March 22, 2005
Cat On A Hot Tin Feeding Tube
A man's dying is more the survivors affair than his own. ~ Thomas Mann
Well, thank goodness Bush’s medical malpractice tort reform agenda hadn’t passed back in 1993 when Michael Schaivo won his malpractice lawsuit (later settled, on appeal) against Terri’s doctors. And thank God she wasn’t ever moved to a Texas facility.
Otherwise the money to keep Terri “alive” would have run out years ago and under chapter 166 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, that means the hospital would have had the right to end life support the moment she ran out of money even over the objections of her family members or legal guardian.
I wonder if Florida being a political "battleground" state makes it more important to placate Neo-Con fundamentalist Christians in this state more than in, say, Texas.
The stench of this week’s bout of Congressional mendacity would have driven Big Daddy off his nut.
And don't forget to FIND OUT HOW YOUR CONGRESSPERSON VOTED.
From a certain standpoint, you have to admire the Neo-Con operation here. This is a victory for them no matter how it turns out. If Terri lives they can rejoice in their triumph over whatever it is they claim to triumph over. If she dies then it's just one more horrible way to prove logic-obsessed heathens have taken over our court systems.
And the other side has no victory. There is no way to rejoice because a woman has been allowed to die after existing 15 years as a breathing corpse.
What is the victory of a woman on a hot tin feeding tube? There isn't one. I know -- I shouldn't employ Tennessee in this when we all know it's Clint Eastwood that will eventually take the fall for Terri Schaivo. Radical Hollywood liberal that he is.
I don't advise reading on below unless you want to hear a very un-sexy true story regarding why this case annoys the living fuck out of me.
When I was a teenager my uncle was hit by a drunk driver. He was an on-duty cop and that meant the city was obligated to foot the hospital bill.
When we first arrived at the emergency room, he was unrecognizable and broken into so many pieces it took his doctor a good long spell to detail all the things that were perforated, smashed, and traumatized. His body looked like meat held together with chicken wire and duct tape. He was conscious for the first day and even made a brief joke about the loss of his hair (which had been ripped from his scalp after he'd lost his helmet and skidded head-first down the street for who knows how many feet -- his scalp had actually peeled itself away in places so think about that the next time you ride without a helmet YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE). That night, tho he suffered a stroke and passed into a coma. They had to cut out part of his skull because his brain was swelling. After a few days the doctors feared he was lasping into a persistent vegetative state, and a couple weeks later tests proved that was exactly the case. His body healed to a point. His brain never did.
His wife was unprepared and unwilling to accept the words "unable to recover." And even though my parents made it expressly clear to me that this was hopeless, they never once let on to his wife that they felt this way. It was left to the doctors to try their best to convince her that he was never going to improve or have any quality of life.
And let's make one thing perfectly clear.
We are not talking about a handicapped or disabled life; his was a life that had passed on in every way other than a few cogs that continued to tick in place. Trying to morph individuals in this state into a debate on disabled rights is a sick exercise in misdirection.
But in my uncle's case, as I said, the city was footing the bill, so his wife ignored the doctors for a few months. Meanwhile, my uncle melted -- that is the only way to explain what happened to his body. His muscles atrophied despite attempts to keep them limber. He became sallow. There was nothing in this breathing ghost that reminded me of my uncle. But still no one in my family would confront what needed to be done. Because like so many parents who can't talk to their kids truthfully about sex, sometimes people hide best when life faces them most square.
Amid this atmosphere of confusing denial very odd things happened with my uncle's body (including a funny-later-but-not-at-the-time incident where I accidentally knocked the switch to deflate the air bed he was kept on -- slapstick and anything but hilarity ensued). But the kicker for me happened one night when I was on watch duty alone (it fell to habit that the members of my family and fellow police officers took turns "sitting" with my uncle on a strange vigil rotation). I will never forget it as long as I live. My uncle's eyes opened and he appeared to look straight at me.
Now I have never been a religious person, but I have to tell you that the word "miracle" was the first thing to enter my mind at that minute. I screamed for nurses -- I began talking at him a million miles a minute and I was in the truest sense of any teenage girl that ever lived having a full-on tizzy.
The nurse tried to explain to me that it wasn't a sign of consciousness, but I was hysterical and so much hope had run in at once that I didn't hear her -- I couldn't hear her. He had LOOKED me me, you see. He hadn't just opened his eyes, but he had opened his eyes and they had fixed on me. I can still remember everything from those few moments as clear as anything I've ever experienced.
So when some poor doctor got rousted from his shift to come and calm me down and bring me back to Earth, I had no intention of trying to understand or accept any word that came out of his mouth. Bless his heart, he tried anyway. He brought me coffee and gave me a very gentle lecture about things like reactivity and perceptivity. But it just wouldn't digest in my mind. So, I did what any know-it-all geek girl might have done. I studied on my own. I called other doctors. And if anyone -- ANYONE had given me so much as an inkling of false hope to hold onto over those next few days I might have never surrendered to the reality of the situation.
I don't think my bout of hope caused anyone to keep him on life support longer, but it certainly didn't help resolve anything sooner. There was too much grief to get your head around and it's such a dismal thing to cope with. It took time. Sometimes his eyes would open. It was never a response to a stimuli. It was never a sign of life. Had it been anything remotely resembling a sign, my family would have latched onto it like their own lifeline and kept his body going forever. He wasn't the kind of uncle you hope drowns in the tub so you never have to see him again. He was the beloved one that made everyone laugh. He was a joyful being. But he was over and the thing that replaced him wasn't living in any sense of the way he did.
It took three more months for the family to agree to end life support; I cannot imagine what the final hospital bill was to the city, but it had to be a mint. Surprisingly when the machines were turned off, his body continued to breathe; if you had looked at what was left of him, you wouldn't have believed the lumps of flesh and bone that were left were capable of sustaining a single breath. It took eight days for him to completely expire and after months of denial those eight days were a god-awful long time to wait for the first step toward closure. And for those of you who have never attended a policeman's funeral, I'm here to tell you, it's an emotional roller coaster unto itself.
Because of this experience, at some point months and months ago, the Schaivo case became bitterly painful for me (my friends have had to listen to far too many ongoing rants on how much this case upsets me) -- the meddling and the false information being circulated about the type of condition she is in -- and propping up a human being in this state as an icon of pro-life or disabled rights has made me pysically ill. But, like all cases of outrage, there is a point where you reach the height of your capacity and since then I've been able to disengage emotionally as the news cycle intensifies. It's hard to be that outraged about the same thing over and over and over again. At some point you just get numb so that you can cope.
Unfortunately, I don't believe in hell, but if there is anything akin to one, I hope there is a special room set aside within it for every person attempting to gain political points off this situation. And, of course, as with any speical room in hell, may Bill Frist, MD be forced to lick the sweat off the brow of HIV+ beings for all eternity within it.