This is probably the most difficult and challenging things I’ve posted here because it pains me to actually acknowledge and say to the universe that one of my best friends, Vanessa Hart, voice actor and audiobook narrator and coach is dead. I’ve been grieving and thinking about how how approach this . Then I decided to sit my ass down and finally finish this today and answer a lot of questions asked of me.
As the gamut of emotions poured out of me since her death, one thing has come clear to me. In my opinion, the unfolding of events during the last week of 54 year-old Vanessa Hart’s life could’ve been avoided, and she might still be around.
It Began Super Bowl Sunday-Feb. 2
Vanessa started to become ill, throwing up and couldn’t keep anything down. She’d been having digestive issues ever since I’ve known her, and they’d flare up occasionally. But she usually had it under control. Her way.
Tuesday Feb. 4
Her stomach was horribly bloated and reddened. Still sick to her stomach. A friend offered to take her to the doctor but she refused, saying she’d stick it out.
Wed. Feb 5
Vanessa finally agreed to go to the ER when her pain was out of control. She was later admitted and given a battery of tests to diagnose what was going on. In went a naso-gastric tube to remove stomach contents. (which she absolutely hated because it made her throat dry!) Subsequent tests revealed a total blockage of the small intestine and she was so dehydrated her kidneys were shutting down. She was put on IV to replace fluids and nutrients plus ice chips. The kidneys came back to full function shortly thereafter. With her in LA and me in Wisconsin, I still didn’t know any of this was going on.
Friday, February 7th:
Friday is the day Vanessa and I usually speak on the phone for our weekly “stand up” accountability sessions, which last anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour. Instead, I received a brief email from her. The subject line said: “I don’t want to worry you but”. And the body of the email simply said, ” I’m in the hospital”. What followed over the next three days was a series of one-line email exchanges. She was too ill to speak on the phone. I was asking for information, only getting back a partial picture of what was happening. She didn’t let on how dire the situation actually was, to me or her Doctors and nurses. Why ?
White Coat Syndrome
Few people knew that Vanessa had a deep fear of hospitals, surgery, and traditional medicine. As a result, she didn’t get regular checkups, and used herbal remedies whenever she felt under the weather. She wasn’t the picture of health, and I’d holler at her for chain smoking. When she shattered her wrist last year, she endured pain I can’t even imagine refusing surgery, opting for a full length arm cast and painful “setting” of delicate bones. When I asked the reason for her choice, she said, “I won’t be cut. I don’t think I’m a good candidate for any surgery. I’m afraid I won’t wake up. And I smoke.” Again, Her way.
Just the week before I received her initial email, we discussed what “FEAR” stands for. I shared what I’d heard in an excellent SAG Foundation seminar, and to consider it an acronym for ” False Evidence Appearing Real”. She liked that and wrote it down and posted it in her house somewhere so she’d see it regularly.
Sat. Feb 8
Meanwhile, I kept researching her condition on WebMD and asked a slew of questions. I admonished her to listen to her Doctor and do what the hospital staff recommended, or she could die. She promptly replied, “I have no intention of dying.” I reminded her of our conversation about FEAR, and that I’d hope she’d go through with exploratory surgery and take care of the problem once and for all.
She told me she was feeling a bit better, and scheduled for exploratory surgery for Monday the 10th. I was amazed she actually agreed to the surgery.
Sun. Feb. 9
She emailed to say that whatever was being done at the hospital so far, “worked” and that she was going home. I was hopeful. And without exploratory surgery? Wow.
Monday Feb. 10
I emailed to ask if indeed she was home. I received a one word reply. “Yes”.
Figuring she needed time to recuperate from all things-hospital, I wanted to give her some space. Knowing Vanessa, when she wasn’t feeling well, she’d shut down for a while, and eventually bounce back to her usual feisty self.
Tuesday, Feb. 11
By 8AM she was dead. I can’t believe that I just wrote those words: One of my closest friends- she was dead.
I didn’t find out until two days later; the 13th – of all days. A friend read it on Facebook emailed me and expressed his condolences because he knew we were close. I immediately went to Facebook, and there it was. Vanessa’s sister posted the news on Vanessa’s Facebook page.
I was stunned. In disbelief. How could it be?
I posted on my own Facebook page the fact that I was stunned, crushed that I had to see it on Facebook. I just didn’t know what to do with all the feelings. It’s been hard to to go back there and see how people just resume normal stuff, posting pictures of their pets and food and beautiful lives for all to see and simply move on when I’m so sad.
Back in the day, news like this would arrive analogue, in the newspaper or telephone call or face-to face. Now our digital world is more immediate and massive. Along with this trend, there’s a morbid curiosity about the facts surrounding someone’s death. Especially if that person has any notoriety. People asked me if she overdosed or committed suicide. I’d bet not.
On the positive side, there was an immediate and huge outpouring of thousands from the voiceover community of heartfelt condolences and anecdotes on her page.
But then, like a three-ring circus, there were a few who immediately used news of Vanessa Hart’s death to appoint themselves spokesperson and announce it in a mass email blast to voiceover people and casting directors and God knows who else! Another went so far as to to recount faulty facts about their teaching relationship two years ago and directed people to read more at her “Facebook fan page”. God, Vanessa would be so pissed!
It reminds me of the tasteless AT&T ads that took a photo of an AT&T cell phone taking a picture of the Twin Towers burning down to the ground. Calling attention to one’s own benefit based on another’s tragedy. Not OK!
So How could Vanessa’s Death have been avoided?
I later learned Vanessa refused to have exploratory surgery, and checked herself out of the hospital Monday, despite signing off on several written warnings not to leave. She lied to the medical staff about her progress so she could leave! To avoid surgery.
Later her Doctor contacted her sister to say that he was shocked she’d died, and felt it highly improbable that death would occur from the gastric blockage at home.
Vanessa was a very close, complex, and headstrong friend that right now I’d give just about anything to bitch at!
I’d say, “Life is a do it to yourself project.”, and this time, she made a bad choice to refuse medical treatment. Out of F.E.A.R. She always did things her way. I must admit I’ve felt angry at her choice to turn away the treatment that could save her. That could remedy the digestive issues plaguing her for years. Her doctor believed death was possibly caused by either heart-attack or stroke. But there will be no autopsy, so no one will ever know for sure. Forever.
As to those who shamelessly spam us with your self-importance and your monetary angles and affiliate deals , SETTLE DOWN, and please just take a step back! This is another human being’s life. Not your self-promotional topic for social networks.
As for the rest of us whose lives she touched, I hope we’ll take time to discern and allow Vanessa’s impact on our lives and or careers large or small… speak quietly. And respectfully.
My heart is where our friendship lives. I must let you go now. Rest In Peace, in my heart, my friend, Vanessa Hart.