Stories of How Coma Emergence is Not Like Hollywood
The following are stories of real life survivors of brain injury. Clicking on the titles will take you to their actual story.
Emerging from her coma was nothing like one would see on television. For her it was slow and unpredictable process. Making the coma more difficult for her mother was that the information she needed wasn’t forthcoming from the doctors. Worse, an intern stepped in and told the family they should consider removing life support, even though that was not the treating physicians opinion. When the neurosurgeon learned of the interns actions, he quickly reversed this advice he got more actively involved, telling the family that at nine days it was way too early to give up hope of emergence.
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.
There are many misconceptions about amnesia, most of which Hollywood is to blame for. The temptation to give someone a clean slate, loss of identity, rediscover who they are is too strong for screenwriters to resist. Dozens of times over the years I have received emails from someone writing a script with some theory as to how amnesia would work into his or her plot. I doubt a year goes by that Hollywood doesn’t do some plot with amnesia in it.One of the misconceptions about amnesia is that it is like a curtain, nothing is remembered before a point, everything after. In reality, the return of memory is a gradual, not predictable process, with certain things being remembered, others not. One of the most important aspects of what is often remembered is those things that are the most emotional â€“ most important, will be given a higher priority, even in the injured mind. The interplay between the hippocampus (critical memory structure) and the amygdala (primitive emotional center in the brain) in memory formation likely explains why Jeremiah’s clearest memory was of what happened as he was leaving UW hospital.
The conception of emergence is that one moment you are out, the next you are talking, fully alert. While occasionally a coma ends like that, most of the time its ending is marked by the beginning of volitional movement, response.
And when they said the coma was over, what was different that day versus the day before?: “Nothing. It was very strange.
Awakening from a coma you don’t awake. It’s not like boom you’re awake. It takes a long period of time before you come out of a comatose state. The only thing I could say that was, you know, every day there was little progresses. What I say is that all of a sudden there’s light bulbs that start going off and then one day you might have a lot of them. The whole house may be lit up and then the next day maybe only a few. It’s just, it’s small improvements, but let me tell you, you take every grain and morsel you’ll take at that point.”