Ethical dilemmas. That’s what they called it.
Her eyes passed over us like a hawk scouring it’s prey as she crept up the lecture hall stairs, hunched over with her hands clasped behind her back. As every computer screen scrolled facebook or other lecture notes, her voice droned on, with questions about autonomy and morality followed by long silences. I was immersed in spinal reflex arcs when the lights dimmed and a video of her TEDTalk began to play. This caught my attention.
She spoke of “contemporary death”, or the idea of modern medicine sustaining lives that are filled with disease and dependance, in contrast to older times when disease and sickness killed swiftly. Then an old, fated photograph of her and her husband appeared on the screen, and she spoke about how he broke his neck in a bicycle accident and became a quadriplegic. Her voice broke as she pondered the question, “Did I do the right thing?” Warm, fat tears rolled down my cheeks. I ask myself that question nearly every day.
Students began to speak up to her questions, defending the patient’s life and confidently choosing to help the patient by doing everything they could to heal them. I could feel my blood boiling and my hands clenched the chair to keep myself from belting out, “SO THEN WHAT?” They live. And they are stuck in the corner of a nursing home FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIFE, wondering if the world forgot about them? Not being able to dress themselves or go see a movie or buy the candy bar they’ve been craving all day? That isn’t healing.
I know my dad doesn’t want to be alive. The question she verbalized was one I’ve never said out loud myself:
“Did I do the right thing?”
Some days, I can forget. I become immersed in my studies, bury myself in books, fill my brain with concepts and figures and definitions. It is what I have always done – it is my coping mechanism. When I was younger, my parents would scream and fight and bones would break, and I would study even harder. School became my sanctuary.
Other days, his spirit sits in the back of my skull like a dull shadow. He clouds my vision, grabs my thoughts, and breaks my heart. It can be a voicemail or merely a classmate talking about camping with their dad. But today, all I could think about was the half-finished painting sitting in my living room, of the hospital room.
The question she should have addressed is,
“Is existing equivalent to living?”