after surgery

after surgery.


after surgery

january 9, 2013 will be 5 years since my double-lung transplant. i remember waking up in what i thought was a little closet. i thought my surgery had gone badly and i was put there to die. i was intubated and couldn’t talk. pete came in alone, there was just one small light in the corner and the rest was dark. although i couldn’t talk i wanted to know if i was dying, all i could do is grunt at him and grab him by the shirt. somehow he must have known what i was trying to say, because all he said was “estas bien” meaning “you’re fine.” my children and grandchildren came in, turned on the lights and then i saw i wasn’t in a closet left to die, but in a regular hospital room in the transplant icu!!! they were all so tired, surgery had taken 9 hours and it was now sometime in the middle of the night. while i was sleeping during surgery, they had been agonizing all those hours. they looked terrible. the hospital let them stay in the visitors’ lounge til the next morning. i remember being “rudely” awakened by a nurse insisting i get up for a walk. i refused, advising her that a broken nail was cause for a bed rest, this would require at least 4 or 5 days!!! 30 minutes later, not even twelve hours after my surgery, i was up and walking. i had all the usual ivs and medical hook-ups associated with a hospital stay, but there was something extra and strange. i had 6 tubes coming out from around my midsection all the way around. they were drainage tubes which made me look like an octopus. i couldn’t believe they were making me walk around the halls and started to cry. my son saw me and looked confused. my family isn’t in the habit of seeing me cry, it’s a rare occurrence, very rare. i composed myself immediately. 

i was kept in the hospital only 3 weeks. when it was time to leave i asked where my oxygen tank was and was told i no longer needed it. i left the hospital breathing on my own for the first time in over 5 years. i was so afraid and insecure without back up oxygen i didn’t want to leave. 


it’s so strange to be alive today. when i was in high school my beliefs were pretty much grounded. raised catholic, 13 years of catholic school with all the ceremonies, daily mass ans communion, lenten preparations, living nativity participation at christmas. yea, my beliefs were engrained in the puzzle that was my life. i believed this, with all my heart and in God. so much so that when i went to see “the exorcist” (it’s just been a few years i can hear the word or music without panicking) i was so affected i had to see a priest for counseling. as strong as my belief in God, was my belief in the devil. all my years of religious training, bible reading and catechism learning told me this was very possible. done with my therapy and a compassionate husband (at the time) i got over was not easy, shower curtain always open when not in use, closet doors always closed and at least one tiny, little light in a corner. time passed and i evolved mentally, but i always had my faith. i didn’t talk about it nor do public displays, an example learned from my devout abuelita. she wasn’t like the other grandmas who sat in the front of the church rattling their rosary beads so all would know they were praying. mi abuelita sat towards the back with me, her rosary tucked in her sleeve. when i asked why she didn’t pray like the others, she explained the love of God was private, not public. it taught me so much. as a child my school was visited by a bishop, high-ranking in the catholic church. the nuns told us not to make eye contact with him, keep our heads bowed. if he came near we should kneel and kiss his ring. my  abuelita & i walked to the school hall to see him. then, there he was, right in front of us. i knelt, reached for his hand to kiss THE RING. my abuelita stopped me, made me get up. “no hija, no te hinques, y no le beses la mano.” i was stunned! the bishop asked why she stopped me, she responded that faith was not a public spectacle, but private, from the heart. he blessed both of us, laying his hand on our heads.

as time passed and i got older, i came to question what i had been taught to believe. clay statues were revered, a wooden cross made in pennsylvania was to be genuflected in front of and water mixed with oils blessed by a man was holy. i am a logical, mostly rational person. slowly but surely all of that became less revered. the vatican at one point allowed us not to have to confess our “sins” to a priest any longer. we could now do this between ourself and God. of course, time keeps on passing, i keep evolving. i now question the value of the religion i learned. now exposed to the atrocities committed in the name of god, i’m disappointed.  i’ve read the bible at least 5 times, once for a religion class, once for an english class to analyze the writng styles, once as a history of the time, once just because and intermittently when arguing a point.

i’m now at a point where i believe from two perspectives, that of the girl growing up, learning and believing the teachings. the other, an adult, a woman who has been exposed to other faiths, beliefs and religious styles.  i’ve gone grom 1960’s catechist to 2012’s woman with a jumble of christian and buddist beliefs. my newest faith teacher is the dalai lama. i have learned so much about humans and humanity, faith and beliefs from him. and of course, mi abuelita is there watching over me.

yes older and wiser

there comes a time in our youth where we are bursting with righteous indignation over crimes and atrocities against humanity, protesting and hollering, demanding wrongs be righted.some are others too huge to topple. then comes the time when you are in one way or another, nesting, politically dormant almost. then you seem to come full circle, at a point back to all that passion for unforgotten ideals. you’re not older, you’re wiser and you know finally, you were right.

yes older and wiser

there comes a time in our youth where we are bursting with righteous indignation over crimes and atrocities against humanity, protesting and hollering, demanding wrongs be righted.some are others too huge to topple. then comes the time when you are in one way or another, nesting, politically dormant almost. then you seem to come full circle, at a point back to all that passion for unforgotten ideals. you’re not older, you’re wiser and you know finally, you were right.

meeting cesar

i first came in contact with cesar & the ufw in 1968 when he came to east LA college to speak about the union and the grape boycott. as i waited for the keynote speaker (cesar) i could see this small, brown-skinned man with his hair slightly disheveled. i thought this must be cesar’s assistant, whick would explain so many aproaching him for and to give information. the man was so soft-spoken you could barely hear him a few feet away. the introduction finished, cesar would now speak, i looked behind us to see him approach, nothing. facing the front i saw the man, the charismatic man, approaching the microphone. so many thoughts ran through my still unpoliticized mind. he began to speak. the voice, it turned off everything else and held me mesmerized. he spoke of farmworker hardships, abuses, chemical exposures while working in the fields with very little financial recompense. he talked about children working in fields doing what only adults should do. his words entered my mind and raced to my heart. “what can i do?” “i have to do something!” i felt tears stinging my eyes and i’ve never been a good crier. he spoke of marches, hunger strikes, informing the public and boycotting grapes. i knew this would be difficult to do as my family was nuts for grapes, especially the green ones. i guess he was touched by my tears, he approached me after his speech. he shook my hand, i apologized for the tears. he told me the tears would sprout someone of great ccommittment and great action. he told me to follow my heart.i went home and informed my papi & mami we would no longer buy california table grapes in support of the farmworkers. my mom balked, but she was a life-long teamster. “mami, it’s the united farmworkers’ union, founded by cesar chavez.” “oh, they’re a union” she responded. i told her that if union people didn’t support them who would? i was all of 18, still an innocent and i informed them i would stand in front of the local safeway asking people not to buy table grapes. neither was too happy as the store was in a really bad barrio. i didn’t care. so off i went each day at 4:45 to take my place with sign & homemade flyers in hand. two weeks passed. then my mami & papi showed up with two more signs and more flyers they had printed up somewhere. i was so embarrassed demanding to know what they were doing. since i was going to do this, they were too. mami had already talked to her union to ask they not buy table grapes to support the UFW and my dad no longer bought them. we had good responses and bad of course. when people would ignore me and walk passed my mami would get in their path and say “are you hard of hearing & blind? she’s talking to you, don’t be rude” with my papi standing behind her scowling. we did this for 5 or 6 months. i learned so much about myself, my parents and people. mostly i learned about cesar, a lesson i’ve never forgotton. RIP leader.


this is the 2nd marriage for me & pete, needless to say we have some experience. of course, not all of it positive. we are as distinct as two people can be. i like to read and write, he likes movies with explosions, cars rolling over and lots of shooting. he also likes all the soccer he can watch. i like soccer too, but i have a team i follow. he follows soccer, all of it. i’ve had to break him from talking baby talk to my granddaughter. he only gave in when i told him the kids in her pre-school class would make fun of her. the family calls him the weakest link. we are all somewhat weak with her, but he’s the weakest. considering he’s a bull of a man, it’s hard to imagine she has him wrapped around her pinkie.

the best advice was from my mom. she said that a marriage is a union, a joint effort. she said that dos gueyes can’t pull a wagon if they’re going i different directions. i’ve always wondered if she was saying que somos gueyes.

we’ve been through it all. he’s not the greatest romanticist, but some days he comes in and tells me i’m pretty, even though i know i’m not. i’ve been close to death a few times, and he’s held me strong. i’ve cried to him in fear, despair and anger and he’s always there to remind me where i came from. he knew my folks towards the end of their lives, but recognized their strength. he knows i was raised to be strong. and i am.

he comes from strong people as well. he’s from the michoacan highlands. he left his parents & children to come to the US to work. he returned home a year later, dissolved his marital union and returned to the US. that was when we met. we were both out dancing. i saw this golden brown man with a smile that melted my knees. he has minimal schooling, i’m university educated. i know how to ride a bike, he was too poor to have one. i had a steady job, he never knew what he would do when the harvest would end. in the winter he takes work in the grape fields. in both his jobs he is known as one of the fastest workers. supervisors put new workers with him to learn from.lettuce harvesting is hard, but the grapevines are tough & dangerous. the vines are on wire leads. when pruning the vines, they have to pull the cut vine from the wire. he’s seen several eye injuries.

we are now facing another hurdle in our lives. immigration wants to deport him. he could face a 3 to 10 year ban because he entered “without inspection.” insulting because it sound like he’s a tomato. it would be so easy to move mexico to live, but my health prohibits it. leaving my kids & grandkids would kill me. we are readying ourselves for the immigration battle. this is one we will fight together. we’re both strong-willed people, stubborn to a fault. i married him legally sanctioned by the great state of california. i’m from L.A. we don’t stop.

i know this is love, he’s seen me at my physical worst, when my hair fell out (luckily it grew back), when i couldn’t bathe myself, when he had to work, clean, wash and cook for me as if i were a baby. he has my heart, now and forever. NO ONE will take him from me, that’s my word.