"Last Visit Narrative
by Attorney Barbara Wellerhttp://theempirejournal.com/0319052_attorneys_last_visit_wit.htm
When Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed at 1:45 p.m. on March
18, 2005, I was one of the most surprised people on the planet. I had
been visiting Terri throughout the morning with her family and her
priest. As part of the legal team working throughout the previous days
and nights to save Terri from a horrific fate, I was very hopeful.
Although the state judicial system had obviously failed Terri by not
protecting her life, I knew other forces were still at work. I fully
expected the federal courts would step in to reverse this injustice,
just as they might for a prisoner unjustly set for execution*although
by much more humane means than Terri would be executed. Barring that,
I was certain that sometime around noon, the Florida Department of
Children and Family Services would come to the Woodside Hospice
facility in Pinellas Park and take Terri into protective custody. Or
that federal marshals would arrive from Washington D.C, where the
Congress was working furiously to try to save Terri, and would stand
guard at her door to prevent any medical personnel from entering her
room to remove the tube that was providing her nutrition and hydration.
Finally, I was sure if nothing else was working, that at 12:59, just
before the hour scheduled for Terri's gruesome execution to begin,
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would at least issue a 60-day reprieve for the
legislative bodies to complete the work they were attempting to do to
save Terri's life and to make sure that no other vulnerable adults
could be sentenced to starve to death in America. I had done the legal
research weeks before and was fully convinced that Gov. Bush had the
power, under our co-equal branches of government, to issue a reprieve
in the face of a judicial death sentence intended to lead to the
starvation and dehydration of an innocent woman when scores of doctors
and neurologists were saying she could be helped.
All morning long, as I was in the room with Terri and her family, we
were telling her that help was on the way. Terri was in good spirits
that morning. The mood in her room was jovial, particularly around
noontime, as we knew Congressional attorneys were on the scene and
many were working hard to save Terri's life. For most of that time, I
was visiting and talking with Terri along with Terri's sister Suzanne
Vitadamo, Suzanne's husband, and Terri's aunt, who was visiting from
New York to help provide support for the family. A female Pinellas
Park police office was stationed at the door outside Terri's room.
Terri was sitting up in her lounge chair, dressed and looking alert
and well. Her feeding tube had been plugged in around 11 a.m. and we
all felt good that she was still being fed. Suzanne and I were
talking, joking, and laughing with Terri, telling her she was going to
go to Washington D.C. to testify before Congress, which meant that
finally Terri's husband Michael would be required to fix her
wheelchair. After that Suzanne could take Terri to the mall shopping
and could wheel her outdoors every day to feel the wind and sunshine
on her face, something she has not been able to do for more than five
At one point, I noticed Terri's window blinds were pulled down. I went
to the window to raise them so Terri could look at the beautiful
garden outside her window and see the sun after several days of rain.
As sunlight came into the room, Terri's eyes widened and she was
obviously very pleased. At another point, Suzanne and I told Terri she
needed to suck in all the food she could because she might not be
getting anything for a few days.
During that time, Mary Schindler, Terri's mother, joined us for a bit,
and we noticed there were bubbles in Terri's feeding tube. We joked that
we didn't want her to
begin burping, and called the nurses to fix the feeding tube, which
they did. Terri's mother did not come back into the room. This was a
very difficult day for Bob and Mary Schindler. I suspect they were
less hopeful all along than I was, having lived through Terri's last
two feeding tube removals.
Suzanne and I continued to talk and joke with Terri for probably an
hour or more. At one point Suzanne called Terri the bionic woman and I
heard Terri laugh out loud heartily for the first time since I have
been visiting with her. She laughed so hard that for the first time I
noticed the dimples in her cheeks.
The most dramatic event of this visit happened at one point when I was
sitting on Terri's bed next to Suzanne. Terri was sitting in her
lounge chair and her aunt was standing at the foot of the chair. I
stood up and learned over Terri. I took her arms in both of my hands.
I said to her, "Terri if you could only say `I want to live' this
whole thing could be over today." I begged her to try very hard to
say, "I want to live."
To my enormous shock and surprise, Terri's eyes opened wide, she looked
me square in the face, and with a look of great concentration, she said,
"Ahhhhhhh." Then, seeming to summon up all the strength she had, she
virtually screamed, "Waaaaaaaa." She
yelled so loudly that Michael Vitadamo, Suzanne's husband, and the
female police officer who were then standing together outside Terri's
door, clearly heard her. At that point, Terri had a look of anguish on
her face that I had never seen before and she seemed to be struggling
hard, but was unable to complete the sentence. She became very
frustrated and began to cry. I was horrified that I was obviously
causing Terri so much anguish. Suzanne and I began to stroke Terri's
face and hair to comfort her. I told Terri I was very sorry. It
had not been my intention to upset her so much. Suzanne and I assured
Terri that her efforts were much appreciated and that she did not need
to try to say anything more. I promised Terri I would tell the world
that she had tried to say, "I want to live."
Suzanne and I continued to visit and talk with Terri, along with other
family members who came and went in the room, until about 2:00 p.m.
when we were all told to leave after Judge Greer denied yet another
motion for stay and ordered the removal of the feeding tube to
proceed. As we left the room, the female police officer outside the
door was valiantly attempting to keep from crying.
Just as Terri's husband Michael has told the world he must keep an
alleged promise to kill Terri, a promise remembered a million dollars
and nearly a decade after the fact; I must keep my promise to Terri
immediately. Time is running out for her. I went out to the banks of
cameras outside the hospice facility and told the story immediately.
Now I must also tell the story in writing for the world to hear. It
may be the last effective thing I can do to try to keep Terri alive so
she can get the testing, therapy, and rehabilitative help she so
desperately needs before it is too late.
About four in the afternoon, several hours after the feeding tube was
removed, I returned to Terri's room. By that time she was alone except
for a male police officer now standing inside the door. When I entered
the room and began to speak to her, Terri started to cry and tried to
speak to me immediately. It was one of the most helpless feelings I
have ever had.
Terri was looking very melancholy at that point and I
had the sense she was very upset that we had told her things were
going to get better, but instead, they were obviously getting worse. I
had previously had the same feeling when my own daughter was a baby
who was hospitalized and was crying and looking to me to rescue her
from her hospital crib, something I could not do. While I was in the
room with Terri for the next half hour or so, several other friends
came to visit and I did a few press interviews sitting right next to
Terri. I again raised her window shade, which had again been pulled
down, so Terri could at least see the garden and the sunshine from her
lounge chair. I also turned the radio on in her room before I left so
that when she was alone, she would at least have some music for comfort.
Just before I left the room, I leaned over Terri and spoke right into
her ear. I told her I was very sorry I had not been able to stop the
feeding tube from being taken out and I was very sorry I had to leave
her alone. But I reminded her that Jesus would stay right by her side
even when no one else was there with her. When I mentioned Jesus'
Name, Terri again laughed out loud. She became very agitated and began
loudly trying to speak to me again. As Terri continued to laugh and
try to speak, I quietly prayed in her ear, kissed her, placed her
in Jesus' care, and left the room.
Terri is alone now. As I write this last visit narrative, it is five
in the morning of March 19. Terri has been without food and water for
nearly 17 hours. I'm sure she is beginning at least become thirsty, if
not hungry. And I am left to wonder how many other people care."
May God have mercy on us all...