How do you recap the last 11 months for someone who’s been stuck in a coma the whole time?
Do you lead with the fact that Donald Trump lost an election and is no longer the U.S. president? Do you try to explain why Elon Musk and Grimes named their kid X Æ A-Xii? Or do you just come out and explain how COVID-19, lockdowns and social distancing have dramatically changed life for everyone on the globe?
Those are the big questions facing Joe Flavill’s family in the U.K., as the 19-year-old begins to wake from a coma that started after he was hit by a car on Mar. 1, 2020.
Flavill suffered a traumatic brain injury in that accident and later caught COVID-19 during his recovery in hospital, according to his aunt, Sally Flavill Smith. He recently started moving and responding to his environment, but Flavill Smith says he still has no idea that the coronavirus exists.
And someone’s going to have to tell him about it.
“How do you explain the pandemic to someone who has been in a coma?” Flavill Smith told the U.K.’s Metro newspaper.
“I just don’t know where to start with it,” she said in a separate interview with The Guardian. “A year ago, if someone had told me what was going to happen over the last year, I don’t think I would have believed it.”
Flavill was hit while walking in Burton-upon-Trent last year, roughly three weeks before the U.K. imposed its first national lockdown. He was initially taken to Leicester General hospital then moved to Adderley Green, a neurological care centre in Stoke-on-Trent.
Flavill’s mother, Sharon Priestly, has been providing updates on his status through Joseph’s Journey, a website meant to raise money for his recovery and awareness for traumatic brain injuries.
“Joseph has started to emerge slowly from his stage two coma, and is beginning to respond to simple commands and stimulation,” Flavill wrote in a Jan. 31 update. She added that he can blink for yes and no.
“We’ve still got a long journey ahead, but the steps he’s made in the last three weeks have been absolutely incredible,” Flavill Smith told The Guardian.
Flavill Smith says most of the teen’s family have had to visit with him virtually, since his mother is the only one allowed to see him in hospital.
Priestly was decked out in PPE for a visit on Joe’s birthday in December, but the family hopes his next one will be much easier.
“At that point, Joseph wasn’t as aware as he is now, and I think she felt incredibly sad because she wasn’t sure that Joseph could even see who she was,” Flavill Smith said. “She’d been waiting for months to be able to go and see him.”
The teen loved to play sports before his injury, and was due to visit Buckingham Palace last May to accept the Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award, which is given to young people who demonstrate excellence in various areas of life.
His family hopes he can return to something like his life before the accident, but in the meantime, they’re embracing each little step forward.
“It’s the best we have seen him recently,” Flavill Smith told Metro. “It might seem like little progress but the fact he can give the nurse a high five is a really big step.”