The two weeks I was in coma felt to me like twenty years. I lived a whole other life while I was under.
Nick MacDonald can be hilariously funny or surprisingly spiritual. He is a good-looking, well-built man in his mid-thirties who had been living life to the full. In the last few years, he has dropped the pace and settled down to small town life in America's Midwest. He thinks he chose the place because he liked the peculiar pink color of the locally-produced ice cream.
He runs a successful garden business and is widely acknowledged as somebody good with his hands. “My old man was a big-time motorcycle mechanic and he taught me a little bit,” he says modestly. Nick achieved brief fame and a welcome into the community when he won the town's hotdog eating competition. He is regarded as a mean baseball player with lots of good friends. He initially tried his hand at dairy farming but now teaches people how to “grow all kinds of shit”.
His last relationship broke down soon after his partner gave birth to a baby girl. Since then he has been living alone. Then one day – totally out of the blue – Nick started to feel rather peculiar. Then the floor began to give way. “I was free falling and I was free falling into complete nothingness.” Then everything went curiously orange in color.
Nick knew instinctively that he was desperately ill. When he could finally prize his eyes open, he found himself stretched out in a hospital bed, tubes and lines running out of his face and body. Monitors beep and flash. He is having serious problems with his memory.
He has no recollection of the young woman who comes to visit, claiming to be his fiancée. She tells him how ill he's been, how close to death. Pneumonia and sepsis. She shows him the diary she faithfully kept for every one of the fourteen days he spent in a coma.
Next up are a range of people all attempting to convince Nick that he is not who he thinks he is. He is not the Nick who did a combat tour with the US Army or the one who ate all the hotdogs, nor did he lose toes to frostbite several years back. He is the Nick who owns and operates his own pizza parlor. He has never been known for his manual dexterity and would sooner buy new than fix anything.
He shuts his eyes and tries to will himself back to the town with the pink ice cream. But it won't happen. He wonders now which is the dream – the world with the pizzas and the raven-haired fiancée or the one where he works outdoors with his hands and has frostbite scars?
“Let that blow your mind for a minute,” says Nick.
Now, he is stuck here and must play along. Struggling with the initial problems that put him into the coma – and with the harrowing after-effects of the coma itself – Nick faces a lengthy up-hill battle. “I had to learn to walk, talk and eat all over again. It was very humbling,” he says of his forty days in hospital.
“It feels like my consciousness, spirit or soul packed and went to another world just like this one and picked up a life there. It still blows my mind to recall that place. I was in a world just like this but just slightly different. The atmosphere was slightly orange instead of ours which is blue. There was still a lot of the same places but they were not the same or in the same location as they are here. It was like the United States but not like the United States on a map. It was just mixed up.
“The two weeks I was in coma felt to me like twenty years. I lived a whole other life while I was under. So much so that when I finally was brought back to this world, realm, dimension, or whatever you want to call it, I was actually sad I was awake and didn’t get to see how my other life there played out. I literally missed it, the people, the experiences; the things I learned. I feel these emotions very strongly to this day.
“I also don’t know what I looked like there. I assume I looked the same as I do here but never once in the twenty years under did I ever see my reflection. I don’t like to say this was a dream because these experiences were so real to me. The vividness was so clear. I just can’t explain a dream like that."
Amid the confusion and never-ending flashbacks, Nick found himself torn with loss. “All of a sudden, I was ripped out of my alternate reality and that was it – it was over. No conclusion, no closure. As far as meaningful relationships, yes, I had several. Sometimes I feel like I had more there than I do here. And they were pretty deep, too. Three years later and I still feel that emotion from love and loss. It’s crazy.
“Okay,” says Nick. “My family didn’t come out and say it, but I could tell they thought I was insane. They didn’t want to engage much on the fact that I was somewhere else. They didn’t understand. I get it. How could they?”
Most coma survivors will say that nobody can ever hope to understand unless they have undergone the experience themselves. For a few, comas may be a merciful blank. Others report lying frozen, aware of everything around them, silently screaming yet unable to even blink. For many, this is a terrifying world of never-ending nightmares, more vivid than life itself, which burn themselves deep into the memory.
Others undergo nothing but joy and an overwhelming sensation of pure love akin to the psychedelic experience, while many accounts resemble the Near Death Experience (NDE), featuring past-life reviews, meetings with deceased loved ones and a total oneness with the Universe – events not limited to clinical settings and which can be induced in numerous ways or may even happen spontaneously.
The alternate lives such as Nick's – lived to the full, seemingly lasting decades while mere days pass in the ICU – appear without parallel in any experience other than coma, with the possible exception of apparent past lives as experienced by Buddhist monks and others deep in mediation. Something is clearly going on that defies scientific or medical explanation.
As equally shocking – and equally unknown to both the public at large and to most medical professionals – the apparently benign procedure of deep sedation to coma levels in ICU is killing patients needlessly and consigning the vast majority of survivors to ruined lives of lasting brain damage, deep psychological trauma and chronic physical complications.
Prolonged deep sedation is proven to damage the brain so severely that tens of points can be wiped off I.Q.s, rendering survivors mentally impaired, while the lack of mobility results in serious nerve, muscle and skeletal damage, hastening early death.
For a small but growing number in the medical world, comas are not just highly dangerous, but irresponsible to the point where hospitals and medical staff could in future face lawsuits for malpractice.