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On a perfect sunny July 4th afternoon, Richard Galli and his family were celebrating the holiday at the home of some friends. The kids were playing in the pool, and the grown-ups were relaxing. Then the unthinkable happened. Galli's seventeen-year-old son, Jeffrey, dove into the pool, struck his head, and nearly drowned. Although Galli saved his son's life, Jeffrey was paralyzed with a devastating spinal cord injury.
Rescuing Jeffrey is a compelling look at the next ten days. In this disarmingly honest account, Galli wrestles with a horrible predicament: Should he let his son live as a quadriplegic, unable to move or breathe on his own? Or should Galli "rescue" his son again-this time by removing Jeffrey's life support?
Galli weighs this question with intelligence and stark emotional intensity. For ten days he struggles to comprehend a future he never imagined for his son. During those ten days two parents are forced to make the most difficult decision of their lives. "I had brought my son back to life," Galli writes, "and then I had to find a way to kill him."
Although Galli assumes the burden of choosing death for his minor son, convincing others that the decision is correct, in the end that decision is taken away. Battered by bad luck, shock, and medication, unable even to lift a finger, Jeffrey finds the power to make the decision himself. Rescuing Jeffrey is a bluntly eloquent story about tragedy and love and the choices we make at the brink of survival. It is a story that asks what, after all, is a life worth living?
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.14(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.48(d)|
Read an Excerpt
"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
Samuel Johnson, from James Boswell, LIFE OF JOHNSON
I believe in a world of chance, of good luck and bad luck.
But sometimes chance hits so hard, it takes our breath away. When it hits that hard, when chance hits that hard, it feels as if the sun and the stars are exploding, and all the laws of nature are spinning out of balance, and there is nothing solid or real anymore to hold on to.
On July 4, 1998, the sun and the stars spun out of balance in a backyard swimming pool in Barrington, Rhode Island. My son, Jeffrey, a likable teenage boy just starting to enjoy life and get a grip on it, dove into the pool, struck his head, and nearly drowned before being "rescued" by his parents into hopeless quadriplegic paralysis.
This is the story of how a familymy familyfirst cheated death and then flirted with death over the next ten days. Because the story is told primarily from my private thoughts and memories, it is nothing more than a glimpse of one father coping with the ruination of one son. The story is neither universal nor emblematic. It is not political and it may not be instructional. It is just a story. It describes the process I went through to resolve my own predicament: I had brought my son back to life, and then I had to find a way to kill him.
"The split-second damage of an accident is nightmarish and bewildering. One cannot stop to despair because the need to do something pulls us forward."
Saturday, July 4
It was early evening on July fourth. They call it Independence Day. It was still light and warm. Our family was at a small party. I was just finishing my second brownie.
One of the kids came up to the house and told us Jeffrey was in the pool, underwater, and not moving. It was only a joke, of course. Jeffrey was just goofing the other kids. He was underwater, holding his breath, having fun. Absolutely.
My wife, Toby, left the house to check. She rushed. Parents have to do that. As I got up from my chair to follow her, I made a face, a signal that some people might be suckered, but I knew better: this was a joke. Even knowing it was a joke, I hurried out the door. Parents have to do that.
At the pool's edge, Toby was a step ahead of me, blocking my view. I expected to see Jeff paddling in the water with a half-ashamed, half-elated smile. He wasn't. Toby shouted "Jeffrey!" once, and jumped into the water. As she cleared from my view, I saw Jeffrey and jumped in.
Jeff was near the bottom of the pool. He looked restful. He was facing up, his arms and legs spread slightly, comfortably positioned. His eyes were open.
Toby began raising him to the surface. I grabbed him and pulled harder. As he rose into my arms and I saw his face, I thought, This is really happening.
Jeffrey's lips were dark blue. His tongue was distended and dark blue. His eyes were wide open, the pupils huge, unmoving, staring into nothing, like the eyes of a fish on ice.
We heaved the upper part of him onto the concrete apron, and I jumped out of the pool. I grabbed one of his arms and pulled him clear of the water.
My son had become a heavy, limp, dragging thing. When last I had seen him, a few minutes before, he had been seventeen years old, nearing six feet tall, wonderfully fit, and handsome.
We rolled Jeff onto his back. I put my hands together on a spot below his chest and pushed several times, quick and hard. I bent over his face to start breathing for him. His mouth was open wide, but his dark blue tongue was in the way. It was so distended, so huge. It was like a cow's tongue. Even more than the eyes, the tongue affected me. I didn't know that about drowning; I didn't know about that color blue and the bloated tongue.
I put my right hand over Jeff's mouth, covering the slimy blue tongue and lips. I put my left hand on Jeff's forehead and his hair. Then I began breathing into his nose. The passageway was clear, and the breath went in without resistance. As I whooshed the air into his nose, I could just see his chest rise as his lungs filled. When I lifted my head, I could see his chest settle back. I did it again, and again. After a few repetitions I found a rhythm.
I remember someone screaming and people forming a circle around our little drama. Four couples were at the party, and among them were three people with medical degrees. I remember one of them telling me Jeff had a pulse. Another told me I ought to clear.
Clear. I was glad to be reminded. I had to clear the mouth and throat for Jeff to breathe. I fumbled with Jeff's mouth. His big blue tongue had retreated, but now Jeff's teeth were clenched together so tight that I could not move them.
I don't need to do this, I thought. I have a passageway already: his nose. I don't have to clear his mouth. Ignore his mouth. Get back to work.
Chunks of mucus came out of Jeff's nose. I wiped it away and began to breathe through the nose again. Once or twice, between breaths, Jeff seemed to hiccup slightly, and more mucus came out. Not much. One of the doctors helped clear away the mucus and cradled Jeff's head.
For a while, as I breathed for Jeff, his eyes remained wide, fixed, and lifeless. But slowly, magically, his eyes began to reawaken. The lids closed just a bit. The pupils got just a bit smaller. And then the eyes started to move.
Jeff's eyes began to circle, circle, searching for a place to land. As I saw Jeffrey coming back, reacting, doing anything but lie there in a lump, I stopped breathing into him for a time and pounded on his chest. "Come on, Jeff," I said, "come on."
The process continued: Breathe in, rise, and watch Jeff's eyes. Breathe in, rise, and watch Jeff's eyes. His pupils jerked from place to place. At any other time, at any other place, the look in Jeff's eyes would have sickened me. So lost they looked, so empty. But at least they were moving; that was a start.
The doctors reported that Jeff's pulse was strong. I kept breathing into him.
Eventually some police arrived. They said an ambulance was on its way. I kept breathing into Jeff. A few minutes later some emergency medical technicians appeared. They called instructions to one another: Get this, get that.
Our little crowd was now crowded. At any moment I expected someone to push me aside. I could see equipment being staged, arranged. I paused for a few seconds, looking for a professional replacement. When no one jumped in, I continued breathing into Jeff.
The air went in so easily. Easier than blowing up a balloon. Almost as easy as a whistle. I thinkI am not sure nowbut I think a small part of me wondered why Jeff had not yet coughed, gagged, retched fluid. They always do that in the movies and on TV. They always cough just before waking up.
When the EMTs were ready, they let me know. Someone crouched down next to me, I moved to the side, and my place was wordlessly taken. I got up, moved back a step or two, and stood next to Toby. Now my eyes, from the greater distance, could see more of Jeff. He was no longer blue. His eyes were only half open. He was alive.
When we had pulled him from the water, he seemed dead already. Now he was alive again. I thought, We did it. We brought him back to life.
I lifted my left hand and held it up to my eyes. It's a thing I do to check my composure. If my fingers are shaking, I know I am nervous. If I can will my fingers to become settled and calm, then I can become calm myself.
Standing there while the EMTs worked on my son, I looked at my fingers and was surprised. They were absolutely still. Granite fingers. I wasn't nervous. How could that be? I tried to show Toby. "Look at this," I said, holding out my hand. How curious.
This was the reason; it must have been: From the instant we saw Jeff, we had a job to do. Lift, push, drag, breathe, pound, breathe again and again and again. Do this first, then this, then this. I was too busy working on Jeff to despair of losing him. And now the job was done, and Jeff was alive.
What People are Saying About This
Samuel Johnson, from James Boswell, Life Johnson
Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.
Reading Group Guide
On the 4th of July in 1998, teenager Jeffrey Galli dove into a friend's swimming pool and hit his head. His father Richard pulled him out and resuscitated him only to find that Jeffrey would be paralyzed from the neck down, be unable to breathe on his own, and be dependent on others for the rest of his life. With disarming honesty, Richard Galli confesses his determination to "rescue" Jeffrey again - this time by removing him from life support. In journal form, Galli emotionally records the progression of events entwined with the family's heartbreaking choice and the uplifting and life-affirming outcome of their decision.
1. An increasing number of memoirs many on disturbing and personal topics have appeared in recent years. Literary memoirs can serve as a powerful means of discussing universal themes through personal experience and Richard Galli's book has certainly been regarded as a "teaching tool" in terms of how to cope and deal with tragedy. Do you believe there are subjects too personal to put in a book - for example, how did you feel when Richard Galli was contemplating removing his son's life support? What is the value of using literary writing to explore such personal experiences?
2. Richard Galli's book has been heralded as an extremely honest and affecting book. How does he achieve such an emotional intensity? Is it through the language that he uses? His tone? The format of the book?
3. Throughout the book, Galli's tone is often humorous and ironic, even as he sits at the hospital waiting room; overall he seems quite rational and composed. Sentences like "I had brought my son back to life, and then I had to find a wayto kill him," produce a certain shock value. How did this no-nonsense style affect your view of the situation? Did it make the whole situation more or less intense? Did you still feel emotionally attached to Galli during these scenes?
4. How did the chapter introductory paragraphs, which are composed of notes sent to the Galli family after the tragedy, affect your reading of this book? Did it make their story more personal or universal?
5. Did you find that you followed Richard Galli's progression in the book as the story went on? In other words, did your opinion about "Option Two" (removing Jeffrey's life-support) shift along with Galli's own transformation?
6. As much as this book is about family tragedy, it is also a book about parenting. As Galli writes, he offers an intense contemplation on what makes life meaningful, and gives readers a written testimony of the depth of a parent's love for his child. Even though Jeffrey is unconscious for most of the book, Galli's relationship with his son is constantly shifting, not only in terms of Galli's decision about his son's life-support but also how he views Jeffrey. Did you notice this change in the way that Galli viewed his son? Discuss this progress.
7. Galli makes it very clear that the doctors' only focus was to keep Jeffrey alive. It seems natural that people faced with tragedy would prefer to take this more passive role and let the doctors make all the decisions. But Galli makes an interesting point when introducing "Option Two:" "This place, these people, they all have one thing on their minds: keep him alive....Just because people can do things for him, doesn't mean they have to do those things." What point is he making about the doctors' approach to Jeffrey's situation? Did you find Galli's choice to take a more "active role" in the decision-making process shocking?
8. This book is often described as ultimately life-affirming and uplifting. How does Galli manage to produce this effect even though, ultimately, his son still has an extremely difficult road ahead of him?
About the Author:
A litigation lawyer and former journalist, Richard Galli closed his law office and moved his practice home so he could better care for his son. Galli lives with his wife and two children in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Jeffrey Galli is a student at University of Rhode Island.