Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A long, winding, anecdotal view on quality of life and Terri Schiavo...

As strongly as I feel about the Schiavo case, I've got to say I completely sympathize with the side of the parents. If I honestly believed that someone I loved who was in a state like Terri is might recover someday, or that by not keeping her alive would result in my god's anger, I'd also lie to whoever I had to to keep her alive... I'd break the law and encourage others to do so to bring her water and possibly food to either ease her suffering or prolong her life... and overall I'd do whatever it takes, including take the full attention of our Federal judiciary system, just to help save my one loved on.

The kid pictured here was the second person arrested for trying to bring Terri water. I salute the kid, and award him honorary title of Hero of the Week.

Alas, I don't know Terri, so I can only speak from personal experience that in no way compare. So its a good thing I'm not the one deciding on the issue.

The first time I remember hearing about "Quality of Life" was from my dad, when he decided that he and my stepmom Judy's cat Polo needed to be put to sleep. The cat didn't look sick, but the vet assured them that Polo, I believe about twelve at the time, was in pain, but it was up to my dad to put him to sleep, right then at the vet's office. I was visiting him at the time, and was had gone with him to the vets office when he was faced with the decision. On the way there, he gave me one of those undeliberate father-son speeches that should be printed and mailed to every dad out there - the subject was quality of life. How people will hang on to their sick pets because it makes the owners happy, but the pets are miserable. How some old people and cancer patients hang on for years, miserably and in pain, just to keep their loved ones happy. I wish I could remember the talk beyond mere concepts, but, obviously, it stuck with me heavily to this day.

Anyway, we both stayed in the room when the vet finally gave Polo a cocktail of shots to put him to sleep. I'd played with Polo for hours when he was kitten small enough to fit in your palm, and now I was petting him to comfort him as was, for the last time, going to sleep. There was an air of creepiness about it, the death rattle, feeling his final gasps... but I felt somehow blessed and "purposeful" knowing I was there for him at the end. Just for a damn cat. More than feeling sad, I felt relief that Polo was out of misery... on his way to kitty heaven, or his soul about to reincarnated as a dog, or possibly the energy just dissolving and become part of the air around us. Whatever. He was in a better place.

The next time I was with someone when they died was my mom, who'd hate to be compared to, of all things, a cat. Again, I knew she was in pain in spite of massive quantities of morphine, and every breath in her last days was a painful struggle. The one night I decided to stay over at the hospice with her, I tried sleeping in a Lay-Z-Boy a few feet from her bed. I'd wake up from time to time, and see her labored breathing keeping her from really having any sleep. For a woman who loved naps, this alone was torture. He whole body moved, her back arched, with each inhalation of air. I'd long before already gone through the pain and mourning of knowing she'd be leaving us - at that moment I was hoping that she'd give in and die, and move on to a better place. I found myself awaking from a few minutes sleep, and when I looked at my mom, she was no longer struggling to breathe. For a moment, I thought that maybe things were back to normal... but the energy was distinctly different. I noticed that a nurse was also in the room. When I rushed to my moms side and put my hand on her arm, nearly ice cold to the touch, I knew she was gone. The nurse said that she still had to "check and make sure", but there was no doubt. I wasn't sad for her... I felt relief. I knew she was in a better place, and more importantly out of pain.

Whether Terri Schiavo is in pain or not, nobody knows, except for Terri. So I could even be wrong about her "Quality of Life" - maybe she's perfectly content. Maybe George Bush is right and that life should have the benefit of the doubt. I really don't know.