In the movies, the injured person simply wakes up, coherent, despite amnesia that might cover an entire lifetime. In the real world, a coma ends slowly, in stages, with the survivor opening eyes, with little or no cognitive function, followed by a gradual return of awareness.
Fred’s Mom describes his waking up:
He would respond more to physical stimulation when he was, you know, he was still in a coma. He started getting more physically agitated which is a typical symptom. He didn’t necessarily wake up per se but he would I think become – he was becoming more aware of movement, if they moved him, if there was some really weird noises, and things like that. It was a little subtle things at times.
He was in the ICU unconscious for two weeks. Then he was in several other wards for the next I want to say 3½ weeks.
What was he like when he woke up?
Crazy. He didn’t recognize anybody. He didn’t know who we were. He didn’t know who any of us were, no. He couldn’t, he couldn’t identify – he didn’t recognize anybody after he woke up for another week and a half to two weeks. He would recognize some people sometimes and other people at other times and you could walk in one day he might know who you were, you’d walk in another day he didn’t have a clue. He wouldn’t – he didn’t talk a lot, you know, but then when he would he would go off on a tangent of something out of a dream world and you couldn’t veer him away from that. That was an all obsessive conversation and he was very upset.
He would get very agitated. If you were – the sounds, sounds bothered him. He, he just had just so many problems at that time.
He was not really aware of where he was until he was in the nursing home at Norwood.
About 2½ weeks after he woke up then he started recognizing us when, you know, we’d come in. The first week after he was awake there, there was really not a lot. During the second week if we told him oh, okay, yeah, then he would start piecing it together but it was, you know, it was down the road.
When you listen to his Mom’s words, it is important to contrast these descriptions with the Fred now you can see in the video: a boyishness to him, a smile that could warm any mother’s heart, so healthy looking with only the trache scar to give him away. That image stands as a stark contrast of hope compared to what they all went through. Fred’s Mom:
It was, it was hard because it, you know, it made you wonder what are, what are we getting, what, what are we getting back and what are we getting into, you know, it was, it was, it wasn’t that we weren’t glad he was alive but we worried that he would never be aware of anything. I mean, we were just really – we weren’t sure. They told us that they didn’t know for sure if he would ever really be anything, much beyond a vegetable at that time, you know?
Even after he woke up?
Well, when he got to that point they would – they still were not sure how far he’d go, you know, if he’s – they, they were never sure of, of exactly how far he would progress back to normality.
Fred has had a remarkable recovery, a recovery to give anyone sitting in a waiting room hope. In evaluating the severity of his injury, it is important to note that his retrograde amnesia (loss of memory for events before the accident) is likely a full month. It is at least two months after his accident before his memory returns. Brain surgery was not necessary but they did put an ICP pressure monitor in his skull.
In addition to his brain injury, Fred also had a severely broken leg. He elaborates:
They gave me the trache. I was on IVs. I don’t know what IVs, but I have the scars for that. And then I also have a, a peg scar from that peg tube where they were feeding me.
When his memory returned, the leg had “already healed.”
I remember being in a wheelchair. I didn’t have to relearn to walk. I had to, they were big about me not walking, so when I had the chance to walk and then I, I had a walker to use, so it made walking a lot easier. They didn’t want me to put pressure on my leg because the doctors said that it was such a, he’s never seen a break that bad before, so he wanted to make sure it healed.
Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
firstname.lastname@example.org :: 800-992-9447 :: Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.