Author’s note: The manuscript of my book, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life, is divided into three parts. The title of Part 2 is The Waiting Room. Excerpt #42 is the first installment of The Waiting Room.
My earliest memory of a hospital waiting room is from the day my sister Sisi was born. I had just turned five-years-old the month before. We were at the old Kaiser Santa Clara Hospital that was built in the early 1960s. I remember waiting in the main waiting room at the lobby of the hospital with my brothers and sisters, all of whom were teenagers by then.
Sitting in arm chairs were older people reading magazines or engaging in whispered conversation. My brother David and sister Patty had their noses stuck in either books they brought from home or the magazines that were strewn on the little tables that sat around the chairs.
My sister Barbara was trying to keep me and my brother Stevie from getting in the way of hospital visitors as we scampered around the lobby looking for mischief. Our exploits came to an abrupt end when a giant nurse wearing green hospital scrubs scolded us for playing on the elevators.
That first visit to a hospital waiting room was fun and exciting to me as Stevie and I darted in an out of the elevator on different floors until we got caught by that super tall nurse. And all ended well when we brought home a baby sister the next day.
My next experience in a waiting room wasn’t the same. I was about nine or ten-years-old when a cousin named Albert, who was in his early 20s, was in a terrible car accident that left him badly hurt and in a coma. He was driving a small sports car on the winding highway that weaves its way through the steep Santa Cruz Mountains connecting the Santa Clara Valley to the beaches in Santa Cruz.
Near the summit, Albert’s car was sideswiped by another vehicle that sent him and his car tumbling 200 hundred feet into a deep ravine. I remember my dad driving through those same mountains to be by his sister’s side. That waiting room was small and windowless, so it just added to the gloom of those of us who were waiting there. Albert never recovered from the coma and died a few months later.
From that day forward, visits to hospital waiting rooms were brief and usually meant doom and gloom with an occasional sigh of relief if all ended well. My grandmother Joaquina died of a heart attack when I was 10-years-old. The news came via the waiting room.
My dad’s first heart attack in the early 1980s and my mom experiencing the same a few years later were marked by the stress and anxiety of the waiting room while doctors performed surgeries behind the operating room doors. Both of those episodes ended with huge sighs of relief for successful operations.
A decade later, my dad suffered a major stroke early one morning as my mom and I sat alone in a small, cold, windowless emergency department waiting room at the old Alexian Brothers Hospital in east San Jose. This time it didn’t end very well. My last memory of my dad was watching him convulse with a faraway look in his eyes while doctors ushered my mom and me out of the emergency room. Minutes later, the doctor walked into that little waiting room to deliver the bad news.
From June 18th through August 31st, 2010, the ICU waiting room at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center was a living breathing metaphor for sadness, joy, despair, hope, anticipation, disappointment, and triumph. In that waiting room, faith was tested and strengthened, family bonds grew tighter, and the true meaning of friendship emerged.
It became a gathering place for those who loved me, Sandra, and the girls. It was a place to share food, stories, and a sense of community. Day after day, week after week, throughout the summer of 2010, friends and family stopped by to check in on Sandra and the girls, gossip, laugh and cry, or just sit and take it all in.
My compa Will would later describe the scene as a three-act play that kept everyone riveted and coming back for more. Act I was the early part of July when my prognosis for survival changed almost on a daily basis. Act II continued from late July through mid-August when survival seemed possible, but my future uncertain. The final act during the last weeks of August brought a sigh of relief as I stabilized and began the long road to recovery.
It was compelling drama that drew people there. Will and Juanita remembered rushing home from work every day because, “we couldn’t wait get to the hospital to be with everyone.” Amid the emotion, camaraderie, steadfastness, and love, “the waiting room” supported Sandra while she fought for me and I clung to life just two rooms behind the plain double doors that led to the ICU.
SPECIAL NOTE: To accommodate your Thanksgiving Week schedule, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life continues NEXT MONDAY with Part 2: The Waiting Room.