Doctors have a particular way of treating patients when they are in a coma. According to Christopher De Giorgio and Mark Lew, a coma is “eyes-closed unresponsiveness.” They cannot follow commands, speak or respond to painful stimuli. The main cause of death for people under the age of 45 is head injuries (Kolata). Being in a coma is serious, so the way doctors treat their patients should be serious as well. This is not always the case. The way doctors treat coma patients right now is flawed. Instead of putting their patients through countless experiments and tests and making their families and themselves feel hopeless, doctors should be talking to their patients and treating them normally to help with their recovery.
To begin with, when doctors treat coma patients, they treat them like lab rats. As soon as a person goes into a coma, doctors of all kinds begin to hound them with tests and experiments like a pack of wolves hunting their prey. Adrian Owen, a young British neuroscientist working at the University of Cambridge, is guilty of this.
According to Groopman, who wrote the article, “Silent Minds” about Owen, Owen would find patients in comatose and vegetative states so that he could put them through a multitude of tests, some of which consisted of having patients imagine that they were performing athletic activities such as tennis. While some tests are necessary to diagnose patients and monitor their injuries, subjecting patients to foolish experiments like these seems unfair to the patient who may not want to undergo these unnecessary and excessive experiments.
Secondly, doctors make families lose hope that their loved one will wake up, and try to keep them there to get money. Doctors like to make it seem there is no hope that a loved one will survive their injury or come out of their comatose state. Hospital staff pressures the patient's family to “pull the plug” because they believe that they will never wake up. Now there are new studies that say that some coma patients have a level of consciousness that could not be found before (“Scans May Show”). Many people have probably “pulled the plug” on their loved ones because they thought they were brain dead when these new tests could have proved that they were still conscious. In relation to that, hospitals make it seem like you have to leave your loved one there so they can make some money. Many people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to keep their loved ones in hospitals with around the clock care. One day in the ICU costs over $4,000 on average (Winters). What most people do not know, however, is that you do not have to spend your money to keep them at the hospital; in some situations, you can take your loved one home to take care of them yourself, or even place them in long term facility such as a nursing home.
Thirdly, the doctors make the patients themselves lose hope that they’ll wake up. Because some patients can hear when they are in the comatose state, they can hear when their doctor and loved ones begin to give up on them. Hearing things like this will make the patient lose hope that they will ever recover because no one else believes in them. In contrast to making them lose hope in themselves, they can push the coma patient to want to wake up and get better. For example, after being in a coma for a very long time, no one believed Judy would recover. A professor began to pass by her bed every day saying, “Judy is in a coma. She’ll never wake up.” One day she woke up and said that she remembered the professor saying she would not recover every single day (Townsend). Of course the professor never really thought she would come out of her comatose state, but Judy was able to awake because of the professor’s harsh words, pushing her to prove him wrong. This is not always the case. Most people are left feeling hopeless from a doctor’s harsh words. If doctors would give positive feedback about the patient's condition rather than negative, more comatose patients would feel that they are getting better and be able to come through from their comatose state.
Talking to patients while they are comatose also helps the family feel there is hope they will wake up. For many families, when a loved one is admitted to the hospital they feel that they have to be there to help them even though they are not a doctor and can not do much. “Families feel helpless and out of control when a loved one is in a coma. [Being there with them] gives them a sense of control over the patient’s recovery,” says Doctor Theresa Pape, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. This helps the patient’s family feel they are doing something to help their loved one wake up. Doctor Pape conducted a study where families talked to their loved ones four times a day for six weeks, and the results were amazing. All patients in the study recovered faster than normal and the patient’s families were given hope through talking to them as well.
By treating a coma patient like they are not in a coma, the patient does not undergo any extra stress to try and wake up and can take their time trying to get better. For many people, when there is something wrong with them, they do not want to be treated any differently and hate when they are seen as different from what is normal. As long as they are not being treated like there is something wrong with them, they are free to get better without feeling abnormal. For example, when Godfrey Corinth was in the hospital for three months due to his comatose condition his wife and brothers recorded themselves talking so that he could listen to them throughout his time in a coma. When he recovered he said, “it was comforting to think that they were ‘there’ with me. It helped me by giving my brain something to connect with” (Knapton). Because his family did not bring up his condition during the recordings, he did not feel abnormal and was able to recover.
When doctors do treat coma patients, they should be talking to them as if they were really there and treating them no different than if they weren’t in a coma. Doctor James McCague had a comatose patient who was his friend and previous patient. Henry Baker was in the ICU, unresponsive, with a devastated family by his bedside. Rather than treating him like he was in a coma, Dr. McCague made sure Henry was comfortable and talked to him every single day. One day when McCauge was going to leave for the weekend, he was in the middle of talking to Baker and asking his opinion on a hotel when he suddenly woke up and gave McCague a recommendation of his own. Henry Baker got to go home a few days later (McCague). Because he was talked to and interacted with by a friend while he was in a coma, Henry was able to pull through and make a full recovery, unchanged. This is a reality for other patients too, regardless of how conscious they are as long as they are not treated any differently and talked to while in a coma. While most doctors may not have the time to talk to their patients everyday like Doctor James McCague, at least talking to them when they check up on them or getting the nurse to talk to them when they are in there, is better than nothing.
While treating a coma patient is tough, treating them like they are experiments, or even making the patients and their families lose hope, is negatively affecting the patient and their family. By treating patients with the care they deserve during their comatose state, it is helping patients to recover significantly better than how they were being treated before. If doctors would begin to treat patients in this way, then it will be easier for their patients to get better. All doctors should be treating their patients to their utmost abilities so that the patient can recover as quickly and effectively as possible.
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