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The Story Of 'Sixty-Six Garage' Serialized In LA Times Podcast

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When reporter Joanne Faryon first became aware of a Coronado nursing home patient called Sixty-Six Garage, she was working at KPBS and deeply involved in investigating end of life care. But then, something happened.

Speaker 1: 00:00 When reporter Joanne Farian first became aware of a Coronado nursing home patient called 66 garage. She was working at KPBS and deeply involved in investigating end of life care. But then something happened. The strange, sad story of the man with no known identity being kept alive on machines for 15 years became an obsession. Now Joanne tells the whole story of 66 garage and a new podcast that has become one of the most popular in the nation. It's called room 20 from the La Times studios. It solves mysteries about 66 garage as it raises questions about how we define consciousness and life itself. Room 20 podcast host Joanne Farian joins me and welcome Johanne. Thanks for having me. Now why do you think that this anonymous man on life support became such a powerful mystery for you to solve? I have a personal connection not to this man, but to this place.

Speaker 1: 01:01 Um, the nursing home, not this specific place, but in terms of how people are kept alive. Um, and I, I reveal something about my mother's death and, um, th the days leading up to her death. And it kind of explains not just my obsession, um, with this place, this room or this man, but the sort of the obsession I had for a while on covering end of life issues. And I was working at KPBS when I spent a year covering hospice care and, um, you know, documenting the end of life for, for people in hospice, even though the stories were done, I kept going back. And that's weird, right? It couldn't quite figure out why I kept going back. And, um, but one of the things that happened while I was reporting on this man is he's supposed to be in a vegetative state. And I see he smiles at me.

Speaker 1: 01:49 He literally smiles at me. And here's the thing, being in a vegetative state, people smile, they frown, they cry, they do all these things right? And, and it tricks their loved ones into thinking, oh no, there's the, you know, they're not unconscious. They're in fact aware. So turns out that happened to me. So that's the podcast. That's the step. That's sort of where the podcast begins. And you tell us early on in the podcast that almost everything you were originally told about the backstory of 66 garage was not, not true. What were some of the things that you were told? Um, that he was driving a van? Um, when it crashed that the van was taken to a place called 66 garage. And what I learned is things that, that he thinks that people would even tell me in the nursing home. Like I'm saying that medically this is, this is this person's condition or the accident happened this way and they were wearing a helmet or, so when I actually went to find out, okay, is this true?

Speaker 1: 02:48 And I followed those leads. So many of the things we thought were facts weren't actually facts, right? They just, they're things that got repeated over and over and over again. So as a reporter, I mean, we always kind of know that we do fact checks, but it was really eyeopening because I, I, what I did is I researched everything I was told to. I got until I got to the absolutely lake primary original source to find out what really happened and, and everything was surprising. Wow. The podcast, uh, as you say, takes us into the nursing home and shows us the difficult aspects of existing on life support. Here's a clip from one of your early visits where you're learning the reality of life. Four 66 garage.

Speaker 2: 03:35 Okay. He's awake and there are tears in his eyes. He's gurgling. You look scared. That's uncomfortable. Uncomfortable. I'm embarrassed to look at garage too closely. He's kicked off his sheet and is wearing only a diaper and a tee shirt. I keep trying to cover him without actually touching him. I really don't know how to speak to garage. I feel uncomfortable and self conscious so often he looks as though he's choking to death. I don't know what I'm supposed to say. There is nothing that makes sense to say, but I also can't just sit by and watch. He looks as though he's suffering. They're going to, they're going to help you. Someone's going to come and help you. Okay. They're going to come and help you.

Speaker 1: 04:28 Now you found out that that kind of distress was typical for patients on life support. So I would witness this over and over and over again. And I mean I witnessed this when I was first covering this unit too, but now I was like literally in this sort of embedded, for lack of a better word in this room. So, and I was watching it close up to the point where again, I think part of what you heard in that clip is one of the things I write in my journal, I kept a journal the whole time is I feel like such an intruder and, and, and like here I am. And I wondered why I had even decided to do this because it was, it was terrible. I was intruding in on this men's space, you know? And um, yeah, so this was one of the things that I would witness regularly and what you hear in the podcast is at some point I just can't take watching anymore.

Speaker 1: 05:14 One of the questions you try to answer is, is this man really in a vegetative state or is he conscious? And I don't know which answer to that question is more disturbing. Yeah. So, um, again, another issue I've been reporting on for awhile, um, and this isn't going to ruin anything. I mean, I, I've done these stories before that, um, when people diagnose someone and when doctors diagnose people in a vegetative state, 40% of the time they're actually wrong. They're in a minimally conscious state. And what does that mean? That means they drift in and out of consciousness. Um, and so I think so it's, it's an exploration of consciousness. Um, and it's the great unknown. I interviewed a lot of neuroscientists over the past several years about this issue and you'll ask them what is consciousness? And you'll get a different answer and they'll tell you, you know, you'll keep getting a different answer and how do you define it?

Speaker 1: 06:09 Right? Um, so you end up, as you go along further into the episodes, you, you'll hear about that too. It's also though about human connection. And what you learn is we see what we want to see in the moment, right? In that moment. What did I need to see? What did I want to see Joanna and this six part podcast, you answer a lot of questions about what happened. You find out his true identity and people really have to listen to it all in order to follow this journey. But I wonder if you could tell us some of the places and people you meet on that journey. Well, I ended up going to Canada. I go to Mexico City, I go to Ohio. Um, I spent a lot of time in the imperial valley. A lot of time I ended up even enlisting, um, my son's high school Spanish teacher who I only had met once.

Speaker 1: 06:56 Who goes to quite heroic measures to also to help this effort. Have you been able to walk away from this hold that this story has had on you? Well, that room and during that time, you know, I wanted to be there and now like, and again, without giving away too much, I see it differently. And um, and, and it's never, I mean it's always going to have a certain hold, right? It's always get it, it really impacted. I think it impacted the way that, not just me as a person, but the kind of journalist I think I want to be going forward. I've been speaking with former KPBS reporter now, creator and host of one of the most popular podcasts in the nation room 20 Joanne Ferrin. Congratulations. Thanks, Marie, and I really appreciate being here.

Speaker 3: 07:54 [inaudible].

KPBS Midday Edition Segments podcast branding

KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.