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

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Image by canstock.com

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.

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NEW FEATURE – Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life

ICU Waiting Room at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center
ICU Waiting Room at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center

Dear Readers,

For those who believe that they alone hold the keys to their own destiny, God sure has a funny way of teaching life lessons. Due to self-perceived shortcomings, I deemed myself a complete failure by the time I was 22 years old.  With an obsession to excel and a naive quest for redemption, I fought my failure demons for more than two decades working endlessly in my elusive pursuit to find success.

Thinking I had almost conquered the demons, I had a massive heart attack on June 7, 2010.  Ten days later, cardiac arrest caused my heart to stop, and ten days after that, I had an allergic reaction that led to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a potentially fatal lung condition that affects just 150,000 people per year according to the ARDS Foundation.  To treat ARDS, doctors medically induced me into a coma and put me on full life support.

Emerging from the coma, I had to learn how to move my limbs, stand, walk, talk, and swallow all over again. On September 21, 2010, 106 days after the June 7th heart attack, I went home. During my long and difficult recovery and rehabilitation, I had hours and hours to think about mortality, God, faith, and the meaning of love, family, friends, and redemption.

Doctors told me that surviving three life-threatening episodes in one summer is a miracle and encouraged me to write about the experience.  With that in mind, I interviewed family, friends, and the medical team at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center.  What resulted is a 200-page manuscript I named, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.

It’s the unique and inspiring story of a boy who grew up in a working-class neighborhood, failed at college and lost hope, met and married the love of his life, returned to finish college, raised a family, and built a career in corporate America and public service.  It’s also the story of a man who vowed never to fail again and toiled tirelessly trying to redeem himself, only to find true redemption while in a state of complete helplessness in the ICU.

To share this story, beginning this Wednesday, East Side Eddie Report.com will add a new feature posting weekly excerpts from Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life.  My dream is to someday publish the manuscript as a book, so please let me know what you think.  Also, if you like the story, please share the Wednesday posts with your family and friends.

I truly appreciate you taking the time to read East Side Eddie Report.com each Monday.  I hope the posts are interesting and look forward to Summer in the Waiting Room bringing you back every Wednesday too.  If you have any suggestions or comments, please send them along.

Gratefully Yours,

Eddie García

Why Leadership Counts: Chris Boyd & the Kaiser Santa Clara Team

Meeting Chris Boyd at the SVCN Luncheon
Meeting Chris Boyd at the SVCN Luncheon
(photo courtesy of Darcie Green)

Last Thursday, I attended the annual Silicon Valley Council of Non-Profits “Be Our Guest” luncheon; an event that raises money for charity and features Silicon Valley leaders serving the guests.  The room was filled with solidarity, smiles and handshakes, but below the surface brewed the never-ending battle over ideas and resources.  The scene reminded me that leadership is a tough business.  As one of the valley’s most respected leaders has been known to say, leadership is a “contact sport.”

This seemingly distasteful dance between camaraderie and competition is what turns most people off when it comes to business, education, community, and political leaders.  But, it’s the ability to navigate these dynamic waters that separates the best from the rest and provides the effective leadership that is vital in any organization.  The people serving lunch at the event make decisions that affect our day-to-day lives in so many different ways.

One server in particular, a waiter named Chris Boyd, who happens to be the chief executive at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center, made a huge impact on my life even though we never met before Thursday’s luncheon.  Everything I know about great leaders is that they know how to build a positive team environment, provide the resources needed for the team to succeed, and inspire others to achieve.   This understanding of leadership skills and my own experience at Kaiser Santa Clara makes me believe that Chris is an outstanding leader.

My journey to meeting Chris began on June 7, 2010. Feeling sluggish and anxious that day, I arrived at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center to learn that I was having a massive heart attack.  Quick action by the emergency room team and successful surgery cleared the blockage that caused the heart attack.  Ten days later, while in the hospital, a blood clot sent me into cardiac arrest causing my heart to stop beating, and ten days after that, I was diagnosed with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a rare disorder that shuts down the lungs.

There is no known cure for ARDS so resting the lungs and providing respiratory therapy is the preferred course of action.  In my case, ARDS was so severe that it was necessary to induce me into a coma and connect me to an oscillator, a recently FDA-approved device that sends puffs of oxygen into the lungs.  At the same time that the oscillator was breathing for me a pump kept my heart beating.  For Sandra and my family, seeing me lying lifeless connected to a bunch of machines was the most difficult part of that horrific summer.

During that time, an army of cardiologists, pulmonologists, ICU doctors, nurses, nursing aides, physical and speech therapists, social workers, and hospital support staff worked around the clock to care for me.  I got to know four members of the team well, speech therapist Suzanne Dabadghav, pulmonologists Mark Mendoza and Sudhir Rajan, and cardiologist Uma Vadlakonda.  They treated me with compassion and consummate professionalism, and I’m inspired by them and eternally grateful for their work.  There were countless others who were cared for me with the same compassion and skill.

After a month and half on life support in the ICU, I began a long and difficult recovery and rehabilitation period.  For family and friends, watching my daily struggle for survival was the most grueling part of the nightmare.  For me, it was waking from the coma and realizing that I couldn’t move my limbs, stand, walk, talk, or swallow.  My muscles had degenerated after two months of lying lifeless in a coma.  I spent most of September at a rehabilitation facility in intensive physical therapy to wake up my muscles and get them working again.  On September 21, 2010, 106 days after the heart attack, I gratefully walked into my house with the aid of a walker.

So where does Chris Boyd fit in? My experience tells me that the Kaiser Santa Clara team has what it needs to succeed: a team-oriented environment, the most advanced tools available, and space needed to maximize team members’ talent.  Watching a talented team of professionals armed with the right tools working together for a common cause is inspirational.  As someone who has been on many teams, and led a few, I know that this can’t happen without a leader who provides the building blocks for success.

Leadership counts.

Thursday turned out to be an inspiring day for me.  It was wonderful to reconnect with old friends and former adversaries who reminded me of the delicate dance among our leaders that makes Silicon Valley one of the best places in the world to live.  Sitting next to the Kaiser table brought back memories of that long and challenging summer when faith, family, friends, and a great healthcare team saved my life.

I’ve been on a mission to thank every person who supported my family, prayed for my recovery, or played even the smallest role in the miracle that was the summer of 2010.  On Thursday, I met the person responsible for providing the Kaiser team with the tools and environment to be the best they could be.  Meeting Chris Boyd and thanking him made my day.

Welcome to ESEReport.com!

West wall of the Mexican Heritage Plaza in East San Jose
West wall of the Mexican Heritage Plaza in East San Jose

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the ESE Report, a weekly blog that touches on leadership, education, and public affairs from a unique perspective.  It’s a view from the “other side of the tracks.”

I was born and raised in East San Jose, the predominately Latino section of the Santa Clara Valley that has been historically mislabeled “the bad side of town” by those whom have spent little or no time there.  Despite this negative stereotype, the East Side I’m from is a no-nonsense working-class neighborhood with no frills, a place where my late parents taught me and my siblings to work hard, get an education, play by the rules, and respect ourselves and others.

As a boy, I had a happy and carefree childhood.  As a young man, I flunked out of college, wandered aimlessly through life for several years, and ultimately returned to college to graduate on the dean’s list.  As a man, I have lived the American Dream: I married a wonderful woman, we have two daughters, and I built a career on work that inspires me.

Professionally, I’ve had the rare opportunity to roam the sidelines as a high school basketball coach, walk the halls of Congress as a corporate executive, strike the gavel as a school board president, and experience the machinations of local government as a political chief of staff.

In over 25 years of working in politics, business, education, and community service, I’ve seen self-interest and self-preservation bring out the worst in people, and I’ve seen the enduring human spirit of serving others bring out the best in people.

When I was 46 years old, I had a massive heart attack and suffered from Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a rare lung disorder that few people survive.  With strong faith, a loving family, supportive friends, and a great medical team, I live to tell the story today.

It’s these experiences slow-cooked together that have molded the way I see the world: practical and hard-nosed, yet hopeful and idealistic.  Like Frank Capra’s fictional hero George Bailey from the 1947 Christmas Classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I’m a sucker for happy endings.   Through it all, my heart and soul, and my core values are still from the East Side.

The inspiration for the name of this blog came from Navarra Williams, a former corporate executive who became a mentor and friend.  Early in my corporate career, Navarra, who himself grew up in the tough neighborhoods of Washington, D.C., gave me the nickname “East Side Eddie,” a moniker I proudly carry with me to this day.

Every city, town, and hamlet in America has an “east side,” and every east side has a voice.  It’s the voice of hard-working people who toil so their children can have a better life.  It’s the voice that’s rarely heard.  It’s the voice that deserves to be understood.  The ESE Report hopes to do just that by being insightful, provocative, amusing, and, at times, inspiring.

Please feel free to browse the Leadership, Education, and Public Affairs buttons on the blog.  I hope you find the topics interesting.  You can follow the ESE Report by clicking the “Follow” link on the bottom, right-hand corner of this page.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Eddie García
San José, California
September 23, 2013