As long as there's a heartbeat, don’t loose hope.
Sandra cannot control her emotions when she explained the past three months in the hospital as a bystander to her father who is in coma. Her father and mother met with a road accident on the way back from a vacation trip. It was a fatal accident and father sustained head injury and mother had multiple fractures. Sandra and her sister, Fiona are lost and don’t know the way forward. No one has any clue for this conundrum. It was the doctors in the Rehab who suggested my name for the long term care consultation.
Riddled with uncertainty, a coma is one of the most frightening injuries, at least in part because it deprive you of the ability to communicate with your loved one in the coma. Loosing hope is nothing but natural in the long wait. But the good news is that people can and do survive comas. Over the last 15 years in long term care with a specialization in coma management, we felt a strong need to fortify and bolster the family and friends morale, thereby providing the best chances of a wake-up from deep sleep.
Most family members find the hospital experience a "roller coaster ride through hell” especially in a situation like this. Hospital ICU is where bad things happen--people get very sick, or die. Making this more frightening is that doctors and nurses often speak in strange languages. For example, people don't have a bruise, they have a "hematoma"--which is exactly the same thing as a bruise. Doctors and nurses are very busy and may be impatient with family members who are not sure of what questions to ask. Doctors tend to give quick, short news with lots of medical terms. No wonder dealing with the hospital can be a very frustrating experience. It doesn't have to be this way but the reality is that no one really cares.
Treating a coma patient is like running a long race. It is like this that you don't sprint a 26-mile marathon. One may start out intensely, but have to pace yourself for the long race. Remember, head-injured patients go through some phases. If you understand them, you will be better able to pace yourself. So, I think it's important for family members to get educated about coma rehabilitation. You need to read as much as you can about coma.
This is a very tough time for family members. Family burn-out is the norm. Do you start getting anxious when you get close to the hospital? Do you avoid going to the hospital or feel guilty about these feelings? Don't be ashamed if you feel this way--everybody does. It is important to talk to others about your feelings. This is when you meet a long-term care specialist. He/she can help you to understand what's going on, and to make plans for the next phase called long term care. The long-term care specialists can plan for the discharge and the next phase of rehabilitation.
Now lets talk about what to do when a comatose person gets discharged from the hospital. Often this is a very big event for family members. Definitely a great occasion but the concerns are very many. Remember, it's just the beginning of a very difficult phase. The physical injuries (basically the bruises and broken bones) can heal very quickly. But waking up from a coma can take years. When someone goes home, many family members think, it will just be just a couple more months. In truth, it's usually a lot longer. Family with its inherent limitations cannot provide such care. So we need to put him in a proper long-term care (rehab) facility.
I wanted to tell the world, as long as there's a heartbeat, don’t give up on hope. With this perspective, I strongly feel the comatose person expects a need for communication, support, care and company. It is important that we empower the friends and relatives of the comatose person with a slew of information in dealing with the care of the comatose person. Families who are going or have been through the experience of having a family member or friend in coma have many needs. Do not despair.