Andrew Hisler on Wednesday with his dog, Squeeker, at his Somerville home. He was recently discharged from MaineGeneral Medical Center after a monthslong hospitalization for COVID-19. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

As a full-time welder and cattle farmer, Andrew Hisler was in excellent health until November when he contracted COVID-19. After being hospitalized for three months, in which time he developed pneumonia and pulmonary fibrosis, Hisler was discharged Feb. 14.

Hisler is still on the road to recovery, and it is a road his doctors tell him will be challenging.

The 61-year-old Somerville man was unvaccinated when he tested positive for COVID-19. On the third week of experiencing worsening respiratory symptoms, Hisler was sent to a hospital in Damariscotta by his doctor. However, he was sent home without explanation. But Hisler’s condition was deteriorating, so he called an ambulance and was taken to MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Alfond Center for Health in Augusta.

“Nobody expected me to live, but I did,” Hisler said in an interview this past week. “I’ll tell you right now, it’s scary when you can’t breathe.”

Hisler’s organs were beginning to fail by the time he got to the hospital. He said his heart went out of rhythm and they had to use a defibrillator to shock it back into rhythm.

According to Heidi Winslow, the nursing supervisor on 1 West, the floor at MaineGeneral where Hisler stayed, he was put on a BiPap machine that helped with breathing for the first three or four days of his stay. For the majority of his stay, Hisler was on Vapotherm, which is a high-flow maskless system that delivers 40 liters of oxygen per minute directly into the patient’s nose.


His discharge level and the level he is currently at is 5-6 liters per minute, but he said he hopes to eventually switch to 4 liters and then be taken off oxygen supplement altogether.

While Hisler says his three-month hospitalization was a long and frightening ordeal, it’s not uncommon for patients severely affected by COVID-19, according to the hospital.

“Unfortunately, long stays are not uncommon for COVID-19 patients,” said Jennifer Riggs, MaineGeneral Medical Center’s chief nursing officer. Such hospitalizations can range “from five to six days for mild illness, to many months for severe illness, especially in patients that require a ventilator to breathe.”

For the first six weeks, Hisler wasn’t allowed any guests, per hospital protocol due to the pandemic. The first week he didn’t even have his cellphone charger, so when his phone died he felt very isolated from the outside world, including his dachshund that previously would go everywhere with him. He could use the hospital phone, but he didn’t have many phone numbers memorized.

Once he left the intensive care unit, visitors were allowed for a brief period of time, but then that changed again. A rule permitted only one visitor per day for the majority of his stay. Hisler, who said his girlfriend would bring him items and took care of his dog, Squeeker, said the nurses on 1 West made his experience more bearable by talking to him.

“I still have a lot of recovery to do, I know that,” said Hisler, who noted his extreme loss of weight and muscle tone along with fearing he’d never walk again. “Right now I can’t walk very far. It’s almost like you got to learn how to walk again.”


Hisler said the doctor told him he probably won’t work again because his lungs are really damaged. For someone who is used to working and whose goal was a return to work, this was a lot to process. However, Hisler remains optimistic. He said he had a lot of people praying for him and his recovery, along with great care from the staff of 1 West.

“They went out of their way. It was unbelievable,” he said. “I can’t say enough about them. If I was cold, because I was losing a lot of weight, they’d come in and put a warm blanket on me.”

Recently Hisler got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine — something he wishes he had done sooner — along with flu and pneumonia vaccines. He is now waiting two months so he can get his booster shot. If he takes his time, Hisler says he can get himself in and out of bed. He’s learned not to hurry or he may end up in the hospital again.

Part of his recovery includes medications and physical therapy, which he started in the hospital. Multiple health care professional visit his house throughout the week and aid in his rehabilitation. They plan on bringing a walker to his house soon.

When people visit Hisler at his home now, they wear masks to avoid bringing any illnesses in.

“I want my lungs to heal up,” Hisler said. “I can’t afford to catch anything.”

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