The entire procedure of exploration and deliberation that lead up to this final "accumulation paper" required a lot of reading and internal analysis. It was, and still very much is, a heavily touchy topic for me. Professor Clarke Speed’s Dying in Americana class really was the first class I fell in love with at college. It was honest, it was beautiful, and I had never before learned so much with such interest. This paper really hits me hard and it means a lot to me. [Side note: There are endnotes in this.] A visual was required alongside this paper. I came up with the depiction above.
It wasn’t until the following morning that I found out. I was in church. My friend, at the time, had asked me if I knew; I asked, “knew what?” She told me that Devon had been hit by a car last night, and he was in the hospital. My heart dropped. I sat down, I sobbed. My mom came to try and hold me but I wouldn’t let her touch me, I honestly don’t quite know why. My friends and I left the sermon and went into one of the church’s separate rooms where I continued to sob. It was mind-boggling: just the night before, I had texted him.
Truthfully, there is this epoch of empty space in between that moment, and the day I went to go see him in the hospital. I know I cried a lot and kept going to school for the sake of distraction. While the schoolwork might have saved me and been the best distraction I could afford, the people in high school (my classmates, my teachers, even the god damn principal) made me hate school. I chose to isolate myself: I didn’t really talk to my friends, I walked around with headphones in until a teacher started teaching—not talking about Devon. Every class I was reminded how I could go to the counselors. I was told to “move on” by one of my closest friends, no one reached out to me, the community acted the way a typical American culture would entitle them to act.
Harbor View. I had never been to the place before, so it was a search on its own—a physical search while I was going on a mental mouse-hunt for something, of which I knew not what in particular; I was lost. My mom was driving. It was pouring. That alone is typical for Washington, but I remember applying some random meaning to it that day. As if the sky somehow knew that The Devon McCoy was in a coma and I were to have quite possibly the most traumatic event of my life occur that day. But I’m sure that was just me being a melodramatic and consuming, apply-all-meaning-to-things-that-have-no-meaning-at-all teenager.
After having been debriefed by Jason, Devon’s Dad, for an hour or two in Harbor View’s cafeteria, we were lead up to Devon’s room. I remember having passed Dawn, Devon’s mom, in the hallway; she was sitting down, sobbing. After a bit more discussing, and being told why Devon’s body was all bloated and looked slightly bigger than normal, I was “left alone” in the room with him. It’s odd that when someone is in a room with another person who is presumably dying, we call it being “left alone,” as if there’s only one person in the room—as if to imply that there is only the onlooker.
I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I looked at him for a bit, examining all of the equipment: a ventilator made this god-awful hissing sound each time it compressed air to be shoved into his lungs (the tube of it went straight down his throat), there were IV’s trailing along the floor every which way; I recall seeing a bag hanging on a metal stand, filled with what I assumed was urine; there was, what I now know is called, a nasogastric tube plunging down his open mouth as well, to feed him. There was an EKG with a slow, metronome beep, and a small little pressure indicator attached to his head (it reminded me of how it looks when someone momentarily injects that thermometer stick into a turkey, only this was through his skull). He had little white clamp devices on a couple of his fingers; they were there to measure his oxygen levels. After taking this all in—and honestly it didn’t take nearly as long as it reads—I placed his hand in mine.
His hand was plump with a hint of blue, not cold, but clammy. Again, I didn’t know where to begin, what to say. I stuttered and just began telling him that he couldn’t imagine how crazy school had gotten. I explained how much I missed him being around and how much he meant to me. I laughed and said, “man, you’d be so pissed if you knew all of your hair was gone.” It might have been a rather odd thing to say or do, given the circumstances, but it was honest and real. Ha, and so relevant to his life. I forgot to mention that his eyes were two thirds of the way open and, I kid you not, at one point I bent down to look into them. I guess I was hoping to see some kind of movement; some form of reaction that would indicate that he was still in there somewhere. After having looked at his eyes, I moved to stand back up again and I could swear that in that moment, I saw his eyes flick a little bit in the direction I was moving. I’ll never know for sure if that actually happened or if it was a figment of my imagination. I know I thought I saw it though, I know my heart skipped a beat. It wasn’t even because I was scared, it’s because I had a glimpse of hope. I had a few moments of deciding what had just happened, and I settled on the fact that I didn’t know. I then looked at him and said, “god. You really would hate if you saw yourself this way, I know I would.”
Crusted drool had accumulated from his mouth down his chin. And since his eyes remained open, there were yellow crusties and goop surrounding them. His face was oily. I literally took a tissue from the tissue box sitting on the bedside table and wiped his forehead, took the drool off, and removed the eye goop and crusties. I honestly don’t know why I did this. I guess it was because he had always hated his acne and whatnot, and I suppose I thought I was doing what he would do, or what he wanted, but just wasn’t capable of at the time. That might have been a bit of overstepping the line on my part. I say this because humans, as a whole, tend to take what is simply there and begin applying meaning, even to the point where it isn’t their place to assume—probably more of an existentialist view, but true nonetheless.
Sometimes I question if American culture has fabricated this idea of an afterlife so intensely to the core that this is why I cannot handle a possibility of Devon, or anyone else I love who will pass in the future, no longer existing in any sense or any form (like a soul or in the representation of a star). I sometimes theorize that humans make these soul-scapes so that a person no longer in our life doesn’t escape our mind or escape, well, everything.
Soon afterwards, I saw that there were shadows at the door (it was closed). I stopped talking or really doing much of anything but holding his hand. I guess it was because I felt uncomfortable talking to him with other people around. Perhaps this was because it’s considered socially odd, or at least unknown, to talk to someone who can’t even hear you. But in reality, people do this all of the time (or at least to things that can’t understand them). For instance, people talk to inanimate objects and pets pretty frequently. In contrast of all this, America formulates a bubble around those who are near death, or perhaps in death, making people who are “living” feel the bubble is impenetrable. They can never relate, they don’t know how to act, they feel awkward, and they even feel grossed out. What’s more: what scares people most is the thought of what would happen if the bubble were popped. If he or she surpassed that social barrier and didn’t see a bubble at all, but rather a source of experience, a silenced call for help or at least a silenced call for a lending ear.
Not to displace myself or put myself above others (because I too am guilty of such things), but when I saw Devon, there was no barrier, just shock in the beginning. Regardless of this difference, the thing that really got me most about seeing Devon in the ICU was, and still eats away at me, is that I don’t know if Devon ever actually heard me or not. If he was conscious, or even alive. There’s an almost infinite, irreconcilable list of things that come with people in comas; not only in the event or fact that someone is dying, but also in the choices of the ones who love them in the process. Perhaps one of the most pragmatic portions is in the absolute death of communication—not only through a nearly impossible relaying of language or speech, as with most deaths, but also through the language of the body. The list goes on.
If indeed there is no communication whatsoever in the case of a coma, then who becomes an interpreter when there’s nothing to interpret? Who becomes the speaker for the dead/alive? More often than not, the only legally allowed speaker is those who are the parents or the spouse.
However, even if someone was bent on interpreting one thing or another (consciousness or not, salvation or not, elongating the process of dying or not), that someone might not even be able to afford it. With the cost of surgeries and of sustaining someone in a post-vegitative state (PVS) or coma, the total bill can rise up to anywhere between $4-$7.5 billion, obviously depending on the amount of time that someone is kept on “life support.” Some insurances are only willing to cover $2 million, some only $1 million. Imagine not even having insurance, which can unfortunately be the case for quite an alarming amount of people in the U.S.. In this sense, some families are financially forced to “pull the plug.” It no longer becomes a game of who wants what or what’s right or wrong, but instead just a game of money. The pain and trauma for the survivors can then not only be based off of all this unknown, but also through the inability to finance. This places even more distress and often the highest guilt on survivors, as if the sole reason the person isn’t alive anymore is because it wasn’t affordable or the person didn’t “work hard enough” and have the means to supply the money; this, too, creates a more intense trauma, since guilt becomes a high roller.
I call my visit to Harbor View, and my memories of it, a traumatic experience, and thus a trauma. At the time, it was clear that a hissing breathing-machine, tubes, and open eyes were all extremely unnatural. For some people, seeing anyone in a hospital so close to death is scary, sometimes even mortifying, because onlookers are forced to look at their own mortality; at their objectified future in current time, right in front of them. This causes an initial shock, but not necessarily a trauma. However, this isn’t quite the case for anyone who experiences comas or PVS’s; they don’t quite have to face what death looks like in/on a person because the person on the cot is considered either alive or dead or both.
I hadn’t cried my entire visit up until the moment I realized, and was told that, I had to leave. Cathy Caruth mentions how trauma can sometimes be “not only the reality of the violent event but also the reality of the way that its violence has not yet been fully known” (6). Even though Caruth is talking in the context of war, it’s understood that Harbor View is not a war zone (which is completely metaphorically debatable), but in terms of an ICU, it is most certainly a place of violence. A place that creates violence within families, within ethical/moral codes, a place that creates violence in both sight and hearing and smell, a place that adds even more violence of medicine and unnatural ways of sustaining life onto an already violent cultural shock. Caruth’s point not only recognizes this violent setting, but also, though I had been told the parameters of the situation, explains how knowing nothing at all is a trauma within itself because it disrupts understanding in a current, continuous, real time frame. This concept especially applies to people who are legally entitled to know, and whom a medical staff informs under legal obligation. Even if this medical staff elaborates what is happening to the body of the person in a coma, they can only answer so many questions. Even the doctors and nurses are limited in knowledge of the very patient they are taking care of when it comes to comas/PVS’s. In most cases, when survivors or onlookers see someone close to them (or even someone not close to them) dying, their primary “unknown” is simply that of death and what comes after it. Comas — and probably an ICU in general, since their workhorse is the mechanical ventilator, or so Green says (63) — are of whole different spectra of unknowns and uncertainties.
In the event that I, and quite a handful of survivors I’m sure, hear the word “ventilator” or see the actual thing in action, it is simultaneously given a bad connotation, it does not change the fact that the thing is indeed just an object. Scarry elaborates: “we think of [objects] as extensions of sentient human beings…there are certain instruments [such as those in medicine…] that we call ‘tools’ even though they enter human tissue…this identification is ‘learned’ and that even after it is learned, it requires a conscious mental act to hold steady perception (which violates all intuition) of the object as a tool” (174)
So, as human beings always tend to do, survivors apply meaning to inanimate objects that really have no say in anything whatsoever. It is perhaps not these machines that become problematic and thus correlated with our trauma but rather the direction in which medicine is being practiced. Rather than placing mistrust and uneasiness and hurt on a thing, perhaps people should begin realizing that the thing only came into play through a practice. It is this practice of dabbling in the unknown that truly becomes problematic; the problem is not the very existence of the objects, but instead what placed them there. It is in this medicinal practice of the unknown that traumas are even more so formulated.
Moreover, Caruth points out traumas are such that they don’t correlate with time. They become traumas because one first “suffers this sight in a numbed state only to relive it later…[because] it is not fully perceived as it occurs” (Caruth 11). This happens in many instances: car crashes, as a soldier amidst war, as a firefighter who couldn’t save someone, anyone who happens upon a dead body and unknowingly creates a projection of someone else onto that body, etc. Indeed, these numb states occur at the time anyone — as in, this occurs for everyone— is around death. However, Caruth elaborates that trauma also happens in the “continual reappearance of a death…not quite grasped, the reemergence, in sight, of…not knowing the difference between life and death…The ‘when,’ as the question of history, is the difference between life and death” (37). This rings true not only for survivors with family, friends, companions in war who have died (as Caruth mentions), but also for those with the same having passed away in a post-vegetative state, or a coma. In any of these instances, the survivors have really no way of knowing when the person died, or even precisely how; again, piling on even more uncertainty, particularly for the conditions of a PVS or coma.
In either case, it is medically debatable and essentially still unknown what even becomes an indicator of death when the person is “unconscious.” Most people, and I personally, still consider someone to be alive if they can still hear/sense what is going on around them and have feelings/thoughts about it. It’s rather hard to find indicators of what precisely limits these things in the brain, even if it is damaged. To what length is it damaged? Where is it the most irreparable? Or, despite its damage, does thought still function on some extremely internal level? Indeed, the most arguable case: the human brain maintains such high capacities that no one watching someone in a comatose/vegetative state is even aware of the extent that that person can be trapped inside, unable to communicate, and even definitely alive and conscious. In a place like the ICU, medicine has replaced the typical determinates of life: “respiration and heartbeat, no longer useful for diagnostics” (Green 63). And since all of these things accumulate in a person’s living death, then all of these things, too, become traumas for anyone outside of that person’s head. Anything and nothing becomes determined, subjective, objectified, analyzed, unknown. Everything and nothing is real.
Quite possibly the only upside to having had someone in a coma is that people don’t have to quite experience “otherizing” the person. Perhaps this necessity of life — for, without its assumption, people would act differently when seeing someone in a coma — negates the idea of someone so close (the person on the cot, that is) being dead. Perhaps this equates to a type of denial. However, the body, the tubes, the noises are all so real and tangible, who could deny it? No matter what someone chooses to believe in during that moment of sight, no one stance is refutable. As Green elaborates on Hindu belief, he explains how they have something called the pran, or the “vital breath.” Apparently, Hindus believe “[i]f you have power in the body then the pran…does not go quickly from the body, you struggle” (Green 37). Suppose this is even more ‘evidence’ for the belief that someone in a coma or vegetative state does not simply go, but are rather stuck in a purgatory such that their consciousness is still there and they can still hear. They are stuck inside a body that will do nothing for them because the body is forcibly kept alive by mechanical (or “medical” and hence “medicinal,” if you so fancy) equipment.
Even so, who is to say that any survivor even has the right to take a stance at all? Since there is no communication whatsoever, not even a howl in pain, there is really nobody who can wholly understand what the patient wants. Not the medical doctors, not the lover, not the family. In this sense, every survivor or onlooker becomes a creator: “the anticipated action of the object [or the dying/dead person] is no longer an act of ‘wounding’ but an act of ‘creating’” (Scarry 174). While the natural dying process is bombarded by medicine, it is also under intense scrutiny. Onlookers paste their internalized history onto the history of the person before them, even though no two are the same. They presume what they think is indeed how it is, when in most cases it’s not. What is cumulatively happening is that when one cannot speak for himself, others assume the position. A person, quite possibly still living and breathing, is first no longer a person but an object in the views of onlookers and then shifts from an object to an artifact when the onlooker’s feelings or thoughts or assumptions are projected onto their newfound object.
Memory, then, in this whole scene is not quite settled but rather ongoing, since there is no definitive moment of realizing when a comatose person is actually dead. In fact, not only is memory unsettled but it is also sour-coated with the distasteful memories of the ICU. This, then, creates a trauma within a trauma. The typical mechanics of the ICU threaten The Process of any survivor. Little-t truths are then much harder to decipher. This is not only because of the environment the situation occurs under, but also due to the public chaos that surrounds it. Everyone seems to have a desire in making a claim — a claim in having known the dying or dead person, a claim in the drama, a claim in the millions of emotions flying around like spaghetti in a cafeteria food fight. Everyone, under such a controversial and unexplored topic, not only formulates an opinion and even fabricates a history but also decides to publicize it. So many words and frustrations and falsities come into play that it’s hard to see through the blender, cutting and mixing and meshing and dicing whatever is in it. Perhaps even the person seeking a little-t truth becomes cut in The Process. This is the cultivation, or rather the reaping, of American culture and frenzy.
Word Works (WW…W)
Dictionary: (n.) a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else.
TTT [Twist The Text] : in some aspects, a unique and wonderful savior due to its intrinsic properties of fooling the mind into temporarily thinking, or forgetting, that something is happening or exists. The key word in this is temporary. It is a break.
Dictionary: (n.) a state of deep unconsciousness that lasts for a prolonged or indefinite period, caused esp. by severe injury or illness
TTT: a state of depth, indeed, and a state in which the person is incapable of breathing on his or her own and movement, obviously, and thus incapable of eating as well, a state that, if it were not for medicine, would undoubtedly lead to a very quick and possibly very painful death. There are both medically induced comas and also comas that occur naturally (but still lead to death). In fact, said natural comas are caused from an external, generally, head injury (and quite possibly even another organ injury) that warn the body to shut down for the sake of preservation or due to an overload of pain. Devon was first medically induced (Dawn said he “became aggressive, yelling that it hurt like a bitch and to make the pain stop”) and then he relapsed into a bodily coma. Coma is fairly hard to define in my opinion because not too much is known about it…Green says, from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health, “A coma is a profound deep state of unconsciousness. And individual in a state of coma is alive but unable to move or respond to his or her environment” (Green 209). I don’t understand how one can call someone unconscious while still calling them alive.
Dictionary: (adj.) (of a feeling) completely filling one’s mind and attention; absorbing
TTT: the perfect descriptor of a human being in that all humans take, usurp even, the environment around them, the objects they encounter, the people they encounter. It is such that all of the energy and meaning and history and beliefs and values of another entire human is somehow perceived to be “understood” from an onlooker, and by understood I mean assumed to be known from an entirely different brain. No one person can simply perceive another’s entire being, it’s impossible. And yet this happens every time someone dies, in obituaries, even in the dying process (like cleaning someone’s face, or shaving their head, or making decisions about their entire existence and thus life while they are incapable of saying otherwise).
Dictionary: (n.) a deeply distressing or disturbing experience
TTT: the suffering of sight in a numbed, incomprehensible state in which the victim was never fully conscious; “what cannot be grasped about leaving [from death, both physically and in memory]” (Caruth 20); “…seeing is…the reappearance of a death [that a person] has not quite grasped, the reemergence, in sight, of [one] not knowing the difference between life and death” (Caruth 37). The initial “act of violence”; an initial form of biological survival in the form of a mental ‘break’ from too much intake, from reality; the confrontation of death, and death-threats, again and again; “the endless inherent necessity of repetition, which ultimately may lead to destruction” (Caruth 63). It can almost be considered the fear of forgetting as well—which is in essence also a biological construct because any animal does not want to be hurt so terribly again, and in order to prevent that, the mind keeps it in mind. The previously mentioned “break” also implies an incongruence with the fabrics of a time continuum. A reality is not perceived in a moment—a moment, which, when defined occurs as a simultaneity and thus an event cannot equate to moment if it is either in the pass or in the future—such that a moment then becomes referenced as a trauma because it was not truly experienced in the one moment in the space time continuum (physics) that it occurred.
Dictionary: (n.) the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole
TTT: quite indefinite, but on the individual plane looking forward, because the past portion of time is very definite as it is unchangeable; however, this unchangeable and unalterable past can become fogged over in the event of forgetting or even simply that time has progressed forward and more and more “past”s are piling up thus even breaking this theorized time continuum and changing or manipulating the past within the constrictions (are there any?) of the mind. The future aspect of time is that which with is always unknown, and thus why (in simultaneous reference to the past) a person cannot completely blame himself for the death of another because, in the person’s past position on the space time continuum, he could not have predicted the (at the time) future, which is now the past. This is the very cause of self-guilt and perhaps why people find it the hardest to forgive their selves.
Dictionary: (n.) [as in medicine] an appliance for artificial respiration; respirator
TTT: the very machine for which hatred is placed as it is affiliated with an act of organic, moral, natural, affected betrayal. A machine that indeed does it’s job but nonetheless elongates a life past its biological/incidental barrier.
Dictionary: (adj.) reaching or supplying to the stomach via the nose
TTT: not quite sure what it’s called if they didn’t go through the nose, but instead down the throat, nonetheless Devon obviously had one? A description for an object (a tube) with which becomes an essential, needed basis for a human’s life once that human is past three days (how long it takes a person to starve). Again, an object of internal conflict and projection that originates from a human being.
Dictionary: [electrocardiogram] a recording of the electro activity of the heart, a simple, noninvasive procedure
TTT: Although the procedure is noninvasive of the human body with which it is monitoring, it is invasive of the human brain as it plays metronome-like beeps, and as soon as those beeps become sporadic, the entire world gets turned upside down. This, however, is not the machine’s fault, as it is simply monitoring the heart. It is the heart’s fault.
Dictionary: (n.) an organ of soft nervous tissue contained in the skull of vertebrates, functioning as the coordinating center of sensation and intellectual and nervous activity
TTT: the all-hailing god of the body, the place of consciousness and life; the internal organ in a living thing’s head that controls everything about the person (perception, chemical imbalance that results in mass murders, the very body of the person and whether it has deformities or speech impediments or not). It is the powerhouse of the entire body, and when distressed, the results can be very extreme (like in the case of trauma, thus resulting in PTSD, or lack of sleep resulting in hallucinations, or the impact of drugs—the altering of chemicals and the deteriorating of brain matter—that can have various results, or the (what humans often affiliate as “simple” and typically harmless anywhere else) bruise that can result in unfixable damage for the entire human body and its functioning).
Dictionary: (adj.) contrary to the ordinary cause of nature; abnormal
TTT: the very act of something occurring within or to a body that would not occur if some other type of mechanism (or machine) were not there; the antonym of organic; the derailing of a process, or even The Process.
Dictionary: (n.) each of a pair of globular organs in the head through which people and vertebrae and animals see; the visible part typically appearing almond-shaped in animals with eyelids
TTT: each a pair of spherical organs in which sight passes through and is thus interpreted by the brain. Common linkage: the cliché “the eyes are the windows to the soul.” It often overtakes and over-applies meaning to yet another thing that has the possibility to fail within the human body. If one has eyes but is not supplied with the brain to interpret their sight, is the person then “soul-less” or unconscious?
Dictionary: (n.) the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses
TTT: the ability for a person to take what is indeed present within the senses and fabricate more than there is to it (or to reality). This is such that, in a young person their objectives might be for fun or for creativity or simply expanding to the extent that their brain allows them; however, as an adult, they take something in the senses and, often based off of a subconscious, cultural objective, formulate, and often project, a big-T truth.
Dictionary: (n.) a feeling of expectation or desire for a certain thing to happen; a feeling of trust
TTT: a result of uncertainty when there still exists human desire or want or even need due to the fact that the future is unknown; “Human hope is what makes them [myths] cosmic, and it is our only real weapon against death” (Green 207).
Dictionary: (n.) the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal
TTT: debatably a cultural/religious creation for the intangible, the unknown, uncertain internalized human (or animal) meaning; a perception of fiction within reality perhaps; a type of necessary hope for survivors
Dictionary: (n.) the imparting or exchanging of information or news; means of connection between people or places, in particular
TTT: the sole way in which people have the ability to learn from one another; the very act of formulate a language or a code between two or more people. Without it, nothing can be truly known about anything else, worlds are lost, people are lost, worlds in people are lost or at least never discovered.
Dictionary: (n.) the physical structure of a person or an animal
TTT: the very designator of creation and destruction of life. Something found to be, in the early stages of its time, flexible and remarkably adaptive and self-helping; something found to be, in the late stages of its time, stiff and shockingly destructive to itself; thus an animated paradox.
Dictionary: (n.) a person who interprets, esp. one who translates speech orally
TTT: as long as the person has previous knowledge of the subject/person, not any distinct interpreter is quite entirely wrong; the only dangers of this title is that it is entire subjective and as such, no person can be entirely correct either: “a framing relations that as it enters the visible world from the privacy of the human interior becomes work and its worked object…the two distinct stages of ‘making up’ and ‘making real’” (Scarry 280).
Dictionary: (n.) [as in medicine] maintenance of the vital functions of a critically ill or comatose person or a person undergoing surgery
TTT: a rather ironic and undermining name for a machine that provides life when a person would otherwise be dead. Indeed, it is supporting life, but supporting the person’s wants/needs or those around him? Debatable. It is not necessarily the support of life, or the effort to diminish pain, but rather the support of the unknown, the support of literally medicinal PRACTICE, not simply medicine.
Dictionary: (n.) a current medium of exchange in the form of coins and banknotes; coins and banknotes collectively
TTT: quite literally the restrictor of life, and also metaphorically. A government-created thing that is often held as an ultimate objective for
the workingman, the best end to labor because once enough of it is achieved, only then can a person rest comfortably. Thus the very instigator of materialism and of Americana.
Dictionary: (n.) one who survives; especially a person remaining alive after an event in which [O]thers have died.
TTT: those who are “left behind;” the ones who have seen death itself and are still living; those who are also in charge of interpreting a language of death which has not yet been given words. This job of interpretation inevitably leads to subjectivity and thus incorrectness. But who is to say what is even correct or incorrect? Often simultaneous to interpreter.
Dictionary: (n.) the state of being subject to death
TTT: a limiting agent, or even the limiting reactant; the reagent in that it, clearly, limits life, but it also can limit the understand of death—cutting off those who try to understand both as onlookers and as dying or even as immediate as being cut off while living. The entire parameters of mortality often come as a shock to most Americans or most places with low mortality rates or even more specifically in western cultures where the discussion of death/mortality is little to none.
Dictionary: (n.) a sudden upsetting or surprising event or experience
TTT: a violent, sudden moment in which was unexpected and thus not quite perceived (and THUS has the ability to become a trauma); in most cases, the moment or event is not as long lasting as other, more violent and more painful experiences; yet another frequent product of culture.
Dictionary: (n.) the state of being uncertainà(adj.) not able to be relied on; not known or definite
TTT: things that exist only in the event of not being discussed, explored or defined; in this sense, uncertainties are very much internalized in that people create or define their own little-t truths for what isn’t truly known or given much substantial evidence but is nonetheless, to them, known. Uncertainties specifically are such a case that these little-t truths have not yet been discovered or determined.
Dictionary: (n.) an estimate or forecast of a future situation or trend based on a study of present ones
TTT: the entitlement of assuming an internalized opinion, structure, or belief and vomiting it onto an external object or person (or an person turned into an object—the very act of other-izing) such that the person then becomes an artifact. Then, finally, once even that artifact is no longer (aside from a relic in the past), the projector can then even turn to what it is like to project onto their very selves.
Dictionary: (n.) (in Roman Catholic doctrine) a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven
TTT: an ultimate place of unknown in which most people in a coma or PVS face when in a living death, stuck in a body and unable to fully escape, living within their extreme consciousness; I imagine a lot of black for some reason, perhaps because I find it akin to the twilight zone. A place in which a person or soul is lost for what feels like an eternity; tied to this realm, but halfway to another.
Dictionary: (n.) the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings
TTT: the state of being able to think and thus feel an awake-ness, even if not fully awake (in a coma); the knowledge of one’s self and also perhaps even their surroundings (reports of people in comas hearing what onlookers say) and the impacts of them; perhaps the moment in which something becomes irrefutable in the mind, the mind coming to be a reality since the reality is not quite fully perceived; thus the perception of another reality equates to the transcendence into another realm
Dictionary: (n.) the faculties by which the brain stores and remembers information.
TTT: the faculties by which the brain can do some muckraking; the forgetting and then returning of images, not quite comprehended, which thus creates trauma; little nuggets of sight that rest in the brain; can also be memories that are comprehended and that then no longer, or never did, formulate trauma. Memories fade, like looking through a fogged mirror. Memories are impacted through the various other histories of other people, and also by a recognized self-history which can, subconsciously, alter memory as well; a type of neuronal narrative that is initially objective and slowly descends into subjective.
TTT: as mentioned in my previous paper; something frequently pushed aside and invaded by the medicines and practices of today; often influenced by cultural or religious standing; the three quintessential moments of change: the moment with which a life is no longer intertwined with another’s (when someone dies, the first departure; or even, sometimes as someone is dying because the projector perceives it as an ultimate indifference); second, when the survivor is then impacted by the first event (this can be called The Primary Process because this often results in creating little-t truths); and third, when there is a conscious choice to depart (as a second departure) or forgive, making the mind no longer a prison or a battering of memory.
Dictionary: (n.) that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality; a fact or belief that is accepted as true
TTT: This may not be fact, but it is however an individual reality and, in its best form, an individual fact. This has consciousness and deep thought/belief
Dictionary: (n.) the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively
TTT: the above is a rather optimistic, good connotation of the word “culture.” Culture can be defined as a way to negate people from specific things or topics, a form of restriction to the brain and to little-t truths, something that becomes a compartmentalized creature such that a person can almost become that creature.
All word definitions that reside under the “Dictionary:” sections are taken from
Oxford Dictionaries (online)
Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1996. Print.
Green, James. Beyond the Good Death: The Anthropology of Modern Dying. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2008. Print.
Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. New York: Oxford UP, 1985. Print.
 A bit ironic, yes?
 By just the sound of her voice, my initial thoughts were that he was actually already dead. She sounded so concerned, which is hilarious, because she had literally complained to me before about how she didn’t like Devon. I suppose I resent the fact that she found out before I did (it happened at something like one in the morning). I guess that’s Facebook for you.
 Which I also found hilarious because the counselors at my high school were anything but. In fact, in the act of applying to seven colleges, they told me NOT to, acting as if I wasn’t capable of being accepted to just five (proved those assholes wrong). I don’t know how in god’s name they managed to be placed in a position of “counseling.” Hopeless.
 I’m now realizing that it might be incredibly selfish of me to call that precise time-period my trauma. It’s as if it wasn’t a trauma when I heard that he had been hit by a car, or when I was told they were going to “pull the plug.” I know I had imagined him waking up from his coma on multiple occasions. When I went to see him, I most definitely hadn’t considered him to be already dead. But I suppose, that after having seen him and having had our one-way conversation, having smelled an ICU …after all that, I had presumed he wouldn’t be able to wake up. Did I already label him as dead? No. I just…honestly didn’t know what to label him. Still don’t. But actually, that same day, they told me how long he had (“had” as if he was given time as a gift in his comatose state, as if they were handling his life—well, they were), and how they planned to “pull the plug.” So that’s really why I knew.
 By “debriefed” I mean that he gave Chris and I the ‘low-down’ of the situation, told us that we might not like what we see, that it probably won’t be pleasant. He told us what him and Dawn had been dealing with and what they planned on doing, he explained the extent to which they knew of his brain and what surgeries Devon had already gone through. I wish I remembered more of the details, but I remember enough as it is I suppose.
 Not that it was his specific room; it belonged to many others. Just that he occupied the space, and so I call it his. I guess that’s the problem with humans though: we occupy a space and so we assume it’s ours.
 All of the meds and liquids and whatnot being pumped through him made him bloat up. Even more evidence of how completely unnatural it all was.
 Actually, it was probably straight to his brain. Upon talking to Dawn for this essay, I discovered that the parts they had removed, of his skull that is, were both of the entire sides. There was but a strip of skull down the middle. For the brain’s swelling.
 Dawn also had told me that these things weren’t to reach below 33. She watched it go from 31 down to 28 and back up again.
 That’s a lot in case you didn’t catch it. He didn’t suddenly mean so much to me just because he was soon to be gone from my timeline. It’s so much more than that.
 I can’t really say “into his eyes,” because I honestly didn’t. They were such a blank slate, I had to look AT them. I tried to find something inside, something that would allow me to look into his eyes but honestly they were so flat.
 And what a false hope that was.
 I’m fully aware that this might be a really weird term and sound childish, but this is the only term I ever grew up knowing for whatever those things are that accumulate in your eyes, and so that’s what I call them.
 Quite a while ago, I kind of decided that I was an existentialist. I adore Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” and whatnot. However, I guess I haven’t fully accepted the idea that there is nothing awaiting us after we die, no place to go. I honestly feel I could accept that for myself, but I’m not quite sure if I could accept that for the people who I love.
 There I go again, implying that there is another life besides the one that we all currently occupy.
 Unfortunately, I will admit that every time I went to go see my Great Grandpa, I too got “the heebie jeebies”—even if I found him funny and I loved hearing his stories.
 Or alive, who knows!
 I put this in quotes because I’m really not sure how exactly “supportive” this whole spiel is, for either the survivors or the person who is in fact dying.
 In fact, Devon’s family didn’t have insurance. In just seven days, the medical bills totaled over 2 million dollars.
 I say this because every human being comes in contact with a physical resemblance of mortality, and so if this were truly a trauma (unless it was on a mass scale, like war or genocide, etc), then the human race as a whole would be forever scarred based off of a simple inevitability.
 Again, I certainly had not regarded Devon as dead. So my trauma in particular wasn’t caused this way. That cause has been ruled out.
 I kissed Devon’s forehead and said “I love you,” then walked out of the room, covering my face. I lost all sense of direction. It felt as if gravity wasn’t even a constant anymore: my world would lean one way then the next; the floor was spinning. I literally felt my weight shifting in a thousand different directions at once. Then all of the sudden I heard Chris’s voice kind of laugh and say, “Kelsey.” His hands grabbed my shoulders from behind, and he said, “You’re going the wrong way.” Somehow just the act of him touching my shoulders brought me back to reality; it was strange, like a sudden snap, as fast as the flick of a finger, and the world stopped pulsating.
 Not in the cliché terms of a patient having “fought a battle” that is a virus or a fight with death. But rather that death and medicine are opponents. It is only ever in, typically western, culture that death is seen as a human’s opponent.
 Dawn—and I asked her about this three days ago—had asked, through tears, the people monitoring Devon and his doctor if he was “going to die” and, in her direct words, “they would never give [her] a straight answer.”
 I had to look up what the thing was in his head, I had to hear all of these facts about brain injuries, I had to ask his Mom—about three years after the fact—what the medical details even were or what they meant. And I also know, for a fact, that while these doctors rambled off medical terms to her and her, at the time, husband, Dawn herself scoured the Internet for definitions and explanations. She too was in the dark.
 Perhaps especially including those who are in the medical field, policemen, firemen during 911, people who see death every day. In this sense, they may at first be numb, but after a while they are simply accustomed to it. Numbed and accustomed are not synonymous in my mind, but perhaps they are because both block out feeling?
 Clarification: When I say “post-vegitative state, or a coma,” I am not implying them to be synonymous; Green so fervently states that they are not. I am simply saying in one state or another, not that they are the same.
 The word unconscious is in quotes because a person typically hears that as a term for someone being incapable of breathing on their own (along with other various functions that PVS patients or coma patients are incapable of doing), but I see it as “un” equating to “not” and thus saying “not conscious” when in fact no one but that patient knows if their conscious is aware and alive or not; there have been reported incidences of people having come back from a coma where they are registered as “unconscious” and unresponsive but indeed they recollect what people had said to them or even done to them while they had been in that state.
 General question: why is this even a practiced medicine when so very little is known about it? Is it just the off chance that every once in a while some lucky person gets to wake up from it or is it just the purpose of elongating a life with no perceived consequence?
 I never saw him as an object, I saw him as a person. It was so unknown as to whether he was alive or dead that I presumed he was alive and could hear me in the moment that I talked to (or with) him, even if in the back of my mind I questioned it.
 Perhaps for the sake of my own sanity, I will forever hope that Devon was conscious. That might be intensely selfish or foolish, but I would argue that it is just as important for Devon as it was for me. Wow, how’s that for assuming my position?
 Although I admit that now, I don’t know what to fucking believe.
 Even if a stance will happen no matter what, simply because humans have feelings.
 Haha, and even when one CAN speak for himself, people still assume positions AKA rumors.
Kelsey Hamlin is finishing up her last year at the UW. Though her time is typically spent telling others' stories, here's a chance to get a peek at hers.