5 Highly Relatable Reactions People Have Had Immediately After Waking Up From a Coma
Comas don’t work like in the movies. As a patient regains consciousness, they slowly progress through different stages of eye, verbal and motor control, so you can’t count on there ever being any one single instant when they truly “wake up.” Also, when they do wake up, only occasionally is their first instinct to clue you in on who sent them into the coma, and only occasionally is the attempted killer right in the room with you both. Instead, prepare for your loved one’s first coherent response to be something like the following…
‘I Want Taco Bell’
Jake Booth caught double pneumonia in 2018, the kind that stops the heart for a bit and shuts off oxygen to the brain. It was enough that doctors suggested that his family turn off life support on the comatose Jake. Then, after more than 40 days of unconsciousness, Jake spoke. “Taco Bell,” he said. “Do you want Taco Bell?” asked his friend Tyler. “Yes,” Jake responded.
This news probably did little to ease fears that the coma had permanently impaired him mentally. No one immediately rushed to get him the desired food, since another three weeks remained before he could eat solid food. Once they did get him his tacos, Taco Bell naturally got wind of the news and sent him gift cards and swag. The family asked Taco Bell to maybe send them money instead for medical expenses if they were so keen on donating, but corporate said, “Haha, let’s not go totally crazy now” and didn’t respond.
Other people did donate, once the story spread widely. Many outlets talked about Jake, including USA Today, who at the time had an entire regular feature called “This Week in Taco Bell.” USA Today did not say Taco Bell sponsored the column; we don’t know if such a deal would make the feature better or worse.
‘Turn on ‘I Love Lucy’’
When Annie Shapiro spoke for the first time after waking from her coma, she said, “Turn on the television. I want to see the I Love Lucy show.” Well, that sounds nice. This seems like another story like Jake’s, where the waking person quickly reveals their personality and a lust for life.
Except, when Annie awoke, it had been quite a while since I Love Lucy aired. She went into a coma in 1963, suffering a stroke upon hearing the news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The next time she spoke? October 1992. During those 30 years, she had been able to sit up and even walk, but she had no awareness of the passage of time. Now, awake for the first time, she was shocked when someone turned on the TV and it was in color.
Much more surprising was when she saw her husband, who was now an 81-year-old man. Then she saw her own face in the mirror, which was an unpleasant surprise (at 79, she now looked a lot older than she remembered herself, and would have even if she hadn’t spent the last few decades in a coma). The very day before the stroke, she and her husband had kicked out their 16-year-old son. She now learned he was 48 and had two kids of his own. Still, at least she’d missed the 1970s, so there was somewhat of an upside.
‘Take Me to Ohio’
A 15-year-old girl in Paraguay, Griselda Servin, got into a traffic accident in 1998. When she woke up from a coma after two years, a local show called Tell Me a Dream granted her a wish. They were taking her on an all-expenses-paid trip to... Ohio. Not Cleveland, or Toledo, but to Fremont, Ohio, the final resting place of President Rutherford B. Hayes.
That might not sound like anyone’s idea of a dream vacation. If the coma had convinced Griselda that she was now Hayes reincarnated, even he probably would have had something more exciting in mind than visiting Freemont, Ohio. To understand the significance of this trip, you need to know that Paraguay honors Rutherford B. Hayes — and a lot more than the United States itself does.
Paraguay has 60 percent of its land thanks to an arbitration ruling Hayes signed. Hayes doesn’t appear to have given the matter much thought — some lower official drafted the agreement, and he just signed the paper in front of him — but it was enough to enshrine his legacy in Paraguay. Plenty of Paraguayans think the one-term, oft-forgotten president is among America’s most revered leaders, behind only Lincoln, and are confused when they learn this isn’t the case.
‘Why Hasn’t Tennis Changed?’
Jesus Aparicio, like Griselda Servin, got into a car accident as a teen. It was December 12, 2004 — his 18th birthday. Jesus was a big tennis fan, by the way, and at the time, he was planning a trip to Wimbledon to see his idol Roger Federer play. The accident cut that plan short, and cut a lot else short, too, since it sent him into a coma for the next 11 years.
When he woke up, he had a lot to catch up on (there was something called the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” now, and it had completed multiple whole phases). He got around to asking about tennis, and about how he’d been planning to watch Federer all those years ago. His friends informed him Federer still played and was in fact still the number two player in the world. Jesus figured they had to be lying — and if they were lying about this, what else might they be hiding from him?
They weren’t lying, and in 2015, Jesus finally got to see Federer play. Federer lost that match, to some guy named Novak Djokovic, whom Jesus had never heard of. For those of you who don’t closely follow tennis rankings, Djokovic is currently the number one male tennis player in the world and has had that title for 379 weeks, which is more than anyone’s ever had it — Federer included.
For this last story, we do not have one specific example of a comatose patient regaining function and then instinctively masturbating. That’s because it turns out that this is an extremely common and natural response. It’s possible that every single person on this list masturbated right before speaking, and the family who’d gathered around them just had to awkwardly avoid eye contact and pretend not to notice.
Rubbing one’s genitals is a primal act, more basic than speech. When a patient is starting to emerge from unconsciousness, they’ll perform many such primal actions, from yawning to grinding their teeth, and their loved ones will welcome these as progress. Then the patient’s hand goes crotchward, and the assembled onlookers don’t know how to respond.
They should celebrate this return of motor function, of course. “Look!” they should say, as grandma explores her body. “She’s coming back to us!” The old lady will smile, and all those around will cry with joy. They’ll lean in and lovingly squeeze her hand. Just, maybe they’ll let the nurse wash it first.