Coma Emergence: A Mom Fighting and Believing

A Mom Fighting and Believing While Waiting for Coma Emergence for Her Daughter

By Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.

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Chris was 15 years old when she was run over by a drunk driver in 1998.   Her mother learned her daughter was seriously hurt not via phone, but because one of her friends heard about the wreck on the police scanner.  Her friend had pieced it together that it was Chris and told her mom about it.  While there is no good way to be notified of such a crisis, finding out this way was particularly terrifying “because we didn’t know any details” of how bad it was. Her Mom went straight to the hospital where she was told only that they were working on her. The waiting of coma emergence begins.

Chris’s coma emergence did happen and while she can tell the story of what happened to her, it is from what she has pieced together from hearing others tell the story.  Her Mom’s recollections are first hand.  She describes spending that “whole night in the waiting room, just trying to figure what was happening. Everybody (in our family) was there waiting .  Her head was severely swollen.”

While Chris had other significant injuries, it was a closed-head injury that “they were worried about the most at the time. Everything else, the broken bones could be taken care of after they got her stabilized from the head injury.”

Coma Emergence Not Like Hollywood

Hollywood has always had a fascination with brain injury, particularly if they can use amnesia as a plot twist.  But for Chris, her coma emergence was nothing like it is pictured.

“It’s not one day they just wake up and their life continues. It’s a slow process. There are many stages to a coma and coma emergence. You don’t just wake up one day and things are great.”

Making the waiting and understanding what was happening considerably harder was the fact that “the information, the hope, the support we needed, she needed from the doctors, wasn’t forthcoming.”

The hardest part of waiting for someone’s coma emergence, is the doubt that they may ever awake.  For Chris’s family,  this was devastating because of the incompetence of an intern, who thought he knew far more than he did.  Nine days into her after injury, the intern took it upon himself to tell the family they should consider removing life support.

He told me that it was the best thing for her if I would take her off life supports – that she would never amount to anything, that she “would be in a nursing home for the rest of her life as a vegetable.”  He also said it would be best to let “her go peacefully than to spend the rest of her life in a nursing home.”

Fortunately, the family balked at this advice and demanded a meeting with the attending physician.  The attending told them that the intern had given such advice on his own initiative.  The intern had gone so far as to arrange a chance for Chris’s friends to say good bye to her.  Explains her Mom:

I just remember it was about midnight.  The neurosurgeon was on the phone. He was livid. The intern didn’t have permission to talk to us. (The neurosurgeon) did not believe that was going to be her outcome.

He said: “Her injury is only nine days old. She’s young, she has her age working with her. Time will tell. It’s too early to make any kind of decisions.”

Time did tell.  While the first sign of coma emergence was opening her eyes, this wasn’t cause for celebration, as she had no comprehension. She opened her eyes at three weeks, but she was still going through the process of coma emergence for three additional months.

Chris’s Mom:

“I never gave up hope. From the minute she opened her eyes, it was a constant working with her.  Talked to her, rubbed her legs, rubbed her feet, gave her different sensations to feel. We would give her things to smell, things to look at. We worked with her every weekend.”

One of the consistent challenges for a family after a coma is geography, as most severe brain injury survivors are air flighted to major trauma centers, which can be a significant distance from where the family lives. Making it even harder is that there are even fewer brain injury rehabilitation centers, involving even more travel.  Chris was at three different facilities before she was allowed to go home, but even that process was a transition.  Her first times home were just weekends, and even though there was true celebration on her first homecoming, it was not only hard for Chris, but just one more stage in the long road to recovery.

To read the Chris stories, go to

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