Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Can't Even Imagine

As will come as no surprise to anybody who has read this journal for any length of time, I've been on the edges of the fight for equality for gay people for many years. During the periods of fights in California for gay couples to win equality under the law, I was out there at rallies and demonstrations. I handed out literature and actually talked with (some) voters.

I suppose I should be ashamed to say that since Ellen and Shelly and a host of other people got (legally) married here in California and since the courts upheld their right to be married (while denying everybody else in the state of California that same right), my involvement in the continuing fight has diminished somewhat.

Partly this is due to the absolute deluge of material from the folks who are continuing the fight. For awhile there I would get requests for money once or twice a day from various Equality groups. I eventually put most of them on my spam filter and I don't even read them any more.

This is really bad of me because there are still so many couples who are working so hard to be granted the same rights that Walt and I ... and Ellen and Shelly ... now have.

This point was brought home to me this morning when I read the shocking story of Janice and Lisa and their four children.

Janice and Lisa met in 1989 and were united in a ceremony in Washington State in 1991 (not a marriage, of course, because Washington does not recognize gay marriage). They became foster parents for the state of Washington and fostered some 25 children, many with special needs, and eventually adopted four of them. There were plans to open their home to more foster children in the summer of 2007 because "there's always room for one more."

In February of 2007, the family decided to take a cruise and flew to Miami to board their cruise ship. Before the ship left port, Lisa collapsed. Janice, who has been a medical social worker for many years, knew her partner was in trouble and so she called for help and Lisa was loaded into an ambulance and rushed to a Jackson Memorial Hospital in Dade County. As she was being loaded into the ambulance, she flashed the "I love you" sign to her family. They had no way of knowing that would be their last sight of her.

Janice and Lisa had taken all the proper precautions for their family, which included the proper paperwork allowing each to have medical power of attorney for each other, yet when Janice arrived at the hospital she was denied permission to enter the room with her partner of 18 years. She was told, “you are in an anti-gay city and state. And without a health care proxy you will not see Lisa nor know of her condition."

Janice got on the phone and had her health care proxy faxed to the hospital.

Janice describes what was happening:

I never imagined as I paced that tiny waiting room that I would not see Lisa’s bright blue eyes again or hold her warm, loving hands. Feeling helpless as I continued to wait, I attempted to sneak back into the trauma bay but all the doors to the trauma area had key codes, preventing me from entering. Sitting alone with our luggage, our children and my thoughts, I watched numbly as other families were invited back into the trauma center to visit with loved ones. I was still waiting to hear what was happening with Lisa, realizing as the time passed that I was not being allowed to see her and if the social worker’s words were any indication it was because we were gay.

Hours later a surgeon came to tell her that Lisa had suffered massive bleeding from a brain aneurysm.

A short while later, two more surgeons appeared and explained the massive bleed in Lisa’s brain gave her little chance to survive and if she did it would be in a persistent vegetative state. Lisa had made me promise to her over and over in our 18 years together to never allow this to happen to her. I let the surgeons know Lisa wishes, which were also spelled out in her Living Wills and Advance Directive. I was then promised by the doctors that I would be brought to see Lisa as “soon as she was cleaned up”. At that point all life saving measures ceased and I asked that she be prepared for organ donation.

More hours passed. Janice showed the children's birth certificates to the admitting clerk begging that if they wouldn't let her be with her partner, that at least the children be permitted to say goodbye to their mother. She was told the children were too young.

In nearly eight hours, Lisa lay at Ryder Trauma Center moving toward brain death – completely alone and I continue to this day to feel like a failure for not being there to hold her hand to tell her how much we loved her, to comfort her and to sign in her hand “I love you”. All my pleas fell on deaf ears.

Janice was not given any say in her partners care or permitted to see her until the transplant coordinator showed up to ask which organs she wanted to be donated. I can't even imagine the pain that the family went through during those long hours when a door separated them from the woman they loved, who was dying without her loving family around her.

Janice brought charges against the hospital and last week Judge Adalberto Jordan dismissed the case, essentially finding that the Jackson Memorial Hospital was within its rights to leave a dying woman alone while denying her present and immediate family to visit her, be updated on her condition, or even to provide the hospital with medically necessary information.

In the article about this case, the writer, ends by saying, "Explain to me again how a straight couple would have been split like this even for five minutes, let alone hours. Explain to me how three children would have been kept from their straight mother’s side, how a dying straight person would be treated in such an cruel, vicious, I-don’t-have-enough-words way.

"Tell me again why the word “marriage” doesn’t matter. Tell me again that we should just be patient and not rock the boat.

"Better yet, tell it to Lisa Pond’s partner and children.

"Yesterday a judge shrugged his shoulders and left LGBT victims unprotected. When will Americans demand better? Will Americans demand better?"

Maybe it's time to un-spam some of those Equality mailings again...

1 comment:

Indigo said...

That is so heartbreaking.