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Coma and Other Conditions – Keep Talking

82. Coma and Other Conditions—Keep Talking

In my years as a music therapist, I worked a number of times with persons in coma; or persons with brain conditions where they had little response; or with persons who appeared to be dying. Those experiences have convinced me that it’s important to keep talking, to keep singing, to keep touching, to keep relating. I don’t have the medical training to be able to write about different levels of coma, or various brain diseases, or to know what exactly is happening; but I have accumulated stories and convictions of my heart.

One of the things I believe is that frequently the person has lost the ability to communicate. She can’t nod her head to let you know that she hears you. She can’t even smile to encourage you. She can’t respond with her voice to ask you questions or to tell you what she thinks. But I believe she is absolutely there and inside of herself she may in fact be nodding her head, smiling at you, and delighted that you are still present, communicating with her.

I think we depend on feedback. I want to know that you hear me. I want the nod that tells me you’re following what I’m saying. And when I look at you and see no expression, it scares me. And that’s the hurdle that I encourage people to jump over and simply to believe that that person is there.

I have stood beside a bed with family members who are distraught that Mom is no longer communicating with them. We have talked together. I have sung one of Mom’s favorites and she raises her hand, and the family is relieved.

I entered a room once where a man was in the bed and staring at a corner of the room. His eyes did not move when I spoke. I talked to him of our journey together there in that nursing home, of the songs that we had sung together. I sang several of them. His eyes never moved from the corner that he watched. Finally I called him by name and told him that I wanted to sing one of our favorites. I said, “You know, we have sung this song together for a couple of years now. I remember when you sang the harmony and I sang the melody. I want to sing it again,” and I sang it. His eyes still did not connect with mine and they did not waver from the corner. I knew I might not see him alive again so I said, “Hey—thanks for being a friend. I have been so glad to know you,” and I bent over and kissed his cheek. As I stood up, preparing to leave the room, his head moved, his eyes looked at me, and his lips pursed into a silent kiss. I said, “I’ll take one of those.” I bent over him again and he kissed my cheek. His eyes went back to the corner.

It convinced me—that experience—that no matter whether a person can pull together that parting kiss or not, they are absolutely there, and I will keep talking and caring.

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