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Mike's Blog: The Heart of a Runner, Part 11

Nurses: Intense, earnest, and kind

February 28

Editor's note: Mike Ashland loved running. But after he moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Oregon, and began working on a home renovation with his partner, he found himself more and more exhausted. Medical tests revealed that without his knowledge, he had suffered a massive heart attack that destroyed nearly half of his heart muscle. Within a month, Ashland went from being a marathon runner to a critically ill heart patient. With no job and no health insurance, he found himself facing the most serious crisis of his life. Ashland chronicles his perilous journey in this blog.

On February 24, Mike was hospitalized with a fever. He was placed in intensive care, where he underwent x-rays, an echochardiogram, and a heart catheterization to give the doctors an idea of how well his heart was functioning. Mike's doctors decided that his fever was due to an infection and ordered a course of antibiotics, and he returned home after a couple of days.

Though it was a drizzly day, walking out the front doors of the hospital and standing in the cool air was a thrill.

After having had five IV lines at one point (including one in my neck) it felt odd to be able to move without restriction. The thrill of freedom was followed closely by the fear of being disconnected -- the realization that nobody was monitoring me and anything could happen.

In ICU someone is always watching you. Not a cough, not a drop of urine, not a single heartbeat passes without being recorded. The flickering yellow daylight never ends. Night and day pass marked only by the arrival of food, the change of shifts, and the noticeable quietness of fewer visitors.

I could say I hated it -- the complete lack of privacy, the beeping monitors, being restricted to bed -- but it was like a cocoon. Especially on the day I had to have all my tests -- after each successive trip to another part of the hospital I felt weaker and more scared. Each return to ICU was a return to safety.

It's a university hospital so residents and nurses showed up in pairs and gaggles at any hour, all intense and earnest and kind. I loved it.

Still, it's good to be home. I'm much better than I was when I went in last Thursday, though another 4 pounds thinner. No appetite yet. I gave myself my first injection in the stomach -- 5 more to go. Because my heart only pumps out a small fraction of the blood it's supposed to, what's left in the ventricle can hang around and clump up at that bottom -- sort of like the sediment at the bottom of a bottle of wine.

If a clump then gets pumped out of my heart, it could create a dangerous blood clot. So I have to inject myself with an anti-coagulant for a while. It's pretty unpleasant, but you can't be a big baby if you're going to have a heart transplant!

The other thing I came home with is a LifeVest defibrillator that will help keep me alive until I get a transplant.

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