- If you ever find this author in a coma, just come whisper ‘shrimp tacos’ in my ear.
Some people love pizza, some like roasted Brussels sprouts, while others swear in the name of sushi. The point is, we all have a favorite food that we could eat every single day.
But do you like your favorite dish enough that just hearing its name would bring you back from the grips of death?
It’s alright if you don’t, that kind of an obsession with food might not be healthy. But the family of one Taiwanese teen can thank their son’s love for fried chicken fillets for rousing him from a two-month coma.
Talk about a miracle cure.
It Starts With an Accident
The ordeal of the 18-year-old teen, identified only by his last name Chiu, began in July 2019. He was riding on his scooter in Hsinchu County, northeastern Taiwan, when he got into a traffic accident, reported Taiwan News.
It wasn’t just a small bump, either. The accident left Chiu’s body utterly mangled, battered, and broken.
According to Hsieh Tsung-hsin, director of the ICU at Ton Yen General Hospital, said the teen had suffered massive damage to most of his internal organs. The list of medical terms he used to describe Chiu’s injuries include subdural hydrops; pneumothorax; laceration of the spleen, right kidney, and liver; bleeding from abdominal cavity fractures; and common iliac artery bleeding.
In short, it was a small miracle in itself that Chiu was alive at all. As emergency responders rushed him to the hospital, Chiu slipped into a coma.
Here’s an interesting medical fact for you, doctors use a scale called the Glasgow Coma Scale to rate the severity of the condition. The scale runs from a high of 15 – the least severe – to a low of 3.
Chiu got the lowest score on the Glasgow scale. Things weren’t looking good.
The doctors at Ton Yen put their game face on. Through a series of emergency surgeries, they managed to stabilize Chiu’s condition.
Among the procedures that the young man received were craniotomy, laparotomy, right kidney nephrectomy, splenectomy, liver repair, right clavicle and right femur open reduction and internal fixation, bilateral internal iliac artery embolization, and enterostomy.
We don’t know what half of these operations are, and frankly, we’d rather not know. But we do feel like an average human wouldn’t pull through that list of operations.
Chiu, however, turned out to not be an average person. Dr Hish said that he lived due to his “strong will to survive” – in addition to the extensive number of surgeries.
But although Chiu was no longer in immediate danger of dropping dead, he did not wake from his coma.
A Helpful Threat
For the next 62 days, Chiu remained in his unconscious state. According to a nurse, his family stayed at his bedside the entire time, praying for him to wake up soon.
“It was a constant tug-of-war with the god of death,” the nurse told UDN.
One day, Chiu’s older brother was with him at the hospital. Attempting to engage in some brotherly banter, his brother gave Chiu the following ultimatum:
“Brother, if you don’t wake up, I’m going to go eat your favorite chicken fillet,” the older Chiu said.
Despite his coma, the younger Chiu must have been conscious on some level. That’s because he clearly heard his brother, and he wasn’t about to let anyone beat him to his favorite meal.
Suddenly, Chiu’s heart rate monitor began to beep faster. According to doctors, his brother’s threat caused Chiu to start regaining consciousness and his vital signs began to stabilize.
Noting this, other family members started recording encouraging messages to Chiu and playing them to him. After spending six months in the hospital, the young man was back on his feet.
At the end of last year, he finally returned home. The story doesn’t tell what he had as his first meal, but we’re pretty confident in guessing it might’ve been fried chicken.
Some time after his discharge, Chiu returned to the hospital, but not as a coma-ridden patient. Instead, he came back to thank his saviors with a cake.
This might sound like made-up story, but there is actually scientific backing to it. According to a study by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, voices of loved ones can help awaken an unconscious brain.
The research found that coma patients who heard familiar stories in the voices of their family members several times a day recovered consciousness significantly faster than those who didn’t.
“We believe hearing those stories in parents’ and siblings’ voices exercises the circuits in the brain responsible for long-term memories,” said adjunct associate professor in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Theresa Pape.
Giving the brain something familiar to process four times a day for six weeks helped coma patients become more aware of their environment. Some even started responding to conversation and spoken directions.
“It’s like coming out of anesthesia. It’s the first step in recovering full consciousness,” Pape said.
According to Pape, the speech therapy doesn’t help just the coma patient. It can also benefit the family members during an incredibly emotionally difficult time.
“Families feel helpless and out of control when a loved one is in a coma,” said Pape.
“It’s a terrible feeling for them. This gives them a sense of control over the patient’s recovery and the chance to be part of the treatment.”