You can learn a lot when people think you aren’t listening…
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had insomnia. I’ve always been a night owl and a morning person, surviving on five, maybe six, hours of sleep cobbled together in restless bouts. In hindsight, I realize all my life I sort of resented having to sleep. I suppose I was afraid on some subconscious level I’d miss something important or exciting or unrepeatable. Which makes my current predicament all the more ironic.
I am in a deep vegetative state…better known as a coma.
Other people refer to my situation as “sad,” “heartbreaking”...even “tragic.” I find all the attention rather strange considering before I landed in Bed 3 in the long-term care ward of Brady Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, I was the girl no one paid much attention to. I was the middle child—middling pretty, middling smart, a middling achiever with a middling personality in a middling job at a middling company. My name is Marigold Kemp, but these days I’m more commonly referred to as Coma Girl. Apparently, I have a bit of a following. I’ve trended on social media. I have my own hashtag.
Since it appears I’m going to be here for a while, I thought I might as well start telling my story; there have been a few twists and turns as to how I got here, and doubtless more to come. The list of pluses of being in a coma is pretty darn short, but if I had to name the best thing, it’s that you can learn a lot when people think you aren’t listening. I am the ultimate eavesdropper, and friend, if I ever wake up, I’m going to write a tell-all.
Meanwhile, I’ll tell you.
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December 5, Monday
“GATHER AROUND bed three,” Dr. Tyson said. “Move some flowers if you have to.”
I’ve previously wondered about the faces of the eager young doctors on their rounds to discuss the more obscure cases. I’d even been perversely flattered to be one of the hospital’s more provocative patients. But I confess under the gaze of so many white lab-coated people, I feel a bit like a frog on a high school science table.
A very pregnant frog.
“Patient is a twenty-nine-year-old female brought to Brady approximately six months ago with a traumatic brain injury received in a car collision. The patient is approximately twenty-eight weeks pregnant. She underwent two surgeries to relieve pressure on her brain, but remained in a coma until last Wednesday. Questions? Statler, go.”
“How is Coma Girl’s baby?”
Dr. Tyson frowned. “Please don’t refer to the patient as Coma Girl.”
“Why not? She’s famous.”
Dr. Tyson frowned harder. “For one thing, as I said, she’s no longer in a coma. And as far as we can tell, the baby is normal. Kwan, do you have a question?”
“Is Coma Girl’s baby a girl, or a boy?”
Dr. Tyson pursed her lips. “Not that it’s particularly relevant, but it’s a girl.”
A few aw’s sounded.
“If she’s no longer in a coma, why is she back in the coma ward?” Kwan asked.
Back with my previous roommates Karen Suh and Shondra Taylor.
“For the record, it’s called the long-term care ward,” Tyson said. “And for the next phase of her care, I thought it would be better to keep her with nurses who are familiar with her circumstances. Goldberg?”
“Why is a security guard posted outside the door?”
Dr. Tyson looked irritated. “As Statler alluded, there’s intense media curiosity about the patient’s condition. For that reason, the family has requested limited access to the patient. Phillips?”
“Coma Girl’s sister was arrested. Turns out she’s a drug dealer and she was driving the night of the accident, not Coma Girl.”
Dr. Tyson arched an eyebrow. “Was there a medical question in there somewhere?”
“No, just… fyi, it’s lit.”
A few titters sounded.
“Lit up on social media,” Kwan offered weakly to back up Phillips.
Dr. Tyson turned a lethal glare on the young doctors. “If the next question isn’t a legitimate medical question, you can all find somewhere else to do your residencies. Tosco, go.”
“Um… how are the patient’s cognitive abilities?”
“The patient is communicating yes and no through eye blinks, and appears to recognize family and friends.” She looked down at me. “Hello, Marigold. Am I Dr. Jarvis?”
I blink once.
“Good. Am I Dr. Phillips?’
I blink once.
“Good. And thank God,” she added to the chagrin of Phillips.
Laughter chorused through the group.
“Am I Dr. Tyson?”
I blink twice.
“Very good, Marigold. Thank you.” She looked back to her audience. “She can also identify common objects, colors, and shapes. What else would you test, Kwan?”
“The patient’s senses.”
“Good. Her senses have been tested and are functioning well. Goldberg, go.”
“How is the patient’s mobility?”
“There’s no paralysis, but her mobility is limited to moving fingers and toes and she can turn her head a few degrees. What do you suggest?”
“Physical therapy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, massage, acupuncture.”
“Good. Dr. Jarvis is utilizing all those methods. Gaynor?”
“Is Coma Girl—er, is the patient able to speak?”
“Not yet. But we’re not pushing her until we remove the feeding tube, which should be soon. Phillips?” She gave him a warning look.
“Why did she wake up after six months?”
Dr. Tyson took her time responding. “Clinically, I would say the pressure in her brain was relieved after the second surgery to remove blood debris. But in truth, we don’t know exactly why she woke up. You’re bound to encounter situations in your medical training that defy clinical explanation.”
“How are we supposed to handle something like that?” Kwan asked.
“With humility and appreciation,” she said, her voice earnest. “Let’s move on….”
As the group left, I tried to get a peek into the hallway through the opening and closing door, a glimpse into the world outside my room, the world that, according to Phillips, was abuzz with my family scandal. I dearly wish someone would put a television or radio in the ward… but I fear the reason no one has is to protect me from what’s being said about me and my family.
I’m worried sick thinking about the tell-all manuscript my dotty therapy-writing teacher unwittingly gave to my volunteer poet whom I suspect has been leaking photos of me to TMZ. Now would be the perfect time to reveal dark details about how I felt about my dysfunctional family. And since the volunteer hasn’t been back, I suspect he cashed in on a big payday and made a hasty retreat.
My intestines are in a knot… because over the past six months I’ve come to realize the way each of my family members treated me had little to nothing to do with me, and everything to do with secrets they each harbored. If I could, I’d set fire to the manuscript.
But of course, I can’t. And even if I could talk, I can’t reveal its existence without causing more grief. ~