Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Terri Schiavo

If I asked you to free-associate to the name, Terri Schiavo, you’d probably come up with something like the following: right-to-die, brain damage, family conflict, court order.

But, especially if you’re attuned to these matters, you may recall the eating-disorder speculation surrounding Schiavo's deterioration. The family battle central to Schiavo’s right-to-die case took center stage, shadowing what very possibly caused Schiavo to slip into a persistent vegetative state in the first place, an eating disorder. Reports indicate that the 5’3” Shiavo, who weighed 220 pounds at her heaviest, but who had lost 65 pounds, continued to struggle with her weight for years.

In 1990, Schiavo collapsed and her heart stopped beating temporarily. A malpractice suit against Schiavo’s doctor, brought on by her and her husband’s lawyer, Michael Fox, suggests that Schiavo collapsed as a result of an eating-disorder induced potassium imbalance. A 2003 article in The St. Petersburg Times written by Fox states: “One night, Terri purged, which caused her potassium level to drop low enough to cause a heart attack. Before fire rescue arrived and took her to the hospital, Terri's brain had been deprived of oxygen for long enough to produce catastrophic brain damage.”

In a 2005 Associated Press article appearing in USA Today, a reporter writes: “Medical records from the hospital where Schiavo was treated after her collapse note that ‘she apparently has been trying to keep her weight down with dieting by herself, drinking liquids most of the time during the day and drinking about 10-15 glasses of iced tea.’” The article also suggests that Schiavo had stopped menstruating, and that when Schiavo sought medical attention, her doctor was negligent in not inquiring about eating-disordered activity.

Of course, whether or not Schiavo suffered from an eating disorder is still debated. As other aspects of the case revealed, it seems to boil down to one person’s word against another’s. Unfortunately, even an autopsy report doesn’t provide definitive data on an eating disorder diagnosis. But, given the serious speculation, I think some interesting points arise. The USA Today article, published while Schiavo was still alive, notes: “It is a cruel twist lost on no one close to the case: A woman who is said to have struggled with an eating disorder is now in the middle of a court battle over whether her feeding tube should be removed so that she can starve to death.”

Moreover, if Schiavo did, in fact, suffer from an eating disorder, typified by concerns with body-image, self-presentation, and others’ judgment, it seems pretty clear to me that she would not have wanted the media attention she garnered during her final moments and even clearer that she would not have wanted to persist in a state that was largely unreflective of whom she hoped to be.

6 comments:

Teacher lady said...

I believe Anna Quindlen wrote an Op-ed piece on this issue. Her contention was that if Schiavo had been able to understand the pictures of her shown in many newspapers, she would have been horrified; as someone with an eating disorder, she would have been very sensitive about her appearance. I love Quindlen, but I say ANY woman would have been horrified to have pictures of a woman that didn't even look like her plastered all over the daily rags. And I think that "where there's smoke, there's fire" in many cases. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if she did have bulimia. Oh - in case you haven't read it, I'm reading a FASCINATING book about women and the medical system called Misdiagnosis: Woman as Disease (edited by Karen Hicks) and includes an essay or two on the things women do to their bodies (particularly breast implants) that are so dangerous, just to improve their appearances. If you haven't read it, I think you might like it - quick read. Sorry for long post!

wading through recovery said...

I think a lot of people, myself included, tend to downplay the quite serious risks/danger associated with bulimia/purging, and this is certainly a wake up call.

annie said...

It is all Twiggy's fault. A close friend and I were discussing this yesterday. Speaking for the over-fifty group, we were growing up during the transition. The Marilyn Monroe body was the ideal in the 1950's and Jane Russell even appeared on the ad scene occasionally with her voluptuous (fat?)body talking about "cross your heart" bosom control for "full-figured gals," not an insult by any means. Then, one Monday night sometime in the 1960's, Twiggy showed up on Laugh-In, a really popular show at the time; incidentally, this is where Goldie Hawn got her start (Hawn of recent implant fame). My friend reminded me that at first we all thought Twiggy was grossly skinny. How did that morph into idealizing that body type? We all thought she looked drawn and ematiated. It's scary to think that Kate Moss could probably fit her whole body into Twiggy's bra. And on the subject of breasts, it is interesting that Goldie felt the desire (need?) to implant anything on that beautiful body. Now she looks like everybody else (Jane, Cher, etc). Maybe this is why we hear stories of how parents are taking their daughters for implants as graduation-from-high- school presents. I am a writing professor, and I remember one student who wrote (on the assigned topic of something that happened in their lives that had tremendous impact on them, changing them psychologically and philosophically)that her breast implant surgery had the most profound effect on her life.

drstaceyny said...

tl--See, just when you think you have an original idea, it turns out some award-winning journalist has already published it! ; )

I agree with you on the "any woman" point.

Thanks for the book rec--I'll add it to my list.

wtr--as was the "Courage" video you posted on your site. . .

annie--this trend seems to cycle. Before Marilyn et al, we had Vivien Leigh and her 22-inch waist. In the 90s, Kate Moss came on the scene, ushering in the heroin chic look. At first, she, too, looked too thin, but we settled in, and comparing how she was then to how some stars are now helps elucidate the fact that we continue to push the envelope here.

I'm not sure abt what to say re: your student, other than she may v. well have been treated differently by family, friends, and strangers, so, of course, that could have an impact. I'm happy that, judging by her topic choice, she hasn't suffered anything traumatic in her life, but saddened that this surgery seems to represent a peak experience for her.

StrippedSurvivor said...

Wel... I've been struggling with this disease bulimian anorexia and distorted body image since I was in elementary school. I find it unthinkable that after years of hearing about the Schivo case I never heard the fact that it was a result of purging. This really makes me think twice about prging and I wonder why this fact wasn't more publicized. Thank You.

anotherperspective said...

i cannot align with the notions its twiggys fault, or kate moss or etc. i do not dismiss the media influence, the fashion industry, movies etc and so on, i simply do not assign blame solely there. i would not be a bit suprised if most women had disordered eating or body hatred at some point. it is a disservice to think they have one common cause or intent, and inaccurate. it is definitely tragic it only gets mentioned in such inaccuracies and buried when it is obvious to so many people that are living the same behaviors. in the case of implants, its flat out criminal the toxic consequences for SO many women are being buried and not exposed. (my last thought, if Schiavo was refered to as "having purged with resulting potassium deficiency" causing heart failure? that IS bulimia.)