25 January 2009

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle 
and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in,
their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light
from within.”
  - E. Kubler-Ross

I've been reading accounts of the death of Mariana Bridi da Costa. The details of how her life changed, and then ended, are at once horrible, ironic, and mythic.

da Costa, a 20-year-old model and beauty queen, twice a finalist in the Miss World competition in her native Brazil, had felt unwell back in December. She sought medical attention, and was treated for what the doctors thought was kidney stones. By January 3rd, however, they realized they'd made a terrible mistake--she was admitted to the hospital in Serra suffering from a urinary infection caused by an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection known as pseudomonas aeruginosa. The infection became worse, and septicemia ensued.

The bacteria raged, and da Costa's condition steadily worsened, until last week, the only hope the doctors had for preventing further damage to her compromised system was to amputate her hands and feet. Her beautiful, expressive, and tender hands and feet. Feet that had walked the stage as thousands admired and applauded their beauty. Hands that had waved at cheering men and women, and had brushed long, silky black hair away from the flawless face.

That decision to amputate didn't save her. She was put on a respirator, and slipped into a coma, where she remained until her death in the small hours of January 24th. Her family and her boyfriend were at her bedside when she died, and Brazil is now in mourning.

She stood poised upon the brink of her womanhood, and the world was open to her by virtue of her extraordinary beauty, confidence, and youth. We mourn her passing not only because she was beautiful, but because she was so young. There is nothing more terrible than the unfulfilled promise of a life ended too soon. She is the beauty who died a beastly death, and I am appalled.

I could probably draw some comparisons with descriptions of how all the flowering youth of several countries has been destroyed by our insane desire to wage wars, and I might also be able to point out that diagnoses and caregiving are routinely botched when the medical establishment is more interested in its own bureaucratic protocols and policies than in the Hippocratic oath. I might even be able to mount an argument about how viruses and bacteria are actively fighting for survival--as our medicines get stronger, so do they. However, I won't bother with those tirades, because it's too late for da Costa, who was ultimately just another bit of collateral damage in those struggles.

It's our whole civilization that's toxic, and it makes me sick to think of it. Poor Mariana. She never had a chance, and for that, I'm sorry beyond telling.

Excuse me. I need to take a couple aspirin and a shot of penicillin. Call me in the morning.



Carol Chaput ART said...

Thank you for your compassionate retelling of this story. Septicemia is more common that many think. You can get information at sepsisalliance.org.
Mariana: so young and lovely and such a tragic end.

Paula S. said...

And yet another example of how we can't treat doctors as gods and the medical establishments as their messengers. We have to research and learn and then listen to what our bodies are telling us --and investigate ALL possiblities for care and cure.

So sad.