I still haven’t found the journal in which is kept all my sentiments (and emotions) about the experiment. But I will find it eventually. This will assist me in being more specific. I have decided to change some of the names of the people involved for personal and legal reasons. Bill DeVries will not be one of them. I have not seen him in many years, but the bond between us is genuine and permanent. To the best of my knowledge he is not now involved in any artificial heart program.

Our first artificial heart recipient was a guy by the name of Bill Schroeder. He was unearthed, so to speak in Jasper, Indiana. We were to be absolutely silent as to the identity of the recipient, and threatened into submission as to who the implant patient would be. This harsh taskmaster who enjoyed browbeating us was a bleached, mean ex-nurse who had attached herself to Dr. L, who was the head of the team. She came to our hospital with him, and there was much speculation on what in the world the connection was that he kept one so lacking by his side. So, it was much to my astonishment that on the day we did Bill Schroeder that an article and a picture of my good friend C. appeared in the Fort Wayne News Sentinel. I got a call from one of my brothers informing me that C. was in the paper and was “apparently the one who actually took care of the patient.” I am not quick to rage, but I was enraged. Not only did she jump the gun and hit the publicity button in my (our) own hometown, but took all the credit herself. In actuality, I had just spent sixteen hours in the room of Bill Schroeder, along with Bill DeVries, our pump technician, and Rob Jarvik who is the inventor of the artificial heart. My friendship with C. essentially ended that day. It was not something I would have done to her, and I realized with a cruel understanding that this project was likely to divide us all. And it did. C. and I never regained the closeness we had, nor the trust. She was once a shy competent nurse, who turned into a person I didn’t even know. It would never have occurred to me that I would grow to hate her. The “pot-stirrer” behind much of the animosity that began occurring was the aforementioned bag who had attached herself to Dr. L. Much speculation buzzed around that strange alliance, but was spoken only in whispers. In fact DeVries himself questioned what this incompetent hussy was doing with our team. If you think I ever found out, you can guess again, because neither I, nor anyone else that I know, ever figured it out. I remember during a code on a patient, she was bossing the cardiologist around and demanding he inject epinephrine directly into the heart. I recall him looking appalled at her nerve. I remember thinking at the time that someone with balls that big was going to be real hard to contend with, and I wasn’t wrong. I just never knew why. I remember DeVries telling me that he dealt with her by simply ignoring her. He was unable to explain what in the world she was doing there like a barnacle on Dr. L’s leg either. She now resides, I understand in a nursing home. Alcohol apparently took its toll, was the explanation I heard.

Bill Schroeder was another matter. He was apparently a good candidate because he wasn’t long for this world, but, on the other hand, he saw himself as a movie star. He was so arrogant and ignorant that he was an embarrassment. I recall when a phone conversation was arranged between him and the President of the United States. When the preliminary calls were made and President Reagan came on the phone, the president was most gracious and asked about his well-being. Bill Schroeder started bitching about his late social security check and wanted to know what was going to be done about it! He started launching into a tirade with the president when I saw a hand surreptitiously reach over and turn down the heart rate on the pump supplying blood and oxygen to his artificial heart, and subsequently, his brain. He suddenly sounded like a record slowed down to a slow effort at speech. The President heartily congratulated him and the conversation ended when a hand turned up the heart rate again and Schroeder resumed his tirade, wanting the president to be called back, because he wasn’t done talking.

Gifts poured in. We had one room in the CCU that was packed with gifts for Schroeder. A Pulitzer Prize winning photographer lived with us in the unit. He was a great guy but I fail to remember his name. One guy flew in on a Lear Jet to leave a gold Rolex watch for him. Schroeder tossed it aside and wanted to know what else came for him that day. Presents and accolades were expected and his rudeness knew no bounds. He had a small bell on his bedside stand, and he told his nurse on a particular day that she was to sit outside his room and he would ring his bell when he needed “the dog.” She was to play the role of “his DOG!” Our protests of his abuse were pretty much ignored because of the constant press presence. We had to look good, and make him look good, even if it meant taking his insulting behavior.

And each day, we would read in the newspapers, and hear on the TV of his progress and his updated condition. He thought he was the king of the hill. He became so obnoxious that no one wanted to take care of him, and a lot of dissention began occurring on who “had” to take care of him that day. He was not one who generated fondness or even tolerance. I think it was about two weeks after he got his heart that he had a stroke. One person was heard to have said…at least that shut his big mouth.


To be continued…

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