At some point in your life, it’s likely that you’ll be diagnosed with a medical condition or two. And, luckily, whether you suffer from a minor issue or something more serious, you can usually rely on doctors to help get you back on your feet. On the other hand, if your ailment is more acute, a trained healthcare professional may be powerless to treat you.
If you’re in a coma, for instance, medics may just have to play the waiting game. And one of the reasons why this remains the case is that much of what happens while a patient is comatose is still a mystery – despite recent advances in medical technology. Yes, while we know some of the factors that can trigger comas, experts are largely in the dark when it comes to what patients actually think and feel while in this peculiar state. As a consequence, then, the insights of people who have once been comatose are almost invaluable.
And, in fact, a number of patients who have woken up from comas have gone on to share their memories with the world – although, perhaps disappointingly for doctors, these experiences are often varied. Nevertheless, in March 2019 a curious Reddit user looked to gather some information on the subject – and hopefully find some answers once and for all.
In a thread on the AskReddit subreddit, that individual posed a broad question: what’s being in a coma really like? And users of the online platform answered in their droves; indeed, the query ultimately drew in excess of 6,000 comments. In among all those responses, though, a few Redditors shared some very interesting accounts of their own experiences.
For some people, their greatest fear is of the unknown. And given that what takes place in a coma is typically unfamiliar territory, the condition may well fall into this category. However, while several aspects of being in a coma remain shrouded in mystery, experts have nevertheless divulged some hard-won information about the medical phenomenon.
A description on medical website WebMD reads, for example, “A coma is a prolonged state of unconsciousness. During a coma, a person is unresponsive to his or her environment. The person is alive and looks like he or she is sleeping. However, unlike in a deep sleep, the person cannot be awakened by any stimulation – including pain.”
And the WebMD entry also provides an explanation for why people may enter a comatose state. “Comas are caused by an injury to the brain,” the description continues. “Brain injury can be due to increased pressure, bleeding, loss of oxygen or buildup of toxins. The injury can be temporary and reversible. It also can be permanent.”
In addition, the page touches upon the effects of ailments such as head trauma, bleeding and swelling and details how experiencing any of these conditions can result in people becoming comatose. Thanks to one or more of these complaints, you see, the brain may face serious problems.
“When the brain swells as a result of trauma, the fluid pushes up against the skull,” WebMD has revealed. “The swelling may eventually cause the brain to push down on the brain stem, which can damage the RAS (Reticular Activating System). [This] part of the brain [is] responsible for arousal and awareness.”
And it seems that brain bleeds can be just as problematic. “Bleeding in the layers of the brain may cause [a] coma due to swelling and compression on the injured side of the brain,” the WebMD page continues. “This compression causes the brain to shift, causing damage to the brainstem and the RAS.”
According to the medical website, brain bleeds can be triggered by a number of different factors, too. “High blood pressure, cerebral aneurysms and tumors are non-traumatic causes of bleeding in the brain,” the entry explains. Diabetes or a stroke may also result in a person becoming comatose.
But while those in the medical profession know why people may fall into comas, there aren’t such clear answers about what these patients experience. So, no doubt intrigued by the mysterious condition, a Redditor decided to post a question that touched on the topic to the popular discussion website.
The users – who went under the name yummygumdrop – took to the AskReddit sub in March 2019 to share their enquiry. “People who have been in a coma, what was it like from your perspective?” they wrote at the top of the new thread. “Did you know you were in a coma?”
And that loaded question provoked a big response on Reddit, with thousands of users joining the conversation. Naturally, too, a number of people who had once been comatose offered their own accounts of what had happened to them – including a commenter with the username iwillcorrectyou.
“I was in a coma for about two weeks following a cardiac arrest as a teen,” iwillcorrectyou wrote in the thread. “I was technically dead for over an hour, in fact. People often ask me if I could hear my family talking to me or if I was dreaming. The answer is ‘No.’”
The Redditor also spoke about their mental state after coming out of the coma – during which they brought up an interesting point. “There is a huge hole in my memory beginning about two weeks before the coma through [to] a week after ‘waking up,’” iwillcorrectyou continued. “And waking up is in quotes because I would wake up, ask a bunch of semi-incoherent questions [and then] fall back under.”
“[I would] then wake up again and ask the exact same questions in the exact same order,” iwillcorrectyou added. “Repeat six or seven times.” Then the Reddit user described the coma itself – and this in turn lined up with several other accounts from people who had found themselves in similar positions.
According to iwillcorrectyou, they had seen and heard nothing during their time in the hospital. “The coma was not even blackness,” their comment concluded. “It just does not exist. I remember having the hardest time believing it was actually mid-October when the last day I remembered was late-September.”
That particular account proved incredibly popular on Reddit, in fact, earning over 7,000 upvotes and plenty of replies from fellow Redditors. And one of those responses in particular stood out, as someone chose to address the issues that iwillcorrectyou had had after “waking up.” In their mind, you see, there was a possible explanation behind the repeated questions.
“Radiolab recently did a podcast loosely arranged around the theme ‘Loops,’” the user wrote in reply to iwillcorrectyou. “One of the stories they tell is of a woman who experiences some sort of medical event that causes her memory to essentially reset after a few minutes.”
The Redditor further explained, “[The woman’s] daughter recorded her waking up and having the exact same conversation over and over and over. Same questions, same responses, same jokes – repeat. Absolutely fascinating stuff. We know so little about the human brain.”
And iwillcorrectyou responded soon afterwards, revealing that they’d in fact already listened to the podcast in question. “It was exactly like that,” the user replied. “I showed that episode to my parents, and they said it was the exact same situation as with that woman. Except my ‘loops’ repeated every few hours instead of minutes, and I was unconscious between each.”
Meanwhile, another user shared their story in response to yummygumdrop’s original query. Posting under the name robyr, their experience was slightly different to iwillcorrectyou’s: they’d unfortunately been involved in an accident. In terms of their experience of the coma itself, however, there were some similarities between their recollection and iwillcorrectyou’s statement.
“I was in a [medically induced] coma for three days following a serious cycling accident,” robyr wrote. “I woke up with zero recollection of why I was there – or what was said while I was out. It is easily the scariest situation I’ve found myself in, but I can’t say I remember it.”
And much like iwillcorrectyou’s candid reply, robyr’s comment drew a sizable response from the website’s community. The Reddit post earned close to 14,000 upvotes, you see, with people also offering their own kind words of support in the replies. But the intriguing responses to yummygumdrop’s question didn’t end there.
A fellow user named chazzybeats shared their tale as well, touching upon the same themes that iwillcorrectyou and robyr had previously mentioned. “I had a seizure and was in a medically induced coma for three days when I was 17,” they wrote. “To be honest, I don’t remember anything.”
“I remember fading in and out of the anesthesia, trying to pull my breathing tube out – and that my hands were restrained to the bed so [that] I couldn’t,” chazzybeats continued. “When I woke up and was coherent, I couldn’t recall anything from actually being in the coma. They had even moved me to a hospital over 100 miles away.”
Plus, it seemed that part of chazzybeats’ coma experience aligned with those of iwillcorrectyou and robyr. “[The coma] was really just nothing but black,” the Reddit user revealed. “No dreams, no lights, no voices – just nothing.”
And as with the other commenters, chazzybeats’ comment generated a big response on the website, too, registering just under 7,000 upvotes. But while chazzybeats, iwillcorrectyou and robyr all reported not seeing anything during their respective comas, other respondents to the thread explained that their experiences had been very different.
In particular, one user posting under the name senorcoach spoke about their time in the hospital a few months prior. Unlike the previous commenters, they were placed into a deep state of unconsciousness following an operation. And their story continued to differ from the rest as well, as senorcoach went on to recall some intense moments.
“I was in a medically induced coma for two weeks about three months ago,” senorcoach wrote. “I had open heart surgery, [and] it didn’t go well. [I] had trouble coming off the ventilator, so they just put me in a coma to try to give me time to heal.”
Unfortunately for senorcoach, though, that “time to heal” came at a terrifying cost, as their coma proved horribly vivid. “I had nightmares the entire time from the medicine [that] they were using to knock me out,” the user continued. “I thought I had been kidnapped by a nurse and was a victim of sex trafficking.”
But senorcoach’s nightmares didn’t end there, as the medication fueled even more visions. “I thought my drug addict aunt had her friends rob my sister and her husband, killing my brother-in-law and one of their children,” they wrote. “And I thought I was constantly being grabbed by people under my bed. It was not fun.”
Then senorcoach made one final point – and it was here that their coma experience tallied more closely with those of others in the thread. “I can’t say that I knew I was in a coma or anything,” they added. “I am usually one of those people that when I have a bad dream, I can tell myself it is just a dream and wake myself up. This was not like that.”
But senorcoach certainly wasn’t the only reddit user to have experienced strange visions while comatose. Yes, a number of other people shared similar stories regarding dreams during their respective comas – and one comment in particular stood out. The user – who was posting under the name KayPet – shared the experience of a relative of theirs. And in doing so, they revealed a quite remarkable tale.
“My uncle – a very serious, strict and rather dry man – had an accident and went into [a] coma [a] few years back,” KayPet wrote. “He never believed [in] anything he couldn’t touch – no talks about souls or anything similar. He was in [a] coma for a few weeks until he woke up and had this crazy story.”
At that point, KayPet gave perhaps the most unique answer to yummygumdrop’s question. “[My uncle] said he saw himself in a bubble, floating around in a white place, and it was peaceful and beautiful,” the user continued. “But then he said about [the] other bubbles he could see around him. All of them had other people in them.”
During this bizarre period, KayPet’s uncle also recalled seeing a woman with black hair inside one of the bubbles, which had eventually burst. After coming out of the coma, he remembered her defining features, too. Plus, there was a strange coincidence in store. “There was a woman, one floor below him, in a coma that sadly had passed away before he woke up,” the user wrote.
“You guessed it – black hair, age, body all correct,” KayPet added. “[My uncle] had never met or seen this woman in his life. His whole idea of life changed after this.” Following this perplexing declaration, then, the Reddit user concluded their post with some contemplative words about the situation. And in a way, they also summed up the mystery that continues to surround falling into a coma.
“It still makes me think sometimes,” KayPet finished. “Where was [my uncle]? He thinks all the people in bubbles around him were patients in the same hospital. Could it be? We’ll probably never know.” And while there may not be a definitive answer to this question yet, who knows what else will be unearthed about comas in the future?