“You Are Going to Die!”
AS TOLD BY LEANNE KARLINSKY
My search for the best available treatment without blood in Spain
IF YOU could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you choose to go? For me the answer was simple. I teach Spanish in school, and along with my husband, Jay, and my son Joel, I attend a Spanish-language congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Galax, Virginia, U.S.A. My longing, then, was to travel to Spain. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when my parents offered to take me there! Although my husband and son could not come along, my dream was about to come true as my parents and I boarded a direct flight to Madrid. Upon our arrival on April 21, we decided to drive to Estella, a small town in Navarre, in northern Spain. I made myself comfortable in the back seat and promptly dozed off.
The next memory I have is of lying in a field, with the sun shining in my eyes. ‘Where am I? How did I get here? Am I dreaming?’ As these questions raced through my mind, a horrible reality settled in. Something was wrong, and this was no dream. My left sleeve was torn to shreds, and I couldn’t move my arms or my legs. Later, I learned that our car had crashed through a guardrail and that I had been thrown from the vehicle as it tumbled down a 65-foot [20 m] embankment. Thankfully, neither I nor my parents have any recollection of the accident.
I called out for help, and a truck driver rushed over to me. Then he descended farther down the embankment to the car, where my parents were trapped. “Tell the ambulance to hurry!” he shouted to his partner. “The people in the car are in bad shape!” Then he came back to where I lay paralyzed, and with good intentions, he tried to straighten my leg. I screamed in agony, realizing for the first time how badly I was hurt.
Soon I was in the emergency room in the local hospital in Logroño. The police kindly notified Jehovah’s Witnesses in the area of where I was and what had happened. Before long, many from the congregations in Estella and Logroño were at my bedside, along with the local Hospital Liaison Committee. Indeed, throughout my ordeal at this hospital, dear fellow Christians whom I had never before met were ready and willing to care for my needs, around the clock. They also lovingly cared for my parents, who recovered sufficiently to be released from the hospital about a week after the accident.
About 1:00 a.m. on Wednesday, the doctors came to operate on my broken hip. I told the doctor that I did not want to receive blood.* He reluctantly agreed to honor my request, although he told me that I would likely die. I survived the surgery, but I found it strange that my wounds were not cleaned, nor were my bandages later changed.
By Friday my blood count had dropped to 4.7, and I was losing strength. The doctor agreed to give me an alternative treatment—injections of erythropoietin (EPO), which, along with iron and blood-building supplements, stimulates red blood cell production.* By now, Jay and Joel had arrived. How good it was to see my husband and my son!
At approximately 1:30 a.m., a doctor told Jay that the hospital had already obtained a court order to administer blood if my condition worsened. Jay told him that my wishes were that I not receive blood under any circumstances. “Then she will die!” the doctor replied.
Jay talked to the Hospital Liaison Committee about transferring me to another facility—one that would respect my wishes. Not that everyone at this hospital was antagonistic. One doctor, for example, assured me that she would do her utmost to make sure that I was treated with all the respect I deserved. But soon other doctors were pressuring me. “Do you want to die and leave your family behind?” they asked. I assured them that I wanted the best treatment available without blood. The doctors were not moved to help. “You are going to die!” one stated bluntly.
The Hospital Liaison Committee found a hospital in Barcelona that agreed to treat me without blood. What a contrast between the two hospitals! In Barcelona two nurses gently washed me and made me feel comfortable. When changing my bandages, one of the nurses saw that they were green and caked with dried blood. She said that she was ashamed that her fellow countrymen had treated me this way.
Soon I was receiving the medical treatment that was supposed to have been started at the hospital in Logroño. The results were dramatic. Within days my vital organs were out of danger, and my hemoglobin count had gone up to 7.3. By the time I left the hospital, it had risen to 10.7. When I needed more surgery at a hospital in the United States, it was up to 11.9.
I am grateful for the efforts of doctors and nurses who are willing to accommodate the wishes of their patients, whether they agree with them or not. When the hospital staff respect a patient’s beliefs, they are treating the whole person—and thus they are providing the best treatment available.
Whether a Christian will accept EPO or not is a personal decision.—See The Watchtower of October 1, 1994, page 31.
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With my husband and son
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Two members of the Hospital Liaison Committee