Martin Pistorius got a degenerative disease that left him with little control over his body and unable to speak. Doctors diagnosed him as essentially brain dead.

But he wasn’t. He was conscious, alert, and could see & hear everything that was happening around him. But only Martin knew this.

And he was like this for 10 years before anyone noticed that he was still there.

If you haven’t heard his incredible story, you can read his autobiography “Ghost Boy”. (The tremendous podcast Invisibilia does a good interview with him too, check out their episode “The Secret History of Thoughts”.) One part of his story struck me in particular.

Martin lived a lonely existence. While he was often cared for physically by his family, everyone thought he wasn’t really there. He was trapped in his own body.

Doctors diagnosed him as essentially brain dead. But he wasn’t. He was conscious, alert, and could see & hear everything.

One day, that changed. His masseuse would talk to him. This would go on to trigger bigger changes for Martin, it was how they eventually discovered his mind was completely intact. But it also had a more immediate impact on Martin.

As Martin’s masseuse talked to him like a friend, Martin felt appreciated & valued. It quickly became the highlight of his week, and would break-up the drudgery & anguish of his loneliness.

Martin’s masseuse couldn’t know the value of what she was doing. At first, she couldn’t have even known that Martin was hearing her. But she did it anyway.

I’ve heard many other stories of people who have been in comas and were thought unresponsive, but could hear & see what was going on around them. My aunty was once like this for 8 hours.

Sometimes the medical diagnosis is wrong. (Often it’s right.) But if you know someone who is unresponsive, talk to them. They just might be listening, and you might be doing them a tremendously valued service.

And this might seem unnatural or uncomfortable at first. Persist with it until you get the hang of it.

Unsure what to talk about? Try some Awkward Silence conversation starters, and ponder a few things out loud. It could be good for you too.

Let’s Talk.