Are You There America? It's Me…

November 18, 2008

Dreams On Life Support

Filed under: Fiction,Politics,Prose — Simone Barros @ 4:55 pm
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The doctor and nurse enter the sterile hospital room where machines hum, buzz and beep the factuality of their existence overpowering the faint sounds of sighs, coughs and wheezing.  The human sounds are not so certain of their existence.  The nurse tends to everything from the IVs to bedding.  The doctor asks, “How’s the patient?”  I can’t help but think, “You know better than me.  You, who can read the wheezing and coughs, you, see inside the chest and mind with x-rays and CAT scans, you tell me how the patient is doing” and in my silence, he does.  “The patient is no longer breathing on her own.  These machines are keeping her alive.” 

Machines which will pump the breathe of life into her lungs without judgment or prejudice for the kind life it is.  It could be miserable and torturous and desperately painful but the machine doesn’t care.  The doctor goes on talking but I’m stuck wondering why the machine doesn’t care. 

As long as the blood flows and the heart beats the machine doesn’t care.  As long as the stomach churns food, the fuel of the system, the machine doesn’t care.  I wonder would the machine pay any attention if that fuel ran out.  The patient’s figure once of such girth now lies frail and thin.  The fuel is running out.  How low must the fuel go before the machine cares?  I suppose the fuel would have dry up to the point where blood cells stood stalled on the arterial highways. 

From the parade of medical terms marching out of the doctor’s month, I see “white blood cells.”  Like the veterans in the Veteran’s Day parade, the white blood cells hobble and crank by in wheelchairs, their fortitude admirable but their numbers dwindling.  This once formidable patient now lies vulnerable to any and all attacks to her immune system.  I wonder does the machine care of her weakening defenses. 

The doctor clips the CAT scan to a light box hanging on the wall.  “Here is the remarkable thing.”  I lift my eyes heavy with exhaustion to view this black and white image of the patient’s grey matter.  “Such a unique case qualifies for the research in neurology.  Her insurance isn’t covering this so might as well free up this bed.  Neurology would be thrilled, I’m sure. The brain activity for a person with this much failure in the respiratory system is remarkable.” 

So is this what the machine cares about?  Brain activity?  Even though the patient seems so disconnected with the things going on around her and in her, somewhere the mind activates… what?  Dreams?  Visions of happier days to come?  Why do the dreams go one when all else fails?  Is this what the machine cares about?  Does the machine defy every other sign of death because of brain activity?  Could be?  The electricity that flows through the machine’s wiring might pick up some kind of interference from the electricity in the brain.  Is the machine betting that as long as it can keep the dream alive, it will have a purpose and not be unplugged and shoved into a storage-closest?  

 “That must be it!” I exclaim.  The doctor who confers with a nurse stops mid-sentence.  The machine has nothing to do with actually healing the patient’s failures and making her dreams a reality.  The machine only needs to keep the dream alive.  Keep the dream alive.  Keep the dream alive just so the patient muddles through this less than life, life.  “Unplug the machine.”  I announce.  The doctor barks about the constitutional rights of the patient.   He speaks of the right to life.  I proclaim the right to a free life.  I announce and proclaim though they lean in close like I’m panting out words clouded in mucus-y odor.  The nurse looks between the two of us, “She is speaking.  Doctor, you must listen.  She has opened her eyes!” 

My dreams are on life-support because that’s all of me that’s left but at some point the decision has to be made to pull the plug. 

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