Coma Misrepresented On The Big Screen

More than often, I have relatives, who after watching one too many 6pm Hong Kong soap operas, suggested leaving me in a burning house, and by some miracle, to save myself, I would stand up and walk. If only it is that simple to make me regain my motor functions again, I would not be still on a wheelchair after nearly twenty two years.

For me to walk again, that is after my damaged spinal cord has been repaired, a lot of muscles need to be exercised. After that, I need to regain my balance. It may even take months or years of physiotherapy to correct my posture. The decades of sitting down would have created a host of problems for bones, tendons and muscles. I may still need to catheterise every three hourly and wear diapers to prevent accidents. That is only the beginning. It is absolutely impossible to shock me into walking again through fear.

In the initial years after my paralysis, I had dreams of a miracle like that happening to me. As the years passed by, that dream gradually fizzled out. Now I have accepted my condition. This has allowed me to move on with life, make plans to work around my paralysis and not waste time hoping for the day that may never come.

Therefore, I could not help but nod in agreement when reading the following news at Yahoo that said comatose patients are being misrepresented in movies. If it was as simple as regaining consciousness, getting up and just walk away after years being in a coma, it would have solved a lot of problems, especially from the rehabilitation point of view.

Likewise, paralysis, especially spinal cord injury is being misrepresented in the same manner. Movies and shows have depicted paraplegics somehow miraculously being able to walk again when faced with danger or life-threatening situations. That is utter bollocks. If only my well-meaning relatives realise that leaving me in a burning house can never make me walk again but will most probably cause me to be burnt to death, perhaps they will stop going on and on with that hare-brained scheme.

Coma misrepresented on the big screen

By Megan Rauscher
2 hours, 49 minutes ago

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – The portrayal of coma and awakening from a coma is grossly inaccurate in major motion pictures, research shows, and many moviegoers are unable to tell fact from fiction. They admit that what they see in films regarding coma may impact real-life decisions for a loved one.

In a review of 30 movies from 1970 to 2004 with actors depicting prolonged coma, coma experts found that only two showed a “reasonably accurate” representation of coma.

Problems with the depiction of coma included comatose patients, without feeding tubes, suddenly waking after years of being in a coma with no physical or mental problems and with a Sleeping Beauty-like appearance.

“Miraculous awakening from prolonged coma with no long-lasting effects was a typical feature,” report Dr. Eelco F. Wijdicks, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and his son Coen Wijdicks, who is working on a master’s degree in anatomy and cell biology at Rush University in Chicago.

Not showing typical coma-related effects such as muscle wasting, bed sores and incontinence may be a conscious decision on the part of filmmakers to “maximize entertainment but is a disservice to the viewer,” they write in the journal Neurology.

Virtually all of the films showed the comatose person with eyes shut at all times, when in reality people in comas often have their eyes open or open them in response to speech or pain.

One film showed a comatose person tapping out a message in Morse code with his finger. “We expected misrepresentation – not gross representation,” Eelco Wijdicks told Reuters Health.

As part of their study, the Wijdicks showed clips of 22 scenes depicting coma from 17 of the movies to 72 people with no medical training and asked them how accurately the comatose state was portrayed.

“We expected that the viewing public would recognize the inaccuracies, but we were surprised by the high number of viewers who thought some of the scenes were very plausible,” Eelco Wijdicks commented.

For example, more than one-third of the time, viewers were unable to spot important inaccuracies in the scenes and 39 percent of viewers admitted that what they saw in the scenes might influence their decisions if a family member were in a coma.

“The public has become more sophisticated in their medical knowledge and we presume they would appreciate a more accurate display of devastating neurologic injury,” write the Wijdicks in their report.

SOURCE: Neurology, May 9, 2006

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. End-stage renal disease since 2017. Principal Facilitator at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. Former columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

4 thoughts on “Coma Misrepresented On The Big Screen”

  1. hahahahha sorry but that first line got me laughing lots 😛

    well never believe what you see on tv. remember those jokes/myths about the boy who thought he was superman and fell out of a window?


    First line? Why? Yes, tvs and movies can make life difficult for disabled persons sometimes, and dangerous to kids who cannot differentiate between reality and fantasy.

  2. I find it scary that your relatives are actually considering(!) leaving you in a burning house to fend for youself!

    To “chi kek” me into walking again… is that good or bad?

  3. hahahaha. i get that kind of a response too. especially something that i am afraid of to deliberately scare me so i wud “jump up” and begin to walk! i think i would get a heart attack and die instead of standing up and “running away” from it. haih, mindset.

    I have no doubt you have experienced that many times before too.

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