Cristina's Heart Scar, Chapter 7: Cardiac Arrest, Part 3

Monday, April 18, 2011 

The head of the CCU continued to inform my family that sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and that my chances of survival from this incident were minimal. At this point, my youngest sister, Carolina, had had enough. She was only sixteen years old, and this was more than she could take. She stood up abruptly and walked right out of the conference room.

After a shocked pause, the doctor continued, “Even though Cristina was given CPR, and even if Lizzie administered it perfectly, that doesn’t mean Cristina will wake up when we take her out of hypothermia. And if she does wake up, there are chances that she may have suffered severe brain damage from lack of oxygen. She may lose her senses, she may lose her ability to speak, she may not recognize any of you, she may not know who she is, she likely won’t remember much. I want you all to know what to expect.” He ended by asking Lizzie for details on how she performed the CPR, giving my family a tiny token of hope, “Lizzie did everything perfectly. She gave Cristina the best chance possible to recover. We will start to warm up her body out of hypothermia tomorrow.”

My family and friends left that meeting drained and completely deflated. They hadn’t even seen me yet, but the expectations had been set. And to that end, I give them all the credit in the world. Even after that lecture, after hearing all the stats, not once did they give up on me. They truly believed and trusted that I would be in the 7.9%.

When my parents and sisters finally got to see me, they were shocked. I had a breathing tube down my throat, clipped to my upper lip to stay in place. I had IV lines coming from my neck and arms and wrists. I was connected to a heart monitor and respirator. There was a cluster of screens behind me, tracking everything from my pulse and blood pressure, to my breathing and temperature. I was laying in the hospital bed, flat on my back, chin up, eyes closed, perfectly still.

“She looks like a beautiful doll,” my mom said. My skin was frozen, giving it a porcelain look. My hair had been twisted into a long single braid. My eyelashes were dark and thick, still coated in layers of mascara from our girl’s weekend. To this day, my mom and friends ask what mascara I used, because it lasted so long.

“Can we touch her?” my sister asked.

“Yes!” the nurse responded. “Pat her head, hold her hand, talk to her, be with her. She needs you all now more than ever, just keep talking to her. Tell her you can’t wait to see her.”

This was the best advice my family received. If talking to me and being with me could possibly help, they would do everything in their power to make sure that I had constant company, conversation, happiness and hope around me. This was something they had control over, so they clung to it for dear life.

My mom asked if she could stay with me in the hospital, and while they couldn’t give her a bed in my room, they let her sleep in one of the family waiting rooms. That little waiting room was transformed into my family’s headquarters. Friends brought in flowers, magazines, games and a blanket, even a couple of small lamps for cheerier lighting. It was in that room that my family and friends would gather everyday that I was in the hospital, they called it “the family room.”

Taking the nurse’s words seriously, my parents encouraged everybody to come and see me, to talk to me, to hold my hand. There was a constant flow of friends and family by my side, and when I think about how loving and wonderful everybody was to come visit, before work or on their lunch hours or after leaving the office, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. My mom actually wrote down everybody that came to see me each day, and on one day alone I had close to forty visitors.

Around 9pm that Sunday night, after a pizza dinner, my dad, sisters and a group of friends all came into my room to say goodnight, my mom stayed behind. The nurses drew blood, gave me a bath in bed and changed me into a fresh gown. My mom unbraided my hair and brushed it while telling me stories of when I was little.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 

Around 4am that morning, the doctors started warming up my body, I was ready to come out of hypothermia. My mom woke up a little before 7am, around the same time my dad, sisters, aunts, uncles and friends started trickling in. Around noon Erica and my mom were sitting with me while the others got a quick lunch. Erica was holding my hand when she said, “Hi Tini, it’s Biggie (my nickname for her).” She remembers me giving the slightest nod, but wasn’t sure if she was imagining it. So she didn’t say anything to my mom. A few minutes later another friend, Becca, came to visit as well.

“Tini, Becca is coming to say hi!” Erica told me. This time she was certain she saw a nod. She shot my mom a look, and they both knew that the other had seen it too. “Did you also see the first nod?” Erica whispered.

“Yes! But I wasn’t sure if it was real!” my mom admitted. The more excited they got about it, the louder they got. As they celebrated, Erica noticed me furrow my eyebrows. I could hear them talking. It was the first sign that I was waking up, and my family was ecstatic! They all went out to dinner across from the hospital that night.

When they came back to my room after dinner, I had reached my normal body temperature and was starting to move. My family rejoiced! The doctor told them that I had tried to pull out my breathing tube so they put gloves on me and attached my wrists to the hospital bed. My family rushed to the room to see me, and when my dad said, “Hi, Tini,” I definitively turned my head towards him and tried to open my eyes. This was a good sign!

There was an incredible hospital Resident who had been taking care of me since I was admitted for the initial cardiac arrest. With my family in the room, she gently spoke to me, “Cristina, if you can hear us, grab my arm.” She held her arm next to my hand, and I reached for it. She took off my sock and said, “Cristina, can you wiggle your toes?” I wiggled them.

With that, Carolina, who had left the conference room the day before, started jumping up and down exuberantly. She was laughing and crying and yelling, “She’s moving, she’s moving!” down the hospital hall. My mom says it was like a scene in a movie, a moment of complete and utter joy.

Soon after the doctors confirmed to my parents that I was responsive and no longer in a coma. Around midnight my family (except my mom) left to get some rest, and the nurses got me ready for bed. They told me to go to sleep, and I nodded my head. My mom went to her little couch in the family room, and for the first time in days went to sleep happy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 

At 5:30am my mom was woken up by a nurse, “Mrs. Beltran, she’s awake!”

My mom rushed to my hospital room. My eyes were open, but my hands were still tied down. There was still a breathing tube down my throat. I was still connected to a bunch of monitors. She could tell I was scared.

“You’re okay Tini, you’re okay,” my mom said. “Just relax, everything’s going to be alright.”

I did not relax, instead I got more agitated. My mom could tell I was trying to say something, but couldn’t speak because of the breathing tube. She asked the nurse for a pen and paper. Even though my wrists were tied down, she put the pen in my right hand and asked me to write.

“Can you try to write what you’re feeling, Tini?”

In childlike handwriting I wrote, WHY CAN’T I TALK?

My mom wrote back, TUBE IN YOUR MOUTH.

Then I wrote, AM I GOING TO BE OK?


xo Cristina