What It Feels Like to Be in a Coma
I was born with a rare genetic disorder—but I did not actually experience any symptoms or complications until I was 10 years old. As you might imagine, this created a lot of challenges because I was at a very critical age in terms of growth and development.
One of the challenges was that because of my age, I remember almost everything I went through. If I'd gone through this as a baby, of course, I wouldn't have remembered anything. But the experience of being a relatively healthy 10-year-old, and then suddenly being ambushed with a life-threatening illness, was very intense.
Now, I will write other articles in the future about the details of my condition, but in this particular article I'd like to tell you about what it feels like to be in a coma.
Recently I was telling my sister what it felt like to be put into a drug-induced coma and hooked up to a ventilator. When I looked up and saw the horrified look on her face it dawned on me: I was speaking as if this was an everyday experience, a normal topic of conversation. However, she, who has never had any major health problems, was totally freaked out by what I was saying. I decided I should write about my story for those who have loved ones who are going through this experience, or for those who are just curious.
My intentions are not to upset anyone or freak anyone out—especially if you have a loved one who is going through this right now. What I'd like to do is share what it felt like for me.
I Was in a Drug-Induced Coma
There I was, in the hospital again. Briefly, I will say my illness has to do with my intestines, and I have had about 24 feet of it removed over the course of about 10 surgeries. I was in the ICU after a very lengthy surgery that left my body unable to stay alive without assistance from a ventilator. I was put into a drug-induced coma because the pain from the surgery and the ventilator was so great that I was at risk for going into shock. The doctors were also concerned about me not being able to tell them how much pain I was in.
When I describe what it felt like to be in a coma, it may sound a little weird because the memories flow in and out of my mind. But as I try to channel them I will write what I remember—and then try to make sense of it for my readers.
I remember hearing the voices of people around me. Everyone was staring at me and I could feel it, but I couldn't open my eyes to look at them. I remember hearing the familiar voices of my loved ones talking about my every movement like it was a miracle. "Look! She moved her finger!" someone would say. "I wonder if she can hear us?" someone else would ask. Then I heard my mom, my rock, the one with all the information (which she gathered to the best of her ability), "Yes, she can hear you." The moment I heard her say that, I relaxed because I knew that as long as she was there I was safe, and everything would be okay.
My mom then took my hand and started talking to me. She would talk to me for hours and never let go. I could feel her warm touch, and it made my heart smile deep inside, something I still had control of. I had many thoughts and emotions during this time, but I didn't have the power over my body to express them.
So I lay there, very aware of my surroundings when awake—and then I'd drift off to sleep. Because of all the drugs I was on, my sleep felt very surreal; it felt like I was in a whole other world. A world where I was on acid, and things were very similar to the movie Alice in Wonderland or Dumbo. Much later, when I was no longer in the coma, I even started telling my aunt and grandmother about the pink elephants that had been dancing around the hospital room. I felt amazed that they hadn't seen them, as I had. They'd been everywhere!
The dreams I had were crazy. I'm not sure I can recall every detail, for they made sense only in the moment.
As far as the ventilator, which is the machine that was helping me breathe, I describe it as one of the worst experiences I have ever been through—like a sort of slow torture. The machine pumps oxygen into your body and breathes for you at a set pace that is appropriate for your size and age. The odd thing was that it seemed to be set to an abnormally slow pace, and I constantly felt like I was suffocating. It felt like a slow torture where I would nearly die—and then at the last possible second I would receive more oxygen. I guess this is a normal experience, to feel like you are suffocating. Part of it has to do with the huge tube that's been inserted into the throat.
Coming Out of the Coma
After I'd been in the medically induced coma for some time, the doctors started to decrease my medication, bit by bit, so that I could actually open my eyes and communicate with my family. That was nice. I had a notepad, and I would write notes to everyone. I had to communicate through writing because it was nearly impossible, not to mention painful, to speak with a large tube in my throat.
I remember getting to see my sister, dad, stepmom, stepsister, best friend, aunts, uncles, grandparents—pretty much all my close family came to visit. They would bring presents, and I would get to open them over and over again, each time being just as surprised as the last time because I never remembered getting it before! That was pretty cool.
I remember feeling so happy to have so many loved ones surrounding me. I cannot tell you how much the support of these people helped me get through that time. Without them, I truly believe I may not be alive today.
My sister and my best friend wrote me notes—long notes expressing their love for me and telling me about everything that was going on in the world. They wrote about how I needed to hurry up and come home so I could join them once again. Keeping my hope and spirits alive, that's what they were doing.
They were beautiful notes, and I cried not only when I read them the first time, but much later when I left the hospital. I was going through my bags and bags of stuff (you acquire a lot when you are there for months at a time), and I came across these letters. To my knowledge I had never seen them before, so I ripped them open and read them all over again. I cried and cried because I really felt the sadness in the hearts of my sister and my best friend, and I couldn't imagine how it must have felt for them to see me so ill. I remember getting mad at my mom for not showing me the letters, thinking she had hid them from me so as not to cause upset. She said, "No, honey, you read and reread them many times while you were here!" I said, "Oh."
Your Presence Makes a Difference
I guess what I am trying to say is that if you have a friend or loved one who is in a coma, just know how much your being there, talking to them and holding their hand, makes a difference. I can tell you this from experience. There were a few moments where I truly felt I might have given up, had I not had my loved ones around me.
When you are there by their bedside, wondering what's going on in their head, think about my story. Talk to them; they can hear you. They can feel your presence and your touch. Even if they can't tell you how much it means to them, you are making a difference. Your presence inspires hope. You are reminding them why they are fighting to stay alive.