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  Paying My Respects to Brittany Maynard 

Brittany Maynard was twenty-nine years old and newly married when she chose to end her life before glioblastoma, a vicious cancer growing with a vengeance in her brain, kept her from making that choice. She died on November 1, 2014.

Here’s my story about a young woman I took care of many years ago when I was not yet an RN. Her name was Brittany, too. Like Brittany Maynard, she also got the death sentence of Glioblastoma during her newlywed year.

I was nineteen and decided to become an RN, Frankly, I didn’t really want to be an RN but in those days and from where I came from, a girl going to college came out a teacher or an RN/BSN. I needed a marketable degree when I got out and knew I didn’t want to teach children. I did love psychology so I took my first job as an aide in a local hospital near my parent’s home on the south side of Chicago where I lived and attended the University of Illinois, College of Nursing.

My Brittany was twenty-six and a newly married when I met her. She was a patient on a Med/Surg unti that really was the floor where the terminally ill and very old/infirmed were admitted. My head nurse said she wanted me to be Brittany’s aide because I was young like Brittany who by then was in the last stages of dying from the same brain cancer that befell Brittany Maynard.

I entered her room and my first recollection was of her grandmother, sitting in the corner with her head down. Brittany’s mom was at her bedside, leaning over and trying to comfort her daughter who was crying because she had to go to the bathroom and didn’t want to mess the bed. Only she didn’t have to go because there was nothing to expel. But she insisted and her mother was doing what she could to comfort her. I was in a panic from the moment I entered that room. This girl was close to my age and she was dying and she didn’t have the mental faculties to understand that she was dying. She just wanted to go to the bathroom.

The room was adorned with photos of her wedding. I’m not going to tell you she was a raving beauty who found her Prince Charming; she was just a young woman, a checker at a supermarket whose bridegroom had left her. The story I was told by her grandma was that ‘he just couldn’t take it.’

I didn’t want to care for this woman so at the end of my shift, I asked to be transferred to another wing. The head nurse refused my request and delivered this message: If nursing was my chosen profession, get used to it.

I took care of Brittany until she died about a week later. Whenever she called out for her hubby, we told her he had just left. Whenever she wanted to go to the bathroom, I put her on a bedpan and lied. For this dying woman, successfully going to the bathroom was life affirming so I lied. We all did.

By the time she died, one eye had become disfigured from the malignant tumor devouring her brain. Glioblastoma is that kind of cancer, fast and vicious. The day she died, I knew she would. Don’t ask why because I don’t have an answer. I called in sick that day. I couldn’t take any more heartache. I just couldn’t. I was nineteen, just beginning to find my way and couldn’t be a witness to her death. It was not brave of me but like her husband, I just couldn’t do it.

So when these religious fanatics say things like ‘It’s too bad she wasn’t able to stick it out till the end’ about Brittany Maynard, a brave young woman who on November 1, 2014, ended her life under the compassionate care act offered in the great state of Oregon, here’s my reply: Until you walk in this woman’s shoes, keep your damn mouths shut.

To Brittany Mangard’s hubby, Ron Diaz, you are her Prince Charming. You promised true love and you delivered big time. To Brittany Maynard’s mom, Debbie Ziegler, you honored your daughter’s life by allowing her to direct it until the end. It is and was her life, after all. God bless you.

My hope is that the Executive Director of a group called ‘Priests For Life’ reads this. Her name is Janet Morana. In an interview a day after Brittany Maynard passed over, Morana said she wished Brittany had stuck it out because life is precious at every stage and miracles do happen. Whenever I hear ‘life is precious/miracles’ verbiage, I always know it’s coming out of the mouth of someone who hasn’t witnessed all the stages of life.

Some stages just aren’t precious.

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