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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Frog Prince

Another effort at capturing an imaginary snapshot from a life somewhere. And this time Candid, I took your advice. This post is inspired by the death of Chantal Sebire.

I was an attractive man, with two kids and a loving wife, until I got diagnosed with esthesioneuroblastoma, a rare form of facial cancer. For eight long years I have struggled to stay alive, mostly because they wanted me to. Now, I am 54. Amélie is 23 - quite a lady and André is 18 - still too young to lose a father. But I have decided, I can't see myself growing into this monstrous creature everyday.

Not that I can see myself anymore. The disease has left me blind, with no sense of smell or taste. The tumor has burrowed into my nasal cavity and sinuses, causing my nose to swell several times the original size and pushing my eyes out of their sockets. The doctors wouldn't administer morphine to ease my pain because of the associated side-effects.

Aimée, true to her name, has proved to be the most loving wife. I didn't know entirely how fortunate I was when I married her 26 years ago. It was only during the past few years of my life that I have realized the woman I love has more strength than I'd have ever known. Under different circumstances, I wouldn't have done anything to be away from her. But her stoic attitude, and her genuine efforts to try and ease my excruciating pain, has made me all the more resolute.

I lost the legal battle for euthanasia last Wednesday. Not that I care anymore. They can't decide whether I should wish to live or die. They could only have been with me while I lived, I'd have to die alone anyways.

I still remember the Sunday morning we had gone fishing several years ago. The sun sparkled on the lake and everything appeared so heavenly. Heaven. Will I see Heaven? Or when I die, the demons will carry me to burn in an eternal inferno? And will it be like what Dante had described in his 'Divina commedia' ? "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate" I had abandoned all hope long ago. Now, nothing can change my mind.

I hate to make Dr. Bertrand a part of it, but someone had to provide me the means. Assisted suicide - this is what they call it. But I see it as a choice to die with dignity. I can't wait for death to encroach upon me. I can't live to die every day.

A lethal dose of barbiturates under his supervision, that is what he said would work. I had to tell this to Aimée. She had to know. But she kept silent, and I thought I heard her weep. In another world, in another life, we could have had a fairy tale ending. But she has kissed herself sore for her frog prince. I only wish that she knew it wasn't a selfish choice. It is the only choice I have. Maybe someday she'll understand.


Bubbles of FireWhiskey said...

brought back memories of a very bad time. but very well written... i feel you tackled the subject of euthanasia very sensitively... it is never an easy ride for the patient or the family especially when something as serious as cancer is involved and i think you did full justice to the feelings that are involved in such situations... the helplessness and the anger and hoplessness... i will keep coming back to read this... :)

Sam said...

I agree with mann here!!
You've done full justice to the subject of euthanasia!!
On a philosophical note, we really are forced to take some harsh decisions at times which wound us and our loved ones, yet they are necessary. And that leaves me wondering why on earth do we have to go through such troubles which leave us helpless?? which hurt the ones whom we love and the ones who love us??
i guess there is no satisfactory answer to this!!

candid diary said...

Today, we had one of our routine meetings which end with a thickset lunch. After having lunch I came on line to check my mails and your blog.
Your (very) short story in its straightforward style drove away my siesta and reminded me Franz Kafka’s novella, The Metamorphosis which takes a reader into the nightmarish world of Gregor Samsa, the young man who had mysteriously undergone a monstrous transformation.
Well, you have at least spared us a graphic depiction of the protagonist’s facial cancer and have left many things untold but the frog prince’s thoughts hang around even after you have finished telling your story. May be you did not have enough time to make the story longer (and more painful to us) or may be you wanted to end the story in this fashion only. I do not know.

Aparna Kar said...

@ candid
yeah , u r right, I was a li'l short of time. :D

Aparna Kar said...

To the triad of my most dedicated readers- Bubbles, Sam and Candid-
Euthanasia is indeed a very delicate subject. I agree with the protagonist about "the choice to live", but unlike him, I do not believe in Heaven or Hell after life. It's here what it is and we live through it in our lifetimes. For me, Heaven is a place of unbound joy and hope, while Hell is a state of hopelessness. The transaction (or the want of it) can happen most unexpectedly: from a mention of your current condition of dismay by someone close to an unexpected utterance by your subconscious self, or even the recognition of an element that you think is missing. The journey then is, ideally, towards a higher state of living.

Also, there is a question of making euthanasia by doctors legal. To my knowledge, there are only three places in the world where it is- Netherlands, Belgium and Oregon (US). Though some medical help will always be required in the process, making euthanasia legal world-wide can have several repercussions. The advocates of anti-euthanasia often cite an example how one of their patients had given up completely and then suddenly, one fine day, he started saying that he is getting better. And he did. Had he been assisted in killing himself before this, his family would have lost him and so would the doctor who had grown fond of him.

The psychology of a terminally ill patient contemplating euthanasia is not unlike that of a mentally depressed person thinking of suicide, who is physically healthy otherwise. I believe, however, unlike the mind’s infinite capacity to recover, the biological existence has very limited resilience, including injury to neurons- the channels of our thought processes and integral to our mental health. The ‘one fine day’ might not come to every patient who had hoped against hope to get better. Then there is the economics of keeping these people alive- the same scarce resources could be used to treat a different patient with more effective results. The cost of not treating a different person is deteriorating his/her health too. And finally, the physician’s dilemma, whose job, at least according to the Hippocrates' oath, is "to follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.' How can someone who is assigned to give a better life, see the degeneration of his genuine efforts every day? It is frustrating for the doctors too and unlike the imposition of a God-like image, they are humans, and quite susceptible to negative emotions such as these.

This debate can run for pages and yet remain incomplete. So, I will pull the rein of my wild thoughts here. Btw, I must acknowledge a little discrepancy from my side; the names of the characters have French accents while the quotation from “La Divina Commedia” is in Italian. However, I felt that if a Bengali Indian living in US like me can like and learn the quote, then a Frenchman living in France or even in Italy might remember it at the time of his death. This delirium was necessary to make the character more convincing. His first thoughts were, however, about his family- his children and his wife. And then came the thoughts of the best friend of an unwell man, and in a way, his savior- the doctor. All the credits for story goes to Candid who asked me to have a look around me, all the fallacies are my own.

Rex said...

Another very good attempt. But as mentioned before, it could have been elaborated.Check out my novel online @ [link][/link]

Mona said...

No one could hv handled this better than u... Tx for keeping it short...else it would hv been melodramatic

Munmun said...

Good job. Loved the way you could read the patient's mind :)

Sam said...

Point taken!!
Indeed euthanasia is a contentious topic. when to offer and to whom? would a doctor be morally and ethically correct in helping a patient exercising this option?
the economics factor is a major question as any life support system costs mega-bucks and a hospital can afford only so many of them. so the perennial question still remains... how and when do u decide that euthanasia is the only way out???

Matangi Mawley said...

tht was beautiful! full of life...

Aparna Kar said...

@Matangi Mawley
Thanks :)
Could have been quite an oxymoron, if I wrote 'And so in his death, he found the glory of life' or something like that. But then I'd be distorting reality for an emotional effect. Sometimes, realism has a better impact than expressionism.

Aparna Kar said...

There's no definite answer. It's subject to variance. But still, I'd say that the wish of the patient should be respected, there's nothing more painful than a life which has no hope. It's like you are living for someone else and you don't own your own existence. Can be frustrating. Or that's how I see it. Personally I do subscribe to utilitarian point of view for most of my decisions. "For the greater good". But it can be misleading because it can mean either for the greater number or the greater degree. Now, if the degree of happiness for one individual is weighed against the happiness of a number of people, ( we are assuming it is quantifiable) and outweighs the later, then you have to admit that that individual choice should be valued more. Then it diverts to preference utilitarianism where it is a satisfaction of preference- be it pain or pleasure. Now assuming that the objective of every sane individual is to be happy , or find a means to be happy. Why I am intertwining health and happiness is quite understandable I hope? One is incomplete without the other. And each has it's contributing factors. It 's like two giant asters with the centers connected (maybe I'll write a post on this next)
There's more philosophy to it than I can dig in a lifetime. So, I will stick to the simplest terms: I respect individual choice. And the patient has every right to exercise it.

Aparna Kar said...

Dunno. Could have been something else on his mind too :)

Aparna Kar said...

Lol, thanks lady. that is quite an you bestowed upon me. Like I mentioned before: realism can have a better impact than expressionism sometimes :)

Aparna Kar said...

@ rex
I am keeping it as it is. Will check out your novel sometime soon. I'm sure you are getting some feedback already. It's one good way to learn for an aspiring author.

Sam said...

Oh... I support euthanasia BIG time!! IMHO... a terminally ill patient should have the option to exercise the right to live or die.... but then here comes in the dark fabric of society.... who is going to ensure such a decision is of the free will of the patient...
it is teh risk involved at the concept being misused is what deters me to shout out for its legitimisation!!
as for the relationship you established between health and happiness is quite understandable. in fact, right now am having a terrible toothache post extraction and that has definitelly robbed me off soem of my happiness :D
On a serious note though... I wonder if it wud ever be possible to figure out whether the happiness factor is guided by greater number or degree!!

Da Rodent said...

I have another three posts from your blog to read. but this one has disturbed me quite a bit. I'll have to get back to the other posts later..


chandan rai said...

oh! really touches.
in such circumstances only fighter can decide about his victory.