... or should they just be sensible and listen to experts?
A British boy currently lies comatose in hospital; doctors say there is ‘no brain activity’ and a High Court judge has ruled that he can be taken off life support. Yet his mother says he has gripped her hand; she believes he is ‘still there’ and she will fight on.
Intensive care is very expensive and so there can be a financial element in medical professionals’ judgment that there is no point in continuing. They may or may not be right in this case; yet ‘miracles’ happen.
Lady Anne Glenconner’s autobiography ‘Lady In Waiting’ (chapters 14 & 15) gives reason to hope against hope. In 1987 she learned that her 19-year-old son Christopher had had a motorcycle accident (helmetless) in Belize; after emergency surgery he was flown to Miami in a deep coma. Fortunately she had bought travel insurance for him and he was taken on to London in a private plane, still unconscious and on life support.
After Christopher had been unresponsive for weeks in the Wellington Hospital a doctor with long experience in this field told Lady Anne:
‘Christopher will be a vegetable all his life. There is no hope of recovery for him. If I were you I would forget about him improving and get on with your life.’
There are two kinds of explanation. One is to enable you to understand a phenomenon; the other is to explain it away, preferring it not to be real. I’m no preacher - I doubt everything; but this is what Lady Anne says and I believe she is being truthful:
Already religious, she had begun engaging with God and praying hard. At the point of giving up she heard of a Christian healer in Scotland, a Mrs Black, and got help from her by telephone. Then Mrs Black came down several times to work on Christopher in person. Lady Anne thought she could see tiny improvements, but she told Mrs Black she herself was exhausted. Back in Scotland, Mrs Black told her to prepare for a session next morning:
‘Suddenly, to my amazement, I felt as if champagne was flowing through my veins. I felt invigorated. It’s the only time in my life when anything like that has happened to me.’
With renewed energy and commitment she sought out a doctor whose own son had been in a coma; he stressed the importance of doing things with the patient and engaging all five senses. Christopher would need to be stimulated ‘fifteen minutes in every hour every day for weeks.’
Lady Anne set up a rota with the help of friends, to use the doctor’s ‘coma kit’ - smells, music, singing, talking, reading aloud, brushing Christopher’s skin with different textures and temperatures.
‘We even persuaded the nurses to let us take Christopher out of bed [still wired up to many machines] and nurse him on the floor so I could cradle him: I was sure that if he could feel my heartbeat it would have a positive effect on him.’
The breakthrough came when after Christopher had come off the ventilator a friend arrived with a baby’s bottle. A skeptical nurse let them try and eyes still closed, Christopher started to suck. Eventually, after four months in a coma, he woke up, and began rehabilitation.
If Lady Anne hadn’t accepted Mrs Black’s help, she would very likely have followed the hospital doctor’s advice and given up, sensibly.
There’s the choice.