Mon | Sep 28, 2020

‘I couldn’t recognise my wife’ - Emerging from coma can bring more darkness than light

Published:Monday | August 3, 2020 | 12:19 AMKaren Oliver/Gleaner Writer
Henrique Chambers awakened from a 28-day coma and could not remember the pregnant woman before him: his wife.
Henrique Chambers awakened from a 28-day coma and could not remember the pregnant woman before him: his wife.

A coma can leave both patient and despairing family in the dark. For some patients, the experience can be life-changing with transition to a persistent vegetative state. But emerging from unconsciousness and the recovery of most functions don’t always bring relief for loved ones.

That’s an experience Henrique Chambers and Gary Thompson can readily relate to.

Chambers was in a coma for 28 days in the intensive care units of three hospitals. When he regained consciousness at St Joseph’s Hospital, he was unable to process where he was and why he was there.

On March 16, 2007, Chambers, then a detective in the Criminal Investigations Branch of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), was travelling with two police officers along the Porus main road in Manchester when the car struck a concrete utility pole and careered into an abandoned shop. His colleague, who was in the back of the car, died instantly. The driver lost consciousness for a few days.

“What I remember is seeing the windscreen rushing towards my face and then feeling immense pain afterwards,” said Chambers, now a cybersecurity incident response specialist at The Jamaica National Group.

Chambers sustained such severe head injuries that he was not expected to survive. If he did, the prognosis was that he would be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.

On the last day of his coma, a scary dream jolted him back to consciousness.

“I had a dream that I was trying to run from a situation,” he said.

He awoke to find himself with tubes in his nostrils and being attached to intravenous drips. He pulled out the tubes, tried to get out of the bed, and collapsed.

“My muscles were weak because I was lying down for so long. Several nurses came and helped me back on to the bed. They asked me if I knew where I was,” Chambers told The Gleaner, adding that he couldn’t remember his name when asked.

Moreover, he could not remember the names of his family members, who were regularly by his bedside, or even recognise who they were. After a week, he started to recognise his parents and close friends, but his inability to identify one individual was troubling to the family.

“I couldn’t recognise my wife. My in-laws were telling me that I was married to her, and I was wondering, ‘When did I get her pregnant?’” he said, adding that she was eight months pregnant at the time with their first child.

“It was a very stressful time for my wife because I was able to recognise others but not her,” he said.

After he was released from the hospital, he experienced blurred vision for a while, and he had to relearn basic coordination, such as walking and writing.

Through sheer determination, Chambers has been able to lead a normal life, although he still suffers some discomfort from his injuries. He credits his training in the JCF for the mental fortitude that keeps him going.

COMA AT 10 YEARS OLD

Lynval Thompson, general manager at the Jamaica Urban Transit Company Portmore depot, related that his son, Gary, was eight years old when the child went into a coma after developing myocarditis, which caused his organs to fail.

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle that reduces the organ’s ability to pump blood. Abnormal heart rhythms are a symptom.

Gary was not expected to survive. When he did, however, the hospital staff referred to him as the ‘miracle child’.

“He was in a coma for 10 days, during which his heart machine failed twice. I was reading and talking to him during the whole time,” Thompson told The Gleaner. “On the ninth day, I saw a teardrop on his cheek, and I believed that meant he could hear me.”

Gary likened the experience of being in a coma to being asleep. He recalled having several “wacky” dreams. Like Chambers, he said he was confused when he woke up.

“I was feeling really groggy. I felt weak and started to shake while trying to walk,” Gary said.

Now 26, Gary opines that his parents reading and talking to him helped him to connect with them immediately after emerging from the coma.

Dr Ché Bowen, CEO of MDLink Telemedicine, pointed out that a coma can be caused by a variety of problems, including a traumatic head injury, stroke, a brain tumour, drug or alcohol intoxication, or even an underlying illness such as diabetes, or an infection.

Comas are medical emergencies that seldom last longer than several weeks, Bowen said.

“People who are unconscious for a longer period of time may transition to a persistent vegetative state and are unlikely to awaken. Sometimes the cause of a coma can be completely reversed and the affected person will regain normal function,” Bowen said.

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