Coma

A coma is nothing like you imagine or how they play it out on TV.  There’s no sudden arousal, there’s no talking to you and completely comprehending everything going on.  I think the coma was the worst part, even though early on the doctors said that Shawn would wake up from his coma, they had no idea when.  The initial Neuro Surgeon was the one that had told us on the 2nd day that due to the locations of the brain bleeds, in his opinion, Shawn would wake up. However, he would have deficits in motor function and memory.  Sounded pretty simple but that was really before they knew the full extend that the Diffuse Axonal injury and the Hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) would affect Shawn long term.  That particular doctor I was very impressed with, probably because his news was leaning more on the positive side.  The next Neuro Surgeon that came on the rotation reviewed Shawn’s CAT scan and believed that his deficits would be extremely severe and placed him on the low level of outcome, hated that guy!  It seemed every time you started to feel good about how things were going, someone would come along and just pull the blanket right out from underneath you.  Living with a constant knot in your stomach definitely takes such a huge toll on you both emotionally and physically.  I am amazed that our baby survived and my pregnancy continued because the amount of stress was overwhelming.  My doctor had told me that the body has an incredible way of protecting babies from outside stresses and she was right.  It was right after my first visit prenatal visit with her, just 6 days after Shawn’s accident that I learned of my first real life coma story.  It’s kind of amazing the way it happened, but after that appointment I asked Shawn’s sisters to take me to Chapters book store so that I could find a book on brain injury.  We walked in and there was a poster advertising a new author that had just wrote a book about his experience recovering from a brain injury!! What were the odds that this book would have this author coming to this book store in 2 days to sign copies of his new book?? I bought a copy and started reading and couldn’t believe it because this man had been in a car accident about 10 years earlier and had been in a coma and here he was writing a book.  It gave me such hope and the more I read I learned that he was in a very serious car accident and his coma lasted about 3 weeks and he had to learn how to walk and talk again.  Meeting that man in person and hearing his story gave me such inspiration when I needed it the most.  That was the last time I heard about a coma story from someone I met, it seemed like they started popping up out of nowhere.  The priest that came to give Shawn a blessing was also in a coma for about 3 weeks when he was child from a bicycle accident, the clerk at a retail store told us about her relative being a coma and they all seemed to be around the 3 week mark when things turned around.  Well it was a little over 3 weeks when Shawn officially was considered “out of the coma”.  There was no “hey, how’s it going” or “what happened” from him like you see in the movies, it was a simple eye opening that lasted just a split second and that was him coming out of the coma.  It started off so slowly with his eyes opening for a second until weeks later he had them open for 45 minutes straight and that was very exciting.  His eyes may have been open but there was no recognition and he was never tracking or following anything, he just looked straight ahead.  He never opened his eyes when you would ask but just spontaneously for a short time, sometimes only once a day and sometimes more.  Regardless I sat by his side and talked to him and told him about what was happening and who had visited or I would read him a book or put his iPod on for him.  Whenever his eyes would open, I would get right in his line of sight and even though he didn’t seem to see me, I knew he did and I knew he knew I was there.  Once in awhile he would squeeze my hand and even though I was told it was not “purposeful” I felt like it was and that he was letting me know that he was there and just to give him time.   Most people don’t remember their coma so it’s hard to say what exactly they hear but in Shawn’s case we knew he was listening and trying to show us that he was.  In one situation, a doctor ignorantly spoke to us in Shawn’s presence about his lack of any real recovery and to expect the worse, his heart rate raced as he was listening to everything that man was saying.  Other then the times he would squeeze my hand, he actually showed some movement when an old friend that he knew from childhood visited.  It was within that first week and his good friend Roy was speaking to him and Shawn actually lift his right hand up in response to Roy’s voice.  Roy was ecstatic and he came back in the waiting room saying, “he’s in there, my boy is in there!!”  None of this was ever given any regard by the medical staff, as they felt it was all reflex, they just didn’t know who they were dealing with.  Shawn is/was a fighter and it was him trying to let us know he was coming back to us.  I had read so many brain injury stories trying to get an idea of what to expect but none of them ever really addressed the coma.  I think that was largely due to the survivors writing those stories so that wasn’t a time they remembered and could only recount what they were told.  I do remember so that is why I want to share this with everyone and also share with Shawn, who follows this closely because he too wants to gain more insight into what happened back in 2008.  So as I mentioned, he came out of the coma after 3 weeks and it was a long long process before he was able to look at me, I mean really look at me and see me and show he knew who I was.  The first time he actually watched me walk across his hospital room, we had long left the trauma hospital and he was repatriated back to our local community hospital, which was 6 weeks after his accident.  Some of the great ideas we had been told or read about back during the coma were to not only talk to him but also heighten his other senses with smell and touch.  I would find things that I knew had stronger smells, like cinnamon, and also smells that were familiar to him, my body lotion for example.  To this day the smell of Bath and Body Works White Tea and Ginger body lotion reminds me of the ICU and that hospital, whereas before that it was my favourite smell.

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