View single post by Joe Kelley
 Posted: Sun Apr 22nd, 2012 06:28 pm
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Joe Kelley

 

Joined: Mon Nov 21st, 2005
Location: California USA
Posts: 6369
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Power of life


In 1989 my father suffered a heart attack followed by a stroke. We are not a sentimental bunch; my dad and I spoke on the phone once a year on his birthday. I flew from Massachusetts to Minneapolis to say good-bye. I found him in the ICU. Upon seeing me, he propped himself up, shook my hand, and said, “Thank you for coming.” We had a short talk. It wasn’t of Oscar Wilde quality, but it qualified as human-to-human conversation, I thought. He wanted to know if I liked Massachusetts. I had just moved there from Manhattan. A young doctor interrupted us, and I left the room. The doctor approached me later across the hall, and said, “I’m sorry, but your father’s not going to regain consciousness before he dies.” I mentioned, guardedly, that I had just talked to him. The doctor shook his head sadly. “No. You thought you talked to him. He probably made some reflexive sounds, and you interpreted it as speech.” He said not to worry, that many family members delude themselves in this manner. I felt embarrassed, and I believed him. As a science writer I had followed the “talking chimp” controversy of the 1970s, the researchers of Washoe, Koko, et al. fooling themselves into believing that they were having meaningful conversations with their primate subjects. those scientists were smarter than I. I could certainly, out of wishful thinking, believe that my father had spoken to me when he was just making unconscious, meaningless sound. I saw a second, older doctor, my father’s internist, enter the room. My father opened his eyes, propped himself up again, and shook the man’s hand. I was several yards away, out in the hallway, but the two men appeared to be having an animated conversation. When the doctor exited, I said, “It looked like you were talking to him.” The doctor said, “Sure. I talk to Cliff every day.” I explained what the previous doctor had told me and pointed out the man, who was still on the floor. “Oh,” said the older doctor, “that’s a neurology resident. They teach them that in medical school today. Everybody is dead or in a coma.”