Hollywood has given us plenty of stories about people who wind up in a coma. In some cases, they never wake up. In others, they go through a series of odd dreams and revelations in their minds before they miraculously rejoin the waking world.
A few of these stories seem realistic, but often these episodes are highly dramatised tools for storytelling. Here at Lifehack, we wondered what it would actually be like to wake up from a coma. Do patients hear or experience anything in their unconscious state? Do they gain some greater knowledge about the universe while they are in a coma.
To help us answer this question, we’ve got Jeff in the hot seat. He spent some time in a comatose state and lived to tell the tale.
Life changes in the blink of an eye
Lifehack: How did you end up in a coma?
Jeff: I got into a serious car wreck. When we impacted the car in front of us, my head slammed into the dashboard.
Lifehack: How long were you unconscious?
Jeff: I was out for 8 weeks before I remember anything. Even after I started to wake up, it was several weeks before I was able to sit up, stay awake for long periods of time, and walk. I spent months going through rehab after I woke up.
Lifehack: What have you learned from the experience?
Jeff: Your life can change in the blink of an eye. One minute, you’re heading out to see your friends and having the time of your life. The next thing you know, all those little things that you take for granted are taken from you. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get them back.
I’m one of the lucky ones. The doctors were pretty sure that I was going to be in a vegetative state. They had discussions with my family about “pulling the plug.”
Lifehack: How did your family handle the situation?
Jeff: My family didn’t want to hear that I might not pull through. My mom, dad, and sisters took shifts sitting by my bedside in the hospital. At first, they weren’t really allowed to say or do much because in order for my brain to heal, I had to be in a low-stimulus environment.
My little sisters were there when I had my first flash of consciousness. They have helped me with my rehabilitation. There’s no way I could have recovered without them.
Lifehack: What did you experience while in a coma?
Jeff: I didn’t understand the passage of time at all while I was unconscious. I do remember being in a white room. It was totally empty except for the chair I was sitting in. I don’t remember what I did there, but it was like I expected something to happen.
Lifehack: How did you feel after waking up?
Jeff: Terrified. When I woke up I had no idea what was happening to me, where I was, how long I had been out, or why my sisters were crying. The fear didn’t last long though because they kept me pretty doped up on medication for the first couple days of being awake.
After that, I remember feeling lots of confusion and frustration. I was not able to speak because there was a tube down my throat. I couldn’t move my limbs at first. When they finally sat me up for the first time, I was so nauseous that they had to lay me back down. I realized I was going to have to relearn how to do a lot of things.
Lifehack: Did you experience any memory loss or revelations?
Jeff: I don’t remember the three weeks before the accident at all. I didn’t even remember why I was in the car until someone else told me.
I also did some things while I was waking up. At one point, I started asking for my wallet because I wanted to give my mom some money. I have no idea why I felt like I needed to pay her, and I don’t recall the incident. We can laugh about it now.
As for revelations, I didn’t figure out the meaning of life or anything. There was just a white room.
Lifehack: What are you thankful for from this experience?
Jeff: I’m so grateful that I was given a second chance at life. If I hadn’t had such excellent medical care and the love of my family, I wouldn’t be here today. Every day you can be awake and a part of the world is a beautiful day.
Seeing the world through new eyes
Jeff’s experience changed the way he looks at life. Hearing him speak about his experience with coming out of a comatose state was a good reminder to appreciate everything we have.
Featured photo credit: Peter Heeling via skitterphoto.com