Semi-Coma: Evolution of My Intermittent Consciousness

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After those rotations, often a student would drop out of school since it was hard for most to handle such things on a daily basis. Unlike most work places, mine was full of saintly lessons if your heart was wide open. In hospitals, humans are most vulnerable. They willingly or unwillingly must let their guards down, and they have to trust and depend on total strangers. It is very humbling, to say the least. Usually in such a place, ego has to go into its dormant state and, in my opinion, where it should remain for eternity.

In a hospital, human drama in every stage is out in the open for all to witness. Often, after we or someone we know gets critically ill or is dying, we crumble. As students, we crumbled along with the patients and their families to almost the same small pieces under the heavy burden. Witnessing and being a part of human suffering on a daily basis has its difficulties, especially when you are very young.

In such an environment, you don't get to take your time to grow up. You sort of grow up over night. Not all things that make you grow up in a hospital are considered suffering. In the beginning, there are mostly times of hardship where you get to learn your lesson often under very rough circumstances. Though your fate is being tested on an hourly basis, if you allow it, this is a place you can become saintly after many tears, heartaches and lessons. Even if your heart is too small, you are sort of forced by nature to become more compassionate in your caring for others.

At the end of our required four-year education, which at the time felt like a long, dreaded winter, we completed our metamorphosis beyond any shadow of a doubt, but without the few students who had to drop out. We emerged as beautiful butterflies. I know and acknowledge the need and the importance of a nurse in human existence. Like anyone else who has had hands-on job training around the critically ill, no one can ever claim they didn't cry at one time or another.

I remember questioning the existence of God through tears after witnessing the death of a young child with leukemia in the Pediatric Oncology unit.

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I remember feeling overwhelming sorrow, while watching a person shrivel right before my eyes, after hearing the news of losing a loved one in the emergency room. I remember being crazy afraid to forget to give someone their pain pill and cause them further suffering. There were a few occasions when the fear I felt was not for someone else, but was for me.

Like the time when my teacher locked the door behind me, right after I had entered the male lock-down psychiatric unit. For years, I couldn't shake off the feeling of being dragged through the long hallways. In reality, what had happened as soon as she locked the door behind me, a chain-smoking, smelly, male patient grabbed me by my arm and made me walk with him what seemed like an eternity until one of the unit nurses came to my rescue.

And believe it or not, in , I even remember smoking in the lounge of a surgery center where I worked in Shreveport, Louisiana.

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Imagine that! Thank God, times have changed! Sometimes, though not nearly enough, there were divine moments where your faith was restored and reminded you of the other side of the coin. Like the times I, along with other students, breathed in and out for long periods and began puffing with the women who were in labor, bringing new life into this world; or when I was the one delivering the news after just learning that after a long, fierce battle that someone was cancer-free, and together through tears of joy, we shared a life-affirming moment.

Although I remember some of those feelings and recall them as my memories, they are now mostly faded like background noise, and only occasionally occupy my mind. But there is one memory of a moment still as fresh as the day of its happening. In my third year of nursing school, we were given more and more responsibilities, such as working in places like the Burn Care Units, Intensive Care Units and the operating rooms.

By this time, I was becoming a cockier, seasoned pro and I knew it. However, it soon became apparent how little I knew. I never will forget the moment when I carelessly walked into one of the rooms in the step- down Intensive Care Unit. I literally felt all my blood draining, rushing out of my body. I froze at the sight of a patient who was in a semi-coma. There was a young girl in a hospital bed, her body propped up with the help of several pillows.

Her head had slipped to its side and was now tilted at an angle. It almost looked as if she were looking down, but had lifted her head halfway to look at you without straightening her body. Her eyes were unnaturally open. After my initial shock wore off, I noticed a large ventilator with a thick, white tube going from the machine to an opening in her neck. I later learned that she was in her early twenties and had slipped into a coma seven years earlier due to a brutal car accident.

She now was in a semi coma, her life being sustained with the help of the external ventilator. For me, the most haunting thing was her eyes. Her eyelids had atrophied due to years of not using them, leaving her eyes exposed. Although her eyes were open, they were empty like someone had sucked the life right out of them, but forgot to do the same thing to her body. She was alive, but without the presence of emotions. There appeared to be no signs of life in her. After the first day, I somehow got used to her just lying there. Each day, we would care for her with the help of her devoted family.

It was like taking care of an infant, but because her body was much larger, it made it harder for us to handle her.

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It usually took two of us to care for her needs. Besides the usual need to change her diaper, give her a bed bath, comb her hair and brush her teeth, there were added things, like cleaning the tracheotomy site, suctioning her airway, and nourishing her with a feeding tube. Since her circulation was diminished, we would have to reposition her to prevent bedsores, which were deadly for anyone in her condition.

When we turned her and tried to exercise her limbs, she would moan an almost invisible moan.

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After I spent two days a week with this girl for several months, I went into her room one day and found the bed empty. On one hand, I felt the same emptiness inside of me as I did after the passing of each patient I had come to know. On the other hand, I was happy for her. Her suffering finally had come to an end. Apparently, one day, out of nowhere, she had regained her consciousness.

Did that mean that she could now breathe on her own, and have voluntary movements? Did that mean she could now see when she looked? Did that mean she is now like the rest of us in a semi-coma in consciousness only? Her brain might be back to do its job and to take care and help sustain her body, but her state of mind will remain in the state of Intermittent Consciousness. To tell you the truth, at the time, I was not awake enough to have noticed such thoughts.

Not until years later did I have enough clarity to question what it means to wake up after seven years of being in a coma.