Nona Caspers

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Vegetative States

Caspers, Nona

Last Updated: Mar-05-2007
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story


An already depressed second year medical student, Deborah, finds herself even more confused about the meaning of life after her aunt sustains a head injury and is in critical condition. Auntie Jenny’s convertible car collides with a utility pole and the impact ejects the woman (who was not wearing a seatbelt) onto the concrete road where she smacks her head. Five days later, Jenny remains in a vegetative state and connected to a ventilator. Deborah’s mother and Auntie Sal keep vigil over their unresponsive younger sister.

Deborah has been slacking – missing classes, sleeping a lot, and uninterested in most activities she formerly enjoyed. Previously she has suffered from insomnia and has fifteen barbiturate sleeping pills remaining. She questions the medical librarian as to how the drug works and the physiologic effects of an overdose. In the seventh grade, Deborah was hospitalized and out of school for one month with unexplained abdominal pain. In retrospect, her mother now admits that Deborah was likely suffering from depression as a child but no diagnosis was made and no treatment provided.

Jenny’s medical status remains unchanged. Deborah’s mother gives her an ultimatum: “You’ve got to make up your mind. The living or the dead” [p 119]. Deborah envies Jenny. No more worries about finding answers to important questions. Survival itself seems to be out of her control. Jenny’s fate rests in the hands of her close relatives who confer with the doctor about whether to continue artificial life support or “pull the plug.”

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