Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Special Place in Hell

Even though I don't believe in hell, I think there must be a special place for those lost souls that light other people on fire - or throw hot grease on , dip in boiling water, or put their body parts on hot stove/oven/grill surfaces.

Can you tell I am still spending far too much time working in the Burn Unit? Special kind of evil, there.

Shooting someone? Stabbing someone even? But to BURN someone? Come on! That is just too twisted for color tv (to quote Steel Magnolias).

And then there are the strange ones - the people that light themselves on fire. WHY? Can someone explain this? If you want to kill yourself, why not chose a less painful path? Pills? Throwing yourself off a very tall building? Even putting a bullet in your head, but to douse yourself in gasoline then light a match?

Oh, and in case you haven't figured it out - it isn't a sure path to death either. It IS a sure path to excruciating pain, extensive repeated surgeries, long term hospitalization, and certain mutilation and disfigurement.

As a nurse, especially one in a teaching hospital, I see a lot of patients that probably shouldn't live. Ones that doctors manage to keep alive for far too long in the name of science. People pulled back not only from the brink of death, but from death itself. People that were heading to the light or what-have-you, but we yank them back just in the nick of time so that we can torture their bodies for a few more days/weeks/months longer. People that if they do manage to survive have a terrible quality of life after we "save" them.

I have told my family I will haunt them if they don't stand up for me and tell the doctors to back the hell off and let me die if I have a terrible brain injury (but don't necessarily qualify for "vegetative"), if I have burns over greater than 50% of my body, if it looks like they are going to amputate all my limbs or I can't move my arms or legs. The living wills all talk about "persistent vegetative state" but there really are very few cases that are that cut and dried. Doctors will say "There is hope. We don't know that much about the brain, we won't really know until they wake up". By the time it gets to the point where waking up is an option - and I am not talking about Hollywood waking up here - no one just opens their eyes and says, "bring me a grilled cheese, please" - I am talking about long slow wake ups where the patient might just get to the point where they open their eyes and move one arm, but can't speak or eat normally. By this time you've got a feeding tube and are headed for a long term care facility. Then it is much harder to let someone die.

Hard stuff. Even for someone like me that has, at this point, seen a lot of death. I know the hope people have for their spouse/child/parent. I know the ones that can't and won't let go. How can you? How can you make that choice? How can you decide for someone else what their life should be like? Especially if it is a child? I am starting to realize that it is much easier to say what I want/don't want. I am an adult that has lived and loved and seen life and death. I know the kind of choices I am making and sharing with my family. Children are so, so much harder. No one should ever have to see their child suffer. Yet we also ask for so much more suffering from children than we would ever want or expect from ourselves. Because they haven't had the chance to live/love/make mistakes/wildly succeed/go to Disneyworld - whatever - we ask them to endure great pain, great suffering so that they may have that chance one day. So that we can hold onto them a little longer, love their bodies that we have nurtured and grown in our own bodies.

Not preaching here, just trying to work through the abject suffering I see on a daily basis. And I DO know that my own ideas about quality of life have changed for myself since I have become a mother. There is a lot more suffering and pain and humiliation that I am willing to endure now that I don't want to leave my children without a mother in this world.

1 comment:

Misty said...

I really don't think that people understand if they haven't been through it or seen it like you have. I will never forget the interview I saw with a man who had been severely burned and lost all his limbs. He said that even though he was now married, had a family, and was extraordinarily happy - the pain he went through was not worth it, and he wouldn't wish it on anyone. It made a big impression on me.