The Descendants - LIFE in a COMA

LIFE in a COMA (Illustration) Medicine Fiction Geography Social Studies Sports Film

This chart depicts the criteria which physicians use to determine whether a person is comatose. It is called the Glasgow Coma Scale/Score.


Elizabeth (Joanie) King was no longer breathing when rescuers pulled her out of the water. 

It doesn’t take long for an adult brain to sustain serious damage from lack of oxygen.  Since breathing is oxygen's pathway into the body, the lack of breathing - without immediate life support to replace what the body can no longer do on its own - puts a non-breathing person on a life-threatening path.

By the time she was rushed to the hospital, with life support in place, Mrs. King was in a coma.  What does that mean?

The English word "coma" is based on the Greek word "koma" - κωμα - meaning "deep sleep."  Visitors observing a comatose person think the injured individual appears to be sleeping, but that is not the case.  A ringing alarm clock will not rouse a comatose patient.  We can’t shake people in a coma and expect them to "wake up!"

Damaged brain cells, harmed in various ways - including a lack of oxygen - can cause someone to lose consciousness.  If those consciousness-arousing cells are permanently damaged, the patient may never come out of the coma.

However ... even a comatose person, whose brain is functioning at a very low level of alertness, can sometimes hear, and comprehend, what people say.  That is why doctors encourage visitors to talk with patients - even if they don't respond - and why they warn visitors to be careful about the words they choose in the presence of a comatose patient.

Sometimes seriously injured people - like Mrs. King - are unable to breathe well (or at all) on their own.  When that happens, doctors insert a tube into the patient's windpipe, allowing her to breathe with a ventilator.  Since patients in that condition cannot eat normally, they are fed with a feeding tube.               

While she was healthy, Mrs. King decided to give specific directions about her future - if anything ever happened to impair (or eliminate) her decision-making capacity.  She signed a "Living Will," a legal document telling health-care providers and family members how they were to manage such things as life-support. 

Her living will, among other things, gave explicit instructions what to do if she ever reached a "persistent vegetative state."  Under those no-hope circumstances - as ordered by an Elizabeth King who was still of "sound mind" - her doctors and family members were required to withdraw all life-support care.

In other words, the only thing her doctors were allowed to do - no matter what her family wanted - was to keep her comfortable, until she died.

Who were the members of Mrs. King’s family?

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Nov 01, 2011

Updated Last Revision: Jun 10, 2015

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"LIFE in a COMA" AwesomeStories.com. Nov 01, 2011. Jan 19, 2020.
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