Though it might seem like being in a coma — either one that is medically induced or natural — is like sleeping, or getting knocked out by anesthesia, people who've come out of them describe experiencing everything from wild dreams to hearing and seeing everything going on around them without being able to respond. Hearing about these experiences is both horrific and a fascinating look at how the brain works, and over the weekend a slew of coma survivors participated in an Ask Reddit thread asking them to describe what it was like to be aware of their consciousness while technically unconscious. It turns out, a lot of weird stuff goes on in your head when you're comatose.
Reddit user Lagarista posted to Ask Reddit Sunday, asking: "People who have been in a coma, is it true that you are aware of your consciousness and how did you deal with it knowing that you can't move?" Some respondents described having vivid dreams and night terrors, some of which stuck with them long after they regained consciousness, and some of which blended with real things happening around them. "For the most part I dreamed absolutely vivid and terrifying nightmares that incorporated the world around me," one poster responded. "Most of the time I dreamed I was on a boat that was sinking (the bed I was on moved automatically to prevent bedsores), but there are also individual points that I remembered. A parade of friends who were either laughing or crying at me as I was tortured (a group of twenty or so friends skipped school to come see me), my father trying to fight someone (him yelling at a nurse about something), and someone trying to choke me (from being intubated)."
Indeed, it appears dreams and hallucinations are quite common when comatose, especially when in a medically-induced coma, although there's also a lot people don't remember:
One Redditor said that while they were completely unaware of what was going on around them while in a coma, they experienced such realistic visions they believed they'd been living their everyday real life while unconscious, which is rather frightening to think about. "When I woke up from the coma, I couldn't remember ever being in the hospital. I thought that I had been living normal life the whole time," they wrote.
One poster described their father's comatose experience, in which he spent six months believing he was living under a sewer grate.
Another poster said their mother, both of whose legs were amputated while in an induced coma, "had had some horrific nightmares about having her legs chewed off by demons and vampires." Yet another poster said a friend of theirs who was in a coma for six months "was in a constant dream of being stuck in a wall and couldn't move," and was also incredibly thirsty. "When he woke, all he wanted was water. He told his family if it happened again to pull the plug," the poster wrote.
And a number of Redditors described either personal experiences or hearing from others that they were more or less aware of what was going on around them, even though they weren't able to speak or interact. "I wouldn't say that I was 'aware' of much," one poster wrote, of their medically-induced coma. "Rather, it was like being stuck in an extended dream state... Usually nightmares. I will say; however, that my mom sat by my bed and talked to me every night, and I swear, I somehow heard her voice. It brought me out of some bad places a couple of times."
A nurse posted about one of her patients' experiences:
There are lots of different types of comas, and as evidenced by the Reddit thread (and other people's comatose experiences), people's brains work differently depending on their unconscious state. Doctors are still trying to figure out what exactly happens within the comatose brain, but for now, it seems worth noting that people in comas can sometimes hear what's going on around them. So if you're visiting a comatose patient, be sure to speak to them soothingly, in case that helps ease them out of whatever terrifying visions they've got rattling around in their head.