Her name was Susan. She was young. She was beautiful. She was intelligent. She was articulate. She was dying…
Susan was a 23 year old single woman came to Los Angeles in the early 60’s to pursue her dream to become an actress. She had played the leads in her high school plays somewhere in Utah. She was runner-up in the Miss Utah pageant. She managed to get a couple of walk-on parts in some B-grade Hollywood films. She was a starlet.
A year or so after coming to the West Coast she became pregnant. The father quickly faded away into faceless LA. Her good Christian parents were humiliated, outraged and wanted nothing to do with her. She was on her own. Broke. Friendless. Pregnant. Scared.
So she took the bus to San Diego, walked across the border and headed to a cheap, dirty Tijuana abortion clinic. Four hours later she was back on the other side of the border, in pain, bleeding and completely debased. By the next day, the pain had become unbearable and she was spiking a temperature. She went to a local emergency room and was hospitalized overnight at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. She was subsequently transferred to the Medicine unit at UCLA Medical Center, at that time a small teaching hospital in its embryonic stages.
Many people needing an abortion end up like her – a patient dying from sepsis. Her uterus was perforated. She had developed gram-negative septicemia. Our knowledge of and access to antibiotics with some bacteria is primitive and limited. Eventually she went into renal failure. She burned with fever. She was racked with abdominal pain. The lovely face become hallow, sparkling eyes were sunken, lifeless. Her skin turned a sickly bronze color. Her breath reeked the pungent stench of ammonia. After weeks of agony, her frail body mercifully surrendered.
The most outrageous aspect of this experience is not even the way she died. It is that she died alone. During those three weeks, she never had a visitor. There was no boyfriend – he was off to other conquests. There were no parents – they disowned her in shame and embarrassment.
Even worse was the mind-set of the medical staff. While she was given the requisite care, there was little, if any, sympathy or compassion for this young woman or her situation. There was always the profound sense that “she brought this on herself,” that she was, in the final analysis, just an unfortunate tramp – Even As She Lay Dying.
Whenever the subject of Roe v Wade comes up, whenever seeing and hearing the holier-than-thou religious fanatics trying to take away the rights of a woman to control her own body, to make her own choices; they force Susan and others like it, into the back alleys of Tijuana, with the stench of ammonia in the air. And most of the time, these are men – men who want to take the choice of young women away from them.
Goodnight, Susan, you will not be forget.