With extensive brain damage looking likely, however, Israelis have begun to look ahead to life without Sharon.
Sharon, 77, remained in "critical but stable" condition on Friday, showing no change from the previous day, said Hadassah Hospital spokesman Ron Krumer.
Israel's Channel 10 TV and Army Radio cited Hadassah officials as saying they were worried that Sharon has shown no signs of awakening, even though doctors recently began weaning him off heavy sedatives used to keep his blood pressure in check and give his brain time to heal.
Sharon's two sons have been playing classical music by his bedside in an effort to rouse him. Although doctors induced a coma, the condition may also be due to the stroke itself.
Channel 1 TV cited one of Sharon's neurosurgeons, Dr. Felix Umansky, as saying he was optimistic Sharon would emerge from his coma within 10 days.
But several outside experts said the prognosis looked poor.
"People can often wake up over a period of weeks and months but if they wake up faster obviously it bodes better," said Dr. Howard Riina, professor of neurological surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College at NY Presbyterian Hospital. "The fact that he's not completely awake at this point does not bode well for a good neurologic recovery."
Dr. Nick Ward, a neurologist at London's University College, was more blunt.
"It's a bad prognostic indicator," he said. "He's not going to get back to normal, that's for sure."
Krumer and several outside experts cautioned that it's too early to make conclusions about Sharon's long-term recovery prospects, however. He's still receiving minimal amounts of sedatives, Krumer said, adding, "The period of time it takes a patient to wake up from such a condition after undergoing such an event differs from one patient to another."
Maurizio Miglietta, chief of Trauma and Critical Care at NYU Medical Center, said cerebral bleeding in the wake of Sharon's stroke means that "he's not the average stroke patient." A longer coma is probably to be expected, he said.
"Neurosurgical patients sometimes don't wake up for a week or even two weeks afterwards," Miglietta said. "It's not uncommon."
Doctors have reported only slight improvement in Sharon's condition in the past several days, centering on small movements of limbs in response to pain.
A brain scan on Thursday showed the remnants of blood in his brain have been absorbed, the hospital said. In response, doctors removed a tube they had inserted into his skull to relieve pressure on his brain.
The longer it takes for Sharon to regain consciousness, however, the greater the concern about extensive brain damage.
Sharon's stroke plunged both Israeli politics and Mideast peace prospects into turmoil, as he was seen as the politician best positioned to end Israel's conflict with the Palestinians because of his transformation in recent years from hawk to pragmatist, successfully pulling off Israel's historic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip this summer.
In a sign that Israelis are moving on without Sharon, however, the prime minister's condition was taken off the front pages of several Israeli newspapers on Friday. Television has returned to normal programming, and Israelis were glued to their sets Thursday evening, watching an Israeli basketball team trounce a team from Croatia.
Last week, Israel's popular TV comedy, "A Wonderful Country," canceled programming because of Sharon's stroke. On Friday, back on schedule, the show poked fun at reporters trying to create drama in the absence of developments, and at the hospital's director, Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, who has delivered near-daily updates on Sharon's condition in monotone.
On the political front, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with two U.S. envoys on Friday to discuss Jan. 25 Palestinian parliamentary elections, which have stirred wide concern because of Hamas militants' participation in them. The envoys later met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel Radio cited envoy David Welch as saying after the meeting with Abbas that the U.S. thinks Palestinians should be allowed to vote for parliament wherever they are. Abbas demanded that Israel remove roadblocks and allow free passage of voters and candidates, radio reported.
Also Friday, Israel Radio reported that Olmert would appoint the popular justice minister, Tzipi Livni, as the new foreign minister, which would make her the most senior woman in the government.