In 2010, Australian woman Kate Allatt was placed in a coma after she suffered a stroke. She regained consciousness after 10 days under, but her problems were far from over. As she lay conscious in her bed, it quickly became apparent to her that she was completely unable to communicate. Her mind had woken up, it seemed, but her body had not. This condition, which Allatt compares to being buried alive, is called Locked In Syndrome.
“Locked in syndrome is like being buried alive,” Allatt tells MailOnline. “You can think, you can feel, you can hear, but you can communicate absolutely nothing.”
Two weeks later, thanks to what Allatt says was a relentless inner drive to regain control of her body, Allatt regained consciousness. She says the conversations she overheard during her transitive state were truly the stuff of nightmares.
“It was so scary,” she says. “I can’t tell you. The fear, the anxiety, the terror… They thought I was in a vegetative state. I couldn’t move a muscle. There was no signal I was in there. I was on life support and they might have turned it off. I couldn’t breathe for myself but I could hear conversations that I didn’t want to hear.”
Now, four years later, Allatt has made a full recovery from both her stroke and the ensuing terrifying experience. She now spends her days raising awareness on the need for more medical training to handle situations like the one she was in. She notes that it was friends, not doctors, who were initially able to recognize signs of consciousness in her.
“Doctors are meant to do the Glasgow Coma Scale Test, which checks consciousness. Did they do that enough?” she asks. “Were there enough scans to check for brain activity? I feel so strongly that people who are minimally conscious, like I was, need to be assessed properly. We need a nurse trained in ICU who can, when someone is minimally conscious, sit with them two or three times a week. To establish communication if possible. To try and calm the patient and alleviate their fears.”
Allatt says people in her life have told her to move on from the experience, but she’s not willing to do that yet. She feels that, in her words, she needs to “beat the drum” for those who can’t do it for themselves.
“I need to talk about it because that’s how you learn to make improvements,” she says. “For the people who can't do it themselves - I need to beat the drum for them.”