Toronto. Saturday, February 10, 2002.
Kerri had flown to Toronto the previous day for a meeting with Jason Abramson, the managing director of Iacardi’s Canadian division, and later, dinner with her father and Karen at their large and lovely North York home. She left by taxi the next morning to pick up Helen Monteith and take her to St. Michael’s Hospital.
The two entered Steve’s room at shortly after ten. Kerri carried a basket of yellow cymbidium and roses for which she could find no available surface space. All of it was covered to near overflowing with an astonishing array of flowers from family and friends. Helen marched directly to her son’s bedside, grasped his cold limp left hand, and kissed his forehead. “It’s your mother, Stephen. It’s time to wake up. You’ve slept in too long,” she said with the tone of a mother admonishing an adolescent child.
She turned to Kerri. “He looks so weak,” she cried, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I’m so afraid we’re going to lose him.”
Kerri moved close to Steve’s mother and hugged her. “That’s not going to happen, Helen. Steve’s far too strong. He’s a fighter,” she said, anxious to fortify Helen’s spirits, but fully aware that her son might not recover. Doctor Graham had told them that most coma victims who do recover, do so within two to four weeks of their injury or illness. He added that it takes that time for healthy brain cells to assume the function of those that were destroyed. Kerri worried that Steve’s coma had lasted for almost six weeks.
“I have to use Steve’s washroom. Would you mind watching him until I get back?” Helen said, as if her son needed someone to watch over him in her absence.
Instead of doing what Helen had asked, Kerri did what she had wanted to do since the day she met Steve. Taking care not to disturb any of the tubes and wires connected to his body, she lowered herself slowly to lie beside him, then leaned over and kissed his lips. “I miss you, Steve. I need a friend, and I don’t want to lose you,” she said. She remained still for several seconds, waiting for a reaction, then lifted herself to a sitting position, still on the bed. She squeezed his right hand. “Did you hear me?” she asked loudly. “Squeeze my hand if you did.” A bolt of shock and surprise shot through her hand and arm to her brain when she felt Steve’s fingers pressing against the back of her hand. To prove to herself the sensation was not just her imagination, she squeezed his hand again. “Steve, squeeze my hand if you can hear me,” she said. He squeezed, this time harder.
Helen returned from the washroom expecting to continue her visit in the same fashion as she had done so faithfully for six disappointing weeks.
“He’s coming back,” Kerri said, close to bursting with excitement. “He responded to me. I held his hand and asked him to squeeze it if could hear me. He did it. At first I thought it might have been my imagination, so I tried it again. He squeezed it harder. He proved that he can hear me and make his fingers move.
Helen grasped her son’s left hand. “Steve, it’s your mother. I’m holding your left hand. I want you to squeeze my hand if you can hear me. Her doubting frown was transformed into a radiant smile as she experienced the pressure of his fingers pressing hard against the top of her hand. She leaned over and kissed his forehead. “Welcome back you big lug. I missed you so much.” Steve squeezed her hand again and opened his eyes.
“Helen, stay here. I’m going to get somebody. Hopefully I can find Doctor Graham.”
The more than an hour wait for the doctor passed quickly. To Kerri and Helen, witnessing a loved one returning from a long journey into the abyss of a coma, was like watching an unfolding miracle. It was worth every precious minute, watching him, attempting to communicate with him as he moved in and out of consciousness, opening and closing his eyes as if he was also trying to communicate.
Doctor Graham entered, shook hands with both visitors, then proceeded to the foot of Steve’s bed. “Let’s see what we have here,” he said as he exposed both of Steve’s feet. “Steve, my name is Paul Graham. I’m your doctor. You’re in St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. You were in an accident in Muskoka six weeks ago. You received a serious head injury. I’m going to press a pointed instrument against the bottoms of your feet. I want you to blink twice if you can feel it,” he said, then removed a stainless steel instrument from his white lab coat and used it to jab Steve’s left heel pad.
Steve blinked twice, inducing immediate smiles from all three members of his audience.
“Very good. Now I’m going to do the same thing to your right foot.”
Two more blinks from Steve was sufficient encouragement for Graham to test both hands. He did so successfully and smiled. “Thank you, Steve. You are indeed on your way back.” He turned to Helen and Kerri. “This is a good day. It’s an impressive start for Steve. Obviously, he has feeling in his extremities and he responds to commands. I’m optimistic, but at this point I can’t promise you anything. It’s important for you to understand that emerging from a coma is a gradual process. It’s going to take time and a lot of effort from both of you and our staff. As he improves, he might become confused, angry and loud. Don’t let that worry you. These reactions are normal and usually temporary.” He paused to glance at his watch. “I must go and I think you should too. Steve’s had enough stimulation for now. Please stop at the nurse’s station on your way out. I’ve asked them to give both of you our brochure. It’s essentially a manual on how to deal with an emerging coma victim. Please read it and refer to it often. Both of you can be enormously helpful in Steve’s recovery.”