Brain Death, Organ Donors, The Story I Will Not Tell
This is the story of a story which I will not write, and a video I shall not make, and tears I will not shed.
Also, perhaps paradoxically, perhaps not, I write what follows on the assumption that it will not be widely read. I will assume that it will remain between you and me, and not go further...
Allow me to explain.
As you may remember from another recent posting, I am giving blood on a regular basis...or more precisely, platelets. I had intended to take a break from donating, but then the blood bank contacted me saying that a child was receiving a heart transplant and was in need of my particular brand of platelets. Naturally, I was in the chair making my donation in a matter of hours.
I hope … I pray (yes, strangely enough, I have been known to do so)....that the operation was a complete success and the child is now recovering safely and will know a long and happy life, with much joy, and good health.
But, you see the complication. If that child received a heart, then some other child died. Some child, someone’s son or daughter, passed on and donated her or his organs so that others might live.
When I realized that one child’s hope was another’s tragedy...I was, well, shaken. I have been thinking about it, on and off, ever since. It is an unsettling thing to know that every hope, no matter how bright and glorious, is so often paired with a tragedy,
Anyway...thinking thus, I found I wanted to do something to help, somewhere. It wasn’t clear to me what that could be. But, as a first step at least, I signed up as an organ donor myself. I used to carry a donor’s card, but those tend to get lost in the wallet and the shuffle. So, I signed up with the Texas DMV. I am now officially on record there, and even in the midst of chaos, my choice will be on file courtesy of the Web. If you’re interested, by the way, go to organdonor.gov. They will let you know, there, how to sign up with your own state program. Simply and easy. Took me less than five minutes.
Then, too, partly because of that, and partly because I was a little inspired, I decided I would do a video on the subject -- a little bit of fiction that would also promote the concept of organ donation. It wouldn’t be anything special, of course, but it might do some good. Who knows? It might even win a laurel or two in the little film festivals I keep entering.
So, I sat down to write the script …
And came to a crashing halt.
I hope and pray it went well.
I simply couldn’t put the thing on paper. I would seat myself in front of my word processor, open a new file, stare at the blank page brightly...and nothing would come.
Why? I tried to figure it out. At first, I thought I had writer’s block (shuddersome term) because children were involved. I had seen, you see, a video on Instagram of a “honor walk.” This is a new custom getting started in hospitals. It is quite beautiful, if very sad. When someone is being transported to the operating room for the last time, the medical staff as well as the person’s family stand in the hallway to honor him or her. (You can see more about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor_walk)
As I say, beautiful but very, very sad...and the video I saw in particular was that of the final journey of a seven year old girl. That was so hard to watch. And, yes, I will confess, I was in tears before it was done. When the girl’s mother called out, “I love you!” just before she entered the operating room, well, I was a bit devastated. I am crying now, again, just as I think about it, which will give you some idea what a mess I am.
And, I confess, I had thought, vaguely, about doing the video with that child as the main character, but I soon realized that was impossible. I would be an emotional ruin if I did.
Would be hard on me.
Very well, I thought, I would do the story instead with an older person as the donor. I envisioned it as follows: a man, about my age, is on a gurney during the final stroll. He is dead, of course, but somehow he is able to see the scene. Maybe it is an out of body experience. Anyway, he is confused by it. Why are these people standing in front of him? Why have they come? What has he done to be worthy of their respect?
He, alas, has a few mental issues. He feels himself unworthy. He feels he has accomplished nothing in life. He feels a failure and a fraud. And then, to add (massive, fatal) injury to insult, he went to vote in the 2020 election. He goes to his polling place. There are hordes of Trump supporters already there. They are attempting to intimidate voters who might not agree with them. They have brought their guns and trucks. They fill the parking lot and fly Trump and Confederate flags. And if you’re wondering, yes, this has really happened in several places. Strangely, worryingly, the police did not interfere.
He is not, however, easily intimidated. Decades of being bullied as a child and a young man have rendered him strangely immune to such tactics. He parks his car at a distance and walks to his voting place, ignoring the men and guns and trucks around him.
He is white, so at first he is not approached, but then someone notices the Biden button on his lapel. Large, angry men block his way. He ignores them. He simply goes around them. He keeps on his way…
A furious vulgarian with a pipe comes up behind him…
He never feels the blow.
He falls to the asphalt. Even then he might have been saved, but the crowd interferes ...they do not make way when the emergency vehicles arrive...and by the time the EMTs get to him, he is gone…
The medical professionals make every effort to save his life but it is useless. He is brain dead. And shortly after that...the honor walk.
As he goes, he...or his spirit...or whatever...has a conversation with ...someone. Death, maybe. Or an angel? His own higher self? Whatever. And that Wholly and Holy Other explains to him that his life has not been without value. That he has done much which is good. And, behold, even while dying, he is being of service to the world. His donated organs will save others...two score, perhaps.
And then he enters the operating room...and we know he is translated to some other, better place, where his virtue will be rewarded.
It seemed an easy piece to write, and potentially an excellent video. I had even located some useful stock footage -- mostly from Mixkit.co but also from Pixabay, which offer (mostly) free clips, but I also planned to break down and purchase at least one or maybe two pieces from iStock.com. And then I was going to bulk all that up with stock photos (Adobe Stock is my go-to supplier), and a few images that I’d personally create with Poser 11 or Daz3D.
That was the plan.
But, again, I sat down to write...and nothing came.
His last gift to the world...
I was bewildered. What the hell was going on? Why wasn’t I writing? Was I just tired? Did the subject no longer interest me?
Maybe, I thought, it was because the whole spiritual aspect of the thing seemed unconvincing. I don’t know if there is or isn’t a life after death, but I’m guessing that if there is, it is nothing like what we can envision. I’m guessing that we can no more picture “life after life” than we can envision an existence in four or five dimensions.
Worse, what I did have in mind was kind of corny. I had worked out a couple of clips hinting at his passing. There would be a doctor putting on her mask and smiling while windows opened to a new world. (I’ll post a sample someplace in this text.)
But, you see, that’s cliched. Our literature already contains too many angels conveying too many newly dead to heaven...and those angels are so busy reassuring the dearly departed of the value of their lives. (“Each time a bell rings…” God spare us.)
So, I tried again...this time trying to do something less obvious, more mysterious...but, of course, you know what’s coming, that didn’t work either.
Then I understood.
The Clip I Did...
When I started to do the piece, I did a little research into organ transplantation. Not much, but some. And one of the things I had learned was that the best time to procure the organs in question is as soon as possible after the death of the donor.
Okay, but here's where things get complicated. When I say “death” I mean “brain death,” or, technically, “brain stem death.” But, either way, there is no detectable activity in the brain. You are legally and medically considered deceased, and your death certificate is dated from the moment that the doctors determine that you are, well, gone.
But here is where things get complicated. As I say, “you” are dead. However, your heart is still beating. Your lungs may still inflate (if you’re on a ventilator). Your kidneys perform their function. Your liver rids the body of toxins. And so on.
What this means, though, is that the exact place where the line dividing the Quick and the Dead is a little blurred. You are dead, but parts of your body are still living. Which means, in turn, that when they harvest your organs, they are still in operation. And, for some people, that means “you” are still alive while they cut you open, and “you” are not dead until the doctors “kill” you on the operating table.
Now, understand me, such a proposition is absurd. Brain death is death. The soul, if there are such things as souls, is flown. There is no one home. As a minister I once knew put it in a sermon, the Tomb Is Empty.
Brain Death, or, technically, brain stem death
Let’s confess, the idea that you might be still alive, by some criteria (however absurd) is creepy. But, then, life is often creepy. And I would much rather experience this kind of creepiness than know I was too squeamish to save the lives of other people when I, myself, have already left the proverbial building. Want my heart, liver, and lungs? Go for it. I’m not using ‘em.
But, here’s what I discovered. As I did my research, I found that there are people who regard the donation of organs in such circumstances as equivalent to murder. They, therefore, argue against organ donation, and...and!...some of these people are actively working for legislation that would prohibit the procurement of organs from people who were “merely” brain dead.
That is insane. Utterly insane. It is also fantastically cruel. Should such laws be passed, they would doom many, many people to certain death--including that child who was receiving the heart transplant in whose history I played a small, but, I hope, useful part.
Moreover, keep in mind that mad as anti-donation people are, they could pull it off--either directly, by passing laws, or, indirectly, by convincing the families of the dead not to go through with donation.
It has happened and could again. Even as we speak, there are dead people on ventilators all over the country, occupying space, chewing up resources, doing no good for themselves or anyone else, because families or states have decided that it is “kinder” to leave them to rot than to “pull the plug.”
Which is horrible.
A gift of life...
It is also why I couldn’t do the video...
I could not do it because in the script I had the main character participating, somehow, in the story. He was, somehow, involved in what was happening. Oh, he wasn’t really there. It was only his spirit that was present, and his psyche or soul or whatever was in conversation with an ethereal being from another plane...but he was still aware.
Which I could not tolerate. The last thing I wanted to do was present the donor as being alive in the moments before donation. I absolutely could not give any credence to the idea that brain death isn’t death, and that you...whatever a “you” is...have anything to lose at that point. I could not encourage those who might try to prevent organ donation...when so very many people, including children, need it.
I had to abandon the story.
That Someone Might Live
By the way, the only reason I’m writing this at all is because I know that it won’t get very far. I don’t have many readers and those that I have I trust. I know that you won’t spread this story far and wide, and you won’t say, “see, see? Donation is bad. You are alive when they take out your heart.”
I guess that this is one of the few times I’ve been glad to be obscure.
Though, my confidence in you, my readers, has always been rewarded.
But that’s the story of how I could not do a story. I couldn’t because I did not want to encourage in any way those who might make the world a colder place, an earth more cruel, and doing so in the name of “kindness,” and of being “Pro-life.”
Curious, in this case, how being “pro-life” means taking the side of the dead against the living.
And another thing...I could not do this piece, and potentially encourage those who are so clearly and completely in the wrong…
Particularly as, right now, so many of those in the wrong are also those in power. Just a short time ago, just days before the 2020 election, we watched while the GOP rushed into office a Supreme Court justice whose history on these kinds of issues...of what is life and what is death…
Let’s just say that her views are disturbing.
Which is not to say terrifying.
To Receive, or to give...
Well, anyway, I guess that’s all for the day.
But, let me close with one last thought.
You and I, the two of us, we may need to fight for the right of organ donation.
Here’s the thing, the rich and powerful? The people who are being represented by that Supreme Court justice, and for whose interests she will fight? Even while ignoring ours?
Those people will always have access to organs and donations and the best of care. They are capable of commanding them. And even if there are laws against the voluntary donation of organs, can you believe that those laws will apply to them? Just as laws against abortion never seem to apply to those who sign the legislation?
Which is all to say…
If I cannot tell the story I meant to tell...that of the blessed donor...there is another tale which must be told...and it must be told by us all.
And in that story, we are all of us warriors…
In battle against corruption and evil and fraud in high places…
And in battle for...that child...in the operating room…
Receiving...or giving...the gift of life.
Until next time…
Onward and upward.