(Dockery’s son holds a photo of his father, Gary Dockery) 1
In 1988, Police Officer Gary Dockery suffered a gunshot wound to the head while responding to a domestic disturbance call. For the next seven years, Dockery was in a nursing home, in a persistent vegetative state. He was transferred to a hospital in February of 1996 to undergo lung surgery. As Dockery was preparing for surgery, and his family grieving over his life or death prognosis, he suddenly awoke and talked for nearly 18 hours straight about his life prior to the shooting:
Mr. Dockery’s relatives said that in his first 18 hours after awakening he had talked almost nonstop, recalling names and middle names of a host of people, the names of his horses and the color of his jeep, and fending off suggestions that he rest.
Dennis Dockery, his brother, said that in that time, no one had tried to forcibly drag the former officer into 1996 with a short course on recent history. Instead, they just let him talk. 2
He recognized his two sons, now 20 and 12, and told them he loved them. The avid outdoorsman also recited the names of his horses and recalled camping trips. He had no memory of being shot, and no idea how much time had passed, but otherwise seemed very close to normal.
"He went from no verbalization at all to talking so clearly. The words were crisp and clear. You never would have thought that he hadn’t spoken for more than seven years," Dennis said. "He even had a sense of humor. When they told him he was in the hospital he said, `Oh sh-t!"’ 3
At first, Lisa [Dockery’s sister] thought it was her imagination. But then it was unmistakable: Dockery, 42, was saying something about his blanket. Grabbing the phone, Lisa called her mother, Corena Thompson. “Mama! Mama!” she shrieked in disbelief. “Gary’s talking! Gary’s talking!” She held the phone up to Gary’s ear and told her mother to speak his name. “I said, ‘Gary?’ ” says Corena, “and he said, ‘Mama!’ I said, ‘Gary, you’re talkin’! You’re talkin’!’ and he said, ‘Sure am.’ ” They were the first distinct words Dockery, a former policeman, had spoken since Sept. 17, 1988, when he was shot in the line of duty.
Dockery’s brother Dennis, 40, got his call a few minutes later. “I hear this voice on the phone saying, ‘Hey, Buddy!’ just as if we talked yesterday. I started screaming his name. I told him I was coming right to the hospital. He said, ‘Oh, don’t go to any trouble.’ “
Within an hour much of the Dockery clan had reassembled. The group included Gary’s former wife, Vicky Cox, 41, mother of his two sons, Shane, now 19, and Colt, 12. When Vicky—who was divorced from Gary before the shooting—walked up to his bed, she says, he looked at her and said, “You’re pretty.”
Soon, family, friends and medical personnel were excitedly approaching Dockery to test his recall of the life he had left behind. One asked if he remembered the color of his Jeep. “Green,” he answered correctly. Another asked him for his son Colt’s full name. His reply, “Colt Darren Dockery,” brought gasps of astonishment. By early afternoon, Colt was brought from his school to the hospital. Vicky told him to talk to his dad. “So I did,” says Colt. “I said, ‘Hey, Daddy, how are you?’ And he said, ‘How you doin’, Colt?’ And I said, ‘I love you, Daddy.’ And he said, ‘I love you too, Colt.’ ” 4
While Gary spoke nonstop for those 18 hours, he never fully regained the ability to speak afterward, only occasionally answering “yes” to certain questions. However, Gary learned how to use a motorized wheelchair during his final months. 3
Gary died in April of 1997, a year after he woke from his vegetative state. 5
1. Time, “Gary Dockery - Top 10 Comas - TIME.” Accessed January 3, 2014. http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1864940_1864939_1864914,00.html.
2. Smothers, Ronald. “Injured in ‘88, Officer Awakes in ‘96.” New York Times, February 16, 1996. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/02/16/us/injured-in-88-officer-awakes-in-96.html?src=pm (accessed January 3, 2014).
3. Smith, Wes. “After Miracle, Coma Victim Has A Way To Go.” Chicago Tribune, January 26, 1997. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1997-01-26/news/9701260317_1_gary-dockery-brain-damaged-dennis-dockery/2 (accessed January 3, 2014).
4. Westcott, Gail Cameron. “‘I Love You, Dad’.” People, March 4, 1996. http://www.people.com/people/article/0„20102942,00.html (accessed January 3, 2014).
5. "Policeman Who Briefly Awoke From Coma Dies." Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1997. http://articles.latimes.com/1997-04-16/news/mn-49195_1_dies-policeman-coma (accessed January 3, 2014).