Martin Pistorius had been in a coma since he was 12 years old. Everyone around him assumed that he didn’t have any conscious experience at all during the whole time; they thought he was just mentally dead forever.
But years later, Martin came out of the coma. And his revelations were baffling to everyone: he had not been unconscious. He could still see, hear and think certain things. And when he went into detail about what he experienced, it bewildered everyone around him.
Imagine how terrible being trapped inside a coma can be? Some people lack any type of consciousness while they’re in a coma. But others can remain conscious for the whole time. The world around them keeps moving, and they’re aware of it; but nobody else knows that they are.
That’s what happened to Martin Pistorius, the protagonist of this story. His revelations about what he saw on the other side of the coma can make people question a lot of things.
But it all started unexpectedly: Martin was a normal healthy 12-year-old boy who had never had any sort of health issues out of the ordinary. He was very interested in electronics, and he was brilliant at it. His parents expected him to become a hardware engineer in the future.
But one day, a sudden tragedy stroke him and his family. It was something that no one could have ever expected, and that would change Martin’s life forever.
It all happened really quickly: one day, he came home with a sore throat. Shortly after, he started having difficulties moving his limbs. The doctors couldn’t put their finger on what it was.
They gave him treatment for tuberculosis and cryptococcal meningitis. But nothing seemed to work. Shortly, things started taking a turn for the worse.
Within the span of a year, Martin got even worse. He ended up losing all ability to move, eat, drink and speak. Nobody could tell what the reason behind this was. The chances of him getting better seemed grimmer and grimmer every day.
Finally, he wasn’t even able to make eye contact, listen, or even see. All of it just in one year. Martin was now in a vegetative state. He was an empty shell of the boy he used to be. Would there be any chances of him getting back to consciousness?
The doctors thought there weren’t any at all. They still couldn’t know what the disease behind Martin’s fast and sudden decline was. But given how quick and progressive his fall into a vegetative state had been, they told his parents one thing.
Martin would probably never come back from the coma. For the rest of his life, it would be just like if he wasn’t there at all. He would be unconscious forever. So his parents’ only option was to take him home and take care of him until he died. Or so the doctors said.
And that’s how things went for a few years. For Martin’s parents, it was heartbreaking to think that the boy they loved had become just an unconscious body; for everything except his basic bodily functions, it was just like Martin was dead.
They still took care of him for all these years. But one can only imagine how hard it was for them. But how was it for Martin?
For two years, Martin was, in fact, not conscious at all. He wasn’t aware of anything that was happening around him. But something happened that the doctors didn’t predict and that no one could ever expect.
He slowly started regaining consciousness. Slowly, he became again able to see, hear and think about his surroundings. But he still couldn’t communicate or move. People around him thought he was completely unaware of what was going on around him. This went on for years. How did Marin deal with it?
Well, it was absolutely frustrating to him. There’s one thing worse than having one of your loved ones fall into a come, being there physically but not mentally: and it’s being in that state yourself.
Everyone around Martin treated him like he couldn’t see, hear or think anything. To them, Martin was closer to a piece of furniture than to a human being. “The stark reality hit me that I was going to spend the rest of my life like that — totally alone.” His only company was his thoughts. And how were those?
Well, not particularly cheerful. “No one will ever show me tenderness. No one will ever love me,” is how he recalls his thoughts during that first stage of awakening. At one point, he witnessed something that almost made him give up: he heard his mom saying, “I hope you die.”
Martin just fell terribly and absolutely alone. And he thought he would stay like that forever. But there was one thing that made his days even worse.
It was Barney, the purple dinosaur from the children’s cartoon. Martin spent a lot of time in a special care center; and they would play reruns of that TV show for hours and hours. “I cannot even express to you how much I hated Barney,” Martin says.
For Martin, regaining consciousness might have seemed like hell at first. Maybe he would have been better off without any type of awareness at all. But things took a turn.
With time, Martin learned how to entertain himself and detach from his negative thoughts and surroundings. He started tracking the times of the day by the changes in light, for example. He also reflected on his parents’ attitude, and learned to understand them and be compassionate with their frustration.
He developed a rich inner mental life, and would often spend hours entertaining himself with his own imagination. He started learning how to enjoy life, even in his state. And fortunately enough, something happened that caused things to get better.
Martin started being able to communicate with his surroundings again! Martin had been trying to reach out to his parents before. But he still couldn’t talk and could barely move.
All he could do was twitch some muscles a certain way, desperately hoping for it to be recognized by someone as a sign of awareness and an attempt at communication. His parents couldn’t see it. But Vera, the massage therapist from the care center, started to pick up on it.
And with time, Martin managed to get back in touch with the outside world. He would forever remain unable to speak, and would have a limited capacity to move. But he learned to communicate through a device that allows him to talk with the help of a computer keyboard.
Now, Martin is able to function and enjoy life just like everyone else, despite his incredibly difficult circumstances and story. He developed an exceptional ability to use his mind, imagination, and reasoning to make life worth living.
As of today, Martin is happily married to his wife, Joanna, and has written and published a book about his experiences, entitled Ghost Boy: the miraculous escape of a misdiagnosed boy trapped inside his own body.
“There is always hope, no matter how small. And also to treat everyone with kindness, dignity, compassion, and respect, whether you think they understand or not. Never underestimate the power of the mind, the importance of love and faith, and to never stop dreaming,” he summarizes what he learned from his experiences.