Want to know what it feels like when you’re in a coma?
Meet Stephanie Savage, who was on vacation with her boyfriend two years ago when she came down with a nasty chest cold that turned out to be Legionnaires’ disease. The disease triggered septic shock, which dropped her blood pressure, which set off a series of strokes, which triggered a coma, which lasted six weeks.
Day after day, her mother and her boyfriend sat and read to her unresponsive face, and medical personnel periodically shined lights in her unfocused eyes.
Behind her impassive appearance, meanwhile, Savage was feeling as if she were “suffering through a miserably sleepless night,” she writes in “Covert Cognition: My So-Called Near-Death Experience” in the July/August issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. And the night was filled with “coma-dreams.” She dreamed about a Big Wheel-type tricycle that churned ice cream; she dreamed of herself as a polar bear cub; she dreamed snippets of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”; she dreamed of being bothered by people who shined lights in her eyes.
When she eventually woke up, her first thought was a grouchy, “Goddammit, I just fell back asleep.”
Funny, frequently profane and adamantly atheistic, Savage tosses off such lines as “The reason I didn’t see dead relatives is I don’t believe in life after death. . . . I did, however, dream of ice cream.” In a more serious vein, she casts her story as a warning against giving up on coma victims, running breezily through accounts of studies indicating that “covert cognition” occurs in a striking number of people who have been in a persistent vegetative state for years.
And while she gives immense credit to the doctors and nurses whose care made it possible for her failing organs to revive and her brain to reboot, she adds, “maybe we should be giving more respect to the amazing resilience of the human brain.”