It’s been nearly three months since Melinda’s accident on December 2. I visit her almost every week in the step-down unit where she’s being taken care of about two hours away.
Melinda is off the ventilator since she’s been breathing so well on her own, but still has a breathing tube to supplement oxygen as needed. She has a tracheostomy, so she isn’t able to talk—though she doesn’t seem to be able to talk regardless. She continues to move her legs well, which is good since it helps prevent atrophy, and sometimes she’ll slowly lift her hand to scratch her cheek.
During my 30-40 minute visits I hold her hand and chat with her, read Scripture to her, and pray for her. Though her eyes are open, there’s almost no response to my words except that she’ll nod slightly if I ask if she knows me and understands what I’m saying. Mostly she gazes off to the side, or her eyes will close and she’ll drift off for a bit. She has a TV at the end of her bed now (tuned to the food network, since Melinda loves to cook), but she doesn’t seem to take much notice.
In March, Melinda is scheduled to return to UCLA where the doctors will do surgery to replace the portion of her skull they removed the night of the accident to release pressure on her brain and save her life. That is a big step forward, but it’s not clear it will speed up the healing in her brain that needs to take place.
There’s really no way of knowing how much Melinda will recover, but it’s clear her progress has been slow so far, and it’s uncertain how much improvement she will ultimately make.
Since some may wonder what’s the point of caring for her if she’ll never “get better,” I want to share with you Melinda’s own thinking on that matter. It comes from the words of her advance directive she signed 12 years ago and left in my care (I have the original). Here is what she wrote:
If I am permanently disabled but not certified terminal, I wish all care provided to sustain my life and alleviate my physical discomfort. I do not wish my life to be terminated due to permanent physical disablement. I personally do not consider nutrition and hydration to be medical treatment, but basic sustenance which every living organism requires to live. I do not wish nutrition and hydration to be withheld or withdrawn to facilitate or accelerate my death.
I wish my life and death to be a testimony of the intrinsic value of all human beings which God has given us by virtue of our creation in His image, and of my absolute faith and trust in my salvation through my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I have absolute confidence that I will be with God in Heaven upon my death and anticipate that time joyfully. Therefore, my life should not be artificially prolonged. However, neither is my life to be artificially shortened based on a functional or instrumental view of life.
Clearly, Melinda has seen the world as it truly is. She knows that the decision to go be with her Savior or to live as a handicapped person—even severely handicapped—the rest of her years is not her decision to make. It is God’s decision, and Melinda will accept from God’s hand any “momentary light affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17) as long as God gives her breath. And if she is willing to bear this burden for Christ’s sake, then we should be willing to accept whatever role God has given us in her life as well.
Please continue to pray. I will keep you posted on any progress.