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What I’m Reading {March 2016}

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What I'm Reading: Book Reviews from an Avid Reader

I’ve been reading a lot the past few weeks, but today I want to share with you the two that have made the biggest impact on me. Then you can share what you’re reading with me; because I’m always on the lookout for my new favorite book!

The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heat Cadavers- How Medicine is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death by Dick Teresi. 

Before I launch into my thoughts on this book, I want to make it clear that I am not against organ donation. 

But here’s the deal. I feel it is incredibly important for people to understand how organ donation works. And to understand the field of organ donation is changing at a rapid pace. And I feel that people need to educate themselves about what happens during organ harvesting.

For instance, we all know what it means to be brain-dead, right? That must mean no (or very little) brain activity. And certainly doctors run a series of complex tests to determine this, right? Except they don’t. Often they don’t even bother with an EEG to measure brain waves. What do they do? Poke the eyeball with a Q-tip, pour ice water in the patient’s ears, pound the sternum.  One of the final tests they do is the “apnea test”. They are supposed to remove the ventilator to see if the patient will attempt to breathe, unfortunately according to the author, this isn’t always done. 

And just for the record, this is Apollo’s buddy, Owen. At only a couple of days old, Owen’s parents were told he was “basically brain dead” and had no brain activity other than seizures. His mom was told it wasn’t fair to make him suffer and leave him in pain. Only, if he was “basically brain-dead” he should not have felt pain. They were given the option to unplug him from life support, but decided to give him a fighting chance. He’s now six years old.

Furthermore, there is evidence to show that organ donors feel pain during the organ harvesting procedures. Technically, if they are “brain-dead” they should not be able to feel anything. Unfortunately, accelerated heart rates during the operations (particularly the cutting parts) brings up the question of pain. No anaesthetic is given, because presumably, the patient can’t feel pain. Clinically, however, they are having the same physiological reaction as not-brain-dead patients have when they don’t get enough anesthetic. In addition, there are numerous cases reported of brain-dead patients waking up just before (or during) organ harvesting. I read this book about two weeks ago and we have had many lively discussions in our house, since, on this topic. Imagine my surprise then when I read about the “brain-dead” girl who squeezed her mom’s hand as they were preparing to donate her organs. When the doctor asked her to give a thumbs up if she could hear him, she gave two thumbs up. Not only was she not brain-dead, she wasn’t even unconscious! The most shocking part to me is this sentence, “She was then rushed into surgery to treat her wounds…” [emphasis mine}

My concerns about organ donate revolve around these questions.  Who is declaring these patients brain-dead? Are they actually brain-dead? And are they feeling pain during the organ harvesting?

As I said, I am not against organ donation in and of itself. I am concerned about what may be happening to the donors, however. The Undead is a great book if you are interested in educating yourself about the realities of organ donation.


A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of a Tragedy by Sue Klebold. 

You might recognize the unusual last name, Klebold. A Mother’s Reckoning is written by Sue Klebold the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters at Columbine High School. 

I remember listening to the news reports about Columbine in 1999. We had just moved to Washington and I was confident that my children would never attend school. I can tell you I certainly, without a doubt, blamed the parents who raised such monstrous, violent children. 

Before reading this book, it never crossed my mind, really, that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris’s parents lost children in the tragedy of Columbine. Mostly, I blamed the parents for the children they raised. For missing the warning signs. For letting their kids run wild.  For not preventing the tragedy. 

I read a few reviews before I bought this book. They talked about how there were no warning signs with Klebold’s son. How his parents had no idea he was violent, he had no interest in guns and they had no way of knowing what he was planning. 

After reading the book, I don’t believe his parents had any idea what plan the boys were hatching. However, Klebold spends the first half of the book  talking about Dylan, the lack of warning signs, his childhood, what a great kid he was. But when she delves into the last two years of his life, she has no choice but to mention: hacking into school computers, refusing to take responsibility for his actions, plummeting grades, defacing lockers, getting arrested (with Eric Harris) and drinking, to name a few things. Not that any of those are signs of a budding murderer, it’s just he wasn’t as squeaky-clean as I was made to believe after reading the reviews and fist half of the book. Klebold clings to her vision of Dylan as a basically good kid. Even in describing (a very sterile version of) the shooting, she clings to her fantasy that Dylan was just led astray by Harris. Even in the shootings, she describes him as somehow better and less dangerous than Harris.

I will give her full credit though. She does not place the blame on anyone but Dylan and Eric. She doesn’t blame bullies, or cliques or videos games or the school. But she does place the blame on Harris, insisting repeatedly her son would never have done this without Harris. This is likely true, but does not lessen the guilt or change the actions of her son, Dylan. Klebold seems amazingly adept at forgetting that not only is her son a mass murder, but he (and Harris) planned for the devastation to be much worse and for the death toll to be much higher. I certainly admire Klebold’s courage in writing this book, even if I don’t always agree with her.

I hesitate to say I “enjoyed” this book since the topic is so gruesome. So let me say, I feel like I have a new understanding of Klebold and his family. I finally realize that yes, his parents are victims too, suffering the loss of their son. And they really had no idea what was going on with him. I believe this book is  worth reading. 

What book have you read recently that has left an impact on you?


    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      You’re welcome. Now I’m reading Columbine by Dave Cullen…and what can I say? It seems like Sue Klebold really downplayed some of her son, Dylan’s, behaviors and trouble with school, the law etc. Cullen has his book backed with actual evidence, not just a mother’s opinion. I am glad I read Klebold’s book because it did make me stop and think about his family and Harris’s family, but lets just say she left out a few details about her son.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Thank you for sharing this. I didn’t mean to make my comments sound malicious, which is why I stated upfront that I am not against organ donation. Doctors are called on to make life and death decisions every day, and I don’t envy them that job. Nor do I believe doctors out there are intentionally taking organs from non-braindead patients. Thank you for posting the links and adding insight to the discussion.

  1. Anna

    A couple of years ago i worked as a nurse assistant in an icu. I can promise that the decision to harvest organs was NEVER lightly done. It involved a lot of work, many tests, all of them repeated 36 hours later, about an inch of paperwork and leaving the machines on actually longer than in ‘normal’ cases. Also, the families got as much time as possible. And the harvesting (it’s a strange terminus, we call it only donating) was always scheduled last procedure of the day, often meaning extra hours for everyone. A friend of mine has been present at those operations a couple of times, she says the ‘but they do feel pain’-part is most defonitely a myth. Or at least she has never ever noticed anythimg suggestive of it being anything but.
    I can wholeheartedly encourage everyone to consider the toppic. Discuss it with your families, so they know your views and wishes!

    • Renee

      Anna, I appreciate your insight as a nurse. According to the book, it is not done that way everywhere. And I agree, discussing it with your family is the best thing you can do. I have told my husband and kids they can have my organs as long as I am actually dead and not feeling pain.

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