Thursday, June 1, 2006

charlotte

Here's something else I shouldn't be reading right now, in my highly emotional pregnant state: articles and theological statements on artificial nutrition and hydration for patients in what they call a "persistent vegetative state." But I'm working on an article, so read them I must, and I've doing it all morning and a good part of the week.

I cannot read about this stuff without imagining what it would be like if Steve or I were faced with such a situation. This morning, my mind spins a scene where I am caring for my husband at home. He's hooked up to feeding tubes but no longer able to communicate with the outside world. (He does not want this. He has told me. Yet and still, the scenario remains ...) How would I make his life the best it could be? Maybe we'd watch movies together. I'd make sure he doesn't miss an episode of Washington Week each Friday night and reruns of The Office. I'd take him outdoors for walks in his wheelchair, if he's able to sit up, just so he can feel the sun on his face. I'd surround him with Monterey cypress trees and the rocks from the North Shore that he loves to collect, in hopes he's aware of their presence. I'd kiss him every day and remind him of times we've shared. I'd sing him songs and play his favorite music: Maybe he can still hear through his iPod.

Would these things make him happy? Would he be relieved to be alive, grateful for the life force he still has? Or would he stew about his condition, resenting shows like Washington Week because politics mean nothing to him now? Would he hate me for keeping him going when he'd rather go meet his maker? (Would I be strong or sure enough to honor his wish, if that's what he wants? Would it be the right thing to do?) Would he even register what's happening on the outside? What about me? Would I be strong enough to care for him? Would I be able to do these things without crying all the time? Would I be angry and have trouble accepting this lot in life, or would I be grateful to have any part of him still with me? Would caring for him make me a better person, teach me important lessons about dignity and humility and humanity? Just thinking about it puts me close to tears. I have to shake my head and refocus on the white page in front of me, the red pen in my hand. It's just work. It's just an assignment. It's not likely to happen to us.

My parents are friends with a couple who live on the Oregon coast and have two daughters. One of them, Charlotte, is my age. We both loved reading and writing as kids, and I remember her as serious and quiet. One Christmas vacation during college, when our family was visiting, we sat on her bedroom floor in front of her tall bookcase and talked about becoming writers someday. She was interested in journalism. She loaned me a couple of her favorite writing books, including one by Natalie Goldberg, which I still go to sometimes when I need a creative jolt. Not long after that, she was coasting down a hill on her bike and was hit by a truck. She has been in a coma ever since. Now I am the journalist, and I still have her books.

She lives near her parents in a home that gives her special care, and her parents still visit her regularly. I don't think she can communicate with them, but who knows? Maybe she has mastered some slight movement that enables her to get through to the outside world. I don't really know what her life is like now, but I'd like to know how her parents do it — how they make her life special, what they talk about when they visit her, how they cope. Something makes me want to go see her the next time I'm there, if it wouldn't be upsetting for her parents or for her. I don't know what I'd tell her, but I wish she could know that I think about her and remember the time we spent together as kids. Does she remember me? I wonder if she writes stories in her head. I wonder, if she ever were to come out of her coma, what words would tumble out of her onto a sheet of paper or a computer screen. I wonder if she feels grateful to be alive.

1 comment:

baby~amore' said...

very thought provoking and I wish I knew what I would do if it was one of my loved ones.