I was reading an article today about a man who was in a coma, in what they call a persistent vegetative state, for 19 years who “woke up “in 2003. Terry Wallis, the coma victim, had regained his power of speech and his mobility, and had clear memories of his life before the coma. Terry has awakened to a world where his one year old son is now 20, and Ronald Regan hasn’t been president in decades.
This isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened. But it is probably the first time that medical science was able to actually detect what had happened in the brain to permit the recovery. Basically, the brain had reconstructed itself, building completely new connections in quite unnatural ways (E.G.: connecting the two halves of the brain via a new connection at the back of the brain). This flies in the face of traditional medical understanding: the brain isn’t supposed to be able to
reconstruct this way. But it certainly did.
What does this mean? Well, for one thing it means the diagnosis of someone being in a “vegetative” state needs to be rethought. We need to be able to figure out a way to tell the difference between the occasional Terry Wallis, who after 19 years made a full recovery, and the other 90+% of the people in his condition who never do. Otherwise, our hospitals will be full of $5,000 per day meat sacks with hopeful families waiting decades on the faint hope that *their* loved one will one day wake up and return to a normal life.
And for another thing it means medical science needs to figure out how to promote and speed up the healing process Terry’s brain performed entirely on its own. The brain and spinal column are one of the last great medical mystery areas- damage to either of these organs is usually considered permanent and non-recoverable. But the game appears to have changed…