Friday, June 10, 2005

Annihilating Terri Schiavo

It's been a while since I thought of Terri Schiavo, especially in comparision to the watch I kept as her death was forced upon her. But today I came across this article, very provoking, written by Dr. Paul McHugh, who is the University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. He speaks so eloquently that it is worth reading the entire article, but I have abstracted a tiny part where he speaks of his experience with a man, who until a botched brain operation left him in a state similiar to Terri Schiavo's state, "had been quite simply the foremost clinical scientist in America."

"But this did not ease the task before me upon visiting his bedside each morning as I searched for something interesting to say to my jaded interns. Soon enough they began to grumble that I was repeating myself as I would note dutifully that, although Dr. A’s apathetic state was profound and unchanging, occasionally such a patient might, if startled, give out a coherent response revealing some human consciousness. Looking at the man lying before them, they thought they had ample reason to doubt the applicability of my ideas to this case. A particularly bold intern challenged me one morning: "Enough of that, show us that he can respond."

I knew perfectly well that I was being baited over a matter where I was unsure of my ground, but I moved briskly from the records cart to the bed, shook the patient by the shoulder, and asked in a sharp voice: "Dr. A, what’s the serum calcium in pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism?" For the first time in my experience with him, he glanced up at me and, loudly enough for all the interns to hear, said: "It’s just about normal."

A full and complete sentence had emerged from a man whom none of us had ever heard speak before. His answer was correct — as he should know, having discovered and named the condition I asked him about. Subsequently, in all the months we cared for him, he would never utter another word. But what a difference that moment had made to all of us. We matured that day not only in matters of the mind but in matters of the heart. Somehow, deep inside that body and damaged brain, he was there—and our job was to help him. If we had ever had misgivings before, we would never again doubt the value of caring for people like him."

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