When Patrick was in a coma, doctors assured me that he could not hear me. Likewise, most of the nurses insisted that I go home, take breaks etc., because he “didn’t know that I was there.” The staff was only trying to deny me false hope, but it was a terribly troubling thing to hear, while in a state of shock, denial and grief. Luckily, nothing they said stopped me from talking to him anyway. As the days passed, I sat beside him 8-10 hours a day. I told him trivial things about my day; traffic, the weather, the broken lock on my hotel door, and annoying pop songs on the radio. When it poured a Florida rainstorm outside his window, I described it to him in poetic detail (he always loved the rain). I regularly sang to him Radiohead’s, “The Pyramid Song,” which was an avant-garde piece of music, that always felt like the musical waveform to our relationship. And every so often, I broke into unstoppable bouts of sobbing, where I would beg him to wake up, to stay with me, to come back to me, and to live.
One evening, around 10 p.m, I was sitting in a chair by his bedside in the TICU. I had just finished watching Patrick’s body lurch and heave from an evening suctioning procedure. His eyes were rolling back in his head, open but unaware, and they were glazed and wide like a fish. His body was slowly growing still. I was sobbing on his chest when I heard a voice.
“You have to be strong,” she said. “He can hear you.”
I turned around and was greeted by a dark-haired, hispanic nurse named Fe. “They told me he can’t hear me. They told me he’s probably not even in there. What does it matter if I cry?” I asked.
She smiled, walking over to Patrick to check his IV, lifting his head back up onto a pillow, which it had fallen from during the lurching. (I’ll never forget how gentle she was with him.)
“I’ve been a nurse for 15 years. And I’ve seen many miracles. Whether you believe in God or not, I will tell you this: the patients who have family here with them while in a coma, statistically do better. And those who live to tell the tale often say that they could hear voices, feel touch, or sense a presence they recognized in the room. All I’m saying is that you need to make this room a place of calm and healing for him. Save the sobbing for the hotel. He needs you.”
She briefly touched my shoulder, and then walked back out of the TICU. I sat there, sort of dumbfounded. The truth was that I already believed he could hear me, but in my darkest hour, I needed a professional to reinforce it. I needed someone to tell me that I wasn’t crazy, and to give me my faith back. From that moment on, I kept a strong face for Patrick.
It’s been nearly 21 months since those early, horrific days in the hospital. For a long time, I never knew if Patrick had heard me while in his coma. It is hard to ascertain these things, when your loved ones is slowly but surely coming out of a cognitive fog that can confuse time, space, memories and so on.
However in, March of this year, during the making of our “30 Day Web Series” for Brain Injury Awareness Month… Patrick revealed some level of awareness while in the coma: he sensing me sitting at his bedside and singing to him. You can watch that video below.
That was a pretty amazing moment, to say the least. The fact that he could hear me singing to him was so reassuring and wonderful. It gave great weight to my early days there with him in the hospital.
Now as you guys know, Patrick is recovering from his recent 2nd Cranioplasty. He finally has a synthetic skull cap protecting his brain. I’ll save the in-depth discussion for a different post, but there is a phenomenon I’ve read about, regarding an improvement in cognitive function after the skull cap is restored. Many of my friends who are caregivers have also spoken about this happening to their survivors! While it has only been two weeks since Patrick’s surgery, I have been noticing nuanced changes in his awareness, sharpness, personality and just overall “patrick-ness.”
Last night, Patrick and I were texting from our separate beds; he in his rehab facility and me at home with our kitten. It was a pretty standard talk.. until he hit me with this:
Patrick was speaking about his time in the coma, as if it were general knowledge. In reality, the information had just come to him; as if a lightbulb had gone on. He remembered the voice of his 10 year friend, Nate, who was never in the hospital. However, he had spoken to Patrick while he was in the coma through the phone, which I placed at his ear.
I was floored reading his messages. It was one thing to remember me singing to him, but this was far more intimate. This was profound. And the way he described the place his consciousness rested in while comatose, illustrated his beautiful mind, still very much intact.
As if the miracle that Patrick was remembering all of this wasn’t powerful enough, there was something so at ease with the way he was writing to me. His thoughts, often disorganized post TBI, were so clear, concise and arranged. His language was so more “him” than it had been throughout his recovery. For a moment, it felt like we were talking outside of his brain injury. For a moment, it didn’t even feel like a factor in our communication at all.
By the time we were done texting and saying goodnight, I had tears rolling down my face. To think that I had sat by his bedside sobbing, feeling myself give in to what the doctors had told me. And now here we were, almost 2 years later, and Patrick was basically telling me that my being there with him, had helped him move towards the light, instead of the “nothingness” that he remembered feeling was so near.
I wanted to share this with all of you, so that if you or someone you know is sitting in a hospital right now, wondering if a loved one can hear you in a coma, you can tell them to take heart and have faith, because they very likely can and do. There is no medical proof of it, but so many have spoken to this truth from their own experience! I am glad that I chose to listen to my own heart. I am glad I encouraged Patrick to “stay with me.” I am glad to have the reassurance that my being there made a difference.
Oh and one more thing. Remember that nurse, the one who was so gentle with Patrick, the one who told me to be strong? Her name was Fe. And guess what Fe is translated to mean in Spanish?
Fe means Faith.