Dr. Heburn’s expression was serious yet sympathetic as he delivered the news, “Your daughter is currently in a state of unarousable unresponsiveness.”
“You mean my little Hayley’s in a coma,” Mildred Runyon said, rising to her feet and bracing herself for a hard dose of reality. “No need to sugar coat it, Dr Heburn, tell it to me straight. I need to know how severe her condition is, what treatment courses you’re planning to take, and what I can do to help.”
Heburn outlined the standard evaluation and treatment options for comatose children but chose, at this stage, to withhold the facts regarding increased neural plasticity during childhood, associated with the acquisition of motor skills, learning a second language or recovery from injury or sensory loss, which could open the door for severe neuronal hypoxia, a decrease of oxygen supply to the brain, and depolarized synaptic membranes that triggered calcium entry into neurons and a cascade of intracellular events, which could cause cell death by apoptosis or necrosis.
“As for what you can do to help,” Dr. Heburn said. “Talk to Hayley, let her know you’re there and that she is loved. Help her find her way back to you.”
Which was exactly what Mildred did. Every day she took her daughter’s small and fragile hand into her own and reminisced on all their happy memories and when those eventually ran out, she began creating new memories, future memories, of the wondrous times they would have together when she returned. And in the midst of researching coma patient therapies, Mildred fell down an internet rabbit hole and somehow learned about mind palaces. When she visited Hayley the following day, she told her daughter about it and how to build one of her own.
Unknown to Mildred, Hayley heard her mother’s voice and found the concept of a mind palace fascinating. She followed her mother’s instructions to the letter, and began decorating her mind palace in a TARDIS motif, based on her favorite tv show, and filled it with artifacts and treasures from all her mother’s imaginary adventures, in a layout that twisted upon itself in a way that would have driven MC Escher insane with jealousy.
One day, while strolling through her mind TARDIS, Hayley spotted a breadcrumb on the floor, and another not too far away, and another one after that.
The little girl thought, “Hmmm. I wonder where they lead to?”
Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys