Colleen Figg

'Where is the mercy?'

2009-05-08 11:05

Colleen Figg

I spent the entire day at a state hospital yesterday. I noticed a woman pushing a man in a wheelchair, every line of her posture defeated and hopeless, her face reflecting profound disillusionment with how life had turned out for her.

Her husband had lost one of his legs and was paralysed from the waist down. He sat, buckled over in his chair, unable to move under his own propulsion, unable even, to pull himself upright or get more comfortable in the chair.

As the hours passed I noticed she would periodically get behind him and haul him up; when she did this he emitted a groan filled with a pain that came from the spirit as well as the body.

In the end when I saw her preparing to lift him I would move out of earshot, for that low cry of desperation and defeat made me feel sad and helpless.

When they were not actively engaged in moving him or propping him up or taking him in to the doctor, they sat, the two, remote as strangers, tied by this bond of brutal illness that had become the third person in their marriage.

No freedom, no choices

They seemed to have nothing whatsoever to say to one another that did not pertain to the medical situation. Every now and then he would ask something and she would answer abruptly and impatiently. Then they would fall silent, each looking in the opposite direction, tired, bent and broken by a random card dealt by life.

Later I heard her saying she has to do this every week; bring him in for a check up, and for physiotherapy and every week the entire day is taken up with the process.

When they get home he is in so much pain from sitting in his wheelchair for so long she needs to give him medication to enable him to sleep. She never complained but her face said she expected nothing more from life that was decent, fair or enjoyable.

He would never walk again, she said; her life was narrowed, constricted, confined to caring for a man who himself took no more enjoyment from life than she; who had no freedom, no choices, no likelihood of improvement; rather a steady deterioration until he would bedridden, with a slow death to follow.

What is it about the human race, I wondered anew, that will sentence a man to suffer worse than an animal in the gutter, that will allow his life to be reduced to pain, suffering, inarticulate indignity, and still keep in effect a law that says we may not put him out of his misery?

What is our purpose?

Where is the mercy or dignity in allowing a life like that to carry on?

The people caring for him have lost all options in their own life, too; so we are not only affecting one man with this misplaced, ill-conceived law, we are affecting entire families, marriages, households, hospitals, until the fallout impacts on society at large not only economically but emotionally and psychologically, too.

There is something wickedly immoral about keeping such a system in place. If we are not truly our brother's keeper, then what is our purpose on this earth?

Send your comments to Colleen.

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