I know a fellow I’ll call Wayne. He lives in a wheelchair. Well, more than a wheelchair; it’s like an Astronaut’s seat in the old Apollo moon ship – a recumbent couch that is molded to the occupant’s body, i.e., rib cage, shoulders, spine, pelvis and thighs. That’s everything but his arms and head. I’m told the reason for his form-fitted couch/seat is so Wayne won’t get pressure sores. This couch-like seat is secured to the wheelchair’s frame so when Wayne is installed, he’s: 1). Sitting more-or-less upright, 2). Comfortable and 3). Constrained. After all, he’s in his chair from dawn to dusk, except for the times they remove him to change shitty diapers. An enormous web belt runs across his lap to make sure he stays in the chair. This is because Wayne sometimes bursts into a paroxysm of what we take to be laughter. When they come on him he guffaws, hoots, bellows and thrashes like a live salmon tossed on the shore. Bystanders must stand clear as his right leg wildly flails about (the Jets place kicker should have leg like Wayne’s). If it weren’t for that belt, Wayne would be on the floor.
Wayne is way fucked up. He’s blind, mute and deaf. Some ghastly misfortune happened while he was in the womb. Wayne has Cerebral Palsy so he never sits still. His right leg moves but his left one sits lifeless, hanging onto the footrest. His head has a slow rhythmic nod that only stops when Wayne falls asleep.
Wayne’s hands are in his lap and from his left hand, the middle finger sticks up and is plucked backwards non-stop by his right. The plucking has gone on for so long the middle finger goes back past the vertical so it looks broken. Of course Wayne’s body is atrophied and wasted. There is no muscle tone, everything is flaccid.
Then there is the matter of Wayne’s head. It’s way small but of normal appearance. His open mouth reveals a clutter of dark, carious pegs. Something like Brownian Movement keeps his head constantly going, except when he naps. Wayne’s large, blue eyes move independently, much like a chameleon’s — and this is most disconcerting, believe thou me.
I’m Wayne’s minder, I tend him when he goes out from his residential facility. We go to dim and dark places where we will cause no trouble and where I can observe him, and I have observed:
- Wayne cannot eat normal food so he’s feed some sort of nutritious gruel. Wayne has a good swallow reflex for when I hold up a paper cup full of juice, he leans into it and opens his lips but more like an infant sucking than in a man drinking.
- Some of the sounds Wayne makes are grunts. They mean Wayne is shitting in his diaper, and he will sit in it until the little bus takes him home in a couple of hours.
- He doesn’t respond to touch and I don’t believe he feels pain.
- The paroxysms are not laughter as I originally assumed. I think these paroxysms are actually seizures.
- There is no one home. The form sitting before me in the wheelchair is an empty vessel. The physical Wayne probably died as the result of a botched delivery and while the body was resuscitated, Wayne’s spirit fled. What sits before me now is nothing but a reanimated corpse — a zombie.
Does Wayne have any sense of life or is he nothing but a bunch of fucked up reflexes? I vote for the latter. I think anyone who is around Wayne for very long will come to the same conclusion.
So what to do? What to do?
In ancient times, a baby with Wayne’s problems would have been placed on the ground and a 4-man rock dropped on his head. With today’s medicine we can keep zombies like Wayne alive until Hell freezes over. Wayne is old enough to have salt-&-pepper hair, so he’s been kept alive for quite some time already. The big question is: Are we doing the Wayne’s of the world a favor by keeping them alive with our heroic measures? I don’t think so. I think zombies like Wayne deserve top-notch palliative care but no life-extending measures should be applied.
Many of the Abrahamic faiths would turn to the holy texts for guidance on this. And so we shall, but pay close attention to Ecclesiastes 3:1–8.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,