In all reality, for those who had been closely following this story for a week, it came as no huge surprise that comedienne Joan Rivers had passed away at the age of 81 on Thursday September 4, 2014 at 1:17 p.m.. It was however, a shock on August 28th to hear that she had gone into cardiac arrest and had stopped breathing during what should have been a routine endoscopy/minor surgical procedure at a New York endoscopy clinic which resulted in her being put into a medically induced coma in hospital about a mile away from the clinic.
With daughter, Melissa aged 46, only giving a few brief details of her mother’s status except to say that she was on Life Support and in a medically induced coma, thanking fans and the public for their prayers, it appeared to be showing that there were some really big concerns right from Day 1. Doctors had speculated that Rivers likely had sustained some level of brain damage from the lack of oxygen and the amount of time that she may have been without it which would have led Rivers to be either in a vegetative state, neurologically impaired or, possibly not making it through this at all.
As the days went by and the news was simply that she was still on Life Support and in a coma and daughter, Melissa kept saying only that her mother was in serious/critical condition then, thanking people for their prayers, it was becoming clearer that Rivers wasn’t likely to be able to go on living without Life Support.
Rumors abounded in the news with speculation fueling much of what had been printed and talked about in the media. There was talk of her being brought out of her coma during a 2 day process, the family suing the endoscopy clinic, assessing brain damage and, the inevitable…the decision that she might have to be disconnected from Life Support as she had made it clear that she didn’t want to live if she had any type of severe physical disability and couldn’t live life actively or independently.
Then, came the news a day or so ago, from Melissa Rivers that her mom had been moved from ICU to a private hospital room but, was still in a coma and still on Life Support and was being “kept comfortable”. Alarm bells were set off by that move and statement. It told a lot of us, without saying it outright, that the comatose, ventilated comedienne had been moved to a private room so that the family and close friends could gather to say their “good-byes”.
While no one has officially yet said that daughter, Melissa had made the very heart-wrenching and difficult decision to disconnect her mother from Life Support, one can only assume now that it had been the case.
In looking back at the past week, it was likely that family and close friends were given the news that Rivers’ status was dire at the point of admittance to hospital. It was likely within a couple of days that doctors had done their assessment of Rivers’ brain status and had determined that it was unlikely that Rivers could make a full or even remotely close to a near normal life again, if at all.
While rumors swirled about Rivers being brought out of the medically induced coma then, put to rest by sources close to the family who had stated not to believe what was being said in the media, it is more plausible to believe that either doctors had attempted to lighten the level of coma she was in to assess her brain’s status or, that they had already assessed that there was little or no chance of her ever coming off of Life Support and surviving it. It’s purely speculation but, it seems more apparent now that doctors had given Rivers no chance of a recovery as damage to her brain was simply far too great. It may have hit that status as early as the first day or two of her having been hospitalized. We don’t know at this moment for sure, one way or another.
What is clear is that even through speculation only, Rivers couldn’t have lived on with any sort of life beyond simply an “existence”, if at all. It appears more conceivable that Rivers change from being in ICU to a private hospital room was the final hours of the comedienne’s life. She was likely already “gone” at that point in spite of some lower level brain activity that couldn’t have sustained her most primal bodily functions.
Having gone through this with a couple of my own family members, it’s with great empathy that I write this piece. I know the difficulty of having to make such a decision as we tend to want to cling onto hope for some miracle. Our tendency is to deny what we are being told by doctors and hold onto that hope. It is only after days of exhaustion and watching the mechanical movements of our loved one’s body’s chest through machinery that we slowly come to the conclusion, as difficult as it is to do, that we must allow them to go.
I remember watching my brother’s chest, rising and falling with the machinery doing his breathing for his body. His brain had long since ceased to be able to sustain breathing on its own. He appeared to simply be sleeping, if you could overlook the machinery, tubing and other equipment that draped across his body. Long after doctors had said that there was no hope, we had watched him as though he was simply asleep and would wake up at any moment to ask us what we were all doing, staring at him. It was in the wee small hours of the moment and out of pure exhaustion that I finally came to the realization that everything we had known him to be, was no longer there within his body. The only thing that gave that appearance was the ventilator that kept his chest animated as though breathing on his own. He wasn’t breathing on his own. His brain lacked any ability to keep him alive and going, let alone returning to any sort of life. Life Support does a number on loved one’s minds, in spite of the doctors’ total certainty and assurance that he wasn’t really “there” anymore.
As the tributes to Rivers pour in, clips are shown over and over again on every news channel and remembrances are given by other celebs as to their “deepest condolences on her loss”, we must remember that Rivers had lived a full and long life. Her passing was one that we all hope for. She simply went to sleep under anesthesia and never knew another thing. She was in no pain. She didn’t suffer a horrid, agonizing death that some have had to endure. She simply “went to sleep” and didn’t wake up for all intents and purposes.
It’s hard to see the clips of an extremely young looking and energetic Rivers and fathom the fact that she was, in fact, 81 years of age. What our eyes are seeing, just don’t compute in our brains to the fact that she was the age that she was. She looked better than a lot of 50 year olds. However, let’s not forget that the myriad of plastic surgeries and cosmetic procedures she had done during her life, kept her “forever young”. Had she not gone through the cosmetic surgeries and procedures, she might have looked much older than she did. She may well have aged well and still looked younger than her chronological years but, we will never know. Much like the psychological effects that the Life Support machine has upon our minds, Rivers’ plastic surgeries have also done a job on our psyche with her age. In fact, Rivers had lived quite a long and active life. For the most part, it is only made more sad because she was still so full of life and at a high point in her life’s career. It was tragic in the sense that it didn’t have to happen. It was an accident or a mistake or something gone terribly wrong in a routine procedure that has caused her death. It wasn’t because she had been ailing for some time…at least, not that we know of at this point in time. An autopsy may show differently if there is one to be done. There has been no mention of that at the time of writing this piece.
There is an investigation going on toward the endoscopy clinic in which Rivers had suffered the cardiac arrest and cessation of breathing. Medical authorities and law require such an investigation be done. What will come out of this is anyone’s guess at this point in time. It is possible that nothing wrong was done and that Rivers had some underlying, un-diagnosed condition going on or, it could be that there was some sort of accident or negligence that had happened. Only time will tell us the story behind this.
As the world mourns her loss and sends their well-wishes or prayers for her family, there is one thing that I’m fairly certain of being true. With Robin Williams and Joan Rivers both being gone from this earth, Heaven must be one hell of a funny place to be right now. At least, that’s the way that I see things from my little corner of life right now.