There's a news story out of Belgium today about a man who doctors believe lapsed into a coma in 1983, following a car accident. However, new brain-imaging technology (done in 2006) found that he had a fully functioning brain and that he was, in fact, wide awake for the past 23 years.
As most of you know, I was in a coma for four weeks, following my failed bypass (which led to a minor stroke). From the stories I hear, some people remember things that happen in their comas, and others simply "sleep" through them.
I did both.
I don't know exactly when it happened, but I woke up during my coma for a few moments. I recall seeing my two brothers in my room and the younger one (who is six years older than me), when he saw my eyes, asked me how I was. I tried to respond, but I had a tube in my throat and all I could do was blink. At the time, I figured I was just walking up from the surgery. But apparently, I had been comatose for a while at that point. I also recall seeing my oldest brother standing by the wall.
It was actually a couple of years later that I even remembered that happened. When I mentioned it to my brother, he acknowledged that it had, in fact, happened. But that was the only time I woke up during my month-long coma.
What I remember most about it, though, were the nightmares and begging my sister to help me wake up. I think I was pleading with her because she was very instrumental in raising me and I looked upon her as my savior.
But with each nightmare, I felt more and more frustrated, lonely, isolated and yes, tortured.
That's why, when I read this story about this Belgian, I was so taken back. I can not imagine how tortuous it must have been for him to know he was awake and aware, yet be able to do nothing about it. For 23 years, he suffered in absolute silence while the world went on around him.
What did he hear? Did doctors talk about pulling the plug? Did his family give up? Could you imagine being told you were a vegetable, while your brain was thinking and aware?
This also led me to wonder about Terri Schiavo.
Remember her? She was the young woman who was taken off life support because he husband successfully convinced the courts that she was in a complete vegetative state. Even though video showed her being aware of her surroundings, she was deemed not conscious and unable to ever improve. So they pulled the plug and she died.
What if they would have done that with this guy? Perhaps it is possible that Ms. Schiavo, as well as others like her, were merely unresponsive because they too were incapacitated.
The brain is an incredible machine. Scientists and doctors do not fully understand how and why it works the way it does. This Belgian just proved them that while they are getting closer, they still have a long way to go.