My mom suffered from anorexia since her high-school career and as a result, landed herself at the Claremont dialysis center four times a week with almost zero kidney-function. Today, she is in and out of hospital on a monthly basis with all kinds of complications, often in ICU.
It didn’t help that she was also an addict and had abused her body with painkillers, sleeping tablets and alcohol for the previous 15 years before that.
In 2010 her health had deteriorated so much that the doctors decided to put her in an induced coma and on life support in hopes that it would help her body to function properly again.
I remember the phone-call from my Dad well. It was holiday time in Cape Town and I was with some of my closest friends up the road from the hospital my mom was in. My dad sounded calm and controlled and told me that the doctors had decided to put my mom in a coma.
After getting over the initial shock, my friends drove me to the hospital where I met the doctor. He said that they had already put her in a coma and that he would let us know when would be a good time to see her.
I decided that I would wait a few days. I wasn’t ready to see her. I knew that if I had to see her like that, that I’d crack and supporting my dad, brother and sister seemed more important to me at the time. We took a few days off work to be together and to process everything that had happened before we decided that getting back to work and keeping busy would be the best thing for us.
Music kept me going and as a keen song-writer, I’d managed to write more songs in a week than I had in a year. I wanted to write something for her about how we were all feeling at the time, about how we missed her and about how angry we were that she’d let things get that far.
A month later I was on my way to visit my Dad. I decided to phone him to see if he was home. But when I phoned, it was another man’s voice on the other end of the phone. He told me that my Dad had just had a heart-attack and that he was on his way to the hospital in an ambulance. I raced to the hospital to meet them and as they wheeled him into the theater-ward my dad shouted “Tell Mom: anything she can do, I can do better!” Not funny at all, but I do laugh at that from time to time.
My dad was in theater for two hours and seemed to recover quickly after they unblocked a clogged artery. Now, both my parents were in ICU, in different hospitals.
I still hadn’t visited my mom.
Nearly another month later, I decided to see her. All sorts of things ran through my mind. “Do I talk to her? What do I say to her? What will she look like? Will she hear me?”
I decided to take my guitar along. I would sing to her instead. Walking into ICU I went from one hospital bed to the other until I spotted her. Even with all the wires, machines and strange noises, she looked completely undisturbed. I stood next to her and held her hand, watching, thinking and listening to the machine that was supporting her heart, lungs and kidneys.
Despite all the thoughts that raced through my mind, I had no idea what to say to her. ‘Mom, you’re an idiot’, is probably what I would’ve said if she were awake. I sat down next to her and tried to get a few words out.
“She can’t hear you,” said the nurse.
I’d heard all kinds of weird and wonderful stories about people who wake up from comas because they believe they heard their loved-ones talking to them. At first I wanted to say something back to the nurse. “Who are you to say she can’t hear me? And what business is it of yours whether or not I choose to speak to my mother?” But I swallowed my words and started playing my song for my mom instead.
Half-way through singing, a loud noise from the machine started. I asked the “uber-friendly” nurse what it was and with a look of surprise she said, “That’s the machine that connects to her lungs. Your mother is trying to breathe by herself.”
I kept playing.
The next day, my mom woke up.
I still ask her what it was like when she was in a coma. She doesn’t seem to remember anything at all from the time she was asleep. A few weeks after she woke up I played the song for her again. Without telling her anything about the song, she told me she’d heard it before. Some people say that when your body goes into a coma, your body is asleep but part of you can still feel love, warmth and certain emotions. Who knows if she really heard me but I will never forget the look on the nurse's face that day.
What would you say to a loved-one if they were in a coma?