After my husband died by voluntary euthanasia, I went looking for answers
Mid-morning Monday June 23: A police car speeding down Mount Dandenong Road braked with a sickening scream before pulling into the Woolworths car park in Croydon. In the front of the car were two policemen; in the backseat, a slumped Wayne, who had told them to come here, knowing that his mother would be at work.
One of the men and the boy left the car and rushed into the store. Wayne led the policeman to his mother, on the second cash register from the door. The man told June that his son had been hit by a car and was in Box Hill Hospital. No! she thought, there must be a mistake. Wayne was there and the two boys were inseparable, so Bill must have been…
But he was not. She looked at Wayne expectantly, waiting for him to say something. Bent over, he looked gray and sick, disheveled, his school jumper covered in dark stains, but at least she could see he was in one piece. So it must be Bill who got hurt. “Ma’am, we have to hurry,” the police said.
Numbly, June called her supervisor, mumbled something about a traffic accident, grabbed her jacket and, still in her cashier’s tunic, followed her eldest son and the policeman to the car. As they pulled out of the parking lot, she realized she hadn’t thought to call her husband, Adrian, still asleep at home after his night shift with the fire department.
Once the car was back on the main road, June noticed them driving through red lights, the siren blaring, other vehicles slowing down or stopping to let them pass. Still confused, she turned to Wayne. “What happened? Is he badly hurt? Wayne nodded silently and stammered, ‘His bike, he…’ He couldn’t say any more. He couldn’t find the words for what he had seen. get to his brother. The policeman in the passenger seat turned around and said, “We’re trying to get you there before he…” When he saw his face, he just didn’t could finish his sentence.
Bill’s medical records aren’t easy to read even now, all these years later. During our first year together, Bill told me the story of his accident and its aftermath. He recounted summaries of his long years of hospitalization. His story seemed so remote and distant and was delivered so unemotionally, often in short episodes, that I always had trouble visualizing him in a coma, unable to speak or breathe properly for years, his undiagnosed spine and neurological condition for the first six months. I just couldn’t associate all of this with a man who had accomplished so much, who in our first years together seemed so healthy, and who had overcome most physical obstacles more than a decade before our meet. As I now revisit Bill’s medical history, for the first time in detail, I am struck by the almost superhuman physical and psychological effort he had to put in.
With the most urgent of his medical problems under control, which took more than three years, Bill had to rebuild an active and meaningful life in a situation where many would have given up. He had to relearn almost everything – to cough and breathe normally, to speak, to use a wheelchair, to manage a body with severely reduced physical abilities. He had to do almost everything for himself with his left hand, including writing, because fine motor skills never returned to his right hand, nor much strength to his right arm.
The enormous psychological effort that Bill had to make seems almost inconceivable. First coming to terms with the devastating injuries, followed by years of hospital treatment; then the need to build a new “self”, the complex interplay of psychic processes that we all try to make more or less “normal” and coherent, and that we need in all our interactions with others and the world in general . We know that everything that happens in childhood and adolescence helps shape one’s psyche, for better or for worse. It is almost too painful to reflect on the psychic damage caused to a 13-year-old boy by such devastating injuries, by the inability to communicate for a long time, by the interruption of his schooling for years; worst of all, perhaps, the awareness of being considered a huge medical “problem” for at least the first six months in the hospital. Such thoughts serve to highlight what it took for Bill to rebuild a “normal” self from the ruins of a young life, after the effective loss of most of his adolescence.