“HELP! HELP! Please! I need a doctor! Doctor!” the woman shouted frantically as she leaned over the bed holding her son’s hand. “Please help!”
A tall slender man in a white coat jogged into the room followed swiftly by two nurses in uniform. The doctor, one she hadn’t seen before, shouted something at the two nurses and grabbed the hanging clipboard from the foot of the bed. The two nurses immediately went to work, one of them shooing the woman from the side of the bed. One nurse checked all of the machines and the other hurriedly examined the patient. The doctor flipped through the pages on the clipboard, hardly looking up at all. He shouted something else at the nurses who responded in turn with a mix of their native tongue and English medical terms.
“Please! You have to do something! I think he’s trying to wake up! He moved and then he spoke! Please help him!” the woman begged impatiently, convinced that every second wasted would only prolong her son’s condition.
The doctor didn’t look up from the chart in his hands when he spoke, “What did he say?” His textbook English was tinged with slight marble-mouthed accent that rolled over the more palate-heavy consonants, but was otherwise perfect.
“I couldn’t make it out, but it sounded like he was calling out. Like he’s in pain. Please! Help him! Please help my son!”
“Try to calm down. Patients in your son’s condition can sometimes appear conscious or aware, but it’s only a reflex. How did he move, specifically?”
“He reached his hands straight up in front of him and called out.”
He hung the chart back on the foot of the bed and said something to the two nurses who were still standing at attention. They bowed slightly and left the room. He walked to the side of the bed opposite the woman. “Was his arm fully extended? Elbow locked or bent? Hand in a fist or fingers spread?” he asked in sequence while prodding the man’s hand in various places with a pen.
“Um…his arm was almost straight, but not locked…and his fingers were curled, but not in a fist…I think,” she responded with uncertainty in her voice, taken aback by his rapid-fire questions.
“I see. And, can you tell me about the sounds he made?” he asked without looking up, his nonchalance beginning to unsettle the woman.
“He was definitely trying to speak. It sounded like he was calling out to…someone. And I think he said something about hitting his head. I think he’s in pain.”
“And he’s your son?”
“I can assure you that he is not in any pain.”
“But, I think he’s trying to wa…”
“You said his fingers were curled and his arm was nearly straight. Correct?”
“I’m sorry, but these sorts of symptoms are to be expected in coma patients at this stage. I can assure you that his condition has not changed and that he is not conscious,” he said, finally looking up at her.
Her eyes were filled with tears and her face was gripped by a hard expression. She sat clumsily in the chair by the side of the bed and took her son’s hand again. Taking a long breath, she looked up at his face and spoke weakly, “do they…was he…dreaming?”
“It’s very unlikely. Coma patients do not exhibit R.E.M. brain waves. There are very few documented cases of coma survivors claiming to have dreamt. And, most of those reports are unsubstantiated,” his mouth stumbled over the six-syllable word at the end and he cleared his throat to mask any embarrassment.
“The other doctor told me that the longer he’s in the coma, the less likely it is that he’ll wake up from it,” she spoke in a sterile voice, trying not to believe what she had just said.
“Statistically, that’s true.”
“But, it is possible that he could wake up? I mean…there are cases of people waking from comas that lasted years, right?”
“Two years ago, a Polish railroad worker woke up from a 19-year coma. The possibility does exist. However, cases like that one are extremely rare. The majority of coma patients have less than a 15 percent chance of partial recovery after the first four months. The chance of a full recovery is even less. Even if your son does wake from his current condition, you need to be aware of the possibility that he may have to deal with some serious long-term effects.”
“Have you ever heard of bedside manner?”
“I apologize for my candor. Doctor Itō will be back in the morning and I’m sure he’ll be happy to address any concerns you might have about your son’s condition. Goodnight.”
She didn’t look up or respond as he quietly left the room. The doctors had all told her the same thing. A full recovery was very doubtful. They had quoted all kinds of cases studies and statistics and medical facts, but none of it had convinced her that it was hopeless. She clung to the idea that her presence would have a positive influence on her son’s recovery. That’s why she had been there all day, every day for the last month. And that’s why she would be there all day, every day until he woke up.
When she spoke to the embassy, they had simply told her that there had been an incident and given her the location of the hospital where he was being treated. The details surrounding the event itself were sketchy at best. There were no witnesses to the event. The police had found him in a street beaten and bloody. The evidence of his injuries was still visible. His face was covered in purple and yellow patches of bruised flesh. There were small butterfly bandages concealing cuts under his right eye and a large square dressing over his left temple. His right hand was set in a plaster cast and his left knee was wrapped up tightly. The back of his head had been shaved to treat a wound on the rear of his skull. The doctors had ordered CT scans and MRI’s, but they said they couldn’t be sure if the head wounds were directly responsible for his comatose state. They explained that the injuries were clearly the most likely cause, but that lesions can have textures that appear indistinguishable from surrounding tissues on brain scans. The doctors would continue to monitor his condition and take further scans to see if identifiable lesions developed. They told her to trust them. She didn’t know what to believe.
She had gotten on a plane the same day she spoke to the embassy. The only person she told was her husband, who offered to take a couple of weeks off work and go with her. She had told him that it would be best if she went alone as she didn’t know how long the trip would last. In truth, she wasn’t sure how her son would react to his presence. Their interactions in the past had been complicated. She had so many questions she wanted to ask, but the only person who could answer them might never wake up. She told herself she didn’t believe that, but there was always a nagging little voice in the back of her head that mimicked the doctors’ unsympathetic honesty.
She held his hand tight and touched it to her cheek. She repeated herself in breathy little gasps, “please come back to me. Please come back to me. Please come back to me…”
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