first floor room in Step-Down was large with a window on one side looking out into the street and a large space between the door and the bed. There wasn’t as much activity in the unit and a nurse came into check on me in regular intervals. I didn’t feel as safe as I did in the ICU. When Sandra left the room, I was alone in what seemed like a cavernous space.

The first few days were uneventful. A nurse would check on me in the morning and write the goals for the day on a whiteboard. The entries included the day and date, medications to be administered, therapist schedules, and any other information doctors wanted included on that day. The nurse would ask me my name and queried me about the date. Sandra would read my lips and translate for the nurse.

With the breathing tube firmly in my mouth, I would say “Eddie” without sound coming from my mouth, and then follow-up with “Not sure.” The critical care doctor would arrive not long after the nurse and update Sandra on my progress: lungs getting clearer, heart stable, and all other organs functioning. He was always upbeat and positive, assuring Sandra that I was nearly out of the woods.

Later in the day, between Sandra doing repetitions of the exercises with me, the therapists would come in. They moved my limbs and tried to sit me up for a few minutes while bracing me to keep from falling. It was hard work and painful. I was no longer on sedatives and my muscles weren’t numb, so I could feel even the slightest movement of my body.

On the fourth day in the Step-Down Unit, the first true breakthrough in my cognitive state emerged. I remember looking at the whiteboard, reading the entries, and understanding the content. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but it didn’t look good. That morning the nurse greeted me with a cheery “good morning” and asked me how I was doing.

She followed with the standard questions, “What’s your name?” and “Do you know what day it is?” I lip-synced, “Eddie,” and “August 4th.” Although her eyes welled up with tears, Sandra’s smile was filled with many emotions: gratitude, relief, happiness. This was a pivotal moment in my recovery. I demonstrated to Sandra that I was aware of my surroundings. She couldn’t wait to report this great news to the waiting room.

With that out of the way, the day went on as planned.

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Next Wednesday: My head was spinning when Sandra explains to me why I’m in the hospital.

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #70)

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Author’s note: The following passage is the final excerpt from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 70th excerpt in the blog series.

I dedicate today’s excerpt to an old friend and coaching colleague who passed away last night after living a full life with heart disease. RIP Coach Bob Monges.

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As the heavy sedatives wore off, my vivid dreams manufactured by ICU Psychosis focused more and more on that nasty tube. In addition to the eucalyptus branch, I dreamed of chewing on rubber hoses and McDonald’s straws, and trying to pull out steel pipes that stuck out of my mouth and lodged in my voice box. As I awoke from the surgery, I instantly felt relief.

The small tube inserted into my throat at the neck was held in place by a “trach-collar.” The collar stabilized the tube so that it could be connected to the respirator. Studies have demonstrated that the trach-collar is the most effective path to wean patients off of mechanized breathing. It also relieves pressure on the vocal chords and minimizes additional damage to the voice.

When Sandra reported to the waiting room that I sailed through the operation with no complications, there was a collective feeling of optimism and hope. For more than a month, the waiting room inhabitants had been in a constant state of alert. Every new procedure led to some obstacle that created additional fear and concern. As the hours ticked away, Sandra continued to share good news that the tracheotomy was working. That evening, the waiting room buzzed in an almost festive mood.

The doctor later told me that Sandra was an “incredible woman.” She was a savvy and well-informed advocate, he went on to say. Her questions were always on point. Once she made a decision to move forward with a recommendation, there was no turning back. In a positive way, Sandra was “intimidating,” he said. Her keen understanding of the issues related to my condition once again led to forward momentum.

During the next hours and days, I continued to show improvement. My oxygen numbers stabilized even as respiratory therapists decreased the amount of oxygen the respirator sent to my lungs. My mind continued to clear as the remnants of the strong sleeping medicine dissipated. I wasn’t yet fully aware of my paralysis predicament. It hadn’t dawned on me that I wasn’t eating, drinking, talking, or going to the bathroom. But, I was beginning to recognize a rhythm to the ICU and distinguish between day and night.

Early each morning, an X-ray technician would come into my room to provide doctors with the latest images of my lungs. I could hear the slow rolling of the heavy mobile X-ray machine lumbering closer to my door. That sound was the signal to the start of a new day. The technician, with the help of a nurse or other staff member, raised the bed to a 45 degree angle and held my listless body upright to slide the X-ray tray between my back and the bed. The tray, cold and hard against my skin, would stay in place so the technician could take the picture.

The unit would come alive later in the morning as a kaleidoscope of sounds would fill the air: the sticky sound of rubber-soled shoes quickly walking across the polished linoleum floor, the slow and steady ding-dong at the nurses’ call station, doctors, nurses, and technicians exchanging directives and coming in and out of my room to do tests or change the medication that flowed from the IV forest that surrounded me, the public address system paging doctors, the beeping and whirring of the machines that sustained my life, and the small wheels of the cleaning crew carts rubbing against the floor as they went from room to room.

When Sandra left the room, I became anxious. There were few sounds that soothed me to let me know that she was on her way. Amid the cacophony of activity, a loud buzz followed by a distinctive squeal alerted the ICU that the heavy wide doors leading into the unit were opening.

Seconds later, I could hear the zip-zip sound of the electronic hand sanitizer outside of my room dispensing its cleansing foam onto someone’s hands. In would walk Sandra, sometimes alone and sometimes with someone from the waiting room. I would feel at ease and my anxiety would go away.

I knew when evening and night arrived as the sounds of the day subsided and the movement of people in an out of my room decreased. When Sandra was visiting in the waiting room with friends or out at dinner with family, the only person I saw was the night nurse on duty right outside of my door.

Suddenly, the squealing ICU doors and the zip-zip sound of the sanitizing machine made me feel warm and safe as Sandra brought the girls in to say good night followed by the small parade of family and friends that usually included my brother Steve, Rudy, Will and Juanita, and others. The Peraltas would come in signaling the end of the night.

For the next several days, the routine stayed in place. The tracheotomy was working. Respiratory technicians, on doctor’s orders, regularly decreased the amount of oxygen flowing to my lungs, hastening the weaning process. The waiting room became livelier as my condition showed promise and improvement.

To everyone’s amusement, Pancho was the de facto concierge of the waiting room. With his boisterous personality, he answered phones, directed families to the right place, and soothed the fears of others whom also had loved ones in the ICU. The room would erupt with laughter when strangers went to him for directions for gaining access to the unit.

The stockpile of food and drink kept growing. A variety of water, juices, and soft drinks was available to whoever happened to walk in. The food was getting better. One night a parent from Sandra’s school brought in her homemade tacos that were the talk of the waiting room for weeks. Six years later, Miguel, Eddie, Pancho, and Mariano still rave about the Mexican treats. Sandra’s friend Rosa Garcia always made sure that coffee and pastries were ready for those who stayed late into the night.

Sandra steered the ship. The García girls banded together. Shelley and Rudy kept the room laughing. Mr. Peralta, Val, Eddie, Miguel, and the Medinas quietly provided moral support. Mrs. Peralta, Kim, and Rudy led prayers. My recovery was a true team effort. Hope and faith filled the waiting room as July turned to August.

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Next Wednesday: Chapter 9 – “August 4th.”

 

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #69)

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Author’s note: The following passage is from my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 69th excerpt in the blog series. The text in italics indicates that the passage was from a vivid dream caused by a phenomenon doctors call ICU Psychosis.

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The next morning, Sandra started her daily routine. After waking from the small cot next to my hospital bed, she checked on me and thanked God for another day. The doctor would be making his rounds later that morning, so she washed up and prepared to take her morning walk to the JW House.

The JW House sits on the western tip of the campus at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center.  The facility, designed to look and feel like a home, provides a comfortable supportive place for families facing a medical crisis. The house offers families and individuals with loved ones in the hospital with a place for rest and self-care during the day or overnight.

During the first days of the ordeal Sandra and her waiting room entourage would retreat to the JW House to pray and get away from the pressures of the ICU. Sandra spent the first few nights at the comfortable home-like environment before deciding to stay in the ICU with me. The morning walk and the soothing shower that followed offered the brief respite she needed to take on another stressful and eventful day.

During her walk that morning, Sandra thought about the confrontation with the doctor the day before and wrestled with the options that lay before her. It was clear that the removal of the breathing tube made matters worse. She grew to trust the critical care doctor and his commitment to me and decided to put the previous day’s verbal exchange behind her. Feeling refreshed from the shower and brisk walk, Sandra returned to the ICU confident that the tracheotomy would put me on the right track.

When the doctor arrived for his morning visit, Sandra apologized for her behavior from the day before and confidently informed him of her decision. He warmly smiled and agreed. The surgery would have to wait about 48 hours, he explained, so he could stop administering blood thinning medicine that would complicate the procedure. He also recommended re-intubation so I wouldn’t lose any more oxygen.

After assuring Sandra that the surgeon assigned to me was one of the best in the hospital, the doctor proceeded with the preparation for intubation. Before long, that God awful intrusion was back in my throat until my blood thickened enough for surgery. Again I drifted off into a medically-induced dreamland.

***

I was back in the saddle again. Wearing a classic black tuxedo with a silk black bowtie, I mingled with members of Congress and other corporate executives at a cocktail party at the Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington, D.C. I had a great time hanging out and drinking champagne with a senator.

As the night wore on, I became extremely drunk and my vision blurred out of focus. As the museum spun in circles, the music from the jazz trio got louder and I fell to the floor and passed out in a drunken stupor.

I slowly opened my eyes confused about what had happened. I was alone, lying on the floor of the dark museum, still dressed in eveningwear. I was mute and paralyzed. A branch from a eucalyptus tree was stuck in my throat. The taste of eucalyptus in my mouth made me nauseated. I was scared and anxious. When I tried to shout for help, the only sound that came out was a high-pitched foghorn-like echo.

I could hear footsteps in the distance walking toward me. My heart raced with excitement. Out of the darkness, Sandra and her parents approached me. Sandra was angry and kept asking why I did this to myself. Her parents smiled as Mr. Peralta told Sandra not to worry. Everything would be okay, he assured her.

***

The doctor scheduled the tracheotomy for late Wednesday afternoon on July 26th.  Early that morning, he came in to advise Sandra that a cancellation provided an opportunity for the surgeon to perform the procedure immediately with her approval. Sandra later told me that I was awake at the time and quickly broke into a little smile and my eyes screamed, “yes!” The decision was made.

I vaguely remember the surgeon prepping me for the operation. He was tall and fit, with confident blue eyes and wispy blonde hair. With the brashness of a successful basketball coach, I remember him telling Sandra that the procedure would be “a piece of cake” and that I would be like new in no time. The nurse on duty sedated me for the operation while I patiently waited to be transported to the operating room.

***

The surgery was to take place at a specialized hospital in another city that required me to travel by airplane. As I waited, I could see other gurneys in line ahead of me waiting to board the aircraft. My excitement turned to anxiety because Sandra wasn’t with me in line. As the hospital staff pushed me along the slow-moving line I looked around but couldn’t find her.

With my trusty Blackberry sitting next to me, I figured that I could text Sandra to let her know that I was getting closer to boarding. That wouldn’t work as I couldn’t move my hands to type in the words. When I tried to explain my dilemma to the orderly no sound came out of my mouth. My gurney was inching closer to the door of the jet as panic began to set in.

Finally, just seconds before loading the gurney into the aircraft, Sandra arrived to my relief. She was smiling and assuring me that I would be safe. She had a bag of peanut M&Ms, my favorite candy, in one hand and lovingly stroked my forehead with the other. With a mischievous look in her eyes, she popped few of those sweet nuggets into my mouth. 

Sandra kissed my cheek, and asked God to keep me safe on my voyage. Before I knew it, the jet was  flying through a starry night sky to an unknown destination.

***

The operation was a success. The cocky surgeon did exactly what he said he would do. He made a small incision in my throat puncturing the windpipe to make room for a small tube he inserted that connected to the respirator. I would no longer have the discomfort of the breathing device down my throat, but I would continue to benefit from the machine that pumped oxygen into my lungs.

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Next Wednesday: After the successful tracheotomy and the elimination of heavy sedatives, I became more aware of the sights and sounds of my surroundings. 

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #68)

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1960s era fighter pilot – Image by Militariarg.com

Author’s note: The following passage is the beginning from How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 68th excerpt in the blog series.

The text in italics indicates that the passage was from a vivid dream caused by a phenomenon doctors call ICU Psychosis. To learn more about what causes The Dreams, go to Excerpt #53 (https://esereport.com/2016/06/29/summer-in-the-waiting-room-how-faith-family-and-friends-saved-my-life-excerpt-53/)

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For the first few hours without the tube, I continued to make progress. Doctors were monitoring me closely as Sandra felt the weight of the decision taking a toll. She was excited, nervous, and scared all at once. The question on everyone’s mind was “can he handle it?” Sandra feared that the sudden removal of the tube would cause me to panic, thus impacting my ability to breathe without the security of the device.

As the evening wore on, I started to struggle with each breath. I had a confused look on my face and Sandra couldn’t tell if I was worried or scared. The hollow eyes in my thin face looked out into the distance trying to understand what was happening. Sandra couldn’t even fathom what was going on in my head. She rhetorically asked me in her journal, “What do you remember? What questions do you have? How do you feel? Did I make the right choices for you?”

Just before midnight, phlegm began building up in my lungs. I was too weak to cough out the gooey substance. Nurses tried to remove the phlegm with a suction device without success. I was gasping for air as oxygen levels declined. Doctors and respiratory therapists worked to stabilize my breathing before deciding to reconnect me to the BIPAP machine, the helmet-like device that forces air into the lungs through the mouth.

Sandra was afraid and second-guessed her decision to remove the tube. She turned to her faith for answers. God had taken us this far, she reasoned. Whatever was happening at the moment was His will. As I stabilized and fell into an uneasy sleep, she read Psalm 91:4-5,

“God will cover me with his wings. I will be safe in his care. His faithfulness will protect and defend me. I need not fear any dangers at night of sudden attacks during the day.”

She decided to recommit to God and whispered to me, “We can’t be afraid Babe. We have to trust that God has you in His care. Please don’t get discouraged. Fight!”

***

            I was in the cockpit of a 1960s era Air Force fighter jet feeling weak and incessantly coughing from what was probably my lungs’ adjustment to the thin air at high altitudes. I wore a white fighter pilot helmet and black oxygen mask from the same era. I was so weak from coughing that I found a small couch in the cockpit where I could lay down and rest. Folding myself into a fetal position, I felt helpless as the cough intensified and I struggled to catch my breath. I could hear voices cheering me on to no avail. The air was too thin. I was too weak. I lost consciousness as the jet roared through the sky.

***

Removing the tube wasn’t working. When my regular critical care doctor returned to work on Monday morning, he was surprised to see that I was no longer intubated. I was struggling to breathe with the clear oxygen mask covering my nose and mouth. After reviewing my file for the weekend, he realized that Sandra had elected to forgo the tracheotomy. Meeting with the Sandra in the room, the doctor again recommended the procedure.

Sandra was furious. She interrogated the doctor asking why he hadn’t consulted with the pulmonologist on duty during the weekend. Hurling accusations that the doctors and the hospital were experimenting with my life, she released all of the pent up emotions that had been simmering inside of her for almost two months. The critical care doctor patiently listened and allowed Sandra to express her anger, fears, and frustrations.

I remember hearing and seeing Sandra’s tirade. For the first time since doctors induced me into a coma, real and overwhelming emotion washed over me. I felt the need to intervene and protect Sandra. I understood their conversation and wanted to weigh in as I thought that would relieve Sandra of the pressure to make a decision.

When we made eye contact, I tried talking to her completely oblivious of the fact that my strained vocal chords had rendered me mute. Once I realized that, I wanted to tell her to bring me a laptop so I could write down my opinion. I agreed with the tracheotomy option. I was insistent that Sandra bring a laptop to me. I didn’t understand that I couldn’t move my arms, hands, and fingers.

Reading my lips, Sandra finally understood what I was trying to say. She frustratingly waved me off and said, “NO!” When I persisted, she angrily pointed out that I was paralyzed and that I couldn’t use a computer. She burst into tears and ran out of the room. I don’t remember anything after that.

My road to recovery had experienced yet another bump. Meanwhile, I continued to drift in and out of consciousness, Sandra continued to grapple with the hour to hour decisions that weighed heavily on her, and the waiting room continued to pray and support her and the girls.

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Next Wednesday: Back to square 1. Doctors reinsert the breathing tube into my throat. 

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #67)

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Extubation procedure. Image by youtube.com

Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 67th excerpt in the blog series.

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The next week was uneventful. My critical care doctor advised that I was ready for the tracheotomy. He believed that the procedure would hasten my recovery and help my lungs to get stronger. At first, Sandra was reluctant because the operation would leave a permanent scar on my throat and could cause even more damage to my vocal chords. After consulting with her inner circle of support, she decided to proceed with the tracheotomy.

The doctor was scheduled to be off for the weekend, so he recommended that I spend the two days resting and getting stronger for the procedure. The pulmonologist on weekend duty would monitor my progress in preparation for the next big step. It had been a long road. The life-support tube had been inserted in my throat for more than four weeks, much longer than was the norm.

I had managed to get through virtually unscathed from all of the potential complications caused by being intubated and connected to the tubes that performed bodily functions for me. In addition to the variety of IV lines that monitored my heart and delivered medication to my listless body, I was connected to a urinary catheter, rectal tube, breathing tube, and feeding tube (inserted through my nose).

All of these intrusions are breeding grounds for viruses and infections which create unmanageable situations that usually result in patients fatally succumbing to the infections rather than the illness that brought them to the ICU. I battled fever for most of July, yet whatever caused the phenomenon never materialized into a serious life-threatening infection.

The enormous amount of oxygen loss during the first days of the month didn’t cause any brain damage, nor did it impact other organs. Despite the fact that my lungs were literally non-functional, my badly damaged heart hadn’t suffered additional deterioration. My heart was weakly hanging on, but plugging along. On doctors’ orders, respiratory therapists had been gradually decreasing the amount of oxygen artificially delivered to my lungs

I hadn’t eaten solid food in over six weeks, so I was a skeletal 153 lbs, losing more than one-quarter of the body weight that filled my frame the day the heart attack hit. My friend Rogelio later remarked that I looked like a “sack of bones on a bed.” While doctors struggled to find answers to the fevers and ARDS onset, they were equally puzzled by the relatively good condition of the rest of my mind and body. I was actually making progress.

The pulmonologist managing my case over the weekend believed that my gains were so significant that he recommended to Sandra that the breathing tube be removed to allow me the opportunity to breathe on my own. Once again, Sandra found herself in a untenable decision-making position.

She was only reluctantly in agreement that the tracheotomy procedure was the best course of action. The argument to give me a chance to breathe on my own by removing the tube was attractive, especially given Sandra’s concerns that cutting into my throat had its own set of complications. She gathered her inner circle to deliberate over the correct answer. As a group they came to the same conclusion: What would Eddie Do?

When the pulmonologist on duty returned on his rounds, Sandra told him to proceed with removing the tube. I was semi-conscious and looking stronger every day. She knew that I’m a fighter and if given the choice myself, I would elect to try it on my own without the tracheotomy. The doctor scheduled the tube removal procedure later that afternoon.

It had been a week since doctors began weaning off the heavy sedative medication, so I have a somewhat hazy recollection of these events. In fact, doctors were growing concerned because it was taking so long for the effects of the medicine to wear off. During that time, Sandra and visitors constantly talked to me trying to get me to respond. Other than a weak smile when I felt Sandra hold my hand or a blink of the eyes when I heard Marisa and Erica’s voices, I showed no sign of waking up.

One night during the last weeks of July, right around the time of Sandra’s decision to take the tube out, Miguel was visiting and suddenly shouted, “Wake up, Comps!”  According to Sandra and the girls, my eyes shot wide open and I scanned the room looking confused before slowly closing my eyes and returning to a peaceful sleep. Everyone present was excited and the waiting room was abuzz when the news got out. Years later, we all still laugh about Miguel’s uncharacteristic outburst that night.

Despite being in this semi-conscious state, I remembered bits and pieces of the extubation episode. The doctor on duty was a tall Asian man with thick black hair wearing wire-rimmed 1980s-style glasses. He had a confident smile and spoke with certainty as he began the procedure that would remove the tube that had occupied my throat for a month.

He began by sending a gust of 100% oxygen into my lungs before extubation. After removing the tape which secures the tube around the mouth, the doctor inserted a new catheter into the windpipe to deflate the cuff that held the tube in place. I vaguely remembered the doctor asking me to take a breath and cough. When I was able to generate a weak breath and cough, he rapidly removed the tube.

Although the final removal took  a mere few seconds to complete, it felt like the tube traveled slowly through my windpipe scraping each and every nerve ending along the way. With the exuberance of a cheerleader, the doctor triumphantly held the tube in his hands. Within a couple of minutes, there was an enormous sense of relief. I was finally free of that awful gagging sensation. Sandra was ecstatic.

Writing in her journal at 2:30 PM that day, she exclaimed, “It’s out!!”

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Next week: Excitement and hope in the waiting room quickly turns to concern and despair.

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #66)

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One year after the ICU Psychosis “shark attack,” we celebrated life in a real paradise – Maui, Hawaii July 2011

Author’s note: The following passage is from Chapter 8, “Sharks & ‘Cudas,” of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 66th excerpt in the blog series.

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At the hospital, Sandra was getting a clear picture of what had happened in the operating room. The procedure to insert the Swan line was routine. As one doctor threaded the line into my pulmonary artery, the other followed the tiny tube’s path on a computer screen. The artery that leads to the heart runs next to the jugular vein. In some cases, the vein and the artery intertwine looking like a braid. That’s how mine are configured.

As the doctor carefully moved the hard wire that guided the tube through my artery, maneuvering the catheter through the curves where the artery and jugular vein met proved to be challenging. As she delicately managed the tight turns while looking at the computer monitor, the hard wire suddenly collided with the jugular vein and punctured it. Blood started squirting out as the doctors worked to contain the wound.

The lead doctor squeezed the vein between the thumb and forefinger of his surgical gloved hand. With the blood making the rubber surface of the gloves slippery, the doctor alternated hands wiping the bright red blood on his smock. The nurse on duty brought in fresh white towels to keep the area around my neck dry. Within minutes, the doctors had contained the situation and stopped the bleeding.

The doctor called a vascular surgeon to evaluate the puncture wound and determine if additional surgery was needed to patch up the vein. The surgeon was at a sister hospital 30 minutes away as my doctors awaited his arrival. In the waiting room, the clock ticked away as Sandra grew more concerned. After several visits to the operating room nursing station, she grew impatient as there was no word from inside.

When the surgeon arrived, he immediately determined that the wound was already in the healing process and surgery wasn’t necessary. Doctors doing the procedure decided to continue and place the Swan line in my heart. They successfully completed the operation in 20 minutes. The lead doctor knew that the conversation with Sandra would be difficult as he walked out into the hallway.

When he emerged from the operating room nearly two hours after the scheduled 45-minute procedure started, Sandra was horrified. The bright white apron covering his smock was smeared with blood. It looked like the apron of a butcher working at a meat factory.

In his calm and reassuring manner, the doctor explained to Sandra what had happened with the jugular vein and how it was resolved. Despite what appeared to be large amounts of blood on his smock, according to my medical record and my later interview with the doctor, I lost just a marginal amount that had no negative impact.

He advised Sandra to be upbeat when she entered the room as I was semi-conscious and probably confused. Although I didn’t know about the punctured vein, a negative reaction from Sandra when she saw the blood-stained towels could have caused me to panic putting stress on my heart.

Sandra later described the scene as “horrible” with blood-soaked towels strewn across the floor and the dressing on my neck covered with the sticky red liquid. She tenderly smiled to reassure me that all was well.

Once again, her faith had been tested. There was the heart attack on June 7th, cardiac arrest on June 18th, the onset of ARDS in late June, the induced coma the first week of July, and then the fever. Now this.

What else would God put me (and her) through? Did He leave anymore fight in me? When she looked at my face and told me that she loved me, I slightly opened my eyes and managed a weak smile. She had her answer. Our fight would continue with God’s help.

The next day, the rhythm of life outside of ICU went on as usual. The Cudas championship swim meet was held at the world renowned Santa Clara International Swim Center, just 10 minutes from the hospital. As our daughters participated in each of their assigned heats in the Olympic-sized pool, Sandra, exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally, sat on the concrete bleachers with her family proudly watching the girls compete.

Later that summer as I was preparing to leave the hospital, Sandra took me to the ICU to thank the nurses who so skillfully and tenderly cared for me. I didn’t recognize anyone, but for Sandra it was an emotional homecoming.

As I thanked each person who worked with me, a well-groomed nurse wearing a neatly pressed uniform came out of one of the rooms with a beaming smile and said in a familiar voice, “I’m so happy to see you Mr. García.” The nametag on her blouse read, “Fiona.”

A chill ran down my spine as I saw her. I muttered that I had a dream about Fiona as everyone nervously chuckled looking kind of puzzled. When Sandra and I left the ICU, I sat in the wheelchair telling Sandra all about my dream: Mexico, the congresswoman, the beach, the shark, and Fiona tending to the wounds on my neck caused by the shark bite.

Slightly confused, Sandra told me about how doctors punctured my jugular vein during a procedure earlier that summer. Fiona was the nurse on duty that weekend and changed the dressing on my neck several times a day. Sandra fondly remembered that Fiona was always positive and upbeat as she talked to me and treated the small incision on my neck.

That was the first time I realized that fantasy and reality co-occupied my mind in what I later learned was a reaction to the sedative medication and psychosis caused by endless days in the ICU.

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Next week: Doctors recommend a bold move!