Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Magic recoveries.....

I wrote about her about two months ago.

And today I read about some ongoing research being done by Theresa Pape, a research assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, regarding head injuries, that throw you into a traumatic coma like situation.

Turns out that Ryan, a 21 year old college student, was flung from his snowmobile during an ice storm and suffered traumatic brain injury. All his cranial fibres were twisted, he was in a coma, and gave no response, as he lay, comatose, but with eyes open, unaware of anything. A month passed and someone advised that he be shifted to a nursing home. Then they heard of research trials for investigating whether repeated stimulation with familiar voices can help repair a coma victim's injured brain networks and spur his recovery.

His mother Karen Schroeder enrolled him in this research trial, and recordings of the voices of Ryan's family members would be played back to Ryan through headphones , four times a day. His mother would talk to him about his favourite project as a 10 year old, where he had to raise pigs, and how he bid on 3 piglets at an auction and brought them home in a fancy car because they had no truck. Three weeks into the trial, and Ryan slowly started acknowledging sunlight outside the window, and turning towards it. Then he started following commands to push a ball out of his hands. Today, he brushes his teeth, texts hi friends, and walks with a walker or four pronged cane.

I didn't know about this research but I have a similar story about someone I mentioned earlier. An 85 year old brilliant and brave lady, lying comatose, but with a determined look on her face.

She is a renowned doctor herself, and at any given leading hospital in Pune, there are many of her students practicing as successful specialists. While she lay comatose, but breathing on her own (a big plus), there was a steady stream of her old "students" dropping by from their busy practice clinics and OPD's to see her. The ICCU personnel of the hospital never ceased to be amazed at the luminaries trooping by. Some of her old anaesthetists, who partnered her in surgeries came by. Her family who maintained a vigil in the antechamber were totally amazed at young and old doctors, talking to her, as if she was listening, about their new cases, discussing certain points, asking her opinion. Then they would break into their usual light banter , akin to that which happens between doctors in an OT as a successful surgery nears completion. Some would hold her hand, some would just talk.

This doctor would depart, and sometime later, a junior colleague, another anesthetist would drop by, en route to an assignment. She would sit at the bedside, hold her hand, press her ankles, and talk to her about all kinds of interesting things they had both experienced, and enjoyed in their careers. Sometimes, new cases she was attending. The in between blanks in time were filled in by the lady's grandnephew, who came straight from his board exams, to give her a complete rundown on how every thing went. He also cribbed as usual about his sisters. When someone mentioned that she couldn't see, he even ventured to push up her eyelids and stand close to her and talk.

4 days into this routine, and one afternoon, the lady anesthetist suddenly heard her lady boss answer back, something in response to all her talk ! Messages went out pronto, and the family and the old lady's students came rushing by. She was now awake, but her left side was completely paralyzed. But her memory systems were so good still, that Intel and Seagate would have probably gone into a desperate downturn, faced with them.

Her eyes had some problem staying open, but she had a complete concept and sense of time, and wanted to go home. She reminded her nephew about returning some of her library books which would incur a fine unless returned by some date she remembered and mentioned. She remembered totally clearly all the events till she had the stroke while watching TV at night. She even remembered what their family doctor advised, and how she did not want to be admitted to a hospital, and no one listened. All this within one hour of emerging from her coma...

Two days later, she was moved out of the ICCU, and two more days later, she came home. Basically confined to bed, with a bunch of maintenance tubes attached to the upper and lower orifices.

A month at home, and she was already cribbing about some exercises the neuro physiotherapist made her do daily. One fine day she simply removed the tube through which she was being fed. The catheter followed. Her super dedicated nieces-in-law now help her sit up, and hand her a meal bowl with a spoon, and she can eat on her own. They make the choicest things which she likes, to tweak her appetite, as there is hardly an exercise that she can do now : she, who enjoyed going on treks, went on daily walks even at the height of a cold winter day, and insisted on laboriously climbing up and down stairs despite her arthritic knees, to see me off, on my last trip to visit her.

I just spoke to her on the phone from Pune. She has been getting calls from all over the world. She won't talk too much about what her condition is. But she will discuss her worries now that her favourite grand nephew's board exam results are due, and her hopes that he get into what she considers Pune's best college, which also happens to be her, my parents' and my Alma mater. She reads the paper daily. Expresses her disgust over the politicians. She told me she was avoiding mangoes this year after reading about the forced ripening using calcium carbide which is so harmful for us. She takes a huge interest in my children and I discuss them with her as I would with my late mother earlier on. D. from an earlier blog post, who has known her as long as I have, had come by to see her with fresh champa flowers, she tells me, and the gesture was greatly appreciated by her.

Her doctors are not surprised by her recovery. They think , absolutely anything is possible where their Ma'am is concerned.

Of course, it is clear that she did not heal and emerge from the traumatic brain state without the very judicious use of medicines, and conservative treatment. Razzle dazzle state of the art treatments sometimes cannot be used in view of age. The family understood that and had complete faith in the doctors treating her. And the other doctors, who came to talk to her as she lay comatose , actually behaved like family.

There is a sense of hope and a belief that you cannot give up trying.

I think the research that I just read about at the Northwestern University School of medicine, actually seeks to quantify and formalize that.

I remember reading about some research regarding the sense and feel of maternal touch and its effects on human growth hormone in babies and children. Children deprived of such a touch, despite all nutritional benefits, failed to grow well, as a result of stress , of, maybe , isolation.

I am sure , at 85, the human growth hormone isn't going to appear anywhere in this case. But I like to think, that a sense of family touch and belonging, manifested by uplifting verbal communication by those considered close, brings a renewed sense of growth and hope, to those, afflicted by such brain trauma. They listen. They absorb. And at some point, with a sense of fullness and gratitude, they respond, emerging into the real world.

Normally one reads about some discovery and then tries to use it.

Here was something I saw first hand, and lo behold, I read about it being researched today !

Its nice ending on a cheerful note......


  1. This is an interesting one. I too have heard about this that if you talk to a person in coma, then they can actually respond. Really admire the strong will of this lady.

  2. :) Nice to know Su. Really felt good after reading about your aunt(I assume). There is hope...

  3. Some things are intangible but so real and so healing. Nice to read this.

  4. Such accounts always inspire that isnt over until its over. The doc told my dad that he must fight the war ! Looks like he has just about looked at it !

    This was super inspirational. Thankks for sharing

  5. Super motivating and inspiring. Always enjoy your writing :-)

  6. As I read this, a very dear relative - 82 insisted on being made to sit on a chair yesterday. His children from all the world had arrived last week, and they spoke to him while he lay almost unconscious in the ICU.

    They explained what was being done to him and how they were sure he would be fine, they also chatted about random other things - last week I would have never believed he was going to be sitting on a chair again.

    I feel it did help him to hear them all speak to him...

  7. So glad for her, for you and all those who cared for her. Almost like the Munnabhai movie patient. Nice to have read heartwarming real life incidents like these.

  8. What a beautiful and inspiring story. I have heard of people re-emerging from a coma after 21 years. I think this proves you should never give up.

    The lady must have a strong will and all the people who helped her are to be congratulated for never ceasing with their care.

  9. Hence proved that FAMILY MATTERS!!

  10. Lovely post ... and I love happy endings. Actually since we are social animals, social contact and warmth is so needed to recover from anything that life springs on us

  11. Many years ago dear friends of mine were killed in a car accident. Only their 4-year-old son survived. He had multiple injuries and was comatose in a hospital some 80 miles distant from his former family home. His aunt was a nurse, she visited him in the hospital and learned that there was little hope of his regaining consciousness, and even if he did his brain injuries would permanently disable him.

    Undeterred she went to her nephew's community and posted notices asking everyone who knew this kid to sign up on a hospital visiting roster, to spend time with her nephew talking to him round the clock. I signed up as did many others.

    That kid recovered. He's a normal adult now in spite of his horrific experience.

  12. Lovely post! full of hope and inspiration!!

  13. My late mother-in-law was in a coma for some days, while I was also in hospital for a major surgery. My sisters-in-law made every effort to talk to her and stroke her arms and face, despite her being completely unconscious at the time. She did emerge from this coma and survived for a few months.

  14. Fantastic. For ppl with a strong will to live, nothing can stop them. Kudos to the great lady, shows her sheer mental strength to live. :)

  15. Shilpa, G, Starry, Kavi, AD, IHM,radha, Darlene, Amrita, Ritu, Annie, Softypinkngloriousred, Dipali, UmaS

    Thank you for the wonderful comments. I think a firm optimistic belief, faith, and the family and friends unswerving and dedicated care is as important as the life saving medications. She is much better today, thanks to all your good wishes. ..