What is it like to be in a coma?

Understand what it's like to be in a coma

A coma is an unconscious state in which the victim will not wake up. A coma can result from traumatic injuries or medical professionals may induce a coma for practical reasons such as surgery. The epidemiology of comas reveals that they are quite common.

Many people experience them as the result of intoxication, sleep deprivation, and other medical issues. Comas are often the subject matter of popular media, but many people have inaccurate ideas about what life in a coma is like.

How coma patients experience external stimuli

The most fascinating thing about the life of a comatose patient is the way they experience the world around them. A coma patient can't move or interact with other people or their surroundings, but these can certainly affect them. For example, if you were to touch the hand of someone in a coma, they would experience that sensation.

After recovering from a coma, many patients can remember things that were said around them and can remember touching sensations. The ability to experience stimuli is considered an area of caution for medical professionals. They must handle coma patients in a way to avoid inflicting pain upon them.

Do comatose patients dream?

It's possible for coma patients to experience dreams during a coma. They dream just as if they were in a normal state of sleep. Dreams that happen during a coma tend to focus on phenomena that occurred around the time of whatever caused the coma such as an accident or a violent encounter.

The sense of time for the coma patient is asymmetrical with time as it actually happens, so their dreams may feel longer or shorter for them than they actually are. A patient who is in a coma for a month may have dreams that feel like entire years while someone in a coma for a decade may have dreams that feel like minutes to them.

If a patient is under the influence of drugs, they may not experience dreams or they may have difficulty remembering dreams. Illicit substances such as alcohol or heroin can easily erase the ability of the brain to experience dreaming. However, these effects are often observed in patients who are given general anesthetics as well.

The daily needs of a coma patient

During a coma, patients are not able to feed themselves or take care of their hygiene. Hospitals must prepare special methods of giving the patient food and cleaning the patient on a daily basis. Nutrients are often delivered to the patient through the use of intravenous injections. Those injections give the patients sustenance and medication if necessary.

The hygiene of the patient is usually addressed by nurses. They are responsible for washing the patient and cleaning the patient's bedpan when it is full. Outside of the hospital environment, the patient's family can take on many of these roles or other aides may come in to help.

When the coma finally comes to an end

After a coma is over, the patient will have to adjust to their life again. Depending on how long the coma has lasted this process can take days or it may take years. Over the course of a coma, a patient will lose physical abilities due to lack of exercise. The decline in muscle mass is usually reversible, but important considerations for diet and lifestyle must take place.

The recovery process is a long one but most patients are able to eventually recover the physical strength they possessed prior to the coma.

Another important area of lifestyle changes after a coma is found in the work and school routines of coma patients. Spending years in a coma can easily lead to memory loss and make returning to one's previous occupation difficult. Comatose patients may have to spend even longer trying to recover from the effects the coma has on their mental abilities than what it does to their physical prowess.

However, therapy and special accommodations will bring patients closer to recovery.

Last Reviewed:
June 21, 2017
Last Updated:
October 12, 2017
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