What It's Like to Be in a Coma
Reader's Digest US|September 2021
The twilight zone between life and death is a mystery that doctors can solve
Lauren Cahn

WHEN T. RENEE GARNER was 32 weeks pregnant with her son, she was rushed to the hospital with extremely high blood pressure, her fetus in distress. Intravenous medication lowered her blood pressure, and her baby was delivered safely before being taken to the neonatal intensive care unit. But when Garner went to visit him there the next day, she still wasn’t well, and she began experiencing leg cramping so severe it left her weeping in the hospital. Then everything went black—for three days.

Doctors determined that Garner’s coma was the result of a severe electrolyte imbalance—her sodium had dropped precipitously—caused by the IV medication she’d received. Garner says that while she was in the coma, she heard a siren and then the words it died, which she took to mean that she had died. (It was actually a battery on a monitor that had died.) She also recounts having horrible dreams. “I can’t remember them, but I know they tormented me,” she says. “Every dream I had during my coma was a nightmare.”

Zaida Khaze was 19 when she was riding in a car that was hit by a drunk driver. Her head injury was so severe that she lost the ability to walk, speak, and swallow, and she lapsed into a coma that lasted ten days. When she started to fully awaken in the rehab hospital to which she had been transferred, she remembered none of it: not the accident nor the aftermath. The only thing she did remember was having her entire family gathered around her. But, in fact, they were never all there at the same time.

“SOME REMEMBER NOTHING; SOME REMEMBER A GREAT DEAL OF FEELINGS.”

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