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Terri Schiavo

March 31, 2009

terri_s11People old enough to remember know exactly where they were and what they were doing when the news of President Kennedy’s assassination hit the airwaves. I had not been born yet.


When the news that Terri Schiavo had died, quietly, but probably painfully, on March 31, 2005, I do know exactly where I was and what I was doing.  I was working at an image-consulting firm teaching high power clients how to maximize their appearance for corporate climbing. There was a radio softly creating background atmosphere and an emotionless news bite delivered the story.


I went to the ladies room and cried.


The Terri Schaivo story frightened me.  The daily coverage of her condition coupled with the legal brouhaha about whether or not to disconnect her feeding tube hit home for me.


During that time my favorite Aunt was alive, trapped inside a body ravaged by 13 strokes and 5 intricate brain surgeries that occurred within a 7-day time span.  These strokes had taken her short-term memory, but her long-term memory was intact (make no mistake the human brain is the best, most complicated super computer available).


The strokes also robbed my Aunt of her ability to communicate, most times, beyond a repertoire of unintelligible grunts, groans, squeals and roars. Occasionally with enough coaxing she would repeat a word or two and even make a sentence. One day while the TV was on in her room at home where our family cared for her until her last days a Campbell’s soup commercial came on  – no jingle, just the voiceover selling us soup, but as the commercial played, my Aunt, with no prompting hummed and said, “mmmmmm, good”, just like the Campbell’s soup commercials of old used to do. This tickled us, but it did not surprise us.


A stranger, like perhaps a court Judge, would have been astounded by this seemingly unlikely feat though we were not. We knew she was inside the damaged body that had betrayed her. These are the things FAMILY knows.


The strokes also took my Aunt’s ability to swallow and she was fed by a feeding tube, in her stomach, 3 times each day. She was also given water, vitamins and a series of prescription drugs through the same feeding tube.


She was a handful requiring Her family lovingly provided that care. Was it easy? Of course not! Could we have put her in a facility to soften our struggle? Sure we could have. But what we knew was that we loved her more than anything and despite that love there were times when we wanted to wheel her motorized bed onto our driveway – but we never did, nor would we ever had. Leaving her care to strangers who may have offered compassionate care, but who could not offer it with the same love for her as her family had, was not an option for us.


We remembered the woman before the strokes – proud and strong and beautiful.

Caring for her was our biggest task, yet our biggest joy. The suggestion that a Judge could have ordered us to stop feeding her and giving her water scarred the daylights out of me.


My Aunt, like Terri, has died. Still, the thought of a stranger (a Judge), who never heard her hum the Campbell’s soup song or who never saw her smile when her only nice (me) came in her room, or who didn’t know that this sound meant, “I need a diaper change” or that the other sound meant, “The sun is in my eyes, please close the blinds”, having the power to have come in and make the decision to deny her food and water boggled my mind.


Our family would never have made that choice. But I wondered back then what if Medicare had decided they were tired of shipping crates of diapers and liquid food each month and could save thousands of dollars by simply disconnecting her feeding tube – then sought out a Judge who would do it.


I still wonder.

What do you think?


Never forget, Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo (Terri Schiavo)

December 3, 1963 – March 31, 2005




One Comment leave one →
  1. Sanford permalink
    April 4, 2009 5:18 pm

    You’ve given me food for thought and reflection by sharing your words. The thought of withholding food…I really didn’t know the details of Terri’s case until I heard about your aunt’s. Thanks for the share. The words remind me and others that we need to remain human and hold on to humanity.

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