Is There Life After Essay

Is There Life After Essay-54
In 1966 I happened to interview many people who were living in Honolulu on the morning of December 7, 1941; without exception, these people began their accounts of Pearl Harbor by telling me what an "ordinary Sunday morning" it had been."It was just an ordinary beautiful September day," people still say when asked to describe the morning in New York when American Airlines 11 and United Airlines 175 got flown into the World Trade towers.

In 1966 I happened to interview many people who were living in Honolulu on the morning of December 7, 1941; without exception, these people began their accounts of Pearl Harbor by telling me what an "ordinary Sunday morning" it had been."It was just an ordinary beautiful September day," people still say when asked to describe the morning in New York when American Airlines 11 and United Airlines 175 got flown into the World Trade towers.

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The distance from our building to the part of New York-Presbyterian that used to be New York Hospital is six crosstown blocks. Inside the emergency room I could see the gurney being pushed into a cubicle, propelled by more people in scrubs. I was fixed on the details of this imminent transfer to Columbia (he would need a bed with telemetry, eventually I could also get Quintana transferred to Columbia, the night she was admitted to Beth Israel North I had written on a card the beeper numbers of several Columbia doctors, one or another of them could make all this happen) when the social worker reappeared and guided me from the paperwork line into an empty room off the reception area. I used to have on a bulletin board in my office, for reasons having to do with a plot point in a movie, a pink index card on which I had typed a sentence from "The Merck Manual" about how long the brain can be deprived of oxygen. After my mother died the undertaker who picked up her body left in its place on the bed an artificial rose. The undertaker, as if pleased to elucidate a decorative element, explained that the clock had not run in some years but was retained as "a kind of memorial" to a previous incarnation of the firm. I had been asked before I left the hospital if I would authorize an autopsy. I later read that asking a survivor to authorize an autopsy is seen in hospitals as delicate, sensitive, often the most difficult of the routine steps that follow a death.

The image of the pink index card was coming back to me in the room off the reception area: "Tissue anoxia for 4 to 6 min. Doctors themselves, according to many studies (for example, Katz, J., and Gardner, R., "The Intern's Dilemma: The Request for Autopsy Consent," Psychiatry in Medicine 7203, 1972), experience considerable anxiety about making the request.

The computer dating on the Microsoft Word file ("Notes on change.doc") reads "May 20, 2004, p.m.," but that would have been a case of my opening the file and reflexively pressing save when I closed it. I had made no changes to that file since I wrote the words, in January 2004, a day or two or three after the fact. I recognize now that there was nothing unusual in this: confronted with sudden disaster, we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred, the clear blue sky from which the plane fell, the routine errand that ended on the shoulder with the car in flames, the swings where the children were playing as usual when the rattlesnake struck from the ivy.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. Those were the first words I wrote after it happened. It was in fact the ordinary nature of everything preceding the event that prevented me from truly believing it had happened, absorbing it, incorporating it, getting past it.

Fires said we were home, we had drawn the circle, we were safe through the night. I remember the sense of his weight as he fell forward, first against the table, then to the floor. When the paramedics came I tried to tell them what had happened, but before I could finish they had transformed the part of the living room where John lay into an emergency department. The names came to mind but I had no idea from where.) I remember saying that he might have choked.

In the kitchen by the telephone I had taped a card with the New York-Presbyterian ambulance numbers. One of them (there were three, maybe four, even an hour later I could not have said) was talking to the hospital about the electrocardiogram they seemed already to be transmitting. This was dismissed with a finger swipe: the airway was clear.

Even the report of the 9/11 Commission opened on this insistently premonitory and yet still dumbstruck narrative note: "Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States.""And then -- gone." In the midst of life we are in death, Episcopalians say at the graveside.

Later I realized that I must have repeated the details of what happened to everyone who came to the house in those first weeks, all those friends and relatives who brought food and made drinks and laid out plates on the dining-room table for however many people were around at lunch or dinner, all those who picked up the plates and froze the leftovers and ran the dishwasher and filled our (I could not yet think my) otherwise empty apartment even after I had gone into the bedroom (our bedroom, the one in which there still lay on a sofa a faded terry-cloth XL robe bought in the 1970's at Richard Carroll in Beverly Hills) and shut the door.

can result in irreversible brain damage or death." I was telling myself that I must be misremembering the sentence when the social worker reappeared. "She's a pretty cool customer." They took me into the curtained cubicle where John lay, alone now. They know that autopsy is essential to the learning and teaching of medicine, but they also know that the procedure touches a primitive dread.

He had with him a man he introduced as "your husband's doctor." There was a silence. If whoever it was at New York Hospital who asked me to authorize an autopsy experienced such anxiety, I could have spared him or her: I actively wanted an autopsy.


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