My blood ran cold as I watched the video of Terri Schiavo. I shivered at the news that this brain-injured woman was comatose or in a persistent vegetative state while the video seemed to show otherwise. The chill was more than just my journalistic intrigue. People everywhere were debating the right to "die with dignity" and wondering what it would be like to be in Schiavo's place, but I didn't exactly have to imagine.
One year before the day Schiavo's feeding tube was pulled, I awoke briefly from a 47-day coma, only to go back under for several more weeks. Severe childbirth complications resulted in two emergency surgeries and the transfusion of 20 units of blood and blood products—about twice the blood volume of my body. I remained comatose and on life support in the ICU for two months.
My family expected my death repeatedly during my coma. I developed acute respiratory distress syndrome, which is often fatal, and it critically impaired my lungs. I had pneumonia, a toxic blood infection, blood clots, kidney failure, and life threateningly low blood pressure and oxygenation. My family was told I had anoxia—brain damage from oxygen deprivation. I lay hooked up to a ventilator and a feeding tube, receiving maximum doses of drugs to keep me alive. Heroic measures and life-and-death decisions were daily realities for my family.
My husband slept and ate little. Tim juggled his job with being constantly available to me, to doctors' consultations, and to our family. He described our surreal journey in e-mail updates that were forwarded by many people around the world. He also undertook "Caroline therapy": laying our mother-deprived newborn on my chest while I slept, so she would sleep too.
Tim learned to be an effective ...