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Several hours later, Ana woke to find herself between crisp, white sheets in ICU. A tall, slim nurse was checking her pulse.

Ana watched in a stupor, anesthesia still clouding her mind. Her tongue felt thick. Her stomach churned. And her left leg felt unbearably sore.

She wanted to tell the nurse about the pain, but her lips couldn't form the words. Without thinking, Ana reached down to rub her aching limb -- and found only bare sheet.

She raised startled eyes. The nurse looked at her sympathetically. It touched a chord deep within Ana. She tilted her chin proudly, refusing to cry.

The ICU team trooped into Ana's room every 15 minutes to monitor her breathing, blood pressure and other vital signs. Every half-hour, they switched the bag pumping nourishment and antibiotics into her veins and tended to her surgical wounds. Despite their efforts, by late afternoon, dark welts had formed on Ana's right leg and hand. But that did not alarm Ana half so much as what came next.

Abruptly, all the nurses and doctors threw on gowns, masks, gloves. They inserted a tube in her mouth that forced air into her lungs and made her throat sore.

During moments of consciousness, Ana caught words as dire as they were mysterious: Toxic. Contagious. Fatal.

Amid the frenzy, Shawn Wilson -- the tall nurse who had first tended Ana -- marched in, towing hospital housekeeper Maria Moedano. Wilson spoke sternly as Moedano translated.

"Ana, nothing is more important than you. Do you hear me? Not the machines, not the tests, not the surgeries. You are the most important one. Do you understand?"

Ana nodded fiercely. She sensed a smile behind the mask and smiled weakly in response. Then she slipped into unconsciousness.

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