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    On Comas

    August 19, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I‘ve been thinking about comas lately. There is a young man in our congregation {not my husband, this time} who is in the hospital {and will be for a very, very long time}, which is what has brought it to mind. To be honest, I find it difficult to read updates on him, as it brings back memories that are not quite distant enough.

    So, as I said, I’ve been thinking about comas. Specifically, I have been considering how little I understood them before now.

    I thought that, when I saw my husband in an unconscious or semi-conscious state, that he was really going through something tragic. I felt so bad for him. I spent time worrying about him, and I don’t mean worrying about losing him {though of course I did that as well}, but I mean worrying about him. I worried that he was sad or in pain. I worried when he was cold. I worried when I saw him struggling.

    I am not saying that my concern wasn’t appropriate, for I would have been stone of heart to feel otherwise. Compassion is the natural daughter of love.

    However, comma.

    What I didn’t realize is that he wouldn’t remember any of it.

    I suppose I don’t have enough experience with comas to know for sure that they are always like this, but I do know that the neurologist seemed to understand this fact. He felt compelled to constantly remind my husband how serious his condition had been, and he would say, “Of course, you don’t really know this because you weren’t there.” On the word there, he pointed to his head.

    During a coma, the mind wanders. In this particular instance, it collected no memories along the path. Because of this, it isn’t as traumatic as an onlooker {like me} would perceive it to be.

    The trauma comes later, when the patient wakes up and discovers all the time that has passed, when he has to fight to get stronger, when he has to accept any permanent damage that might have been done. This, my friends, is where the trauma lies for the patient.

    Conversely, the trauma for the family of the patient is during the coma itself. Everything after the point of crisis has passed comes as a relief because they are just happy the patient is there at all.

    But you can see how this might cause the patient and the family to sort of miss each other, for lack of a better description, in the experience. The paths of family and patient, which were so intertwined before the ordeal, diverge at the point of unconsciousness, and it takes a while to come back together. It takes a while for the family to realize the the patient is shocked and they are, upon awakening, entering their own experience of trauma. It takes a while for the patient to realize that the family went through anything at all.

    Si now calls comas a severe mercy, for who would want to remember any of that, anyway? And who would want to experience the agony of the fight when they could, simply, sleep through it while their body did the work? It is like choosing between having surgery with or without the pain meds. The choice is obvious.

    And when I made the choice to put my husband in a chemical coma, the choice was obvious in its own way. I didn’t think he had the will to fight at that moment, and sleep brought needed relief.

    This is such an odd lesson to have learned, really. It still feels like, for a while there, I was living someone else’s life. Or someone else was living my life.

    Or something.

    So what does coming back together look like? For us, it meant hovering together over a calendar when he came home from the hospital. We read through Twitter updates and pieced together the time he had lost. I don’t know what it would look like for someone else, but I suppose my point in writing something bizarre like this is that, if you ever have a loved on in a coma, it is probably important to know that coming back together is a process which takes time.

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    3 Comments

  • Reply Brandy August 25, 2009 at 3:48 am

    Nanny, You sound like you had a wonderful mother, to be thinking about others like that, and to the very end.

    Thank you both for your well wishes! 🙂

  • Reply Nanny Y. August 22, 2009 at 1:01 am

    Wow! This is such a powerful post and reminds me somewhat of the time I spent with my mother during her last days. It was hard sometimes to realize that due to the medication she sometimes didn’t realize how severe her situation was. Then again would I really have wanted her to be dwelling on such a thing? Of course not. It is shocking at the time though because changes in physical appearance due to cancer cause the onlooker to suffer because they are not sure if the loved one is suffering. When she was conscious though she was often concerned for US and cracked jokes to cheer us up.

    I am so glad you husband is home again. God bless!

  • Reply Dana August 19, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Interesting insight. Glad your husband is on the mend!

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