Thursday, February 25, 2010

How About That?

After my long dry spell, it feels a little strange to have enough swirling thoughts to generate two posts in two days. And here I thought I couldn't surprise myself anymore.

Yesterday I noted that I tend to be a little inauthentic here on the blog. Since then I've been mulling it over. Why am I such a damn Pollyanna about my daughter's death? Being angry and bitter and saying things that may upset people won't make her more dead, after all.

I had a little quiet time to reflect yesterday and I've arrived at three conclusions. 1) I had to tamp a lot of the gnarliest thoughts and feelings down to focus on parenting C 2) I should quit my griping and thank the fates that one of the babies survived 3) Being angry and bitter and saying things that may upset people won't make her less dead either

That's what the stern taskmaster in my head tells me, anyway.

But, here's the thing. I read this and this and both posts have really opened my eyes. I didn't experience stillbirth. And despite the fact that I know several women who have, and I claim to be a thoughtful and supportive person, I never really troubled myself to think about the details.

This isn't some sort of congratulatory victory lap--Wow, TracyOC, you've taken your empathy to a whole new level! It was more of a wake-up call about the value of honesty and authenticity.


Yesterday I was listening to "Fresh Air" while driving today. Terry was talking (in her normal soothing tones) to an expert on medical ethics regarding hunger strikes. Specifically, they were contemplating the role of a trained physician in caring for a hunger striker and what lines ought not be crossed. They didn't seem to make a clean landing but the answer apparently lies somewhere between preserving life and preserving dignity.

During the discussion, the medical expert read a couple of graphic statements equating force-feeding via gavage tube with torture. The statements mentioned pain and discomfort and disruption of bodily functions, tissue damage, disorientation, etc. The medical experts explained that the patient can be forcibly restrained and then left alone in a hospital bed covered in his/her own waste.

Sound familiar, anyone?

I've watched two people die in intensive care units--my father and my daughter. Both of them were scared, disoriented, and in pain. My father was incapacitated and couldn't tell us what he wanted the doctors to do. R wasn't quite human enough yet to communicate. In both cases I was put in a position to decide for them. In both cases I told the doctors to do whatever it would take.

I was wrong both times.

Doctors and nurses confront these issues daily. They see critically ill people make miraculous recoveries. They're trained to react and do everything they can to save people. When one dies, they move onto the next, bringing their considerable intelligence and intensity to bear. It's hard not to believe them when they say something can be done--it's hard not to hear 'should' instead of 'can.'

I let the surgeon cut my daughter's body open even though there was virtually no hope that she could survive. She spent 3 of her 4 final hours on an operating table surrounded by strangers. I let my Dad undergo surgery for a blood clot and get jounced down the highway in an ambulance full of tubes and wires on Christmas Eve, hours before he died.

They both deserved better. The medical ethicist told me so...just a little too late.

All I can think now is that way too many of my stories start with, "I was listening to NPR..." I have to get out more. How's that for honesty?


  1. Hmmm, I worry that my occasional lack of Pollyannaishness (that's quite a word I've cobbled together there!) makes me look absolutely hideous with regards to (2).

    I read both the posts you mention and, yes, I agree. I also never really, not really and truly, thought about the details.

    I often wonder about the decisions that I took with regards to G's care. I think what made it clearer in my mind was that, in my case, I would have needed to make two very rapid decisions in opposite directions. If I could have seen the future I would have said 'yup, start right now please and never, ever give up' for one of my daughters and 'please, just leave her be' for the other. But I don't think I would ever have seen that at the time.

    I don't know Tracy. I just think that, whilst there was still a chance, even an outside bet, that they might have saved her, I simply had to take that chance. We had to make impossible calls, we couldn't have known. x

  2. So good to hear your voice again Tracy...missed you.