In a horrific scenario, a man overheard his family and doctors discussing organ harvesting -- of his own organs. The man, Jimi Fritze, had suffered a stroke in his early 40s and lay unable to move, speak, or respond in a hospital bed. However, he could hear and see everything -- and understand it. But he had no way of alerting anyone to that. When doctors informed his family that there was no hope for the man, his family filed in to say goodbye. And that's when doctors reportedly began discussing organ donation with them. Imagine lying there listening to that and having no way to tell anyone you could hear it all!
Luckily for Fritze, when another doctor returned from holiday three days later and examined him, the prognosis was less dire. And eventually Fritze awoke from his state and was able to make almost a full recovery.
Although it doesn't seem that Fritze, who lived in Sweden, was ever in danger of being taken off life support -- he wasn't on it -- he says the second doctor gave him a shot of cortisone that brought his brain swelling down, but even then family members had to argue with doctors for more treatment. He fears if the second doctor had never arrived, he would have just laid there not receiving treatment until his body finally gave out.
I have been in the difficult position of having to make a life or death decision for a relative who had had a massive stroke and lay unresponsive. I had absolutely no idea if this relative could hear what I was saying or what the doctors were saying. In fact, doctors were very aware that we didn't know that -- and took me out of the room each time we discussed her. I was explicitly told that perhaps the patient could hear us and we needed to speak quietly and not upset her.
When she came out of the coma, she told me she did not remember anything. That was very good news to me. But it's not like that with everyone. It seems very prudent not to discuss a patient's medical condition -- especially something like organ donation -- in front of that person no matter how hopeless the case might seem.
The man is suing the hospital for discussing organ donation before a patient is brain dead. The real issue here isn't so much organ donation, but at what point a patient is taken off life support and treatment stopped. There's simply no way to know exactly what a patient is thinking or feeling. This is also a good reminder to discuss with family members what you'd like them to do in case of a situation like this, and make sure you have a living will with directions for your relatives and doctors to follow.
Have you ever had to make a life-and-death decision for someone close to you?
Image via Ricardo Diaz/Flickr