It is 10:33 AM. You are awaken abruptly from your alarm. You prepare yourself for the day ahead. The day has been going well so far. It is now 12:25 PM. You step into your vehicle hoping to stop at the best burger place in town for lunch. The preceding are the last thing you remember when you wake up cold, sweaty, and drowsy from your coma. Changing perspectives, you are a family member now. Your brother has been in a horrific car accident and is in a coma for thirteen days now. How will you communicate with him? How will you tell him that you love him and are here for him?
Most importantly, how do you know that he is still alive? For those who don’t know, a coma is a persistent vegetative state, also known as PVS. Coma is also defined as a state of almost total unresponsiveness to external stimulation in which the patient lies with his eyes closed. It is a condition in which the normal cognitive and communicative functioning of the patient is hampered. A coma may occur for various reasons, such as intoxication, CNS (central nervous system) diseases, a serious injury, and hypoxia (oxygen deprivation).
But there have been a number of cases across the world like the example mentioned above. A 26-year-old patient named Kate Bainbridge had a viral infection which had put her in a coma — a condition that generally persists for two to four weeks, after which patients die, recover fully or, in rare cases, slip into a vegetative or a minimally conscious state. (Tutton) And there is most notably Rom Houben, also known as Patient 23. Allan Hall reports “Alive but unresponsive, he has been in a coma for 23 years since he has been 24 years old. Ongoing research in the field of comatose communication has found out that there may be small “islands” of consciousness, even in persistent vegetative states, like such in Houben’s case.
And this is how, through comatose communication and other methods such as fMRIs, they were able to conclude that Houben was still alive in his body. This could be another example of how the conscious is separate from the physical body. So why should you care? How can coma work help patients, families, and caregivers? Coma work furthers the internal and external ommunication of patients in altered consciousness.
This can aid patients to complete inner work and spontaneously come closer to the surface, and at times even all the way out of coma or other altered consciousness. With metabolic comas emergence can be quick and dramatic. Mark Tutton, an author at CNN. com, reports “a study carried out last year on 103 patients by Laureys and his colleagues at Liege’s Coma Science Group found that 41 percent of patients in a Minimally Conscious State (MCS) were misdiagnosed as being in the much more serious Vegetative State (VS).
Dr. Daniel Hanley, professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Medicine, in Maryland, told CNN that VS is a coma-like state in which patients have a sleep and wake cycle, and can show reflex chewing, swallowing and blinking, but don’t respond to language or stimulation. ” With coma from traumatic brain injury and other causes, progress is usually slow, but measurable. Progress can be accelerated if the awareness for coma communication is heightened.
Families and caregivers are often relieved to find ways to communicate with loved ones and clients about treatment options, life and death decisions, and love and personal connection. Family and caregivers often feel validated about their perceptions of subtle cues they have noticed. Now put the shoe on the other foot and imagine if you yourself were to be in a coma today. Wouldn’t you like a way to tell your family that you are alive, are ready to fight through it and come out of your PVS state? Surely yes.