Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Susan Shaughnessy, RIP

The photo with this entry shows four people who attended Veeka's 2nd birthday party. The young woman on the far right, wearing a blue blouse, was Susan Shaughnessy, a lovely young woman who loved helping the poor and house sitting my kitties when I traveled. During the past 3 years when I was on longer and longer trips (India, Italy, Australia), Susan was the one who took up residence in my condo and kept everything going while I was gone. Good housesitters are hard to find and in time we became friends.
She also stayed at my place when I was gone nearly 7 weeks adopting Veeka and she was the only person to meet me at the airport when I flew in, waiting patiently for nearly 2 hours while I cleared customs with all of Veeka's paperwork. The last time she housesat my place was in July when I was in the Pacific Northwest. That's when I learned of Eduardo, her new sweetheart from Spain and a man she was seriously interested in marrying. She was so excited about him. In October she flew to Madrid to meet his family. Her future seemed bright. A year or so after her mother had pulled out of colon cancer and survived, finally things were going Susan's way.
Then in mid-October she began getting headaches and finally came down what seemed like the flu. But she felt more more exhaustion than one usually does with the flu. Concerned, she visited her doctor, but he just told her she had a weird strain of the flu and to go home and rest. His advice proved fatal. She rested the next day and then on Saturday Oct. 25, she went to bed early trying to sleep off whatever was wrong. She never woke up.
The next day her housemates found her in a coma and rushed her to the hospital. Turns out she had a virus that turned into a freak case of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which is an auto-immune disease where the body attacks healthy brain cells. Basically she was brain-dead. A lot of us began praying and fasting for her. On Saturday, I got a phone call that if I wanted to visit her, to come that very day, as the family was going to disconnect the respirator the next day. When I arrived at the ER, with her broken-hearted family sitting there and the man who was about to become her fiance also sitting there, I just wanted to break down. It was awful. Susan was hooked up to all sorts of machines but her dad said the part of her brain (the cortex?) that regulates body temp and involuntary reactions was fried. They tried shining a flashlight into her eyes and her pupils didn't even contract. Someone at the Mayo Clinic who saw her MRI (or brain scan I forget which) said it was the worst case he'd ever seen. What would have happened had that doctor, instead of basically ignoring her, had taken a blood test then rushed her to Johns Hopkins?
They unhooked her respirator on Sunday morning and her breathing slowed to about 80 percent. Her vital signs continued to do well for a day or so and then everything must have collapsed because she died about 6 pm Monday. I went to her office today at Catholic University to talk with her boss and she had such a lovely view of the basilica and the quad and the sunsets. And so now her life has set. She was only 30. I'll be doing a column for Thursday's paper on how once again evil things happen to good people. I dug around in my photos and discovered I did have one of her, albeit a group shot.
Here was a friend who was cut down with a bizarre sickness that happens to a tiny percentage of the population. Still, she was cut down in the flower of life. Man - nor woman - knows not their time.
PS - Here is the column I wrote about her for the Nov. 20 Washington Times. It got *lots* of good reaction.

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