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Thursday, October 4, 2007She Planned Her Last Breath
On Sunday, Sept. 23, after a painful, restless night, Lovelle decided it was almost time.
Swallowing was more painful than ever, like choking on broken glass or razor blades, she said. She had barely eaten in two weeks and started taking morphine to dull her pain.
She told family and friends to come Friday.
Lovelle sat on the foot of the bed, while 10 others gathered around. A photograph of Lovelle as a curly-haired 5-year-old stood on one bedside table; on the other was a glass tumbler containing the liquid medication along with a container of morphine and Lovelle's ever-present mug of Gatorade.
With some help, Lovelle yanked off her shoes and socks and slipped partway under the covers.
Eighmey stood by her bedside. He has attended more than three dozen deaths.
"Is this what you really want?"
"Actually, I'd like to go on partying," Lovelle replied, laughing before turning serious. "But yes."
"If you do take it, you will die."
Ever the detail person, she reminded him that she wanted her glasses and watch removed, "after I fall asleep."
Eighmey warned her that the clear liquid would taste bitter. She needn't gulp it. She would have about a minute and a half to get it down.
Lovelle dipped her right pinky into the glass and tasted.
"Yuck," she said. "That's why I need the Gatorade."
Holding the glass, Eighmey asked her again to affirm that this was her wish.
Yes, she replied.
Someone asked, "Can we have another hugging line?"
One by one, they came to the head of the bed for hugs and teary whispers.
"It's all right."
"Thank you for being my big sister."
"All the church is praying for you."
Lovelle was sitting up in bed, three pillows propping her up.
She held the glass tumbler in her right hand, raised it to her lips and drank. It was eight minutes after 5.
"Most godawful stuff I ever tasted in my life," she said, making a face before taking a sip of Gatorade and water.
She lay back and scrunched down under the covers, glasses still on to see her loved ones.
She reached for her mother, who leaned closer, then lay down next to Lovelle, stroking her hand.
"Are you OK, honey?"
"I'm fine, Mom."
"You're not sick?"
"No. I'm peaceful. It stopped raining, the sun's out. And I've had a wonderful day."
Her eyes closed.
"It's starting to hit me now."
For a while, no one moved or spoke, as Lovelle drifted into a coma. Then Lovelle's mom asked for a prayer. Others spoke up with prayers and memories, which prompted other stories.
Lovelle lay motionless but for the gentle rise and fall of her chest. Her heart slowed but didn't stop.
About an hour into the vigil, Lovelle's mom lit three white candles. "She's still with us," she said.
Hours passed. Eighmey was surprised how long she was lingering. But not her family.
"I hate to say this," one said with a smile, "but this is just like her."
"A little spitfire," agreed another.
"One last reminder that she's the one in control."
Jane O'Dell, a volunteer for Compassion & Choices, sat at Lovelle's bedside all evening, holding her right hand, whispering to her, monitoring her breathing and pulse.
About 10:30 p.m., more than five hours after she had taken the drug, O'Dell signaled that Lovelle's breathing had become shallower and more labored. Her pulse dropped, her skin turned pallid and her fingernails bluish. It was more than a minute between breaths.
Family and friends resumed their bedside vigil, and silence again fell over the room. Lovelle's chest stopped moving.
Eighmey leaned over at 10:42 p.m. and put his ear to her chest to listen for a heartbeat. He stepped back, shaking his head and spoke in a quiet voice.
Astronomers have found the most Sun-like star yet, and they say it is an ideal place to hunt for alien civilisations.
The star, called HIP 56948, lies a little more than 200 light years from Earth. Its size, mass, temperature, and chemical makeup are all so similar to the Sun's that no measurable differences could be found in high-resolution observations made by the 2.7-metre telescope at the McDonald Observatory in Texas, US.
The analysis was carried out by Jorge Melendez of Mount Stromlo Observatory in Weston Creek, Australia, and Ivan Ramirez of the University of Texas in Austin, US.
Other very Sun-like stars have previously been identified, including 18 Scorpii, HD 98618, and HIP 100963. But those three stars have several times more lithium than the Sun, while HIP 56948 is almost identical to the Sun in this respect as well, making it an even closer match.
That similarity might be important, since some studies have suggested that stars with less lithium are less active, experiencing fewer outbursts, or flares, that can bathe planets in deadly radiation, says Ramirez. If that is borne out by further observations, this star probably has a higher chance of harbouring life than other solar doppelgangers, he says.
Sun-like stars are considered good hunting ground for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), says Margaret Turnbull of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, US. She helped draw up an existing list of about 17,000 high-priority targets for SETI called HabCat.
"We don't know that Sun-like stars are necessarily the 'best' for intelligent life, but they are certainly a decent starting point given that we know of at least one civilisation around such a star," she told New Scientist.
Peter Backus of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, US, who is heading the institute's upcoming search for alien life with the new Allen Telescope Array, says the Sun's newly identified twin will be targeted in the search, and was already on the HabCat list.
"It's on the list, but I don't think it will be given any special treatment," he told New Scientist. "It's still a matter of speculation on just what range of stars could host habitable planets. We will eventually get around to observing all of the stars [on the list]."
Astronomers at McDonald Observatory have already started looking for planets around HIP 56948, and while observations continue, they have so far ruled out any giant planets in tight orbits around the star – so-called 'hot Jupiters', which would be the easiest planets to spot.
The star does differ in one way from the Sun – it appears to be about 1 billion years older. That should make it all the more attractive for SETI, Ramirez says, because older stars have had more time to produce intelligent civilisations. "Assuming that these stars have planets and those planets have life, then you have given more time for that life to evolve," he says.
Although astronomers hope to observe a radio signal from a civilisation around the star, its distance of over 200 light years from Earth means none of our radio or television signals would have had time to reach it yet, he says. "If there is life there and intelligent life, then they haven't heard from us yet."
The Allen Telescope Array will likely begin observations in November 2007, Backus says, although it will initially be looking at broad swathes of the sky rather than focusing on individual stars in the catalogue.
Journal reference: The Astrophysical Journal Letters (in press)
100 wallets were dropped in front of hidden cameras to see
who would return the wallets and who would steal them...
Of all 100 people tested:
74% were honest and
returned the wallets.
26% were dishonest and
kept the wallets.
Summary: The good news is that most
people were honest - in fact, honest people
out numbered dishonest people nearly 3 to 1.