Carlos Abarca visits his wife Erika Sotelo three times a day. She has been in a coma for the last fourteen years, after suffering complications during surgery at a hospital in Santiago. This devoted husband tells how his day-to-day life is with his wife and how in these difficult circumstances, his affection for her “is stronger than ever” and that he always “hopes for a miracle.”
This dramatic and moving case, in contrast with that of Eluana Englaro, who was killed in Italy after her father requested that her feeding tubes be removed, was made know by the Chilean daily El Mercurio.
Carlos doesn’t bring flowers to Erika although she loves them. “In her state it could be dangerous,” he explains. For this reason he prefers to bring her nightgowns, the only type of clothing his wife has been able to use since March 3, 1995, when she fell into a coma during a hysterectomy in Santiago.
Retired from the police force, Carlos visits Erika three times a day and maintains the hope that he will see her wake up: “With her being alive, there is always the hope that at any moment a miracle will happen,” he said.
He said his hopes grow when he sees Erika do “little things” like yawn or stretch out a hand. He also said she notices when he comes in even if she is in a deep sleep. “She is waiting for me, she does things to make me come over to her. She opens her eyes, I don’t know if she sees or not,” but he is sure that she is listening. “When you talk to her, she pays attention and she moves.”
For this reason he always talks to her and tells her about the day. “Sometimes when I talk into her ear she cries, and so I think even more that she is listening,” Carlos said. “Of course the doctors always say something else, but I think that’s so they don’t get your hopes up, but I know her better than anyone.”
Carlos says that Erika “sometimes cries a lot. I don’t know if something’s bothering her or if she is remembering something.” Therefore he prefers to avoid saying things that make her sad. “When you tell her you are leaving she cries and begins to whimper like a baby,” he said.
There are days when his wife smiles, he added. “When I caress her she smiles, when I touch my face to hers, maybe it’s because of my mustache, it seems to get her attention and she smiles,” Carlos said. Sometimes he kisses her as well. “Of course, she’s my wife,” he said.
In addition to talking to her and caressing her, when he visits her sometimes he puts perfume, make-up and lotion on her and does her hair with his mother-in-law. “We take advantage of the long stays, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. So we have time to do all this, which is special too,” he said.
“The affection I have for her is different,” Carlos added. “She is like a baby, so my affection is different, but it is stronger than ever. I want to protect her, care for her, I want her to be okay and to have everything she needs,” he said.
Carlos said he has no intention of devoting his life to anything other than caring for Erika. He intends to love her “until God has the last word. If she has to leave me tomorrow, my conscience will be at peace,” he said.
“Many people say to me, ‘You are used to this now,’ but no, everyday is different and you can’t get used to it. I’m not ready for her to leave me yet either,” Carlos said.