12:26am April 6, 2013

"Are you at peace with your decision?"

Before I got my feeding tube. After I’d already signed an informed consent form. A pulmonologist came into my room with a gaggle of interns and residents behind him. People who were learning from him. People who looked up to him as a teacher and role model.

He had seen my cat scan. He knew how many times I’ve had pneumonia recently. He knew it would keep happening if we didn’t find a way to stop it. He knew that pneumonia is a deadly disease and that my health was worsening with each infection. He knew how many doctors had tried to talk me out of choosing the feeding tube — choosing to live.

“Are you at peace with your decision?” Is a question I would expect to be asked repeatedly if I’d chosen to avoid treatment and go home and wait to get the infection that would kill me. Not a question that goes with choosing life. He asked me at least three times in a row.

I had a friend who came to visit from out of state, in the room with me at the time. She came because she heard I had pneumonia. Her father died of pneumonia. She was terrified for my life. She witnessed this conversation — easily, as she put it, the most genteel of the ways I’d been pressured to die.

And yet she likened it to the recommended harassment that people who choose abortion get — or for that matter, people who choose not to abort a fetus with disabilities. She said it was bullying, harassment, pressure to end my own life, no matter how genteel it looked on the outside. Who the hell gets asked repeatedly if they’re at peace with wanting to be alive? For me, choosing a feeding tube is choosing life. There were risks, there remain risks, but the risk of not getting the tube was imminent death, so, yeah. A no brainer, for me. When you choose between two risky things, you choose the one with the most possibility of survival. And feeding tubes are safer than aspiration pneumonia by far.

Are you at peace with your decision? Really? Seriously? Who asks that? Someone profoundly uncomfortable with the kind of life that requires certain kinds of technology. Someone who overtly or covertly hates disabled people.

I intend to use the life this feeding tube gives me, to ensure that no other patient in this hospital has to go through what I’ve been through. That nobody gets asked this question for choosing to live. Not even once. That doctors don’t get to try to persuade patients, especially disabled and other hated patients, that its better to reject life saving treatments. Regardless of what the doctor thinks. When I’m through with them, when the Vermont disability community is through with them, they will no longer be allowed to go there. They can stay bigots if they feel like but they won’t be allowed to express it on the job.

Because we don’t just naturally want to die the moment our body requires some kind of nonstandard way of sustaining itself. Right now I am hooked up to a machine pumping food into my intestines and I LOVE IT BECAUSE IT MEANS LIFE.

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