Krista Vernoff on life, death, and "Six Days, Part 2"
Original Airdate: 1-18-07
The card at the end of this hour of TV that read “In memory of Bob Verne” was a tribute to my father. He died six years ago at the age of 56 after a very short battle with esophageal cancer. He called me one day at my office at Charmed and told me he thought he had the flu. A week after that he had surgery on a massive tumor at the base of his esophagus. Before the surgery he was laughing and celebrating with family. He had a profoundly positive attitude. After the surgery, he had a massive scar down his belly and was intubated and pale, and upon seeing him, I, who thought of myself as quite strong and educated and capable of handling that moment, started to shake and then hyperventilate and had to be helped out of the room.
During the week we waited for him to recover, we learned that kidney function was of the utmost importance and I became obsessed, absolutely obsessed with his urine output. I checked that urine bag like 50 times a day.
At one point, the doctors gathered the family to tell us that my Dad had a kink in his breathing tube and that they might not be able to get a new one in. They told us we needed to prepare ourselves for the possibility that this was it. We stood out in the hallway and waited, holding our breath, terrified. There was another family there in the hallway, the family of a 16 year old boy who’d been shot on the street on his way home from work in what was feared to be gang related violence, though his family insisted that he was a good kid, that he wasn’t in any gang. They were as scared as we were as they waited for news of condition. We talked to them for awhile, made small talk, then fell silent. And after a long, pregnant pause, one of the teenagers of the family looked over at a member of my family with a very disturbed look on his face. And then he said “Dang. Somebody just farted. And I think it’s this old white guy right here.” My family laughed harder than we have ever laughed in our lives. And my dad lived through the reintubation.
He lived for three more days.
When the surgeon sat us down to tell us that it was time to let him go, he explained that Dad had come to him – behind our backs – on his way into the OR actually – and begged him to proceed with the tumor removal no matter what. My Dad believed, truly believed, that he could fight that caner, that he could live, if only they would remove the tumor. The surgeon did as he wished. And I have yet to completely forgive that surgeon for that decision. Because my dad’s body was riddled with cancer. Plus he had a liver condition and a heart condition. There was pretty much no way for him to recover from a surgery that traumatic. And the surgeon knew that. I believe in forgiveness, I do. I’m a fervent and avid believer that resentment, unchecked, leads to illness and spiritual misery. But I also believe that that surgeon cut my dad in half because he wanted the practice. It wasn’t the right call. He knew better. My Dad didn’t. The scene in which George yells at Bailey and Richard – that scene didn’t happen in my life. Writing and shooting that scene was wish fulfillment for me. What happened in my life is, we went into my Dad’s ICU and put our hands on his body and sang him Beatles songs while the nurses turned off the machines. When they pulled the intubation tubes from his mouth, my sister and I put our faces to his mouth so we could feel the last of his breath. And then he died. And I became a member of the Dead Dad’s club.
I know you didn’t want us to kill Mr. O’Malley. Believe me, I know that. He was funny and warm and kind and too young and too happy to die, just like my Dad. He had children and a wife who loved him and needed him, just like my Dad.
Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes, surgery sucks. (By the way, because Bailey and Richard are Bailey and Richard, I don’t think they did what they did for anything but the highest reasons. I believe they were persuaded by Mr. O’Malley’s plea. I believe they felt they had a responsibility to honor his wishes even if they thought it was the wrong decision. But still, sometime surgeons and surgery suck.) It’s been hard for me sometimes to work on a show that by its very nature idealizes Western medicine and surgery. I believe in both, but only as a last resort. Because I fervently believe (and statistics support) that surgery often does more harm than good. So, one of the reasons I haven’t written an episode since 302 is because I called dibs on this one. I knew which story I wanted to tell.
I’m sorry it was so hard to watch – but I believe that where there is darkness there is light. I believe that from death comes life. I believe that in the face of great pain, families become closer. Friendships become deeper. Life becomes sweeter. And I believe it’s important to be reminded of the loss of love so that we will value and honor the love we have while have it.
I hope you do that.
I hope, that if you were impacted by this episode, you will use it as inspiration to call your Dad or your Mom or a Grandparent or a sibling or a friend or a teacher and thank them for being in your life and tell them what they mean to you.
If you weren’t impacted by this episode, and you just want to write me hate mail that’s okay too. That’s your choice. We all get one life to live. Or, maybe we get reincarnated a lot of times, I don’t know. But like Burke, in my experience science isn’t enough. For me it’s about faith. Some kind of faith. Any kind of faith.
So maybe, while you’re calling your families or sending me hate mail, I’ll put forth a little effort and try, once again, to forgive my Dad’s surgeon…
All my best, Krista
(p.s. those of you who keep writing and begging for dirty, gratuitous Mer/Der sex? I have one word for you: porny. You have porny, porny minds. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing… : )
(p.s.s. Aren’t you glad little baby Laura is okay? I am. Because as you know I’m expecting a daughter on March 17th. And another thing that’s hard for me about our show is that by necessity, we tell a lot of traumatic baby stories and birth stories. I read a book that helped me undo a lot of the fear those stories had instilled in me – it’s called “A Guide to Childbirth” by Ina May Gaskin. If you’re pregnant or know someone who’s pregnant or are thinking of ever getting pregnant, you should read it. It’s so so so great. Okay, now I’m really done. Bye.)