When we see comas represented in TV and movies, it's almost always pretty identical to sleeping, and a person just wakes up one day. In reality, though, a coma can consist of floating around through various levels of consciousness.
Okay, those are all great words, but functionally what does that even mean? What is it like to exist that way? For that, we turn to Reddit.
The responses left us sitting with a heavy train of thought. A lot of the people responded that one of the things their minds did was create false memories that, to them, feel just like any other. For a while, they couldn't tell the two apart.
Some peoples memories were disjointed but others, like the woman who remembers a family vacation that never happened, create clear storylines that they are emotionally invested in.
If we fell into a coma, lived a cherished memory, and then woke up ... would I want to know the thing I imagined wasn't real? Does the woman really need to know the family vacation never happened? What about the people who imagined awful things? How do you ever believe that this experience you really felt just didn't happen? How do you accept and move on from that?
Like we said, heavy.
I was in medically induced coma for about a week.
The coma itself is not much to talk about - there is just a gap in your memory, even from before it happened (I don't even remember the accident that brought me there in the first place).
Waking up from it is much different story though. Since I was fully dosed by painkillers and sedatives and whatnot I was basically high as kite and since the trauma I suffered was very serious my brain constructed very stressful, vivid nightmares I remember to this day.
Waking up was like the shallow sleep when you're semi-aware of your surroundings but you're also half dreaming. The former made me realize I'm in the hospital and that something bad happened (could not figure out what though), the latter combined with the said meds made the experience utterly terrifying.
But yes, at some moment I realized that I need to wake up, but I didn't know how. Also, there were several timelines concurrently going on in my head (as crazy as it may sound) and I could not determine which one is the correct one to wake into...
Turns out none of them was the correct one, although the fragments of reality were present in each of them, and I didn't have a conscious or any other control over choosing between them. It's not like I chose my reality, it's more like those delusional ones receded eventually.
My wife was in a coma for about a month. At first I didn't bring the kids up because of how she looked but in the third week her color was closer to normal and there was less 'stuff' going on as she was pretty stable compared to the first two weeks.
Anywho....I had told the kids that while Mom wasn't responsive there was a chance could she hear us so they should be as brave as they can and sound as happy as they can. I described to them everything I thought that might spook them from the tubes and wires to things beeping randomly and Dr's & nurses coming and going.
They were awesome. Even in the initial shock at seeing her with a ventilator they were vocally loving, hugged and patted, held her hand etc. We sat in the room a while and just talked.
At one point I asked the kids what their favorite vacation was. Instead of our Disney and Universal Studios trips they both agreed it was the road trip we took from Vegas down to Arizona...driving all over and seeing all the incredible sights...we talked about rides & amusements in Vegas, then Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, cave dwellings, petrified forest, silly road stops, a cheap motel we stayed in Flagstaff...we laughed and cried (just a little). It was as nice as it could be. They kissed her goodbye saying "see you soon".
My wife heard it all...but in a hallucinatory way.
She now has, to this day (near 10 years later), a vivid memory of a second Arizona vacation she went on with us. She even asked me early on after she woke up if we had gone on a vacation recently. Her mind went through every detail we talked about and even added on to it as if it all actually happened and the memories of it are as real as any.
10 Days of Grief
10 days I don't remember anything about. Not sure if it is a blessing or a curse. Hit by a drunk driver. My wife and I lived, our daughter didn't.
To me that stuff on tv where the pt wakes up and everything goes back to normal is bullsh!t. When I woke up I was in a conversation with another pt. Air Force had sick bays, not individual rooms. I can only compare it to a computer, I had been hung in an update and then, flicker, new screen.
I had "woken up" several days earlier, but nothing stayed with me. My wife says I was paranoid that they were "putting acid in my I.V." because I was tripping. I was hostile and aggressive. I read the medical records, they kept me restrained for a couple of days after I hit an nurse. I started acting normal so they moved me from ICU to the sick bay.
The blessing is forgetting 10 days of some pretty intense pain. I was broken in a lot of places and bruised in all the rest. Never knew you could bruise some of them. That freaked me out.
The curse was I wasn't there when my wife needed me most. There is that tinge of guilt that she faced that grief alone for 10 days. I know, couldn't be helped. I know it's not my fault, but live through it and tell me how it feels.
No Football AllowedGiphy
Not me, but my dad has described his coma after his car accident. He was pulled up a little too far at a stop sign, and a guy who was speeding and on his phone swerved off the road.
So he was in a coma for about two months. On my end, it wasn't like the movies. He didn't just wake up miraculously. It was two months of steady improvements. One eye opened, then a few days later his other eye was half open, then he could wiggle a toe, then he could move his fingers, etc.
On his end, he said he could hear bits and pieces of what was happening around him, but it was like a dream that he couldn't wake up from. When me and my two younger siblings would come in and talk to him, his heart rate would go down. When a football game was on and his friends came to sit with him and watch it, the nurses made them turn it off once his team started losing because his heart rate blew up. He's a fan of the Miami Dolphins, so I guess his HR never fully returned to normal.
Worst Nap Ever
I had a motorcycle wreck a few years ago. Someone texting blew a stop sign and ended up t-boning them. Not sure if coma is the correct term, but I was definitely unconscious for two days, honestly just felt like the worst, least refreshing nap in the history of naps. Had the wreck on a Sunday, woke up sometime Tuesday afternoon/evening and asked if the bike was ok.
Was hit by a car when I was 5 years old. Ended up with toxic shock syndrome and went into a coma for 4 months. I just remember some very weird 'dreams,' which i can still recall vividly 26 years later. Someone mentioned something about visiting another realm, and that's pretty close to the mark.
My favorite dream from the coma involved me floating over a huge grey colored ocean, and i saw something rise up from the water that i can only describe as a dragon with scoliosis. It moved its head like it was smelling the air and then turned and looked right at me.
In another one my favorite cousin had abandoned me and now lived in the ceiling above my hospital bed with my two best friends, Jason and Jason, who were also twins. They just moved a tile out of the way and would just stare at me from above.
The OG Power Rangers came to see me in one of these dreams too. Except Tommy. They just stood around my bed wearing their colors, and Jason picked up my little stuffed red power ranger pillow. Then he pointed towards the door and just outside on the cliff was Numb and Skull sitting at a bar and waving. I thought that was real until i was about 12.
Back To Sleep
I can only compare it to when you're little and wake up at a friends house and don't know where you are. I was in a coma for 2 months after a bad car accident. It wasn't medically induced, it was thanks to brain damage. When I woke up I was alone in the hospital room and had no clue what happened or why I was there. I had a neck brace on due to a broken neck so I figured something was wrong with my neck but was unsure how or what happened.
For some reason I thought I was 60 years old (I was in my 20s). I was paranoid and scared, but didn't know why I was there. I used context clues to figure out I was in the hospital. It was frightening. After about 5 minutes I decided to go back to sleep. 2 months of sleep wasn't quite long enough.
When I was in 5th grade I fell out of a tree and bonked my head pretty well. I woke up 3? days later in the hospital. For me, the experience is easily summarized in three parts:
- When I fell, I blacked out before I hit the ground... or at least that is where memory fades. And "fades" is really the best word. It was as if my consciousness was drained away and then blackness and nothingness. It was as if my body knew how badly it was going to hurt and so it shut down.
- I have very, very, very, vague memories while in the coma of hearing my Dad reading a book, or my Mom telling me that she knew I would pull through, or of a tube in my nose. But these were always super fuzzy moments and I never was conscious during them, it was more like a half second of being aware of one particular thing--the way the tube felt being taped against my arm and wishing I could reach out and move it--and then back into the nothingness. I think that I was somewhat aware of the fact that I was a little more aware each time that this happened but honestly I am not certain of even that much.
- Waking up was sudden. So, so sudden. I was in blackness. Had a moment of awareness, like "my neck hurts" and then the pain was magnitudes higher. No longer a distant perception but something that I was actively conscious of. Waking up was the most painful moment of my life and I just started crying and then couldn't even cry it hurt so bad. I think that had more to do with injuries sustained to my neck and head than the coma, but that is what it was like. After an hour my body was used to the pain and I was totally normal, albeit very weak, hungry, and thirsty.
I survived and am fine now without any lasting issues.
So Many Casualties
Survived (sort of) a major auto collision after a drunk Marine driving home from the Del Mar race track drifted onto our side of the highway.
Sadly, my older brother and fiance did not. I suffered a TBI and my family was advised I wouldn't live thru the weekend. All they could do was perform a burr hole procedure to drain blood from my brain and relieve pressure -- then wait. Dr.'s pumped me with barbiturates and fent to keep me under for 5 days. Woke up 16 days later.
Took about 8 hours to realize what was happening. Don't know about others, but my coma was not a deep sleep as some might imagine. It's like you're swimming underwater, but near the surface. I was in a nightmare within an adventure.
When I woke up, I didn't ask to see anyone or wonder what had happened to me. Apparently, the first word I said to anyone was "water." I have never experienced such thirst in my life.
Shortly after I regained my senses, a doctor casually notified me that both my brother and girl had perished; furthermore, the neurological damage was irreversible and I would now walk with a limp for the rest of my life. What made it worse was my girl didn't die right away. She stayed alive for 4 days hoping I would wake up so she could say goodbye. She passed away thinking I would soon die as well.
Unlike portrayed in TV & film, accident/coma survivors don't simply go home and resume their lives. For me, the accident and the coma's after-effects set in motion a cascade of personal loss which took 10 years to somewhat recover from.
I later revealed to friends & family that we were on that road because we were headed to pick up concert tickets I found on Craigslist. Her parents blamed me for her death.
Although my dad never directly accused me, he resented me and he distanced himself from me for the next few years until he passed. My older brother was his pride and joy. He stopped treating his hypertension and essentially gave up on life. I consider him a casualty of the accident as well.
I was crushed.
Polite And Compliant
Coma for three days from medication cocktail suicide attempt. I remember getting REALLY tired. Like my entire body suddenly dropped even lower into the gurney in the ambulance. Then my head started falling sideways and halfway down I lost consciousness. I woke up three days later with zero memories. I don't know if they had me drugged because of the reasons I went in, but I had no emotions at all for like three days after. Just nothing. I was incredibly polite and compliant.
I say it was like a blink.
I was in a coma for two months after a car accident, and suddenly I became aware that everything is different. But two months had passed and I didn't remember any of it. Of course, I was 40 pounds lighter and couldn't walk and couldn't talk and half my head was shaved, so clearly time has passed, but I didn't feel any of it.
It was like I blinked and everything changed.
I was in a coma for 2.5 weeks in my early 20s. I had meningococcemia (the kind of meningitis people get vaccinated for now) and my body just shut down. I was on a ventilator and IV nutrition as well.
I had these wild hallucinations/dreams while I was out of it like that there were ninjas in my room and people trying to come take me out of the room. There's a period of time I don't have any recollection of at all, though, where everyone had to tell me what happened after I woke up. I remember parts of being weaned off the ventilator and the only thing I can compare that to is being way under water and not being able to breathe but seeing the surface of the water and knowing if you can reach it you will get in a good breath of air.
It took them 3 or 4 days to wake me up enough to get off the ventilator. For the most part my family said they sat there and talked to me throughout the entire time. There was one period where they turned down the sedation and I thrashed around and restarted ripping my IV's out and tried to grab the ventilator tube but I was so weak a nurse was able to stop me. I would not recommend.
When I woke up, my body had used most of my muscle mass in fighting off the infection so I could hardly move (I couldn't even put chapstick on myself). My lips were all chewed up from me trying to get the ventilator tubing out of my mouth, all the tape they had to use on me peeled my skin off and I had ventilator assisted pneumonia. I also lost both of my legs below the knee and 2 fingertips.
In retrospect, the coma was probably the best part of it all. Its waking up from the coma that is the hardest part and all the things you have to deal with afterwards.
Just over a year ago I was in a car accident, a pretty bad one, and ended up walking away with only a few scratches.
Fast forward 5 days and I was going in and out of conciousness in my apartment, feeling very sick and delirious. Got to the ER down the street via my dad picking me up late at night, don't remember the entire thing but all of a sudden I was on oxygen and people were checking on me constantly, and I realized I was slowly losing the ability to move, or at least it felt like it.
I remember fading in and out, and truly fading seems to be the best word, because as I remember it, it was like fuzzy memories of the following week.
I had a severe case of sepsis (not sure if that's how to phrase it exactly), and abscesses had formed around a few of my organs including my kidneys and liver. Also a horrible case of aspiration pneumonia to top it off so I couldn't breathe on my own either.
All I remember from the week was random moments of pure discomfort, and then immediately fading to black, I only seemed to wake-up/be aware when the pain would start/I had run out of whatever heavy-duty pain medication they gave me.
When I finally woke up, or was woken up, I was in agony and after a few hours I felt jolted into being extremely aware of everything around me and was confused for awhile. I remained in hospital a further 4 weeks, had to learn to walk again since the muscles in my legs forgot what to do (that has a name, I can't recall rn).
Still dealing with health issues over a year later. I often dream about that week of being kept under, like random moments of nurses fixing my oxygen, my parents sitting looking at me, and doctors murmuring to my parents, or my least favorite, just dreaming about knowing I'm not conscious but still feeling the pain, like I'm back there all over again.
When my mum was late teens she had multi organ failure and went into a coma for three weeks. I just text to ask if she had any of these crazy dreams that others have written about but she replied 'I had the best dreams ever'.
When she woke up she was in hospital surrounded by nuns who's first words were,'Jesus wants you for a sunbeam'. When she looked through the glass she could see her dad (who had been in another country when she went into the coma) so she thought she had died!!!
Her heart actually stopped beating at some point and she said that all she felt was pure peace so she is not afraid of dying now. So I thought I'd share as this gave me quite a bit of comfort 😂
Want to "know" more? Never miss another big, odd, funny, or heartbreaking moment again. Sign up for the Knowable newsletter here.