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Thread: nightmare

  1. #1


    Hi all,

    I wrote about a week ago about my son's sci and the horrible diagnosis I received from a neurologist regarding his unable to form words and not talk (mouth) and maybe not talking or eating again; she explained atrophy?. She was wrong about the atrophy but our second opinion from another neurologist is just as bad I think. They did a catscan and noticed a "change" since the first one they did when he was admitted to the hospital. It is an area in the front of the brain. They can't tell me why it was not on the first catscan or if it is causing the problems with his communication. They used the word "sheering?" and they "just don't know"!! Has anybody heard of such a thing. One explaination was that the trauma of the accident could not have been detected right at the beginning and now they can see it. Trying to deal with the sci alone was enough now this. He is alert and can have a conversation with nodding yes or no and understands everything we say to him; he just can't communicate with his mouth. I'm sick. His attending physician has been out for a week and will be back tomorrow. So I have not been able to get anybody to actually sit down and explain in detail what the F is going on. sorry. He has been in the hospital now for almost 3 mos. and it is starting to feel like he is in a nursing home. There is nobody on the floor that has his same type of injury all older people and it is starting to feel like I am in the twilight zone. I spend 2 nights and most of the days at the hospital and then 1 night at home. It is such a pity that we have to be there almost 24/7 because he cannot talk, move or anything and he is on a vent. I hear beeps from other rooms for sometimes 15 minutes before a nurse will respond. No way am I leaving my son there like that! Any info appreciated.


  2. #2
    Cindy, what you describe does sound like a nightmare. Bearing in mind that what I or anybody says on this site should not substitute for good communication and interaction with your son's doctors and nurses, perhaps the following will help:

    1. Tissue damage often does not show on an initial CT-scan but may show up later. This is particularly true of CT scans because it uses x-rays and primarily detect changes in calcification (increased calcium) or water content in the brain tissues. The appearance of changed signal intensity in parts of the brain weeks or even months after injury can happen and does not mean that he is suffering additional damage. I wonder why they did not do an MRI. Is this because of his ventilator and they are not equipped to do an MRI on a patients on a ventilator at this hospital?

    2. When they used the word "shearing" they are referring to the possibility that the impact of your son's head resulted in movement of parts of the brain at different speeds. The result is that parts of the brain may be damaged by this mechanism. The brain has two kinds of tissues: gray matter which contains neurons and white matter which contains the nerve fibers or axons. Because these two parts of the brain have slightly different densities, they may have moved at different rates when the head was hit. Shearing may occur between the gray and white matter interface. However, all this would be very speculative.

    3. Based on your description of his alertness and understanding of what you say, this means that his brain is intact, including the upper brainstem where the auditory/vestibular nerve or 8th nerve (for hearing) enters the brainstem. There are 12 cranial nerves. Your description suggests that the first 8 are intact. It is often hard to evaluate the lower cranial nerves (9, 10, 11, and 12th) in somebody who is on a ventilator. However, it can be done. You can do it:
    • Cranial nerve 9 or glossopharyngeal nerve. This nerve supplies the muscles and taste sensation of the back 1/3 of the tongue, throat, and larynx. It also supplies the skin of his external ear. If he has a gag reflex (i.e. he gags when the back of this throat is touched), taste or touch sensation in the back of his tongue, or can feel you pinching his ear, this means that the nerve is probably intact.
    • Cranial nerve 10 or vagus nerve. This nerve supplies the muscles of the pharynx and larynx, as well as many of the internal organs, including the heart. It also provides the sensation from the back of the ear and the ear opening. This nerve is hard to test because most of what it does is not obvious from the outside. But, if he can feel a Q-tip in his ear hole, it would suggest that part of the vagus nerve is intact. Furthermore, if the glossopharyngeal and the accessary nerves are intact, it is likely that the vagus is okay. Isolated damage of the vagus is rare.
    • Cranial nerve 11 or accessory nerve. This nerve supplies the muscles of the layrnx and pharynx, as well as the muscles of the trapezius and sternocleidomastoid. The trapezius and sternocleidomastoid muscles are easiest to test. The trapezius muscle is the triangular muscle between the neck and the shoulder (the one that most people massage). The sternocleidomastoid is the muscle that rotates the head from side to side. This muscle goes the angle of the jaw to clavicle. Your son should be able turn his head. If he can move both of these muscles, it suggests that his accessory nerve is okay.
    • Cranial nerve 12 or hypoglossal muscle. This nerve supplies three of the four muscles of the tongue. If your son can stick out his tongue or move it from side to side, this means that it is intact.

    4. Some atrophy of the jaw muscle is to be expected after a break of the jaw but you should get a copy of the operative report and understand what was done, as well as the neurologist's report. You should look particularly for the possibility that the facial nerve (cranial nerve 7) was damaged in any way. But, if your son can open and shut his eyelids, smile or grimace with his facial muscles, it means that it is intact. If it is not, it would be good to find out why not.

    5. His spinal cord injury. According to your description, he had a C4-6 contusion. While a C4-6 injury may affect his breathing since the nerves that go to the diaphragm comes out of the spinal roots for C3 and C4, he should be able to get off the respirator. This is particularly true if he was breathing on his own for a month after the injury. If he had pneumonia, he may have needed to go on the respirator but one of your highest priority should be to wean him off the respirator as soon as possible. It will make a huge difference to his quality of life if he is able to be off the respirator. If the doctors and nurses are reluctant to do this, you need to push for it. Does he have any function (sensory or motor) below his shoulder? Since he can understand you and can nod his head, can ask him to try to move his shoulder (C4), his biceps (C5), extend his wrist (C6), straighten his elbow or triceps (C7), wrist flexion (C7), fingers (C8/T1). Can he feel you rubbing his chest above the nipples (T4), above the belly button (T10), and legs (L1-L5). Does he know when he is getting rectal stimulation during a rectal/bowel procedure? If the answer to the last is yes, this means that he is an incomplete spinal cord injury. Even if he does not, he may still recover some function. It may take many months, however.

    I hope that this helps. Please ask more questions and I will try to answer them as best as I can.


    [This message was edited by Wise Young on 06-23-03 at 07:09 AM.]

  3. #3
    Yes this helps so much. I will print this out and test some things on my own. I'll keep you posted.

  4. #4
    You are welcome. I changed a few little things in the post below because I wrote it pretty quickly off the top of my head and I realized that my description of the neurological examination of the cranial nerve functions was not clear in all places.

    I just want to comment that you should try to distinguish between injury to the brainstem and injury to the cranial nerves after they leave the brainstem. Your son may have damaged the cranial nerves rather than the brainstem. Sometimes, it is not possible to tell the difference on a neurological examination alone and it would help to do some neurophysiological tests.

    If he has not had an MRI, he should get one. Now, this can be quite an undertaking for somebody who is on a ventilator. Because no ferrous metal can be placed in an MRI, they need a special ventilator tubes, etc. that is specially designed to be used in an MRI. Perhaps this can be done after your son has been weaned off the ventilator.


  5. #5

    I told you I would keep you posted and I will. They did do an MRI and another catscan yesterday, but I have not seen the neurologist yet. I did the things your wrote about. #7 - he can smile, grimage wrinkle up his nose, open and shut his eyelids, #9 - he does gag when I put a tongue depressor in the back of his mouth and he gags when he tries to cough but can't. He can feel me pinch both his ears. #10 - he can feel a q-tip in both ear holes when moved around. #11 - I took the pillow out from under his head and he could move his head to the right but kinda stiff to the left. But he has been in bed for 3 months. #12 - He can stick his tongue out but not like you and me. It doesn't really come out far and the movement from side to side is slow and seems laborous. Speech therapy is working on it. I hope I can let you know more after I talk with the neurologist.

    I wrote down some notes about his sci 4,5,6 that I observed last night but I left them at home. I;ll write what I found out later. thanks

  6. #6
    On another note the nightmare is continuing. This is what I found out today.

    This hospital is not capable of caring for somebody with SCI. We are looking for a rehab facility that will help Anthony and to no avail. The social worker here is trying to advocate for Anthony but she is not getting anywhere. We received a list of 8 facilities from the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Program (BSCIP) here in Florida that are up to their standards; but no one will take a patient who is on a vent (they are trying to wean him off now). Anthony is only 20 years old; he can and will get stronger! I am afraid he will fall through the cracks and not get any rehab. They either respond with a straight we do not take vent patients or they are afraid that his progress is too slow and then what would they do with him when funding ran out! One place did say they would take him but this hospital has to send them a letter stating that if his progress is too slow and he plateaus that the hospital will take him back! This seems not only outrageous, but illegal to me. Are there any agencies out there that can help us? I am afraid my son is not going to get any rehab and he is a good candidate. He does have some controlled movement below the site of injury. I am so scared that if he doesn't get any help they will say he has to go into a nursing home. I can't believe people in his situation are eliminated like this and that their lives are over. We are capable and want so much to have him come home after rehab and have contacted the BSCIP that does help with some things after he is home and we maybe can hire some part-time private help. We can travel anywhere in the United States if needed. Please do not hesitate to call us at (813) 909-8899 or e-mail us if you can help or know somebody that can.

    For those of you not familiar our son (Anthony) was in a car accident on March 28, 2003 and has SCI to C4,5,6. We live in Tampa, FL. He has been in the hospital (St. Joseph's) now for 3 months and it has been a slow road.

    Thank you,
    Cindy Waters (mom)

  7. #7

    You may need to consider a rehab center outside of Florida. You should call my office (732-445-2061) to talk to Patricia Morton concerning places for ventilator-dependent quads. If they can't get him off the respirator, Anthony needs to go to a place that has experience weaning people off the respirator or can initiate phrenic nerve pacing.

    What you describe is good news concerning his neurological status. Your examination suggests that his cranial nerves 7, 8, 9, and 10 are intact... it is hard to tell whether 11 has been partially affected on the left. The 12th nerve, however, appears to be intact. You should ask the neurologist to confirm.


  8. #8
    You may want to check out the rehabilitation center in Detroit where they are doing a clinical trial using theophylline to help wean ventilator-dependent quads. Unfortunately, it is a VA facility but they might be able to work with your current center or whatever center Anthony goes to. Wise.

  9. #9
    Wise, are you sure it is Detroit? There is no SCI Center at the VA in Detroit...not even an outpatient clinic.

    I would try to get him to Shephard Center in Atlanta, GA. They have an excellent vent program. His insurance needs to get him to a program that will meet his needs, even if out of the state. You may want to check out some of the information that is available in this free book:

    You can also call the office of the attorney who wrote this book for some advice in getting your insurance to comply with policy requirements. He has helped a lot of people:


  10. #10
    KLD, I was referring to the Detroit VA where Harry Goshgarian is starting a clinical trial on theophylline for ventilator-dependent quads. See Topic in the Clinical Trial Forum. I too did not realize that they have a spinal cord injury center there but the trial is apparently being held there.

    Yes, I agree about Shepard. The other places that have substantial experience with ventilator-dependent patients are Kessler and Craig. I think that the University of Florida at Gainesville also has experience.


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