Knife in the throat

A Davis mother is haunted by a strange parallel between her own childhood and her daughter’s murder.

Annie Nisen with pictures of Lily.

Annie Nisen with pictures of Lily.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Editor’s note: Last summer, 19-year-old Lily Nisen was murdered while studying graphic design at San Diego State University. Earlier this month, Lily’s mother, Annie, returned home to Davis after attending the preliminary hearing at which her daughter’s alleged murderer was ordered to stand trial. Annie, who only has half of her vocal chords intact due to a series of thyroid cancer surgeries that saved her life as a child, says she found herself wanting to scream during the court proceeding, yet somehow managed to sit in silent witness. In the following essay, she gives voice to the pain and sorrow of an incomprehensible loss, while reflecting on one of life’s stranger paradoxes.

On Thursday, March 3, 2005, I traveled to San Diego in order to attend the hearing which was held for the vicious murder of my child, Lily Nisen, age 19, on Memorial Day 2004. I had to sit still and be quiet during the hearing. I owed it to Lily to be there. And, I will attend the subsequent trial, which will probably be held during the summer.

Knifed in the throat with a serrated blade to keep one quiet. The larynx and trachea were very specifically targeted so that this beautiful young woman could not scream and alert someone to please come and save her from this madman. This is after being slashed six times in the chest, eyes blackened, legs and arms bruised. And, when exactly was the head bashed in?

When I was eight years old, it was determined that I had thyroid cancer. My surgeon was Dr. Leon Goldman, one of the top surgeons in the world. Dr. Goldman was also Dianne Feinstein’s father. Dr. Leon Goldman used his superb surgical skills to save my life. I had to endure four operations on my neck over a four year period of time, beginning when I was eight years old and ending when I was eleven years old. Dr. Goldman was able to save half of my vocal cords.

I have four long scars around my neck. People notice these scars all the time. Inexplicably, some people feel very comfortable asking me, “What happened to you?” I do not like the surgical scars that remain, and I have not liked people asking me about these scars for the last forty-plus years. Turtleneck clothing and close fitting necklaces are intolerable to wear because I cannot stand having any undue pressure on my neck. I must feel that I can breathe freely without constriction of any kind.

Mother and daughter in happier times.

Courtesy Of Annie Nisen

During the surgeries, I was given the anesthetic ether as well as follow-up medication so that I would feel no pain and a minimum of discomfort. I was admitted to the UC Medical Center on Parnassus in San Francisco. Everything was sterile and organized and I was well cared for by seemingly angelic nurses. I spent at least two weeks in the hospital for each of the four surgeries. Intricate stitches made of cat gut held the surgical slashes in my neck closed. Eventually, the stitches were removed by Dr. Goldman.

Dr. Goldman opted not to do chemotherapy on me. He saved my life by performing the four intricate surgeries to remove my thyroid and parathyroid glands, which were cancerous. Dr. Goldman very carefully preserved my ability to speak by saving half of my vocal chords. This is why he chose to do the required surgeries over a four-year period of time instead of all at once.

Lily Rainbow Jasmine Nisen is the wonderful spirited child I was blessed with. Lily miraculously grew in my womb and she moved all around in there like a butterfly. I birthed her and I nursed her and I cherished her. Lily weighed six pounds when she was born and she was all of 191/2” long. She grew very proudly to 6 feet tall and was the picture of health. I made sure that Lily had fun, interesting, challenging things to do. Lily was a very creative and whimsical artist, a superb soccer player and a real mermaid who loved to swim far out into the Pacific Ocean. She was a lovely, very intelligent and gentle human being.

At age 19, my daughter Lily was savagely knifed in the neck. The man who did this wanted to eliminate the possibility that Lily would scream and alert someone who could possibly come to her rescue and save her life. Lily bled to death from all her wounds.

Lily did not have anesthetic to take away the pain. She did not get to have stitches sewn by the experienced hands of a brilliant surgeon like Dr. Goldman. Lily had no angelic nurses attending to her and making sure that she was comfortable, adequately nourished and warm enough. Lily, alive and well, used to have a wonderful appetite. She was brought up on a vegetarian diet and she loved to experiment in the kitchen. Lily was brutally murdered and she will never eat a nourishing meal again.

I will be forever haunted by this horrendous ending of my daughter’s life. In contrast to my daughter’s brutal murder at the hands of a madman, I had received such gentle intelligent care at the hands of a brilliant surgeon.

Mother and daughter both had their necks slashed. It is a maddening contradiction.