My mind is blown by this: Locked In Syndrome
This morning, I listened to a story on the news about a man in Belgium, who had been in a motor vehicle accident 23 years ago.
He was diagnosed as being in a coma, and was thought to have been in a vegetative state, with no awareness of his surroundings.
A recent scan of his brain showed this to not be the case. The man’s brain activity showed him to be conscious – and after establishing communication with him through now available communication technology, he reports being aware for the whole time.
For 23 years, he was screaming inside, and because of near full paralysis, was unable to communicate.
I can’t even imagine that nightmare. In my mind, it’s only a 1/2 step better than being buried alive – at least in that instance you’d eventually die, and be put out of your misery.
But to be sentient, and unable to communicate – I can’t even fathom it.
I used to work at nursing home that had a coma unit. When most people think of coma, they think of a person lying motionless and looking lifeless in a bed.
But that isn’t so. There are different levels of coma – different degrees of unconsciousness. The coma unit wasn’t a quiet place. There were many people who were agitated, frightened and moaning. I was never sure which was more disturbing – the complete silence or the sounds of living in a coma.
The coma unit is one that normally contains a lot of tragedy. Babies who have drowned and lived, only to be vegetables, people who have gotten drunk and fallen out of trees onto their heads, and I recall one particularly sad story about a young woman who had been at a shoppping mall with her grandmother. As she walked around the back of her car, her purse got caught on the back bumper, causing her to fall and strike her head, and landing her in a coma. She was in her 20’s when the accident occurred, and her family spent a lifetime watching her live in a twilight – trapped between life and death. Alive, but not living. Alive, but not quite dying either – at least not nearly soon enough to suit anyone’s comfort.
To think of any of those folks living in those conditions, surrounded by medical equipment, and sometimes less than caring aids and nurses, with no one treating them as if they know what is happening, seeing how rarely their family members visit or how sad they are when they do, trapped inside their minds just hits me in a really deep place. I can barely imagine the living hell that must be.
I used to feel that in so many of these cases, medicine had gone too far and simultaneously not far enough. Their bodies were alive, but they would never have a life. Their families struggled between praying for a miraculous recovery and praying for the death that would free them from the twilight.
And yet, medcial technology has freed at least one person from that awful existence. Given them some chance to live – to make those necessary human connections through communication.
Working there definitely impacted my own definition of life – what it means to be alive. And for me, breathing does not a life make. I have told my family that in the event of this kind of brain injury I want to be let go. I would not want to live in the twilight.