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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Remember thou art dust

Still reading Passage and now the characters are discussing famous people's last words ....


"In the six years I've been in the ER, I've never had a patient whose last words were about a will or who the murderer is. And that includes murder victims."

"What are their last words?" Richard asked curiously.

"Obscenities, a lot of them, unfortunately," Vielle said. "Also, 'My side hurts,' 'I can't breathe,' 'Turn me over.'"

Joanna nodded. "That's what Walt Whitman said to his nurse. And Robert Kennedy said, 'Don't lift me.'"

Vielle explained, "As if talking to patients about their NDE [near-death experiences] isn't bad enough, in her spare time Joanna researches famous people's last words."

"I wanted to know if there are similarities between what they say and what people report in their NDEs," Joanna explained.

"And are there?" Richard asked.

"Sometimes. Thomas Edison's last words were 'It's beautiful over there,' but he was sitting by a window. He may just have been looking at the view. Or maybe not. John Wayne said, 'Did you see that flash of light?' But Vielle's right. Mostly they say things like 'My head hurts.'"

"Or 'I don't feel good,'" Vielle said, "or, 'I can't sleep,' or 'I'm cold.'"

Joanna thought of Amelia Tanaka asking for a blanket. "Do they ever say, 'Oh, no, oh, no, oh, no'?" she asked.

Vielle nodded. "A lot of them, and a lot of them ask for ice," she said, taking a swig of Coke, "or water."

Joanna nodded. "General Grant asked for water, and so did Marie Curie. And Lenin."

"That's funny," Richard said. "You'd expect Lenin's last words to be 'Workers, arise!' or something."

Vielle shook her head. "The eternal verities aren't what's on people's minds when they're dying. They're much more concerned with the matter at hand."

"'Put your hands on my shoulders and don't struggle'," Joanna murmured.

"Who said that?" Richard asked.

"W. S. Gilbert. You know, of Gilbert and Sullivan. Pirates of Penzance. He died saving a young girl from drowning. I've always thought that if I could choose, that's how I'd like to die."

"By drowning?" Vielle said. "No, you don't want to drown. That's a terrible way to die, trust me."

"Gilbert didn't drown," Joanna said. "He had a heart attack. I meant, I'd like to die saving somebody else's life."

"I want to die in my sleep," Vielle said. "Massive aneurysm. At home. How about you, Dr. Wright?"

"I don't want to die at all," Richard said, and they all laughed.



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