DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
WHEN 72-year-old Mildah Nambeye, of Yenga yenga village in Chieftainess Mungule’s area fell into a coma after convulsing, her family and
the neighbours gave her a goodbye kiss. But that was far from the final fall of the curtain for this mother of eight, who awoke after five hours and requested for water to drink. The request for water came after she had been in a coma and it caught her granddaughter and elderly women from her village by surprise. “I have never seen such an event in my whole life. My wife suffered a minor stroke which affected her left leg. But after undergoing treatment at UTH and Livingstone General Hospital, she recovered, though not fully because her left leg occasionally kept swelling half way from the knee going down,” said 80-year- old husband Elliot Silungwe. He says his wife was on medication but the medication seemed too much. “She was given a lot of medicines at both UTH and Livingstone General Hospital, and her leg and memory seemed to be getting worse, so she decided to take a break. She used to complain that she is tired of taking medication and that is how she stopped,” Mr Silungwe says. Mr Silungwe narrated that at about 10:00 in the morning of July 6, 2017 news of the demise of his wife was all over the village and surrounding areas. As per custom, neighbours and well-wishers trekked to her home upon hearing the news of her death. The villagers had assembled for the funeral of woman they had known since 1972 when she and her husband relocated to the area. “Around midmorning, my wife (Mildah) was sleeping on a mat outside our home because she has been unwell for five months now. While sleeping, she started convulsions. I was called by my granddaughter and when I came, I found that she was taking her last deep breath. At that time, her eyes were not blinking and the month was open. I pushed her mouth and eyes into position and after struggling for over 10 minutes because I was also shaking due to what had transpired, I managed,” Mr Silungwe said. Immediately, Mr Silungwe called two elderly women from the neighbourhood because the body of his wife had grown cold. “When the two came, they also touched her and they confirmed she was dead. As per custom, we wrapped her in chitenges and laid her body on the mat in the living room. By this time over 20 neighbours had arrived and the elderly women had sat next to the body in the house,” Mr Silungwe said. After three hours, Mr Silungwe, in disbelief entered the house and touched his wife’s body and it was still cold. He contacted relatives and his children who are outside Lusaka who by then had started off for their mother’s funeral. But about 15:00 hours and in full view of the elderly women who sat around the body, unaided and while wrapped, Mrs Silungwe got up and asked for a cup of water. “We were seated around the body and as per custom, we could not leave the funeral house until the relatives from far and wide begin to come. But after being here for over five hours, the person we thought had died, woke up without being assisted,” Florence Lungu, a neighbour said. Mrs Silungwe’s granddaughter, Maria says a lot was going through her mind when her grandmother ‘died.’ Such a condition is medically referred to as a coma. For medical professionals, Mrs Silungwe fell in a coma, which is a state of unconsciousness and minimal brain activity. Such a person maybe alive, but can’t be woken up and show no signs of being aware. “It is a miracle that she is alive, completely conscious, and speaking clearly. This is a miracle,” Maria says. When visited, Mrs Silungwe was found walking unaided and eating normally. Commenting on the incident, Registrar-Infectious Diseases at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) Francis Mupeta says a stroke in a seemingly innocent location can sometimes have a poor outcome while some of the more serious ones often resolve either with much work or sometimes spontaneously. Dr Mupeta says chances are high that Mrs Silungwe might have had a heart attack or another stroke. “It is important for patients that have had a stroke or heart attack to get medical attention as soon as possible to greatly improve chances of recovery. In this case, it could have been hours that she was in coma and if she was taken to the hospital immediately, three vital organs would have been examined and these are, the heart, the lungs and the brain,” Dr Mupeta says. Dr Mupeta says in such a situation, the lungs stop first and that was when she stopped breathing. “The lungs are the first to stop when someone is in a coma, then the heart beats reduce and blood supply to the brain gets low. It is possible for people to be in this state for some time. People with conditions like brain injuries do experience such,” Dr Mupeta says. Dr Mupeta says a coma usually only lasts a few weeks, during which time the person may start to gradually wake up and gain consciousness, or progress into a different state of unconsciousness. The chances of someone recovering from a coma largely depend on the severity and cause of their brain injury, their age and how long they have been in a coma. But it’s impossible to accurately predict whether the person will eventually recover, how long the coma will last and whether they will have any long-term problems,” Dr Mupeta says.