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You And Me Chasing Paper

I heard this NPR segment today about the harvesting of organs. Apparently, after they take you off the ventilator to make sure you are brain dead (and you are), they put you back on the ventilator to oxygenate your lungs and organs so that they are in the best possible shape for transplant. Some believe you are alive when they hook you back up and this makes the harvesting process seem somewhat disturbing. Others understand that the person is gone and the organs are being kept vital.

What does this have to do with writing?

46 Responses

  1. You won’t die if you revise drastically. It’s your body a reader wants not your heart and soul.

  2. That painting is up at LACMA in an incredible women and surrealism show which it pained me to leave.

    • Frieda understood the fragility of life and as a consequence took daring liberties in her work. Creative heart that beats lives on.

      • I caught up on your last few chapters this morning, CJ. You most definitely belong in that category of creative heart.

  3. Well . . . I’ve cheerfully cannibalized older projects for newer ones—a line here, a character there, descriptors and plot elements.

    This is my excuse for saving everything that might possibly be of use.

    But I have a few stories, however dead or nonpublishable from which I can’t or won’t borrow/beg/steal . . . the bits belong to that story and the grafts won’t take in my imagination.

    This is my excuse for saving everything.that can’t possibly be of use.

  4. Ask Neal Shusterman. Read his book UNWIND.

    Yeah, sometimes all you can salvage from a project is a character or a scene, a joke, a title, whatever. Dead is dead in writing, until it’s not. Books are like vampires that way.

  5. Dead tree publishing is on life support. It only seems alive. They’re harvesting the vital organs right now. What was once ephemeral atoms will be immortal bits.

  6. My experience with these “harvesters” was far more disturbing. A few years ago, my father suffered a massive heart attack while in the ICU and after numerous tests, was diagnosed as brain dead. He was taken off life support and we sat with him for more than18 agonizing hours before he passed on. Within a few minutes after my father’s death, the hospital staff alerted me that I would be contacted by these people. A very confident-sounding woman did call and eagerly tried to convince me to allow them access to the corpse that had been my father. His was not a peaceful nor unblemished death and the horrific condition of his body was not what I would consider a source to gift anything to anyone. And despite my explanations, she continued to press me for authorization; her insistence framed in all manner of guilt-baiting. Thankfully, I’m not easily coerced. It was my first encounter with a true ghoul.

    • This is heart breaking and always is on a personal level. The person speaking to you was a corporate whore, actually, despite the good they do. She was not a surgeon or in anyway related to the life-death, recipient, suitability, moral, ethical or any other committee. She wanted what you had so she could get paid. Not saying the donor thing isn’t good, cuz it is, but as with anything there are layers and yours was personal and she was graceless. So sorry your grief had to be complicated by that.

      • The problem is that time is of the essence with a lot of organ donations. I would never donate my organs, but I can understand the time pressure involved in getting someone to sign them over.

      • A corporate whore? Really? Organ recovery is non-profit in this country, and the woman who approached Karen’s family makes about $15 an hour. What Karen experienced as ghoulish eagerness may also be described as hope, for the lives that could have been saved by the recovery of those organs. It may also be fear, nerves, bluster–a defense mechanism she has developed to shield herself from people who call her a ghoul.

        Someone has to make the approach to a donor’s family during a time of extreme stress and grief. It’s a difficult job, and perhaps not the right job for the woman Karen met. But if you were on the other end, the mother of a child who needed a kidney to survive, you might be grateful for this woman’s tenacity. You might even find a reason to thank her.

        In any case, she’s not a whore.

      • i’m with you, averil.

      • The situation I experienced was made even more difficult by the fact that the woman I spoke with had no idea that my late father at the time of his death had COPD, diabetes, liver failure and a whole host of other medical issues that really left nothing viable. He was a potential commodity to her and in that perspective, her call was more a hunting expedition that a plea for helping a specific someone. I won’t horrify our good group with the details, but trust me, there was nothing left to share (an opinion also expressed by the hospital staff).

        Never-the-less, it is a topic that needs more discussion and an industry that certainly needs a better business model. Thanks for allowing me to add my chapter to the bigger story.

      • I’m truly sorry for your loss and please don’t imagine I’m here to harangue you, but I think it’s important to note that always, in every case, the OPO is called in because of a referral from the facility (which is how the staff knew you’d be contacted) and the woman you spoke with was reading from a tightly-regulated script on a recorded line. I understand that it may have felt like a hunting expedition, but that’s part of the screening process. Unfortunately it takes a lot of assessment of medically unsuitable individuals to identify the few who are healthy enough to donate their organs/tissues/corneas. She really was only calling because someone on the hospital staff referred your father as a possible donor–there is no quota, no bonus, no monetary gain whatsoever involved in organ donation. She sounds somewhat inept, but you know the pay grade in a non-profit. . .

    • I think the saddest part of the process is that sometimes the urgency and validity of harvesting an organ to save a life adds another stone to the pile weighing on the family and friends left behind.

    • Sorry for your experience, Karen. Sounds like it was a tough death and you must have been spinning in the aftermath. People like to think of helping others, but you deserved respect in your grief. The loss of your father’s life was no less important than another’s. Period. The ‘gatherer’ should have been sensitive to this fact, no matter the rush. The road to hell, etc. etc.

      As it pertains to writing; hopefully, someone in the industry will read this and strive to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The power of the written word.

  7. You call her a ghoul but you prefer to ignore the many ways that his remains could have enhanced the life of suffering others, starting with burn victims needing skin grafts. It is your right to be selfish in your grief, but you clearly don’t know what a ghoul actually is.

    • The person was caught up in doing her job while neglecting important aspects of humanity and dignity; she’s certainly on the path to ghoulville and being questioned by a greiving relative of the deceased patient might help her realize that.

  8. »What does this have to do with writing?«

    A dead body can’t write a book. Even with all the organs still in place.

    What do we mean by “the person is gone,” when, materially speaking, everything we know as the person is still right there on the bed?

    The part that writes is the part that can’t be dissected and harvested, or buried or burned. The life force. The more life force there is (or as Betsy once put it, the “universal chord”), the greater the work. Which is why people still read the Bhagavad-Gita after a couple millennia, while The Story of O is supplanted by 50 Shades of Grey (also to be shoved aside in due course).

  9. My daughter is an ICU nurse so I hear lots of organ harvesting stories and so I have issues with the post. And with NPR in general. I don’t think it has anything to do with writing since it is not a life and death issue except for the recipient, which may cause me to contradict myself since I believe I am a success when my guys are alive to the recipient of the story but I think you may be going for the resurrection theme, such as breathing life into a dead story which is not related to organ harvesting and the on and off of the ventilator part which is not related to life or death but then we have to go before the ethics committee once more to sort that. You would see what I am saying if you were there in the room, and I have to ask was the NPR reporter?

    I don’t care for Frida’s style.

    I have a burr up my ass tonight I guess. This not signing in with my blogger account is really bugging me.

  10. I replied a simple “Yes” to TP, but they said it was a dup and wouldn’t let it through, but I don’t see it, so maybe it is in the ether and will arrive later. It was referring to the hoped for demise of the popularity of the shades of gray stories.
    Lord, lord, lord. . .

  11. Something about the central system of thought going off to a better place, a place where everybody gets published and wins Pulitzers, while down here in the workhouse someone makes off with your ideas.

  12. When there is bad turbulence in a plane, I check in with the place I am in my novel or play, or whatever I am writing. Now I also check in with what stage my child is in-

    I am not afraid to die as much as abandon the stories. Who will finish them? Who will harvest them?

    Luckily I married a good writer. I am often calmed by the thought of him finishing the job.

    Calmed by the belief that words and stories live on.

  13. When I read something by someone who is deceased, it is almost as if they have been resurrected. Their bones may have already disintegrated into the ground or their ashes melded into the ocean’s floor but their spirit is strong and if I stop to listen can almost hear their heart. It happened just the other day. I was searching for something worthwhile on pg 327 of any ol’ book (http://writeitdownith.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/exploding-heads-and-a-message-from-the-universe/) when I came across the only book my mother ever gave me, a parenting bible called SUMMERHILL. That page was not particularly insightful but inside the flap she had inscribed her dreams for me. All I had to do was look at her signature, Mom, and she was back, nestled and loving me.

  14. Any ‘body’ want my ass because I would gladly donate you the tissue which makes up my ass or how about my stomach, two kids created some extra there if you need it. My arms…I have flying squirrel arms, you know flaps, jeez. I have two kidneys, wanna buy one.
    My husband has some body parts he might sell. Any ‘body’ got extra hair, he could use some of that. I trade you a spleen for something combible for my honey.

  15. Words can be organs that help others keep going.

  16. I have no idea but you started my day off right with the non sequitir. Thanks.

  17. I feel like I’m in a classroom, trying to come up with a brilliant answer so my professor will think I’m awesome. Don’t…die? I don’t know.

  18. Another phoenix rising from the ashes, your work remains after you’re dead and gone, hopefully awakening something in a reader born long after your book had first seen the light of day.
    And- seeing Frida Kahlo at 8am made my morning.

  19. it’s all about the creepy ambiguity

  20. “What does this have to do with writing?”

    Is this gonna be on the final?

    Does it like hafta do with wearin’ hearts on sleeves and that kinda stuff?

    With spillin’ yer guts, mebbe?

    With yer voice echoin’ out acrosst th’ ages? Sorta like any house that has a book in it, thass a haunted house? Amirite?

  21. that i only have a finite amount of time with a project before it dies, whatever that means.

    before a tongue comes loose with a sound like an old man coughing. i held a heartbeat in my hands. it was there. it was. then. a long walk down a blue hallway. a pneumatic door opening. the pasted moon torn from the night sky.

  22. This post reminded me of, among many other things, how as a kid, I used to believe with all my heart that my stuffed animals were alive. I would carefully set them out on the bed every morning before I went to school and each night, I would lay them out in a careful, comfortable array in a safe corner of the room; the ones that slept with me were treated as delicately as my pet cat and if I ever woke up and saw that I had rolled over onto one, or worse, flung it onto the floor, I would feel a terrible sense of guilt. There were many times that I had to yell at a friend or family member for treating my inanimate herd too roughly.

    I guess it’s these nonsensical beliefs which we hold onto so dearly that can both keep us back and keep us going. I think we always want to be the one who clung onto hope, who kept the faith when everyone else had lost theirs, who never stopped, who persevered, despite all signs that it was time to give up. When do you let go then? When is it really time to pull the plug? When has the rest of life gone on and left you behind, holding the cold, white hand of a lost cause? Stagnant novels, ailing restaurants, derelict friends, sick puppies, dying fathers– they all deserve such consideration.

  23. What does this have to do with writing? For me, it’s know when it’s time to pull the plug.

  24. I have to write my way through an entire book before I know if it is alive or dead. To date I’ve been able to resuscitate all three of them.

  25. When I write I’m anoxic & brain dead. Take what you want. I’m spilling my guts out on the page.

  26. I’ve already been chastised often enough for things I say on here, so I got my soapbox out of the garage, and y’all know where it is.

  27. I’m not really sure what this has to do with writing (will you explain to us later Betsy?) I am, however, an organ donor and not crazy about the idea of being plugged back in.

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