Brain Drain


Continuing with the brain harvest situation – after 8.5 hours of dealing with this, I have gotten exactly nowhere. Well, nowhere in making sure this woman’s final wishes were followed through on.

That bothers me.

However – if there was progress to be had, it’s the fact that the Harvard Medical College Pathology Department now is very much aware of the fact that there are some real holes that exist within the system. Lewis, the tech from Harvard that I was dealing with tonight, told me that they obtain up to 85% of their brain donations from Wisconsin and Michigan. I was surprised to hear that – – I don’t know why I was surprised….but I just wonder, why WI and MI? Odd that. Anyways – there are some real issues with making this happen within the medical community in this area. I can’t tell you how many pathologists, neurologists, coroners, doctors, funeral directors and investigators from the medical examiners offices I’ve spoken to this evening/morning. There is education to be done — and if anything, Harvard is more aware of that now, more than ever before because I’m sure their tech will make it well known why he was up until 3 in the morning dealing with this one issue.

Poor guy. I looked up the program on the web and I found his email – so I sent him this:

Lewis –

I’m not entirely sure that this is the Lewis that I was speaking to on the evening/morning of March 19, 2004 regarding the brain harvest situation with the hospice patient in Wisconsin. I visited the Brain Bank website and yours was the only “Lewis” email I could find. If you’re not the Louis I’m referring to, I apologize for the intrusion.

I wanted to write a letter of appreciation to you for all of your assistance and effort with that situation I faced that night. I’m a hospice nurse and it just isn’t often that I am faced with a situation such as this one – as a matter of fact, I’ve never dealt with this type of situation in my 11 years of nursing. It was a learning experience for me, I can tell you that.

Your patience in answering my questions and dealing with this unusual situation was very much appreciated – – even as the situation extended into the wee hours of the morning. I’m not familiar, at all, with the technical aspects of brain donation. My largest concern was doing everything I could to see that this woman’s final wishes were followed through – your assistance in helping me exhaust absolutely every option was of great value to me.

As a hospice worker, one of our biggest priorities is doing whatever is necessary in order to see those final wishes through. It’s part of what gives our dying patients comfort in their last days, and it is a big part of closure for the family that is left behind. The very knowledge that their mother’s last wishes were acted upon is a source of great comfort for living – and that was my goal Friday night.

You and I may not have been able to come to the resolution that I, and this patient and her family, were hoping for – – but I just wanted to extend my heartfelt appreciation for all your efforts, patience, knowledge and understanding as I tried to muddle my through a circumstance under which I have no knowledge, or experience, in.

The way we left it, at 1 a.m. my time, is that you were going to try and contact Dr. G*** in Wisconsin – to see if he would follow through on the original agreement to harvest this woman’s brain. I truly hope that you are able to accomplish this, and if you are not – just know that your efforts at trying to make it happen are not lost on this hospice nurse from Wisconsin. I know I told you that as of 8am tomorrow morning, I am no longer on call – and will most likely be sleeping in, if all goes well with the rest of my night on call….however, I would like to request one last favor? If you could just drop me an email by responding to this email and letting me know what resolution you came to, whatever way it turns out? I would appreciate that greatly.

Also, you mentioned that this situation was a learning experience for your department on the possible (actual?) holes that exist in the system. I was surprised to hear that you obtain a fair amount of donations from Wisconsin. Obviously, there are some road blocks within the medical system here and I would be interested in extending my assistance in doing anything I can do on my end to help make this process a more seamless experience for the next unsuspecting nurse, doctor, family, etc that come up against this sort of situation in the future. I’m not sure what that assistance would amount to – but please do contact me in the future if there is anything that I, or my hospice agency, can do to help. I know of one other patient of ours who is in the brain donation program, as well – so my interest in progress with this program in this state is centered on reaching the goal of helping our patients and their families to fulfill those last wishes.

Again, I can’t say enough about what a help you’ve been tonight/this morning. I hope you were able to get adequate rest after all was said and done.

Warm Regards,

**my name and address withheld here**

I think it’s time for bed, hey?

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3 thoughts on “Brain Drain”

  1. Whew! No kidding, hey? I did get some sleep – which was very welcome. As of right this minute – I’m still a sitting duck for the next 20 minutes. lol

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