I'm In A Coma by Terry Schaivo
I think I’m having a weird weird dream and I can’t wake up. Or else I’ve lost my mind. It’s very hard to distinguish. I hear voices, I see faces, words float by in space, everything happens so fast. It must be one or the other. It’s all kind of disconnected and floaty-woaty, all soupy-swirly in my dream, or in the world, whatever. In any case there’s this girl, this woman, this poor poor woman. It feels like I’ve known about her for a long long time. Her name is Terry something and she’s in a coma. It’s all so odd. Actually I think she’s brain-dead and everybody’s talking about her because they want to let her die and be out of her misery or else they want to let her die and be out of their own misery. I’m not clear about that. Dreams can be so frustrating. But actually that’s what makes them fun, the way you’re never really sure what’s going on. I don’t mind that, like when I read, I like to not know for sure what’s going on. I like to have questions. So this dream thing really fits my lifestyle.
Anyway extraordinary things are happening in my dream (my life?). I can’t quite get the gist of it, but the Senate of the United States has convened in special session whatever that means, and they are talking about this poor poor Terry Schaivo person. Imagine: the Senate is meeting because someone is in a coma. This has got to be a dream. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen in real life. Who’s kidding who? Anyway, it’s all about her feeding tube. They want to take away her feeding tube. And the Senate wants to stop them. They’re voting! They’re voting! The roll is being called. They’re voting on strict party lines. The House Republicans in the Ways and Means Committee have sent a bill to the floor that would provide graduated tax cuts over a ten-year horizon for anyone living in Florida whose last name begins with the letter “S” who has a close family member being kept alive by artificial life support. I don’t understand. Why would they do that? What has that got to do with Terry S---. Oh I get it. That’s very clever. Several Republicans are voicing misgivings about social legislation that attempts to invade the personal and private decisions made by people with very sick family members, but here comes some guy named Dennis Hastert. His name is floating right underneath his face. Isn’t that odd? He’s pointing out that no one has the right to die, not even a Democrat, not even a Liberal Democrat. That man just has a huge heart. I think I’m going to cry. I’m so emotional. This must be a dream, like one of those waking dreams where you’re aware you’re dreaming but you stay in the dream anyway and watch it with your waking mind. Yeah, I’ll bet that’s it.
And here’s some guy named Cheney. Lon Cheney? No he was the man of a thousand faces. This guy doesn’t seem to have any face at all, he’s so bland. They say he is unexpectedly throwing gas on the political firestorm by coming out in favor of death and the right to die. There’s a little news crawl underneath him like he’s on tv. It says he received this gas in lieu of payment for favors granted to an undisclosed corporation! He’s striding up to the microphone in a slowmotion, not-quite-human, maybe-he’s-a-robot kind of way, and he starts to speak. This is weird with a beard. “I believe death has served this country well,” this Cheney guy is saying in a very mild, psycho-killer kind of way. He gives me the chills. There’s that little news crawl again. How does he do that? It says he’s speaking at an unspecified time from an unknown location. “I think everyone ought to die,” he continues. “Eventually. And some people should die right now. (You all know who I’m thinking about. His initials are O b L.). People should not live forever. Death is what gives life meaning. And I am not the first person to say this. Although I am the most important. And I think this position, which I freely espouse, will put to rest once and for all any doubts any of you have had regarding the influence of drug and pharmaceutical companies on this administration’s policies. We take enormous amounts of money from those people, and you can bet they are in favor of extending life, particularly when expensive drugs and complicated procedures are required. And another thing. You can’t wage war without death. So, I mean, come on.”
Now I know I’m dreaming. This is really funny. Why do I think of all my best jokes when I’m dreaming, and then when I wake up they’re not funny anymore?
Wow. Now President Bush is holding a press conference. My, people come and go so quickly around here. (Am I in Oz? Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that later.) Wow look at President Bush. He looks so young. He used to be old, didn’t he? What is the deal here? Now the President is cautiously disagreeing with Mr. Cheney’s position. He’s speaking at a breakfast for The Coalition to Stop Abortion Because We Are Going to Need the Soldiers and he’s saying, “You know if we had this tax cut for people on life-support back in ’63, John Fitzgerald Kennedy might still be President. Did you ever think about that?”
I’m not sure if he’s right about that. There’s a flaw in his logic, but I can’t put my finger on it. Oh this is so like a dream!
Breaking News! Breaking News! I can see these words flashing in front of my eyes. This is like a hallucination or something. And there’s this talking head floating in space right in front of me. He’s sitting at a desk and he’s saying that Senator Fist has touched off a firestorm on Capitol Hill by subpoenaing a woman who is a persistent vegetable because he wants to question her at hearing on the Healthcare industry. Oh it’s Terry Schaivo he wants to subpoena. Subpoena? Subpoena? Is that a word? He says that now they can’t remove her feeding tube because she’s a federal witness and that would be witness tampering. This is too weird for words. Who is Senator Fist? And why is he calling her a persistent vegetable? Brussels sprouts are a persistent vegetable, they’re so hard to eat. Now Democrats are leaping into the fray warning that they will cry foul if Ms. Schiavo’s testimony smacks of coaching or political posturing. They’re not literally leaping, it’s just this voice I hear, like I’ve got a voiceover announcer in my head. Actually they’re insisting that if Ms. Schiavo is called to testify she had better be prepared for some tough questions. “This will not be a softball session, we will be throwing the hard stuff at her,” declares one Democratic Senator who requested anonymity. “Like, ‘If you’re so brain-dead what do you care whether we unplug you or not?’ Questions like that!” This whole thing is really getting me down. Life is so weird, so depressing. I feel really bad about my life, how I’ve squandered it, caused pain to others, accomplished nothing. And I can’t even wake up. It’s awful. I want to end my life. Hey here’s Senator Fist. I guess I should ask him for permission to end my life. Senator Fist is a truly remarkable man. He asks me if I am a Republican. I say, “Yes I am.” He says, “Then, no, you do not have the right to die.”
And now the Senate is meeting in extraordinary session today regarding an amendment to the constitution. They’re about to read out the new amendment. Wait, first someone on the Senate floor has moved for a vote to decide whether to pull the plug on Jerry Falwell. Can this really be happening? The vote goes along party lines with the Republicans voting yes and the Democrats abstaining. And now they’re reading out the constitutional amendment. This is incredibly exciting! “Congress shall pass no law (when the Majority Leader of the Senate is currying favor with the religious right for a Presidential run or the Majority Leader of the House is deflecting criticism from his ethical violations) abridging the rights of human beings to die with dignity.” Oh, this all happening so fast. I’m getting dizzy. I don’t feel so good. I need to lie down. Wait. I am lying down. I’m in a hospital bed. Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Suddenly everything is becoming clear to me. Everything is falling into place. Oh my god it’s Easter Sunday and I am Terry Schiavo! Terry Schaivo is me! And I am waking up from a long long lovely dreamy sleep. I look at myself in the mirror that hangs on the wall of the bathroom door of my private room. I look like hell. Where is my muscle tone? I stretch my arms as well as I can and I feel a sweet languor flood through my body like slow spreading joy. I am so damn hungry. I could eat a horse. And thirsty. Feels like the Sahara in here. I cluck my thick sticky tongue against the top of my mouth. I feel a series of tiny sharp pains from my dry chapped lips. I reach with great difficulty for the nurse’s bell by the side of my bed and press it with all my strength. That really makes me dizzy.
What was that crazy dream? Something about somebody’s brain being shrunken and scarred, something about a fluid-filled cavity in my head? Wow. I have the weirdest dreams. Wait’ll I tell this one to Mike. Hey where is he? Hey where is that nurse? Oh my god look at me. I am fat. I have gained like thirty pounds. Oh gross. Wait a second. Wait a second. The president was here. Wasn’t he? He was talking to me. He was swearing on a bible or something. And something about delay. “The law’s delay”? No that’s Shakespeare. ”Do not delay until tomorrow”? No no that’s “put off.” “Tom Delay”? I don’t know a Tom Delay. Where the hell do I get this stuff. I should write this stuff down and try to sell it on eBay. What the hell is eBay? Was I on TV? The nurse walks into the room and screams. She falls to the floor on her bony old knees and starts speaking in tongues. Oh for christ sake what is her problem? The woman gets up and comes blubbering and fumbling over to me running her harsh dry hands all over my body. Hey hey, lady. Get your mitts off me. You’re not a doctor. The nurse puts her hands on my face, squeezes my cheeks like she was squeezing a baby and weeps and weeps until she buries her wet face on the hospital gown that covers my body.
“Could I get something to eat?” I ask calmly trying not to overwhelm the woman who for whatever reason has lost control of herself.
“Oh lord, Oh lord in heaven, oh Jesus, Praise Jesus.” The nurse runs out of the room reaching into her pocket for some kind of tiny snappy-open kind of phone, I’ve never seen anything like it, and she is already madly punching numbers as she jumps up and down in a mad kinetic frenzy shouting at the top of her lungs, “She’s awake. She’s talking. She’s hungry. Praise Jesus. Praise Jesus, it’s a miracle.” She faints dead away to the floor.
What is the big goddamn deal here? Yeah, I’m awake. Yeah, I’m hungry. Yeah, I’m talking. Something wrong with that? This is very weird. Wait a minute. Is something going on and nobody has told me about it? How long have I been asleep? Seems like ages and ages. And the Vietnam War is back, how is that possible? Or have they moved it? To the desert or something. Wow, must be another crazy dream I had. I don’t usually remember them that vividly. Must be the quiet in here.
And now there is an explosion of activity as if a thousand clowns have climbed out of a clown car and come running wild-eyed and half-mad into my tiny room shouting and gesticulating, taking my picture and talking into little bitty television cameras. Oh hell, I am going to die of starvation and thirst if I can’t get that damn nurse to wake up and pay attention to me.
And here is my husband Mike! at the door! standing in stunned silence, tears in his eyes and my parents! my Mom and my Dad laughing and weeping! Of course of course. I thought that baseball thing was just a dream too, but no it must have been real. The Red Sox have finally won the pennant!