Thursday, March 10

Do You Know What Death Really Is?

It is only when you have challenged Death and stared him down -- and lost -- that you truly know the difference between life on life support and That Dark Night.

First, Terri Schiave is NOT on life support in the sense that I'm talking about. All she needs, like you and like me, is food and liquids to survive.

But even if she were hooked up to machines -- and for all of you who have loved ones who are -- I offer this, first-hand experience:

It had come to this: his lively, treasured 16-year-old body limp, pale and (seemingly) lifeless. Plastic tubes traveled from his sheet-shrouded form to a variety of machines, ticking, buzzing, lines bouncing and traveling across screens.

Our hope slid away. traveling downhill like some empty vessel wildly out of control.

"There's no more we can do," the doctors said. "He lives only because the machines make him function. His kidneys, his liver, even his brain are all gone -- nonfunctioning. We have two choices: keep him here, in this condition for who knows how long. Or turn off the machines and let God make the choice."

No loving parent should ever have to face those words...in that kind of place...at any time.

He had been the spark of surprise in our family. We never knew what he would do next but whatever it would be, it would be funny, sweet, loving and caring. He was his sister and brother's pet -- and the closest buddy to his younger, severely retarded brother.

As we moved around the country, following his Dad's career from training astronauts to helping companies use developments from space technology to improve the environment, he would be the one to meet our new neighbors and introduce us to the new community. It was not unusual to be greeted on my first trip to a new grocery store in a new (to us) community with "Oh, you must be Ted's mother. He is such a joy."

And then the aneurysm hit. A malformation of blood vessels in the cerebellum of his brain struck him down at age 11. Doctors at Johns Hopkins operated and ("it was a miracle," they said) saved his life. We all enjoyed his 99 percent recovery. With lots of patience and therapy (but he was back in school -- at his insistence -- in three months), he was left with only a slight ataxia that he fought by practicing the piano daily.

Then, the day before his first day of high school, it hit again. This time he awoke from surgery totally paralyzed, able only to blink his eyes once for "yes," twice for "no." For six weeks we stayed by his side, read to him, sang to him, played his favorite records -- did all we could to be there with him. He seemed to be getting better; his eyes followed us around the room, watched us when we stood outside his door in the hallway, talking.

And then the night when, sitting in a chair, resting my head on his mattress as he slept, his eyes opened and he looked at me. I moved closer. "Sleep now, honey," I said, "I'll see you in the morning." His eyes closed.

I woke sometime later aware that somethign was different. He was so still. I rang for the nurse. "Code Blue."

That's when they rushed him into ICU and brought out the wires machines. He lay there for days and then the doctors gave us our ultimatum.

To keep him bound with wires like that seemed inhuman. Yes, let God have the choice.

So they removed the wires and I got the shock of my life.

The difference between life on machines and Death is stunning. The moment I saw what that difference was I regretted that decision with all my heart and I regret it today.

You must not let Terry die. Death is final and irrevocable. Death is hopeless.

A few years later I read in a magazine -- in a doctor's waiting room, no less -- about new laser surgery that could have repaired his brain. New procedures and therapies, new hope through developing medical science. And the pain and the regret deepened into an agony that will not go away.

DON'T KILL TERRI SCHIAVO. Fight for her life with your every resource. Don't give up on Terri.

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