A beautifully painted graphic novel and a visual diary recording the monstrous and mundane, COMA is an astonishing record of one woman’s will to survive against the overwhelming pull of the deep.
In May 2013 Zara Slattery’s persistent sore throat turned into a deadly bacterial infection, after the paracetamol and ice pack prescribed by her GP failed to work. The world of Zara’s 15-day drug-induced coma, which she describes as ‘being trapped in a nightmare state that you can’t wake up from’ is rendered as a full-colour fantasy, with mythological creatures appearing out of nowhere as she battles to protect her three children against the forces of evil that threaten to engulf her. Meanwhile, her husband Dan tries to keep family life going as he faces the most difficult task of all: preparing the children for the likely loss of their mother. His diary, and that of the nurses in the Intensive Care Unit, who kept of record of Zara’s illness, interweave to make a heartbreaking graphic memoir.
Coma was shortlisted for the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition 2018, the Arts Foundation Futures Awards 2020 and longlisted for the LDComics Awards 2019.
Ian Williams, GP and co-founder Graphic Medicine10 February 2021
I couldn’t put it down. This is truly terrific, and terrifying. There isn’t really anything else like it. The artwork is stunning. The structure is spot-on, without unnecessary exposition and it begins and ends at just the right points. It is a hallucinatory masterpiece which tells a tale of tenderness and family love, an example of what can happen when something truly horrific happens to someone already very talented and skilled at making images – an incredible work of art, and so important. I hope ICU workers read it – the staff come over well, and the idea of writing a diary for the patient is lovely. Having worked in ICU, I think it is so easy to forget that the inanimate body on the bed may be still have a very active brain.
Bobbie Farsides, Professor of Clinical and Biomedical Ethics, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, University of Sussex10 February 2021
A coma story, a love story, and the best case I’ve seen for diary writing. A story of medical misfortune set against the background of everyday life. You find yourself living alongside a family and within a community you recognise, you watch them coping and carrying on. At the same time you hover over their beloved Zara’s bed, drawn into her terrible imaginings, fearful for how she will emerge from this life-changing experience, but grateful for every time someone reports ‘you are still alive’. Prepare to be moved. I certainly was.
Dr Julie Highfield, Intensive Care Society10 February 2021
What a fantastic book. The interweaving of Zara’s delirium memory alongside her husband’s diary offers insight into the world of the ICU patient and their family. It opens the eyes of both junior and senior healthcare professionals to the realities of patient and family experience, the acute distress, trauma, and confusion. The medium of a graphic novel means the book potentially provides a space for catharsis for former ICU patients, as the pictures of Zara’s journey depict the what patients often struggle to put into words. Relatives may find comfort in the familiarity of the husband’s story, told through diary entries.