A few days ago I watched an episode of The Doctors that feature a young boy, Justin Smith, who was found frozen on the side of a road. He appeared to be dead, but the doctor who has handed his case refused to declare him dead until he had seen the patient because he had been in the same situation years ago himself on the same day, where his daughter had passed. Miraculously, the medical team performed CPR and used ECMO to revive him back to life. ECMO, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, is a method to provide adequate oxygenation to the body used in lots of heart and lung surgeries. I think of it as like dialysis for oxygenation - a machine circulates your blood, taking out the carbon dioxide and returning oxygen to supply the body during intensive surgeries, and in this case, life support. What surprised me most about this story, on top of the boy surviving with minor amputations, is that during his coma his mother stated that she never lost hope and that the family would "take him any way [they] could." Even if he was a vegetable. Really? Would I do that?
Part of me is inclined to think that part of the reason the mother said this because 1). She's his mother and naturally, why would she want to let go?, and 2). This took them by surprise and happened unexpectedly. If someone you loved was suddenly yanked from your grasp and hovering over the pits of death, you'd want to be able to have them back too, wouldn't you? But what about a few years from then? Would she still want her son "any way [she] could?"
I'm not criticizing her because I would probably do the same thing, but I wonder if she's ever seen a vegetable. And I mean a person-vegetable, not the ones I liked to eat but haven't been able to stomach since coming back from Iceland. I once took care of a patient who was in a persistent vegetative state due to an anoxic brain injury from cardiac arrest. All day, everyday, he laid in bed seemingly unaware of who was in the room or what was being done to him. He sweated profusely constantly. He couldn't speak. He couldn't even turn, and if he had an itch on his nose he couldn't even scratch it. But wait, he actually couldn't even process that his nose was itchy, for that matter. Do you know how annoying it is to have an itch and not be able to scratch it?! I'm sure we've all been there, but that was the best case scenario in his list of problems and things he couldn't do. I'm sure you guys can all imagine the other things he couldn't do - the things he couldn't even think to do, for that matter. And just a side note*: that's why I feel so grateful everyday to be able to wake up, be able to think out and plan my day, and (usually) go out and do it. This man couldn't.
And yet, his health care proxy still wanted him alive.
I'm sure there is research that shows, and I strongly believe, that he was still aware to some degree. But really, where's the quality of life in that? To be confined to a bed everyday, having people cater to you, unable to do something so much and as simple as pulling the blankets up over you if you're cold?
Just makes me think. I don't know.