I went for an annual physical with my doctor at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center today. Dr. Aaron Williams has been my doctor for over a decade. He’s a great guy and an outstanding doctor. In addition to keeping me on track, I always enjoy our visits. This time was no different, especially after he gave me a clean bill of health.
As is my custom after the yearly visit, I walked through the medical center to the intensive care unit. The way to the hospital is a familiar route. Five years ago, a nurse whisked me in a wheelchair to the emergency room taking the same path. This morning, as I walked by the ceiling to floor windows that line the causeway between the clinic and the hospital, I began reflecting on that life-changing day.
For the past two years, I’ve been writing about that day in Summer in the Waiting Room, How Faith, Family, and Friends Changed My Life. The story is about my life growing up in a working-class neighborhood, tirelessly chasing the American Dream, and surviving a summer in the ICU with God’s help and the support of my family, friends, and an amazing medical team.
I haven’t finished the book. I’m stuck on the last part. Writing about my life experiences and the 100-plus days in the hospital was easy to do. Translating what it all means has proven to be more challenging.
My thoughts on life, faith, and gratitude evolve almost on a daily basis. Since that fateful summer, I’ve met many people who have made a meaningful impact on me and brought focus to my life’s true purpose. They’re an important part of my story about hope and redemption. I’m still trying to make sense of it all.
This brings me to my annual ICU pilgrimage this morning.
The ICU occupies the second floor of the hospital at Department 230. I called this place home from June 18, 2010 through August 1, 2010. The cold avocado green walls and shiny antiseptic linoleum floors give me the same sense of warmth and comfort as my childhood home. While these feelings seem contradictory, there’s a simple explanation. For me, this is sacred ground.
For six weeks during the summer of 2010, I clung to life behind the plain white double doors that open up to the unit. In an adjacent waiting room, my family and friends, prayed, laughed, and cried in faithful vigilance. In the bowels of the unit, doctors, nurses, therapists, and nursing assistants waged a daily battle to keep me alive.
The names of those I remember are forever seared into my grateful consciousness: Drs. Mendoza, Rajan, and Fisk. With the expertise of a team of rehab therapists – Suzanne, Sonia, Christine, Jennifer, and Mark – I learned how to sit up, walk, talk, and eat all over again. I stay in contact with many of them to this day.
During my visits to this special place, I sit on a silver aluminum bench outside of the ICU and reflect on those names and the faces of an army of nurses whose names are too many to remember. I say a prayer and thank God for bringing these special people into my life.
Sometimes, I’ll see a familiar face pass by. Today was one of those days.
As I got up to leave, a man in green hospital scrubs was making his way through the hallway. We made eye contact and gave each other that “I know you” look. Seeing his nametag, I remembered him immediately. When I was learning how to stand up, he was the rehab assistant who helped the therapist lift my listless body. He was with me the day I took my first steps with the help of parallel bars.
His name is Mark (not the same Mark who is a physical therapist).
I mentioned my ICU experience with him. I could see his brain trying hard to remember me. During the difficult therapy sessions when I struggled to stand, I used to joke with him that I would come back someday so I could express my appreciation over a Coors Light on tap in a tall frosty glass. When I reminded him of that, he broke into a wide smile and we instinctively embraced in a bear hug.
I still feel the warmth and comfort of this sacred place. It’s called gratitude.
My story continues to write itself. I’ve been telling readers for almost a year that I will soon publish my book. I just need to make sense of events like today. My brief visit with Mark has given me renewed energy and purpose to finish writing my story. I’ll get it done. I promise.