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Surviving a Coma: My Miraculous Awakening (Part 1 of 2)

Surviving a Coma: My Miraculous Awakening (Part 1 of 2)

Author and speaker Lindsey O'Connor discusses the traumatic struggles she and her family endured when she suffered a near-death experience resulting from post-birth complications and a lengthy coma. (Part 1 of 2)

Opening:

John: Imagine this is what you wake up to. (Sounds of hospital) It’s a hospital room and there are the sounds of life-support machines and distant voices.  And you sense the presence of others, maybe doctors, nurses or family members. And they’re talking to you or about you, you just can’t tell. You want to tell them something, but you can’t. You can’t move. Well, that sounds like a nightmare and you’ll hear about that kind of a real-life scenario on today’s “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly.

Jim: John, I don’t think anyone likes to visit the hospital.

John: I don’t.

Jim: I mean, there’s so many things goin’ on there, the … the sensory overload of it, the smells, the sounds, all that emotional trauma. And it’s just not a good place to be typically.

Today we are gonna talk about a powerful story of Lindsey O’Connor, who was in a coma and we’re gonna hear about what that was like. And let me just say, if you’re in a place where it feels dark, it feels like you’re not heard and you’re not able to communicate, you don’t have to be in a coma. That’s the extreme view of that. But sometimes people are in a place where you’re not feelin’ like you’re heard. You’re not feelin’ like you’re connecting. I think this program’s gonna be for you, as well.

Jim: I’m thinkin’ of that Scripture, John, where the Lord says, “I’m close to the brokenhearted and I save those who are crushed in spirit.” I personally love that Scripture. I think it’s a wonderful promise from God and we’re gonna hear that promise today.

John: Some of our listeners may be familiar with the story. It was about a decade ago, I think, that we told Lindsey’s story of being in a coma and obviously, her recovery. And she’s written a book about the entire experience and the lessons she’s learned. It’s called The Long Awakening.

Body:

Jim: Lindsey, welcome back to “Focus on the Family.”

Lindsey: Thank you so much. It’s really good to be here.

Jim: I can’t imagine, as we’re going to unfold the story, um … what was going on. But let’s start with your family. Talk about bein’ a mom. How many kids did you have? And what was the setting prior to this situation medically that you had?

Lindsey: We had four children and our oldest was 18. Our youngest was 9. And we just decided that we weren’t quite all there and we wanted to have another child.

Jim: Now if I may ask, I don’t want to be inappropriate, but how old were you uh … as you were trying to get pregnant?

Lindsey: 40

Jim: So you’re 40.

Lindsey: Well, initially, yeah, 39 and then (Laughter) … but anyway.

Jim: Now all the women are mad at me (Laughter) for that … I’m … but I want to paint that picture of what that environment was like. So, you had four children ages 18 to 9 and you and your husband, Tim, decided you want another one–

Lindsey: Right.

Jim: –the “oops” baby. That’s what I was.

Lindsey: Oh, actually–

Jim: But it wasn’t so much of an “oops.”

Lindsey: –no it wasn’t. (Laughter) People think that. It’s either an “oops” baby, a “caboose” or you have a new husband. And in … for my situation, it wasn’t either. It was very purposeful.

Jim: Now that’s great. That’s the value of life–

Lindsey: Yes.

Jim: –which your story is going to point to. Describe what happened next. Um … you and Tim are tryin’ to have your fifth child, as we talked about. What’s going on? What happened?

Lindsey: It was a completely normal um … pregnancy. And so, she was born on … Caroline Eileen O’Connor was born on August 30th. And I did not know for a while but I had a uterine rupture. And they rushed me into emergency surgery. Um … I remember Tim grabbed my hand and I said, “Just pray for me.” You know, he said, “Let me pray for you.” And then …

Jim: So, you’re awake at this moment.

Lindsey: I was awake at that moment. But I remember right … they … right when they were rushing me out, I was on a gurney and I looked up and there were, you know, nurses and an anesthesiologist all around me. And I remember looking up and right before kind of everything went black and I said, ‘Please take care of me. I have five children now.”

John: Hm.

Lindsey: And …

Jim:  That was the last thing you said.

Lindsey: That was the last thing I said for almost three months.

Jim: Wow! Where to go? I mean, so you black out. The last thing you remember is the birth of your child, Caroline and asking the doctors to save your life because you’re a mom of five. I mean, that’s the instinct of a mom. Wow! Right there, to be in that kind of desperate peril. Uh … what happens next? I mean, I know you don’t see that. You had to put these pieces together after the fact. But um … what happened to your body? What was going on?

Lindsey: I ended up losing that night about 2 ½ times the amount of blood that’s in your body. They gave me 20 units of blood and blood products. They had to do a second surgery um … later in the middle of the night.

Jim and John: Oh.

Lindsey: And at one point, one of the doctors or one of the nurses came out to the waiting room and told Tim, “Where’s her mother?” Um … basically, “Have you know, have you called her?” And he said, “No, her dad’s out of state. I’m all she’s got.” And they said, “Well, we think she’ll make it off the table.”

And uh … you know, I had just come in that afternoon to have a baby. So, I developed a condition called ARDS—Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. And they could not bring me out of the coma. It was a medically induced coma because um … they needed time for my lungs and my brain to heal. So, they could … you know, my vital signs, everything I could … I was not going to live if they took me out of that coma initially.

Jim: That’s … I mean, it’s amazing to think of all that was going on for you at that moment. And uh … how … I mean, what does it feel like to be in a coma? What’s going on? Could you hear people? Often people talk about hearing things around them. What was it like?

Lindsey: It’s like the longest, darkest sleep you can possibly imagine. I’ve called it “life within death.” Um … it’s like the … living in a place of nothingness.

And I had no idea how long it was and it took me a long time to figure out, kind of place memories that I had with what really happened and what happened when, because I had no sense of time. So, I was in the complete stage. There are stages of coma, stages of consciousness, unconsciousness, semi-consciousness. Um … and it’s called the “Glasgow Coma Scale.” And I was at the very lowest completely unresponsive. And towards the end though, I realized later, there were memories that I have. There were sounds that I heard and I … um … that were in some of the latter stages of the coma. And I was not able to communicate. I could hear some things, but I could not respond.

There were two moments. I’ll … I will never forget one. They had me strapped in a wheelchair and this was after, I think it was in between, because I had two awakenings. The first one after 47 days. And then the second one, I went back into the coma. And I remember that they had me up in a wheelchair or something. And had the TV on, to sort of stimulate me. And I could hear someone in my room, kind of walking about the bed. And they said, “My eyes followed them.” But I was not able to communicate at all.

And then one of the other times, Tim was on one side and my … a doctor was on the other side of my bed and they were both holding my hand. And they said, “Lindsey, squeeze our hands if you can hear us.” And I remember hearing that and trying and then Tim said it again. And I realized, oh, my goodness. I cannot squeeze their hands.

John: Hm.

Lindsey: I think I’m dying.

Jim: So, you’re in this state for how long?

Lindsey: Forty-seven days initially and altogether, about two months. And then before I left the hospital, uh … it was 107 days. And that entire time, I was on life support.

Jim: Hm. What was that day like when you actually opened your eyes and you woke up?

Lindsey: I remember hearing something in the room, but the first like vivid memory, I remember it like it was yesterday. I heard Tim say, “Honey, can you hear me?” And his face was right close to mine, just like a movie close-up. And I thought, “Yes, I can hear you. I just woke up.” And our pastor …

Jim: So, you had no concept of what had just taken place–

Lindsey: No.

Jim: –for 47 days. You think you’re just waking up.

Lindsey: Right. And he said, “Well, honey, you can’t move. You’re in the hospital and you’ve been here 47 days.”

John: Hm.

Lindsey: And I …

Jim: Did that sink in? Or did you even comprehend what he was saying at that moment?

Lindsey: On one hand it was rather matter of fact. Oh, wow, you’re kidding. And then on the other hand, you kind of can’t … you can’t comprehend that. But I kind of rolled my eyes after he said that. And we had this movie line where uh … a Eugene Levy movie, where he stabs himself in the leg with Novocain and drags his leg along and says, “What a week I’m having.” And so, when I rolled my eyes like that, Tim knew that I was in there. And he–

Jim: And you were thinking.

Lindsey: –that I was thinking and … because I couldn’t speak. I was on a ventilator still. And he knew. There was a lot of reason to doubt later that I was not in there and I did not have my faculties. But on that day, he knew. And our uh … pastor and good friend was standing next to him and he had on a blue New York Yankees cap and he said, “Well, Tim, why don’t you tell her, her story?”

John: Hm.

Lindsey: And so, that began about two months of people beginning to tell me what happened.

Jim: Let’s again paint that picture, the diagnosis with the doctors. They were basically not hopeful, right?

Lindsey: Oh, no, no. Two weeks after it happened, my family went through what they refer to now as the death vigil night.

Jim: What … what does that mean, the death … ’cause many have not had to experience that. To be at a hospital, to have your family as the … the death vigil night sounds ominous.

Lindsey: Well, it was. The hospital called Tim and said, “We don’t think she’s gonna make it through the night.”

Jim: So, bring the family.

Lindsey: Bring the family.

Jim: That’s what–

Lindsey: And so–

Jim: –they’ll say.

Lindsey: –yes and so, Tim went back home to, you know, gather the kids. And he said, and he had ’em all sitting on the bed in our bedroom. And he said, “We’re gonna go up to the hospital. And this looks like the night that mom may go home to be with the Lord.” He said, “Now I don’t have any scriptural proof for this, but think about something that you might want to say to her, you know, to say goodbye, just in case, you know, she might be able to … to hear you or you just need to say goodbye.” And so, then he took the kids up there and they said their … their farewells to me.

Jim: Let’s um … if we could, let’s just roll that back. You’ve been able to piece, I’m sure, that moment together after coming out of the coma and talking with Tim and … and the kids. What did that look like? What have the kids shared with you, ages 18 to 9 and of course, Caroline, the newborn would have no memory of that. But what did your older children say to you? And what do they say to you today about that moment, to go pray for mom, because she’s going to die?

Lindsey: My oldest daughter is the one that I specifically remember what she said. It was so poignant. Um … the second born also Claire, uh … second oldest, she told me that she said um … she expressed a little bit of anger towards me. And then, just you know, love, love. And my oldest daughter, Jacquelyn said … she goes, “Mom, I’m not gonna tell you that, you know, I love you. I know you know that. But I want to say, thank you.”

Jim: Hm. These are the words they spoke to you at that time.

Lindsey: Yes.

Jim: I mean, that’s beautiful–

Lindsey: It’s–

Jim: –even though–

Lindsey: –very strange.

Jim: –it’s tragic.

Lindsey: It was like getting to hear what people said in your eulogy. And … but to get to know what your children thought and went through they thought they weren’t gonna have a mom anymore and what my husband went through. It’s just amazing.

Jim: You talked about the children and their response to all of this, which had to be overwhelming. Um … what were some of the expressions for the kids. How did they deal with it?

Lindsey: Jacqueline told me afterwards that she had a tremendous crisis of faith, because she thought it’s … what’s happening to my mom, as hard is this is with God, I can’t imagine going through this without God.

Jim: And she’s 18 at this point?

Lindsey: She’s 18. And she said, she actually pictured her life like the proverbial fork in the road. And she on one track she saw him … I’m tempted to not even believe in God anymore. And on the other side is my faith just because of my parents instilled this in me and it’s good moral choice. And she has said that at that point, that moment in the car when she was praying and trying to figure that out, she felt like she took on her faith for her own for the first time ever.

Jim: Oh … what a brilliant thing. I mean, that actually was benefit out of pain.

Lindsey: Uh-hm.

Jim: I … you know, again, I … I think it would be important, um … you had two or three near-death experiences during the time you were in a coma. Doctors used certain drugs. Talk about that severity of drugs nicknamed “the death drug” and some other things like that. Fill us in with that part of your journey as you’re in a coma.

Lindsey: The night that it looked like I was not going to make it and my family was called in, I was on so many medications. They … I was 100 percent maxed out on the amount of drugs that they could give me, 100 percent maxed out on the amount of oxygen that could give me. And so, everything, all these life-support things, there was nothing more they can do. And my blood pressure was still plummeting. My oxygen was … levels were still plummeting.

And there was one drug that they gave me to … because of the respiratory distress, the respiratory disease, they would basically give it to shut down the blood flow in your extremities to keep everything keeping you alive um … in your torso. And it has a lot of side effects. And there was so much suffering that my husband Tim was watching me go through. And it just … he just could hardly bear that. There was this one drug that had so many side effects that they … they called it “Leave ‘Em Dead,” you know, among some of the doctors. And …

Jim: That was the nickname of–

Lindsey: Yes.

Jim: –that drug, “Leave ’em Dead.”

Lindsey: The nickname.

Jim: Hm.

John: Well, you can learn more about Lindsey O’Connor’s story, her book, The Long Awakening and some other aspects of this incredible experience that she’s gone through, when you stop by www.focusonthefamilycom/radio.

Jim: Lindsey, um … the ultimate question seems to be, um … with your experience, so many people see things, experience things spiritually. Talk about that aspect of this journey, because in your book, you don’t do that, but tell us about it.

Lindsey: Well, you hear of so many end-of-life and near-death experiences, where people talk about heaven and angels and that’s their story. But when I woke up and began to put my story back together, I realized I didn’t have that. Where … where … where were the angels? Where was the sense of, you know, fireworks, of God’s presence and feelings of God’s presence? And so, I had no uh … tunnel of light or any of that.

Jim: Do … do you wonder why? Do you have a–

Lindsey: Oh, I did.

Jim: –rationalization for perhaps why that didn’t happen? Were you not far enough in the tipping point? Or ..

Lindsey: No, I–

Jim: What do you think?

Lindsey: –I don’t believe at all for a minute it wasn’t because I wasn’t in the tipping point because I was absolutely in the downward spiral towards death. But I think it’s because God gave me a different story.

Jim: Ah.

Lindsey: And that is okay.

Jim: Absolutely.

Lindsey: It took me so long to come to grips with that. At the … initially I thought, “Wow, I got gypped,” you know. (Laughing).

Jim: Paid the price for–

Lindsey: I …

Jim: –the ticket, but didn’t …

Lindsey: Right, I teetered on the edge and I didn’t get the pretty postcard.

Jim: Did that make you feel um … somewhat doubtful or … ?

Lindsey: It did.

Jim: Yeah.

Lindsey: Initially it did. I would see books where people talked about that and I thought, why didn’t I get that? But over a long period of time, I realized that, you know, you don’t have to have everything like everybody else. God can use you. He can use your story any way He likes and it doesn’t change uh … reality.

Jim: Lindsey, let me um … paint a story here, too, because I want to talk about your marriage and the decisions your husband Tim had to make at this time. And you talk in the book about how he did that. There’s so many stories that hit the news. Um … right about the time that this happened to you, Terri Schiavo was occurring and many of our listeners will remember her story, not–

Lindsey: You know what?

Jim: –dissimilar.

Lindsey: On the one year anniversary of the day that I woke up was the day that the Terri Schiavo story hit the news.

Jim: Oh. I mean, so these are happening almost in parallel. You had two obviously very different outcomes. And I don’t want to take too long to make those comparisons, but your husband had to struggle through end-of-life orders and what to do. Take us through that process because I think many of us, we never expect something like this to happen. But it will happen to a few. Talk about how he did that and what was his thought process.

Lindsey: Because he was watching me suffer so much and it looked like there was absolutely no hope, um … on the night that there was what they call “the death vigil night,” he was aware. He talked to the doctors and what … and they told him, “She’s not gonna make it through the night.” And so, he began to evaluate, you know, really struggle uh … with what’s the right thing to do?

Lindsey: And the end-of-life question that people struggle with often with loved ones in hospitals right now and that is what can I do here that’s going to be morally right, ethically right, spiritually right? And so, he signed a DNR order.

Jim: Which is … DNR?

Lindsey: A “Do Not Resuscitate.” And then the next morning he rescinded that and then some time not long after that he signed another one. And then he rescinded that one, too.

Jim: So he obviously, was struggling with what the right thing to do. He actually … what I thought was really critical, he consulted with your parents, didn’t he?

Lindsey: He did and that’s where on end-of-life issues that there’s so much crisis that happens, not only with the struggle of the decision itself, but with the family members. And my dad was … they … total agreement with how they handled that. And after I woke up, I remember uh … while I was still in the hospital, our … a friend of mine came and he said, “Has Tim told you about the decision that he made?” And I said, “No, what are you talkin’ about?”

Jim: Yeah.

Lindsey: And he goes, “Oh, well, I think you better ask him.”

Jim: (Laughing) Yeah, good … good response.

Lindsey: So, I found out, you know, that Tim had um … signed these DNR orders. I said, “You did what?”

John: You weren’t favorable.

Jim: How did that make you feel?

Lindsey: What in the world? But we …

Jim: But seriously, I mean, we’re laughing, but thankfully–

Lindsey: Right.

Jim: –because we’re Christians and we know what is next is glorious and a good thing. So, for those that are feeling, how could you handle this content so lightly? Not at all.

Lindsey: No.

Jim: I think you and I and John, we … we have confidence in what’s next. That’s why you’re here.

Lindsey: Exactly.

Jim: But the point of that is, it does create some uniqueness in a marriage, because you’ve both been under pressure. Tim had to say, yeah, I ordered it, rescinded it; ordered it and rescinded it. How did that discussion go as you talked that through with him, so that you came to a good place? And what confidence did you give him after waking up from the coma to say, “You did well, honey.”

Lindsey: I did say, “You did well.” (laughter) As he began to explain to me where he was, why he thought that, what was going on, the … and the counsel. And then it sent me to really researching what I thought, what I believed about end-of-life ethics. And several things he did completely right.

Jim: Name them.

Lindsey: He discussed–

Jim: What … what should–

Jim: –people do?

Lindsey: –he discussed with my family. Hm … the very first thing was what do you think your loved one’s wishes are um … regarding what the outcome might be. And then the other thing was to bring in wise counsel. And he did that uh … both from a spiritual aspect and a medical aspect. And uh … our pastor said to him, “Tim, there’s a strong likelihood that she’s not gonna make it. But right now, leave your fingerprints off of it.”

John: Hm.

Lindsey: And so, he did. But I talked with another ethicist at a hospital, cr … a believer and he said, “So many times Christians feel like that there’s the only thing … the only right thing to do is continue life at all costs.” And he said, “A lot of people extend things so long, um … even when there is a downward spiral towards death,” which is one of the other things to consider in end-of-life decisions. Um … he said, “Sometimes it belies the fact that they are … actually believe in an afterlife.”

One thing that I’ve learned, too, is that I encourage people, is to be careful of having everything so spelled out, with … if this thing happens to me, I want life support removed in seven days. I have a certain time limit um …

Jim: Right. I mean, think about it in your case. If you would’ve said 30 days, which for most people would … that may be reasonable. But you went 47 days.

Lindsey: Right.

Jim: What if it were 45 days?

Lindsey: Right.

Jim: And you woke up on the 47th day. I think that’s the tragedy. And uh … given that this occurred, you know, very close to the time that Terri Schiavo went through her ordeal, there’s lessons to be learned from all of it. I know that was long ago. Some listeners may not remember that. Maybe we can post a story about that, John.

And um … you know, again, these are very deeply personal decisions between God, the family member and hopefully, the extended family like you described. And I … I thought to myself, um … you know, for a mom and dad, man, it tears me up thinkin’ about it, to give life to this child, to see that girl or that boy grow. And then to be out of the picture to make a decision like that. It just seems inhumane, that they need to be involved. And I think just as a … as a dad that crushed me, thinking what that father was going through.

Lindsey: My dad describes coming in and just putting his hand on my feet. And he said, “I taught these little feet how to walk. Lord, please don’t take my daughter.” And I am so proud of my husband for taking my … my father in and making it really a joint decision of family … of family unity, you know.

Jim: Yeah, it was beautiful. And uh … Lindsey, what you’re sharing is so, so powerful. I know people are connecting with your story and what God has done for you. There’s much, much more I want to cover and I’d like to get your husband Tim in here, into the studio, to share his side of the story. And I want to hear how you learned to bond with your baby girl, Caroline, whom you didn’t see for almost two months while you were comatose.

But we’re runnin’ out of time and we need to wrap today’s program. What I’d like to do then is have you stay right here and we’ll just keep rollin’ and then we’ll share the rest of the conversation next time. Can you do that with us?

Lindsey: I’d love to.

Jim: All right.

Closing:

John: Lindsey, you’ve been so vulnerable with us and I’m really looking forward to hearing part two of your story and I’m sure our listeners are, as well. Uh … you know, Jim, it strikes me that some people who have tuned in today are probably now reminded about grief. They’ve lost a loved one. These are kinda painful memories for us to be touching on.

Jim: Well, it’s almost certainly the case, John, that that’s occurring. And we know that for some of you who were praying, you didn’t get the miracle answer you were hoping for. And that probably left you confused or angry. And maybe that’s even shaken your faith a little. Uh … know that we grieve with you and if we can help you in any way, we’re here for you. Let us encourage you to contact us. We have a wonderful team of Christian counselors who can pray with you and provide tools and resources to help you through that.

John: Yeah, Jim, those folks who you might talk to when you call and ask to speak with a counselor, they are tremendous.

Jim: It’s the backbone.

John: They’ve got heart. They’ve got biblical knowledge. They have perspective and … and they listen and they care for you when you call. I … I hope you’ll get in touch today if you’re at a point of deep, deep need. Our number here is 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or we have a link and you can find a counselor there at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .

Jim: And for our friends who care about the family and want to put an arm around someone who is hurting today, let me invite you to be a part of the healing process. I’ve said this before, but on a thank-you call that I had, thanking a donor who is supporting Focus, he said to me something that for a moment set me back, but I loved it. He said, “You know, Focus has created the apparatus for my wife and I to do ministry through. And I think it’s one of the best mechanisms for us to do that ministry through.”

What a wonderful way to look at it, doing ministry, your ministry through “Focus on the Family” by supporting us financially. Uh … your gift of any amount will help cover the cost of our counseling services and whatever follow up that’s needed for these couples. And uh … if I could ask you during these summer months to act today, it would be really helpful. We’re behind and we need to hear from you. So, let me say thank you in advance for uh … supporting the ongoing ministry here at “Focus on the Family”.

John: Uh-hm, yeah and you can learn more when you call us today at 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.  Or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio . And we’ll send you a complimentary copy of Lindsey’s book, The Long Awakening for your gift of any amount. And I’ll mention that this is, I think one of the most beautifully written books that I’ve seen, Lindsey does have such a gift with words and in recounting her story and I’ll think you’ll find this a powerful addition to your library, something you’re gonna want to pass on to someone else, as well.

Our program was provided by “Focus on the Family” and on behalf of Focus president, Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening in. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back for the continuation of this amazing story from Lindsey O’Connor. That’s tomorrow, when we’ll once again, turn our hearts toward home.

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