This Thing Named Mercy
Spring 2016 – Euthanasia has been legalized for 18 months
Lydia was always an image of joy, and had such an influence on others around her that everyone must have, at one time or another, secretly said to themselves “What a beautiful, adorable young girl”. As her doctor, I felt unique and special bond with Lydia because I was one of the few people who had the good fortune of being there from the very beginning of her life – her life and her death – her eleventh birthday. I also knew the truth that her parents continually ignored – Lydia would never get better, or recover. She was going to die like she was – Bill and Jan’s little baby.
Bill and Jan loved their daughter more than their own lives – this was never the question – it was love unyielding, unrelenting, and without compromise. Nevertheless, the pressure that is always associated with the handle and care of a very ill loved-one was taking a heavy toll on the couple, and they were finding themselves in argument more and more as the days and time went on and past. The days passed relentlessly without mercy for these two people, and after 10 years of marriage, the end of their union was visibly, and fast, approaching – but, not if Jan could have a say in the matter.
The two were becoming increasingly overburdened, and increasingly non-responsive to each other, which had lately started to take on form as sympathetic arguments between Bill and Jan – on behalf of Lydia of course. Bill began to talk of removing Lydia from life-support... "... for the sake of Lydia", was how he would begin making his case. Each time Bill started, Jan knew that he secretly desired to stop the torment of the daily hospital visit where he felt his instinctive fatherly omnipotence sanguinely strangled from him – one tiny 6-year old breath, by one tiny 6-year old breath. For Jan it was simple, she would want whatever her husband wanted – she was focusing on trying to save their marriage – they could have another child, nevertheless, she would always create a new and better argument for keeping Lydia on life-support. It is the nature of Jan-the-giver-and-provider of life to abandon nihilism, and embrace undying hope – the hope that life will remain where there still beats a heart.
Lydia was literally a shadow now. She lay in her hospital bed each day slowly being disintegrated by the cancer that ran through her little frame, but the cancer was being denied the satisfaction of the pain it creates by the drugs running through Lydia’s little body just as fast.
At times, during Bill’s visits to Lydia, he would start suddenly from a light dream state – he nodded off often beside Lydia’s bed. But, these lapses of consciousness led to lapses of reason where the day-mares would most times be about somebody entering Lydia’s room and taking her away from him and Jan. These day-mares made Bill feel as though at any moment a nurse could come in and by simply opening the curtain to shed light, it would be that very light that would make Lydia vanish into oblivion. It would be here that Bill would get up, go to the main floor cafeteria, and buy two or three cups of coffee-to-go.
Several weeks more pass.
It was a beautiful mid-May Sunday morning. The bees had taken the morning off because of the rain that had fallen overnight. The air smelled of jasmine, hyacinths, and lilacs, and I could not think of anything else but little Lydia. I left my downtown ground-floor apartment around 1:30PM, but I had not decided if I would be going to the Children’s Hospital as of yet. My actions would soon dispute and disprove that false assumption.
I had spent most of my day in the stupor and the cloud of my discomforting daydreams. I found myself at the nurse’s station at the hospital about 6:00 PM – a "little" past the supper hour. I had unconsciously made the trek on foot – walking around downtown Toronto’s Younge Street for several hours in an unobstructed and uninterrupted daze. I eventually found myself standing at the front of the downtown International hostel – a big building, a tall building, and then recalled that I was only a block or so away from the Children’s Hospital. I made my way there.
The nurse on duty was polite in that subtle Caribbean way. I commented on her perfume and smile, and then I asked her to please refrain from any interruptions because I was going in to see Lydia Denier and I did not want to be disturbed. She, the nurse, complied with a nod saying, “Yes Karen,” and then showed off her lovely bright disarming smile, but the nod and the smile were both without thought of any kind, and behind her bright glassy eyes was the standoffish manner most nurses take when addressing most doctors, including myself. We are two different pedigrees, but inexorably intertwined because of our positions.
When I entered the room, Lydia looked as peaceful, and as quiet as ever. Her bed faced the window, and the light was at such a level that it caused me to reflect on how focused Lydia’s little face appeared. Her eyes blinked fast, and I pictured her somewhere far away, and this brought to my mind a song by the Irish rock group U2 called Kite, and the particular line, “who’s to say where the wind will take you.”
I reached into my coat and took it out. I tapped it twice and stuck it into Lydia’s intravenous tube, and after the syringe emptied into the tube, I stared at this little girl’s frail arm, and I waited. I watched and waited a lifetime lasting 20 seconds then I knew she was dead.
I did not think at that moment I had a choice, or would I allow myself any chance to ponder the little girl’s fate. I as a doctor, who has been granted the ability to save lives, can also assume that I can also be responsible, and, ethical enough, to make the decision as to when enough is enough.
This… this act of mercy eloquently named Euthanasia, cannot be defined with animal logic, or by non-secular terms, but it could only be treated as it ought to be treated – objectively, and without bias. Nevertheless, Lydia’s face is the last thing I see before I fall asleep, and it is the first thing I see when I awake, but I am able to live with what I have done – there is no sense of wrong or sin.