Coma and Injuries Causing Coma
A coma is typically defined as a state of deep, and many times, prolonged unconsciousness. In most instances, a patient has suffered a traumatic injury to the brain or experienced an illness or disease process that has affected the brain. While unconscious, the patient does not respond to stimuli (shining a light in the patient's eyes or pricking the extremities in an attempt to get an involuntary response) and doesn't make any voluntary actions. In some instances, coma patients may make verbal sounds, sudden movements or even speak, but these actions are typically not voluntary. While most coma patients typically recover from their injuries within a few weeks, many others stay comatose for months to even years. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury resulting in a coma, you may have heard physicians utilize the phrase Glasgow Coma Scale ("GCS"). That medical term is used by medical professionals to describe how "deep" the patient's coma is. The GCS measures how well patients respond to stimuli and tracks eye movement, responses to verbal queues, motor skills and reflexes. The GCS scores patients on a scale of 1-15. The higher the score the better, and therefore, more functional the patient. For example, a patient who is awake and fully functional would receive a GCS of 15. Conversely, a patient in a very deep coma could be scored at 4. Calculating a patient's GCS is not only helpful for a physician in determining the extent of treatment a patient currently needs, but is also a useful predictor in determining and preparing for the level of care a patient may require when they emerge from their coma.
Like all significant injuries and illnesses, those resulting in a coma are tremendously difficult for family members close to the victim. Although the patient is alive, he or she is generally unresponsive and it is difficult for physicians to accurately predict if or when the patient will recover. The cost of continuing to treat a comatose patient can also be tremendous. Making matters worse, families with limited financial resources must often make difficult and emotionally painful decisions about a loved one's care. Lastly, when a patient does emerge from a coma, he or she may require round-the-clock medical care, a financial burden that can result in economic hardship to both the patient and he or she's family. Patients also can experience a number of coma-related problems after emerging from unconsciousness such as memory loss, and an inability to recognize family members. This, in turn, can lead to additional emotional heartache and anguish.