Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Hollowed Out

Terri Schiavo's sister was on Glenn Beck this morning. She said a lot of things about the Terri/Michael relationship that I had never heard before today. However, the thing that really reached me was her answer to one of Glenn's last questions. He asked her when was the last time she had seen Terri. She said last night. He asked her how Terri looked. She said Terri was gray, that she looked "hollowed out" and like someone who was "starving to death." She went on to say how bad she felt that her parents had to see their child in this condition and how unhappy Terri must be.

It occurs to me that with all this discussion over quality of life and whether Terri would want to life like this, Michael and the Judges are actually creating a quality of life that is much worse than what Terri had 6 days ago.

And then, I remembered something. I'm hesitant to even mention it because it seems like so many writings on this issue are influenced by personal stories - and I didn't think that mine were. But maybe they are and I didn't even realize it.

Two years ago my grandmother had a stroke. Simultaneously she had kidney trouble and had to have dialysis. Because of the dialysis schedule, she could only eat at certain times. But because of the stroke, she barely had any gag reflex at all and couldn't really eat. When we first arrived at the hospital, she asked us for a glass of water, because she was thirsty. Turns out we couldn't even really give her a glass of water because she would cough and choke and we would get so scared. After that we could only give her a swab with water on it. But she would talk to us, ask us questions. She did small exercises with a physical therapist that came to see her.

The doctors talked about a feeding tube, but didn't want to do that because it is a big surgery. They were waiting for her gag reflex to return. But after 3 days of no gag reflex, no feeding tube, and a strange schedule because of the dialysis, she began to take on a gray appearance and barely talked at all. She had a fluid IV, but nothing with nutrients or vitamins. That night, the nurse finally took her blood sugar and found that it was 3. I don't recall what a normal blood sugar is, but it's someone around 100 I think. Much more than 3 in any case.
They finally gave her an IV bag with some vitamins in it.
But it was too late.

The next morning, the nurses saw that she had died.

I don't know what happened, I never heard a final explanation. Having had a stroke and kidney problems and being over 80 years old, there weren't many questions about the cause of death. I think she starved to death. It was about 5 days between her stroke and her death. Five days of not eating. Five days when her quality of life could have been improved by a feeding tube, when she very possibly could have recovered, because I saw how strong she was with the physical therapist. And she was 80 years old!

We can't forget the pace of the progression of science. I think I agree with Andy McCarthy. Prove she has PVS, that she can't feel this hollowed out pain, and perhaps her death would be more understandable. Otherwise, one person's poor quality of life is another person's continued perservering existence among friends and family.