Saturday, June 27, 2009

My Sister's Keeper

I just finished reading "My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult. I started it last night. I was so totally engrossed by this book I literally could not put it down.

I liked a lot about it. I liked the way her characters were not one dimensional. I liked that it made me think and made me FEEL, even if I didn't always like what I was thinking or what I was feeling. I found it to be a very powerful book.

For me, it was powerful for many reasons, but most of all because I've spent time in a hospital ICU with a dying child. I stood by while one sibling was asked to give a stem cell transplant to his sister. The donor child was Troy, Larry's son who is developmentally disabled. So, while he was technically an adult, due to his disability "informed consent" for the procedure was essentially meaningless. He did what his parents asked him to do. Considering his inability to understanad the implications, was it right to ask this of him? I honestly don't know. I wrestled with it then. I wrestle with it now. Would I feel differently had the procedure been successful? I'm honestly not sure. In the end, it was not the cancer that killed Stacy. It was the stem cell transplant. It was a very gruesome, gruelling, awful thing to go through with her. Watching what she went through broke all of our hearts. Still, it was our only hope. So...yeah, I have lots of murky feelings about this.

Fast forward a few years to when my grandson was having his THIRD open heart surgery when he was about 10. I paid close attention to how the whole family responded to that crisis...and we are not out of the woods with Austin yet. Doctors implanted a cow valve, since the two prior attempts to repair his own defective valve had not been successful. So far it seems to be working...but he will most definitely need another surgery as he gets older because his heart will grow, but the dead cow valve will not. So more hospitalizations are looming. This book reminds me all over again how very, very important it is to NOT lose sight of the OTHER kids needs when we huddle together when A. goes back under the knife.

Also it raises another aspect of medical ethics. How do I feel about Xeno-transplants, putting animal tissues or organs into people? As grateful as I am to have my grandson mostly well, I do wonder. Is it any different to put a piece of cow in my grandson's heart than it is to eat a burger? Those of us who eat meat sustain our lives at the expense of animals every day. feels different. Would I feel any different if it were a different kind of animal that we do not typically eat? I think of the little girl who got a baboon heart. Would I sign off on that?? If it were MY kid who was critically ill, where would I draw the line at what I would or would not do in order to save my child?

I think the author did a good job of raising issues about medical ethics without getting too heavy handed with answers. I also think she did a good job of portraying the complexities of what it can be like for a family wrestling with the serious illness of one child and losing sight of the needs of the others.

As for the ending - I really did not see it coming. I had heard it had a "terrible ending", but that was a twist I did not expect. I've heard the movie has a completely different ending. I'm glad to hear that, although in truth I can accept the book's version of ending as another reminder that life is complicated, brutal, beautiful and seldom turns out how you thought it would.

All in all I found it a very engrossing book. I plan to read more from this author.