Don't Pull the Plug Too Soon!

Jacqueline Marcell Health Guide
  • When my mother had a heart attack and was in a coma for months, the doctor told us that she was without oxygen for far too long and that we should “pull the plug” because if she ever came to, “she’d just be a vegetable.” My father and I were so stunned and furious to be told such a thing and flatly refused. We decided to try an around-the-clock vigil talking, lightly massaging and grooming her. I remember the doctor coming in daily to check on her, shaking his head and saying, “Go home, she can’t hear you—you’re wasting your time.” We couldn't believe he could be so cold and hated him for taking away our hope. Instead, we refused to accept it and kept going day after day. And when we went home late at night, we left a portable radio on her pillow so there was always music and voices just in case she really could hear.

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    One morning as we were lighting rubbing and talking to her, she opened her eyes and looked straight at me, deliberately and clear as day. “Oh Mom, Mom, hi, it’s me Jackie.” But then her eyes slowly closed again and no matter how much we tried, she didn’t respond at all. The doctor finally showed up and when we excitedly told him what had happened, he quickly dashed our hopes again saying that it was just an involuntary movement which often happens with coma victims. I was so mad and just couldn’t accept that, because I knew she had been there with me for that brief moment and that we had made a connection.


    Dad and I worked on her all day and then late that the evening, all of a sudden she opened her eyes again and looked right at us with an inquisitive look. “Hi Mom, you had a heart attack and you’re in the hospital, but you’re going to be okay. Do you understand?” She had a tracheotomy and couldn’t talk so somehow I thought to say, “Blink once for yes if you understand me.” It was straight out of a Dr. Kildare episode as Dad and I held our breath waiting to see if she could respond. Finally she blinked a tightly and very deliberately--yes! It was one of the happiest moments of our lives.


    It took many months of physical therapy and rehabilitation, but a year later my father held my mother’s hand and walked her into that hospital to see the grim doctor who would have had us pull that plug fifteen years too soon and end her life. Dad made it very clear to him that he should never tell families that their loved one will never recover from a coma or that they will only be a vegetable if they do, as he obviously did not have the medical ability nor a crystal ball to know.


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Published On: October 03, 2008