My Memory of Coma 

"In my Coma, in addition to or after my NDE (Near Death Experience), I remember brief dreamlike glimpses of people who visited, like my mum & dad.

I remember the horror these people expressed when they were first faced with my mangled head and body."


"Much more clearly I remember conversations people had around me, like the Dr. telling my parents that they should pray for Pneumonia, because if I survived I would be a vegetable. And nurses saying that it would soon be over now I had meningitis, and conversations about stopping life support.

Throughout all this I wanted to shout at them that I was ok in there, and for them to get me out from wherever I was trapped."

Horrid !!!

Accident 24/02/82. - Newcastle Australia, 6:00pm.

Motor Vehicle Accident. City Traffic Speed.

No other vehicle involved.

Considered "thankfully" dead for a short time the next day.

12 days in 1st coma. 10 days in 2nd coma.

2 years "in the pit".

By René Hope Turner with some narration by John Veitch

In January 1947 a girl child was born and named René Hope by her parents. René Hope grew to an able bright child who used to spar intellectually with her father. When she left University she had a PhD in Biblical Literature History, and a BSc in Mechanical Optical Engineering. René Hope went to Australia to live and work in 1969.

She established an optical instrument repair business, purchased 25 acres of Australian forest, cut trees from that property to build a pyramid shaped house three stories high with a glass north face, surrounded by forest filled with birds, koala, wallaroos, echidna. She had shared her life with her partner Miles, for three years. René was happy and successful, Chair of the Raymond Terrace Chamber of Commerce. That was before her brain injury.

René Tells her own story:

"I was in a panel van, leaving my optical instrument repair firm to go home to Raymond Terrace. (A town north of Newcastle, NSW.) My partner Miles was in the passenger seat, I was driving and a friend and part time employee, Stewart, was in the back. It was raining after a 3 month long dry spell. I was driving along the industrial highway and slowing to stop at lights where exit road from BHP crosses the highway. There, my memory ends."

According to her partner Miles: As they approached the intersection the lights changed to green, the van entered the intersection turning and then began to aquaplane even thought the vehicles speed was only 43 kph. The vehicle hit the large industrial power pole just beyond the intersection. Stewart, who had been laying on the mattress in the back of the panel van, became a missile. He was thrown forward into the back of René's head, driving her forward into the steering wheel.

Miles suffered a small seat belt bruise.

Stewart's spine was broken L4, he is a paraplegic.

What happened to René?

This is the medical information: She suffered many fractures. The basal area, frontal lobe, right eye socket, and right zygoma (area where the cheek bones join the skull) were all depressed. There were 6 holes in the dura mater ( the protective outer membrane between the brain and the skull.)

The steering wheel had broken, and spokes of steering wheel and indicator pierced the body in three places. Through her throat up into roof of the mouth, and piercing her right upper and lower thorax.

René continues in her own words:

"My Mother Reported that: In the afternoon of 25/02/82 they were in the office of Professor Buchalille (Professor of Neurosurgery) where the professor was reporting my death. He had told them that they should be grateful, as I would have been a vegetable had I survived. During this conversation a young frightened nurse came rushing into the office, blurting out "She is alive! She sat up and spoke!" The Professor chastised her for interrupting him three times before taking her outside and lecturing her about "dead bodies" moving and making noises, the nurse was emphatic, "She sat up and said , "Don't give me any more Drugs!""

At this point my mother took the professor by one elbow, my father by his arm and marched them down the corridor to see. They found me in a back corridor where I had apparently been placed so the nurse could remove equipment prior to my transfer to the morgue. I was in deep coma and breathing. I remained in coma for a further 11 days.

Others were unaware of my "Near Death Experience." As I lay in coma I "met my grandfather" and that experience has profoundly affected my life. Since then my faith has been much stronger, yet at the same time I am confused. The gatekeeper sent me back, presumably with some purpose, a task to perform. Yet I came away without any clues or instructions about how to proceed. It's been suggested that this is exactly what happens when brain injured people are discharged from hospital, they are discharged without a plan for the future. My "hospital discharge from heaven" was like that. I still don't know what I'm supposed to do here. You've got to laugh, some of life has a funny side. :-)

The first coma lasted 11 days or 12, I was awake (sort of) for three days, and then lapsed into a second coma. The prognosis at the second coma was  "I would not survive 24 hours." That coma lasted a further 10 days. I got Meningitis from holes in Dura. Repairs were made to face, skull, dura, and eye socket, after second coma. This was badly done and I've been left with Neanderthal eyebrows and lines on my forehead. My stay in hospital was only three months. Once I could walk again they considered their work done.

I was discharged with no discharge plan, no information about how to rehabilitate myself, no information to help my partner Miles cope with the changes in his life. I had balance problems, I suffered from double vision, and I needed lots of rest. No effort was made to help me plan for and cope with these problems. Miles didn't understand at all.

I tried to go back to the business, but I couldn't cope with living, let alone working. Working for twenty minutes required two hours sleep, (on the floor). I worked at this all week and caught a bus home (52 miles) on weekends, desperate to recover my business after so long away. It took me ages to discover that double vision is contra inducive to success as an Optical Instrument Technician! May have helped had I been told!

Miles didn't really like Australia, my accident made him have to accept responsibility for me. He was offered no assistance, our lives were totally changed, he wasn't prepared for such a massive reversal of roles. I was now disfigured, not really able to care for myself and no longer the night club rager. It wasn't long before I was on my own.

Miles returned to Hamilton (NZ) to help his dad through a divorce from his (Miles) stepmother. During our separation, I began a speedy downhill slide that ended in psychiatric admittance in the Shortland Clinic. Miles missed me and sent letters and tapes, he may be the person who told my mother where to find me.

To fill in my time I would go "shopping". I was found in the street several times blankly staring into space. René was not there, just the zombie. I was like that for much of the next 5 years. I spent long times seeing and hearing but being disconnected, nothing really getting in, lost for hours. For those first two years I spent a lot of time cursing G_d for forcing me to "come back." Some Nun's I met suggested that I have myself "committed" to the Shortland clinic. This news so disturbed my mother that she came to Australia, collected me and took me back to Auckland, New Zealand. That was in December 1982.

I suppose mum felt that I needed to be cared for. She was right, I had been "in the pit" the things I had suffered should not have occurred, need not have occurred. They were the result of a care system that was never provided rather than one that didn't work. Mum provided care, total cotton wool, I needed that for a short time, I needed to be secure again.

Dad didn't cope well with the accident nor with the fact his pride and joy had now returned home at age 35, as a child again. We had always crossed intellectual swords, but after my brain injury I was too withdrawn and dad was too disappointed for the relationship to flourish, I felt he avoided me. It was hard for mum and dad. They fell into the error of doing everything for me so that I ended up with willing slaves who allowed me to opt out of life. The effort involved in struggling to make my battered brain function was essential for my development. You must force the brain to find another way to route the tasks that need to be done. There is no other way.

I realized that I must become independent. It was painful to my mother to watch me, but the only way forward for me was to learn by repetition and effort to do things for myself. The first time I made coffee without any help it took four hours. I was unable to string together jug to cupboard to mug etc., without getting lost and forgetting what I was attempting moment to moment.

There has never been any organized help with my rehabilitation. The drive to do that comes from within myself, and perhaps from G_d. (In Jewish tradition the word "God" is not normally written.) The near death experience has greatly influenced my faith, and given me courage when what I really wanted to do was die. The only effective rehabilitation I know of is task repetition, repetition that forces the brain to create new pathways to old knowledge, or to develop areas of new skills and knowledge.

After two years I had made some small improvements in personal ability, like being able to make coffee or a sandwich, as long as I didn't mind the process taking several hours. Mum found it so hard to see me struggle she would make me sit down and do it for me.

I left my mother's house in Auckland at Miles's invitation to take up life with Miles again in Hamilton. With Miles, I wasn't so protected, I had to do more for myself. I was still very vacant and withdrawn, but allowed to struggle all day to do simple things.

The turning point came when I was watching Fred Flintstone on television. It annoyed me that I was unable to follow the story of this simple cartoon. I got angry with myself. I had those university degrees yet couldn't keep up with a children's cartoon. I threw all my tablets, for pain, for balance, for depression, down the toilet. I was going to try a new way. The next day I bought a computer, an Acorn Electron, and some educational programs for teenagers. I sat at that computer every day, for hours, stringing together thoughts and actions to master the simple programs. I bought a diary program and used it to organize my life, reminding me of everything I had to do each moment. That computer and subsequent computers have become my subsidiary brain. I still carry a Psion 3a pocket book.

Miles was there throughout my recovery. He contributed by not being my slave, just my friend and lover. Our relationship started to dissolve. I have lost my libido. Miles put up with with a partner who said "Wait till I finish this chapter." I could no longer stand noisy crowded places. I would became confused and need to go home. I could no longer dance as my balance centers are shot and I hadn't learned then the compensations I now have. So for several years he went out while I preferred to stay home. Miles became more and more distant and no longer initiated any close contact. It's surprising our relationship lasted so long. Miles left for greener pastures in November 95; we had been together for 18 years. Not bad I think, considering all the problems we had. I miss his friendship and company.

I still don't know my task, still have pain, anosmia, Diplopia, etc. I still pray for release from the struggle this life is, that my task should be completed soon that I may return Home.

I now have gainful employment in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit of Waikato Hospital. There I look after life support equipment. I have three inventions to my name, modifications to ventilators and incubators to improve the outcome for babies. That's me, the mad scientist at heart, I'm not sure where the human side got lost if it was ever there. I build the prototypes for the new units at home. The Hospital saved $43,000 a year because of my inventions and modifications. I get no Royalties, they own all rights. This work of saving babies has become very important to me.

In 1983, while still very much in mother's care I went to Hamilton to visit Miles. I saw an advertisement in the paper about a public meeting for Head Injury families at the Red Cross Hall. That meeting had been organized by a social worker at Waikato Hospital, Howard Ennis. I attended the meeting with Miles. From Auckland were Dorothy Gronwell and Philip Wrightson, and they showed us a video and told us about a Head Injury Support Group in Auckland. At that time there was pressure in many parts of New Zealand for the creation of support groups for the head injured.

I pressed for the formation of the Waikato Support Group. Howard Ennis allowed me to push him into action, but he left it to me after helping set it up. . The Head Injury Society NZ. was "my dream." The society was to ensure that all head injured people would get the support and rehabilitation that I didn't get. I was determined that no other person should have to "go through all the shit I had to put up with." Sadly it's still happening.

In 1986, Waikato hosted the first National Conference of the Head Injury support groups. In 1987, we held the first 3 day conference, where I bullied them into forming the Head Injury Society of NZ. Since then we have employed lots of field officers, and we have worked productively with the Accident Compensation Corporation, but we still have to fight for services that should be provided without the battle. Unfortunately we "alienated Auckland" and the bickering with them is a continuing sore.

I am now paraded as the example of successful recovery from Acquired Brain Damage. Yet the services people like me need are still offered with reluctance. Personally I'm angered at the inconsistent and short sighted development of policy and care. It's not too difficult to prove that improved care is cost effective. Inadequate care renders more than one person dysfunctional, it wrecks and destroys whole families.

I can never lose hope, Hope being my middle name :-) But it is still hard work and only possible if you don't give up the vision and keep pushing a little. Progress is always slower than you want it to be.

Shalom Ve Chesed ... Peace & Loving Kindness

René Hope Turner



Copyright © René Hope Turner, February 1997


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