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Comatose Canary

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Someone's lying in a hospital, badly hurt, outright unconscious, in a Convenient Coma or otherwise incapable of talking, hooked up to a heart rate monitor. The bad cop is in need of information, so they walk up and speak unpleasantness. Cue the ECG spiking to indicate that it's working. The positive variant is also seen, with a person apparently unconscious suddenly reacting to someone talking. Again, the ECG will act as the mood ring. Variations include squeezing the hand and so on.

Not to be confused with somebody suffering from the Locked-in Syndrome, who might or might not be able to communicate, and which frequently results in a Disability Superpower. Also unrelated to Canary in a Coal Mine, which is a plot device used to detect danger.


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  • There's a Terry's Chocolate Orange commercial where a patient in a hospital has died, and is covered by a sheet. For some reason, he's still hooked up to an EKG. A nurse tries to steal his chocolate orange, and Whacks it, right there. The patient kicks and his EKG starts beeping again (wow, he came back from the dead because someone was trying to pinch his favorite candy). Cue the Slogan, "When you Whack a Terry's Chocolate Orange, good things happen.

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Ceres, Celestial Legend, Aya visits her coma-ridden mother in the hospital with Tooya. Aya introduces Tooya to her mother, and Tooya then promises to always take care of Aya... then Aya's mother squeezes their hands.
  • A talking variation occurs in the Yakusamashi filler arc of Higurashi: When They Cry when, after the Great Hinamizawa Disaster, Mr. Ooishi monologues in front of a catatonic Satoko about all the things he wanted to interrogate her about. After a while, he mentions Rika's murder, and it's at this point that Satoko's face starts. Ooishi later figures out too late that it was this that she had information about, and not the Hinamizawa Disaster. It's also worth noting that the part of the arc referred to was a hasty adaptation of the ending of another arc, although the comatose character was different.

  • In Spice World, three of the Spice Girls visit an unconscious boy in the hospital. Victoria jokingly suggests that Geri should take her top off, then realizes that it wouldn't do him much good as his eyes are closed. He wakes up immediately.
  • The Last Jedi: Leia is unconscious for some time after being Thrown Out the Airlock, but reacts when Luke reaches out to her with The Force for the first time in years.

  • One Bernard Werber short story has a tree's equivalent used to solve a crime.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Used in an episode of Heroes when Matt Parkman is talking to Molly Walker just before he confronts his dad. In this case, though, it's probably related to Matt's mental powers.
  • Showed up in CSI
  • In CSI: NY:
    • Subverted in the series pilot, Mac was able to communicate with a woman who appeared to be in a coma, but was really locked-in, through blinks. Unfortunately, she had something happen during the questioning that plunged her into an actual coma.
    • Mac does the squeeze-my-hand version with Flack after the explosion in "Charge of This Post."
    • He does the once-for-yes, twice-for-no thing with another victim in "Damned If You Do," but it's with the raising of a finger instead of blinking.
  • Tweaked in Psych. Shawn, posing as a doctor, admonishes the interns to speak positively around the coma patient, lest they frighten him into remaining comatose. This is a dodge to get them to speak layman to Shawn about the patient's condition.
  • A variation was used in Supernatural at the beginning of season 2. Dean was in a coma after a car accident, but he could hear what was being said to him because he was having an out-of-body experience and "haunting" his hospital room. Also used in an episode where the spirit of a comatose girl whose father read her fairy tales was causing people to reenact those fairy tales.
    • Sam is dreaming that he's driving down a road at night, unaware that he's actually in a coma. In the real world Dean shines a penlight in his eye, freaking out Dream!Sam when he's suddenly driving in broad daylight. The song playing on Dean's radio is also playing on his car radio.
  • On an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, based loosely on the Terry Schiavo case, Goran and Eames set up a phony situation with "yes" and "no" cards, making it appear as though the persistent vegetative person can look at a card, and her visual angle tracked to determine her responses to questions. The set up is to get the criminal who killed her doctor to believe that she can tell everything to the detectives so he will confess.
  • In an early third season episode of Babylon 5, Lennier is injured saving Mollari from an explosion and spends the rest of the episode unconscious in MedLab. Mollari visits Lennier and tells a joke. At the end of the episode, Dr Franklin starts telling the same joke. Lennier wakes up, tells the punchline, and mentions that he'd heard that one before.
  • In the 2nd season of ReGenesis, Caroline's nephew Greg has been in a coma following a stoke. A neurologist is able to set up a brain scan that lets them see Greg's brain's reaction to stimulii in real time and discover they can communicate with him in a limited manner, but believe there's enough hope that brain surgery could help him emerge from the coma. Following the procedure, while he is still unconscious, they communicate with him by asking him a question, and then reciting the alphabet one letter at a time until there is a reaction on the brain scan and then starting the alphabet over again to get the next letter. After asking him what he wants them to do, he spells out the answer "Let me die"
  • On My Name Is Earl, Earl is hospitalized after being hit by a car (again) after he doubted Karma. This time, his injuries are a lot more serious than they were the first time around, and he goes into a coma. His condition starts to deteriorate rapidly, and he's actually dying. Randy and co. decide to take care of a list item, and Earl's ECG comes back up. As they do more and more list items, Earl gets better and eventually comes out of the coma.
  • A variation of this trope happens on The X-Files in season two's "One Breath". Scully is returned, unconscious and near-death, after her abduction. In this episode, we meet Dana's New-Age sister, Melissa, whose Establishing Character Moment comes when she looks up from hovering her hands over her sister and says that Dana told her not to call Mulder by his first name (which he hates.) She informs him that her soul is here, and invites him to try and communicate with her as well. From Dana's comatose hallucinations, we see that Melissa might be communicating with her, but Mulder is too angry and doesn't believe her.

    Western Animation 
  • There's the Clip Show episode of The Simpsons where Homer is put in hospital by Bart's beer bomb. When Bart confesses, Homer starts to come around, and the ECG actually shows Homer's heart line as Bart outlines.
  • G.I. Joe: Renegades features this. When Tunnel Rat finds himself in a coma, Roadblock fits him with his MP3 player, which is playing loud Rock and Roll music. Scarlett asks what he is doing and adds that Tunnel Rat hates that music. Roadblock simply smiles and says that he loves to complain about it. With that, they leave the hospital and Tunnel Rat wakes with a start just to rip the ear buds off his head.