Saturday, March 26, 2005

Rite of Passage

Another quiet morning at work. It's 9:25 and I have read the whole Saturday Star...ok, well I scanned it, only stopping at the stories I found interesting.
The Terri Schiavo story bothers me. There is something about the situation that does not sit easy with me. Having worked with Brain Injured patients for most of my 15 yrs of nursing, I have seen a variety of levels of recovery. Young people (under 16 yrs old) tend to do pretty well. Depending on the type of injury, even some 'older' pts don't do too badly, most suffer personality changes, or physical challanges. But, I can tell you that any patient who has suffered an Anoxic Brain Injury does poorly. CPR is a good thing when started immediately (within a few minutes) but outcome is generally very poor when started late. No oxygen to the brain is a bad thing, brain cells start dying immmediately and they do not regenerate.
What is unfortunate for Terri, is that she was 'successfully' resuscitated after a significant 'down time.' In a 30 yr old woman, I can understand why an attempt was made. As Health Care Providers, we are trained to 'get the heart started again', unfortunately, it is more difficult to 'get the brain started again.' The decision to abide by her wishes should have been realized 15 yrs ago, when family members were told that her situation was dire, that she would likely remain in a vegetative state. She should have been allowed to die with dignity at that time. It is the brave and selfless family that can come to this decision. I understand that there are emotional and religious elements involved that might persuade people to 'keep up the fight' but I tend to think that this is self-serving, that some people believe that ANY sign of life is better than none.
I wonder how many people think to themselves 'hmmm...if I HAD to choose between living life in a vegetative state, or being dead...I'd choose vegetative.' Neither one is a pleasant thought, but I know I would rather be dead, than living in a chronic care facility peeing and crapping in my diapers, my muscles in painful contractures, unable to scratch my nose, unable to feed myself, unable to communicate, unable to voice my opinion. I would hope that my family would recall the times I told them that I never wanted to live like that.
Anyway, the problem I have right now, is that everybody from little children, to senior citizens, to priests, to governors of state and lawmakers is involved. I do not respect what her family is doing, making her life a public forum between those who believe in The Right to Life vs. The Right to Die.
Death, in my opinion, is a Rite of Passage, and a part of Life.