THAT MOST DIFFICULT DECISION
You see, my husband was coherent. He could not speak, but he could write on a pad of paper. I felt that he could make his own decisions. I felt that the doctor should have discussed it with him. I tried to do this, but a look of panic would come over his face, and he would turn his head away.
It wasn't fear of death, I know, because we had discussed these things many times. He did not want to live while incapacitated. He did not want to become a burden to people. He did not want his life extended beyond its usefulness.
It was fear of suffocation that was bothering him. My husband had a great fear of choking to death, whether because of a childhood experience or for some other reason. I knew of this fear and so, when this look of panic came over his face, I could not agree to allow the doctor to pull out the tube that had been in his mouth for so many weeks.
But, had he been incoherent, had his mind faded away, had he been brain dead, I would have given my approval for the removal of the tube. I would have, with great relief that he would finally escape the incessant pain, allowed him to pass on to the rewards that surely await us after death, be it blessed nothingness or the glories of Heaven. It was his coherence, his panic, his fear that halted me from making this decision and led to keeping this dying man with me for a few more struggling weeks.
When I read of Terry Schiavo and her husband, Michael's legal struggle, my heart aches for them, so well do I remember those last days with my husband. And I weep for those parents, wanting as we all do to keep their child near them, whatever the cost, whatever the circumstances. A whole child, an empty shell, a remnant, it doesn't matter....just allow us to love and protect and nurture for as long as we can!
However, seventeen years is a long time to hold out any hope of recovery of any kind for this woman. Miracles happen, yes, but miracles so seldom happen to brain-dead people. Perhaps there is a time when even parents should allow their daughter to go forward into that darkness, to release her from the burden of a life that can no longer be called "living".
So doggedly has this husband fought to bring closure to his wife's tragedy! So easy it would be for him to divorce her and go on to remarry and raise his children! So easy it would be for him to tuck that tragedy into the recesses of his mind and enjoy the remaining years of his life. Instead, he has chosen to fight a bitter fight to remove her feeding tube and allow her to die. He has faced down a Governor and lawyers and strangers. He has survived false rumors of "just wanting her insurance money". Yet he plods onward, intent upon his goal.
Surely, this man must strongly feel that he is carrying out the wishes of a woman he loves. There is no other reason for his actions. I am not sure that I could have been so strong. I am not sure that I would not have caved in to public opinion. I am not sure the devoted love of those parents for their child would not have made me say, "Go ahead and care for her then!". Instead, he took his case to a higher court...and won!
Then the Republican Congressmen got into the act. Never mind the fact that undoubtedly hundreds, if not thousands, of Iraqi have been rendered brain dead by the bombs and missiles of the Iraq War....and they don't seem to be in any hurry to pull out of there to save the hundreds that will undoubtedly be injured in future skirmishes. No matter that head injuries are the primary cause of wounds for our own soldiers, so valiantly fighting for their lives on Iraqi soil. If injury, tragedy and human misery really matter to these Congressmen, it seems to me they would call a halt to this war, which was started on incorrect information and continued for no worthy reason! They ignore these pitiful victims of an unnecessary combat and center their attention upon one woman in Florida in a last minute, well-publicized drama engineered to make them look like Lone Rangers riding to the rescue.
A subpoena was sent to both Michael and Terry Schiavo to appear before Congress. This, to me, was the heighth of foolishness. Terry is unable to testify. At most, she would face a grueling trip to D.C. and have the eyes of the nation focused upon her. And the members of Congress are not doctors. They cannot judge the medical status of a patient who has suffered a grave injury to her brain. And they have no right not to believe the many doctors who have declared Terry Schiavo beyond help. They have no right to ignore the seventeen years of waiting for improvement. Seventeen years of hopelessness. Nor do they have a right to usurp the decision of either the doctors or the husband.
When my husband lay suffering on that hospital bed and I refused to allow the doctors to remove the tube from his throat, it was my decision to make. The doctor came to me for permission and I refused it, for the reasons I have explained. To take this right from Terry Schiavo's husband and treat him as though he has some hidden, horrible agenda is an insult to any husband or wife who has had this horrible, shattering decision to make. It isn't easy. It is gut-shaking and leaves one with a feeling of emptiness and guilt, no matter what is decided.
So often I have lain in my bed at night and wondered, "Did I do the right thing?" So often I have stared into a beautiful, colorful sunset and wondered if I had only condemned him to more weeks of suffering. So he was afraid of suffocating! A few minutes of struggle and peace would have come to him! Lord, was I selfish? Was I cruel? What should I have done?
So let everyone butt out of this family tragedy and allow this husband to follow his wife's wishes, using the expertise of the doctors involved, as so many of us will have to do when and if that moment comes. There is no right. There is no wrong. There is only a very difficult decision for a husband to make.