As I mentioned earlier, I don’t remember the hospital. Some people have asked me if I had dreams while I was in my coma. If I did, I don’t remember them. Some people have asked me what it felt like to wake up from my coma. I don’t know any more about that than you.
My first few days in the hospital were stressful for everyone except me. I was blissfully unconscious and did not know that there were doctors and nurses around me every day, injecting me with this or that medicine, putting tubes in just about every orifice in my body, adding another IV line. I got some pretty hard-core drugs – painkillers, anesthetics, the kind of prescription drugs you can only get if you’re really sick.
At this time, my only sister was living in Southeast Asia and working with a nonprofit organization. My mother convinced her not to drop everything and board the next flight home, but she was only able to get information through periodic emails from my parents. I cannot imagine how helpless she felt.
My condition improved and worsened like a yo-yo. It changed on a daily and sometimes even hourly basis. After a few days, I was diagnosed with a bad case of pneumonia – a little-known side effect of the ventilator. Antibiotics were added to my IV.
My mother sat with me during the day, and my father sat with me at night. Between their “shifts”, they would send email updates to my sister and to my extended family, none of whom lived in the same city as us. (Remember, this was before Facebook!)
The doctors tried, numerous times, to wean me off the ventilator, but without success. After eleven days, they told my parents that they would try one last time to wean me off the ventilator, but if they were unsuccessful, they would need to perform a tracheotomy – that is, they would have to cut a hole in my neck to provide long-term access to my airway.
The stars aligned, so to speak. Withdrawing the ventilator provided just the right amount of stimulation to wake me from my coma. It was NOT a “Hollywood” scene. According to my mother, I opened my eyes, looked around the room, and appeared to be very confused. I’m pretty severely nearsighted, and I imagine that would have added to my confusion.
Truman Medical Center was, and still is, arguably the best hospital in Kansas City for traumatic injuries. However, this hospital was not one of our insurance’s “approved” hospitals. After I’d been in the ICU for a couple of days, the insurance company wanted to move me to another hospital. The doctors were not in favor of moving me, but there wasn’t much they could do about it. However, this was in the middle of November, and Thanksgiving was coming soon. Because of the upcoming holiday, none of the other hospitals would take a new patient, and I stayed at TMC.
My parents celebrated Thanksgiving with take-out meals from Country Kitchen in my hospital room.
I remained in the ICU for a few more days, then was transferred to the general surgical floor. I was becoming more and more responsive, but still wasn’t totally “with it”. Likely because I didn’t remember the accident, I didn’t understand that I was in the hospital. From day to day and even hour to hour, I would believe that I was somewhere else in the world, and no one could convince me otherwise. At various times, I believed I was in Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia, among other places. I even believed, for a time, that I was in Paris. Because of my confusion, I could not be left alone, and one of my parents had to stay with me at all times to make sure I didn’t pull out my IV or the feeding tube in my nose.