but still be aware of anything at all must be absolutely and utterly terrifying. I am still trying to imagine this although it gave me nightmares.
There was a small snippet on our early evening news service last night. It showed a man who has apparently been in a vegetative state for more than a decade being put into the doughnut ring of an MRI and then asked to imagine he was playing tennis.
The idea was to see whether he responded at all by observing his brain activity. When asked the question the scan showed his brain was active in the same place as when someone who has normal cognitive functions is asked the question - suggesting that he had heard and understood the question.
If he did understand it was a cruel question. What if he can think? The excruciating boredom and frustration of not being able to do anything at all, of not being able to respond to anything or anyone would be mental torture beyond belief. I will perhaps partially forgive the researchers the question however because they also asked if he hurt anywhere and the answer appeared to be "no". I suppose that is something but his life must be hell.
If the answer to the question of whether he hurt had been yes I wonder how they would have proceeded. I think I know what I would have done but it would have been interesting, indeed instructive, to know what they would have done.
The person the researchers were trying to communicate with is a university graduate. His situation is the result of a road accident.
There is of course a difference between someone like this who has experienced many things and may have memories of them and some of the children I once taught. They had never, and will never, experience such things. Most of them had a limited ability to communicate - but they still tried, and tried and tried.
I became adept at asking questions so they could tell me what they wanted me to know. I had to learn to do it without asking "leading" questions, questions which would suggest the answer - or the answer I thought they might want to give.
All too frequently I saw and heard other members of staff ask leading questions - when they bothered to ask at all. I saw the disappointment on the child's face when their chance to communicate something was snatched away. I know I was, on occasions, guilty of doing the same thing myself - even though I tried not to do it.
It was by asking non-leading questions I discovered that one child loathed the artificial orange juice given to the children because it contained extra vitamin C. His "gag" reflex was reduced to a minimum when he was given water instead. Everyone was much happier about trying to get him to swallow a liquid after that.
I often wonder what happens now to some of the children I taught. Are they given artificial orange juice when they want water? What do they really know and understand.
I have always thought it was more than people were prepared to give them credit for.