Vegetative State

(Originally posted to June 14, 1995)

Hello. I hope this reaches someone. I pay a lot to access the Internet and I was wondering if there are any parents here who can identify with my situation, or any medical professionals who could diagnose it.

Our daughter stopped speaking last night.

It was dinnertime and I had just put the roast in. My son Kevin and my wife Andrea were reading a book in the living room. My daughter, Opal, was sitting at the table. She seemed to be fidgeting with some kind of charm bracelet she had found at school or something. It doesn't really matter. What I do remember are her eyes, which seemed to look right through the wall ahead of her. A thousand-yard stare, I think they call it.

Opal went through some kind of traumatic experience three years ago. She was a freshman in high school then. I'm not sure what it was anymore, the exact details as she related them to us. But it was extremely vivid and detailed. We took her to a therapist to see if that would help her work through whatever experience she had. It didn't help, and she stopped seeing him a year later. Now she's a senior and things seem to have calmed down, ever so slightly. She talks with her peers more, is more involved in her schoolwork, generally seems to have moved on.

Every so often, she'll have one of those nights. She'll be screaming at the ceiling, howling until her voice gives out, pointing to something neither I nor Andrea can see. This doesn't happen very often- every three months or so- but it has persisted since the initial event. Like I said, I don't know what the event was. Maybe I just blocked it from my memory. Those eyes of hers- on the nights when she does experience this abject horror- are enough to make me want to never remember what she said it was. Me and Andrea will run in, and wake her up, and she'll ask for some water. Always water, I think maybe she uses so much energy screaming she gets dehydrated in the process. It's terrible.

She was just sitting at the table, picking at the bracelet, and I was looking through the recipe guide for herbs- and she suddenly collapses off her chair. No warning, no indication. She just falls off and she's lying there, and I call Andrea in. We both look her over and decide to call an ambulance. Kevin comes in, I tell him to go dial 911 and he does. And all this time, Opal seems completely out of it. Nothing. It's as if her mind had been there one minute and it was stolen the next.

The paramedics get there and they cart her off, and I tell Andrea to go to the hospital with Kevin, that I had to get my things and I would be leaving in about an hour. Actually, I just sat in the big armchair in the living room and looked at the wall for a long time. Trying to remember what it was Opal had told me. Three years may not sound like a long time, but someone's memory can actually deteriorate enough in three years. After a while of this I get up, I drive over there, and Opal is just lying in the hospital bed with that glazed expression on her face. Eyes toward the ceiling. Rigid disposition.

Kevin is looking at his big sister and he's about to cry. I'm about to cry myself. We sit down and try rubbing her hands, snapping in front of her face, anything. The doctor comes in and tells us we shouldn't do that.

Andrea asked if she was in a coma, then, and the doctor replied that she wasn't, that what she was stuck in was more like a suggestive trance. That somehow, she was willingly unresponsive. She was breathing, her pupils would dilate and retract under light, all her organs were still working, I didn't really understand any of what the doctor said. That's why I'm posting here, for the possibility of a second opinion. Has anybody experienced something similar, in any capacity?

The strangest part was when he brought out an encephalogram to track her brain waves. She was thinking. Her mental activity was as constant as it was before, in fact it was heightened. He had no explanation for this.

I sat there with Opal overnight, and Andrea drove Kevin home, and by the morning she was still like that. Eyes wide open, breathing normally, but no indication that she was in the room. She was gone. She is gone.

She's still gone.