Any time someone falls into a coma, it’s incredibly scary for their friends and family. Even though the family can take solace in the fact that their loved one isn’t gone completely, the person is unresponsive, and there’s a good chance that their brain and body could shut down at any moment.
But sometimes miracles happen and people wake up from their comas. For whatever reason, their brains are able to regain control and get their bodies operating again. It takes some time to re-acclimate into their old life, but it’s a huge relief for everyone they know.
A 2007 news article published in the Polish paper Gazeta Dzialdowska told the story of Jan Grzebski, a railway worker who fell into a coma in 1988 after a severe injury to his head. According to the article, Jan spent 19 years lying unresponsive in a hospital bed before waking up to a very different world around him. But the true story of what happened to Jan Grzebski is even crazier…
One of the scariest results of a head injury is a coma. The brain isn’t dead, but it’s unresponsive to any external stimuli, and the chances of it shutting down at any moment are high. Nevertheless, people do emerge from these conditions. A story about this exact thing rocked an entire family in Poland only a few years ago…
According to a 2007 article published in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Dzialdowska, a railway worker named Jan Grzebski suffered an injury to his head and fell deep into a coma back in 1988. At the time, the paper said, doctors doubted that he’d ever make a full recovery. However, in that same 2007 article, the paper reported that Jan had finally woken up from what turned out to be a 19-year coma—and the world was a very different place than when he had left it!
The story spread like wildfire; it was picked up by news outlets and perpetuated by television reports. The concept of a man waking up from a nearly two-decade-long coma to find a much different world shocked the public.
When Jan fell into his supposed 19-year coma, he lived in Poland, which was under the rule of communist dictator Wojciech Jaruzelski at the time. The following year, democracy finally arrived after the government elections. Poland joined NATO several years later, and then, in 2004, it joined the European Union. All of these events would have seemed unthinkable for someone living during the Cold War era.
Newspapers and TV reports pointed out similarities between this supposed real-life story and the plot of a 2003 movie called Good Bye, Lenin! In the film, a family in East Berlin tries to hide the fall of the Berlin Wall and East German communism from their elderly pro-communist mother after she awakens from a coma in 1990.
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Another amazing aspect that was reported was the fact that, when Jan slipped into his coma, he had four children. By the time he woke up, he had 11 grandchildren! Jan supposedly had plenty of new family members to become acquainted with. As strange as all this sounded, the news continued to report on it…
Technology was another industry that made gigantic leaps during the time Jan was unresponsive. In a Polish television interview, he was quoted as saying, “Now I see people on the streets with mobile phones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin.”
In the Daily Telegraph, he was also quoted as saying, “When I went into a coma there was only tea and vinegar in the shops. Meat was rationed and huge petrol queues were everywhere.” He’d awoken to a world with an abundance of goods. It was almost too much for him to fathom.
During Jan’s reported 19-year coma, he relied on his faithful wife, Gertruda, to take care of him. She remained by his side the entire time, even though doctors told her that Jan probably wouldn’t live more than a few years on life support.
In an interview with a Polish television station, Gertruda talked about the agony Jan’s coma caused her. She said, “I cried a lot, and I prayed a lot. Those who came to see us kept asking, ‘When is he going to die?’ But he’s not dead.” Gertruda had no idea if her beloved husband would ever regain consciousness again.
Quang Ngai Nghia Thuc
People all over the world loved the heartwarming story they were being told about Jan and his dramatic journey. However, The Guardian Newspaper decided to dig a little deeper for more details, and suddenly there were certain “facts” that weren’t adding up. That was when the biggest bombshell of all was dropped on fascinated readers.
As it turned out, even though Jan’s story wasn’t entirely made up, there were many details that were inaccurate. But who was the person that The Guardian’s reporter spoke to that admitted to all these fabrications?
It was none other than Jan himself! While speaking to the reporter, Jan said, “I never said any of those things. I was not in a coma for 19 years, I only spoke to one journalist and what they wrote was not true—and every time the story was printed new things emerged.” The reporter was shocked by Jan’s admittance.
This changed everything. Jan told the reporter that he had, in fact, suffered a head injury in 1988 that put him into a coma, but it had only lasted four years, not 19 like news outlets had confirmed. He had been wheelchair-bound since the time he awoke from his four-year ordeal.
Jan then debunked the entire Good Bye, Lenin! angle of his story. He had not fallen into a coma in one world just to wake up in a completely different one like reports suggested. “I saw all the things that they claimed I had not seen, although I could not always express myself. I saw the news on TV so I was informed, and I also met my grandchildren,” Jan told The Guardian.
Mike Steele / Flickr
These new developments were fascinating. For whatever reason, the paper that originally ran his story was trying to make a huge deal out of something that wasn’t as crazy as it seemed. Jan’s doctor, Wojciech Pstragowski, even confirmed the new details. He admitted that, although Jan had been disabled for 19 years, he was certainly not in a coma the entire time.
Gertruda also supported her husband’s version of the events… sort of. She told The Guardian, “Jan was not in a coma, he understood everything that I said to him. At first he used his face to let me know whether he wanted anything to eat or drink. Later, he spoke.”
Jan had apparently only spoken to one journalist in Poland who took his story and embellished the facts of his case. So, who was it that had spread his fabricated story around the world? The answer wasn’t that surprising…
A reporter from the paper Gazeta Dzialdowska was the one that spread the falsehoods. The Gaurdian reached out to the paper’s editor-in-chief about the story, Malgorzata Czrewinska, and she immediately replied, “It’s not a lie. The thing is that there are different kinds of coma.” This was a very puzzling response, and it was not her only comment.
The editor-in-chief added, “There is a kind of coma where people are unconscious and others where they wake up from time to time, and then fall back into coma. This was the case with Jan Grzebski.” The editor also said that even if Jan’s coma had lasted only four years, there were still dramatic changes in Poland during that time.
Sludge G / Flickr
In 1988, when Jan had his accident, Poland was a communist country, but when he woke up in 1992 (not in 2007 as was originally—and falsely—reported), democracy had prevailed. There had been changes, yes, but the truth behind the story turned out to be very different than what was published.
Jan and Gertrude are still very much in love, and although the truth about his story was much different from what had been published, one thing was certain: Gertrude still spent nearly two decades caring for her disabled husband. After the actual story came to light, Jan’s celebrity dramatically lessened, but he didn’t care at all because he still had his health and his loving wife by his side.
Quang Ngai Nghia Thuc
So, in the end, Jan’s story may not have been as remarkable as the world thought, but the story behind the story is certainly not something that gets published every day. It may have been fabricated, but it was certainly fascinating!
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