Boxes Lie Waiting, TBI and Coma
Boxes Lies Waiting is an intricate mystery invollving TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), comas and a condition known as locked-in syndrome. In the novel, a man is hospitalized as comatose after suffering a brain injury. As he recovers, he is mentally alert and able to understand everything that goes on around him, but only gradually does he begin to realize that his mind is trapped inside a body that has become its own coffin.
He is buried alive in a paralyzed body.
Although written as fiction, Dan's decription of such a patient was eerily confirmed when an actual case came to light--that of a Belgian car-crash victim who lay in a hospital bed for 23 years in what was believed to be a coma.
Diagnosed as being in a vegetative state and unable to communicate because he was paralyzed, no one knew that Rom Houben was aware of everything going on around him.
Day after day, year after year, Houben remained in a nursing home in Brussels fully aware but helpless.
Finally, a doctor did a brain scan three years ago and discovered Houben's cerebral cortex was firing away.
Houben said of that day, quote, "It was my second birth." The now-46-year-old Houben is now concious, able to communicate and was recently given a computer and a special keyboard to converse with the world.
Recounting his internal torment during those years, he now says, "I screamed, but there was nothing to hear."
"I was shouting, but no one could hear me," Houben told the German magazine Der Spiegel.
His physician, Dr. Steven Laureys, says as many as four out of ten coma patients may be similarly misdiagnosed.A doctor at Belgium's University of Liege used a specialized brain scan not available in 1983 to determine in 2006 that Houben was conscious.
Houben now communicates using one finger and a touchscreen on his wheelchair.
"Powerlessness. Utter powerlessness. At first I was angry, then I learned to live with it," he said, punching the message into the screen during an interview with the Belgian RTBF network.
"He lives from day to day," says his 73-year-old mother, Fina. "He can be funny and happy," but is also given to black humor.
His condition is known as locked-in syndrome, which Dan drew upon in writing his novel, Boxes Lie Waiting, and which was explored in the French memoir, Le scaphandre et le papillon by journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby who wrote about his life after suffering a massive stroke that lapsed into a coma, a story told in the book and film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
One of the major difference between Dan's fictional character and the Belgian patient is that Dan's character happens to overhear an adulterous nurse and a sexy intern who have sex nightly sex in an adjoining bed plop the murder of the woman's unsuspecting husband. The question arises: How does a patient in a coma prevent a murder?