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View Full Version : A Real Life Case of "Johnny Got His Gun"



Larry Jacks
2009-Nov-23, 03:41 PM
In Dalton Trumbo's 1939 novel (http://www.amazon.com/Johnny-Got-His-Dalton-Trumbo/dp/0806528478/ref=pd_bxgy_d_img_b), a young American soldier is horribly wounded in WWI. He's trapped in a useless body unable to communicate with the outside world for years until a nurse notices that he's banging his head against his pillow in Morse code.

This story from a British paper (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1230092/Rom-Houben-Patient-trapped-23-year-coma-conscious-along.html)is, if anything, even more horrific because it's true. A young Belgian man is paralyzed in an auto accident and believed to be in a coma for over 20 years. A doctor does a brain scan and finds his mind is fully functioning. Today, with the help of adaptive technologies, he's able to communicate.

I can't imagine such an existance. It's worse than solitary confinement. It's a wonder he didn't go insane but that's a testiment to his mental strength. I can't help but wonder how many others have suffered the same fate.

A car crash victim has spoken of the horror he endured for 23 years after he was misdiagnosed as being in a coma when he was conscious the whole time.

Rom Houben, trapped in his paralysed body after a car crash, described his real-life nightmare as he screamed to doctors that he could hear them - but could make no sound.

'I screamed, but there was nothing to hear,' said Mr Houben, now 46, who doctors thought was in a persistent vegatative state.

'I dreamed myself away,' he added, tapping his tale out with the aid of a computer.

Doctors used a range of coma tests before reluctantly concluding that his consciousness was 'extinct'.

But three years ago, new hi-tech scans showed his brain was still functioning almost completely normally.

Mr Houben described the moment as 'my second birth'. Therapy has since allowed him to tap out messages on a computer screen.

novaderrik
2009-Nov-23, 05:42 PM
that would suck. i read that book- in about 3 hours. i couldn't put it down. i was inspired to read it by this song and video that uses footage from that movie (http://www.metallica.com/videoplayer/mediaplayer.asp?Media_Type=FLV&url=rtmp://cp57092.edgefcs.net/ondemand/flvstreams/metallica_com/promo_vids/one.flv&title=One) way back when.
i've always wondered if that had ever happened in real life.
now i wonder how this particular news story will be used and abused and twisted to fit the various agendas the next time a Terri Schiavo (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&hs=FkI&ei=XMkKS4y7A4-kMLLFyL8K&sa=X&oi=spell&resnum=0&ct=result&cd=1&ved=0CAYQBSgA&q=Terri+Schiavo&spell=1) situation comes up..

HenrikOlsen
2009-Nov-23, 05:52 PM
The two cases are miles apart and easily distinguished by both CAT scans and EEG, but I wont be surprised if people with agendas try to refer to this case as argument in another Schiavo-like case.

Gillianren
2009-Nov-23, 05:54 PM
Ah, grasping at straws. Yes, Henrik, you are doubtless correct.

swampyankee
2009-Nov-23, 07:30 PM
M Houben's condition is, alas, not unique, although one hopes its misdiagnosis to be. There is a rare condition called "locked-in syndrome (http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/lockedinsyndrome/lockedinsyndrome.htm)." The movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was the story of one victim.

Larry Jacks
2009-Nov-23, 08:06 PM
The two cases are miles apart and easily distinguished by both CAT scans and EEG, but I wont be surprised if people with agendas try to refer to this case as argument in another Schiavo-like case.

A bit of humility is helpful. As medical science advances, doctors are learning that previous standards are inadequate and knowledge is finite. There are people with agendas on all sides of an argument. As this case shows, the brain is still largely a mystery.

publiusr
2009-Nov-23, 08:47 PM
'I dreamed myself away,' he added, tapping his tale out with the aid of a computer.

If one could not move in the waking world, at least in dream state he would have mobility. Good candidates for something like Second Life, or Scratch from Cowboy Bebop. Perhaps one day we can abandon bodies.

Gillianren
2009-Nov-23, 09:36 PM
A bit of humility is helpful. As medical science advances, doctors are learning that previous standards are inadequate and knowledge is finite. There are people with agendas on all sides of an argument. As this case shows, the brain is still largely a mystery.

Well, yes, but this case was solved in some ways by using very basic equipment which the more controversial case would have failed to produce the "desired" result. Autopsy showed her brain was half the size it should have been, and there's no reason to believe that the brain is so much a mystery that it can work in that condition.

HenrikOlsen
2009-Nov-24, 01:23 AM
Autopsy showed her brain was half the size it should have been, and there's no reason to believe that the brain is so much a mystery that it can work in that condition.
That was corroboration of what the CAT scan showed.

Donnie B.
2009-Nov-24, 03:56 PM
Hold your horses, folks. This isn't necessarily what it seems.

The person in question, Rom Houben, is not "tapping out his tale with the aid of a computer". He's being assisted by "facilitated communication". That is, a second person is holding his hand and hitting the keys with it.

While the merits of this case are still uncertain, in previous tests of the facilitated communication technique it was always the facilitator, not the subject, who was communicating. Let's reserve judgment until we know that it's really Mr. Houben who is doing the typing.

A video of Mr. Houben being helped to type is at this link:
http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/11/24/coma.man.belgium/index.html?eref=igoogle_cnn

SolusLupus
2009-Nov-24, 03:57 PM
Sounds like he became a human ouija board.

Nick Theodorakis
2009-Nov-24, 04:04 PM
I'll reserve judgment of Mr. Houben's actual mental state without more information, but even it's true that he is aware but "locked out" (scratch that -- especially if it's true) it is cruel to use a discredited technique such as facilitated communication, since that would only frustrate him further.

Nick

hhEb09'1
2009-Nov-24, 05:41 PM
I'll reserve judgment of Mr. Houben's actual mental state without more information, but even it's true that he is aware but "locked out" (scratch that -- especially if it's true) it is cruel to use a discredited technique such as facilitated communication, since that would only frustrate him further.Especially if he were saying instead, I want to join the circus as a sideshow, and become a functioning member of society by paying my own way.

Gillianren
2009-Nov-24, 05:54 PM
Ooo. Facilitated communication. Yeah, that's honest.

To be fair, I'm quite certain the facilitator believes what they say. That's what makes it all the more sad.

novaderrik
2009-Nov-24, 08:15 PM
Especially if he were saying instead, I want to join the circus as a sideshow, and become a functioning member of society by paying my own way.

or maybe, like in Johnny Got His Gun, he is saying- over and over again- Kill Me. Please kill me.
but that wouldn't make for a very good human interest story..

Jens
2009-Nov-25, 05:09 AM
Regardless of the side issue of facilitated communication, it does seem that nobody is denying that he is conscious. Apparently he can answer yes or no questions by moving his foot. Somebody quoted in some article said that maybe 40% of people believed to be unconscious may be conscious.

It sort of reminds me of first hearing about people who remain conscious during surgery. Apparently it's not as rare as one would think.

jokergirl
2009-Nov-25, 08:09 AM
Mr. Randi is now saying the same: http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/783-this-cruel-farce-has-to-stop.html

I thought that video looked fishy. I never saw any footage of an actual locked-in patient typing like this. There's locked-in patients that did write books, but they had the use of a little finger after years of training - the typing is done by binary left-right decisions on an optimized letter list, very slowly.

Odd.

01101001
2009-Nov-26, 03:36 AM
Apparently he can answer yes or no questions by moving his foot.

Does he repeat the same answer for a repeated question?

(Or, like some who patrol BAUT Q&A, does he eventually get tired of hearing the same questions?)

jokergirl
2009-Nov-26, 06:39 PM
I don't know, but there must be several easy ways to test it? I mean, just show him something the handler doesn't see, or blindfold her?

;)

mugaliens
2009-Nov-28, 03:57 AM
If his brain function is nearly normal, why don't they hook him and and help him learn to control things with his thoughts?

Goodness, a toy is market this year (http://www.joystiq.com/2009/11/11/emotiv-mind-control-device-shipping-december-21-for-299/)which does just that!

That'd make an interesting Christmas present.

publiusr
2009-Dec-04, 06:39 PM
That is a good idea. I remember in one older documentary that Hawking had someone who spoke for him (before the voice synthesizer). I wondered how he could have understood the poor man.

RGClark
2010-Jan-23, 07:48 AM
If his brain function is nearly normal, why don't they hook him and and help him learn to control things with his thoughts?
Goodness, a toy is market this year (http://www.joystiq.com/2009/11/11/emotiv-mind-control-device-shipping-december-21-for-299/)which does just that!
That'd make an interesting Christmas present.

Good point. Here are two articles on two separate methods for communication that might work for these kinds of cases:

ON SCIENCE
Sharon Begley
Mind Reading Is Now Possible.
From the magazine issue dated Jan 21, 2008
"A computer can tell with 78 percent accuracy when someone is thinking about a hammer and not pliers."
http://www.newsweek.com/id/91688

Technology
The Silent Speaker
David Armstrong 04.10.06
NASA researchers can hear what you're saying, even when you don't make a sound.
"When we speak aloud, we're forcing air past the larynx and tongue, sculpting words using the articulator muscles in the mouth and jaw. But these muscles go into action regardless of whether air is sent past them. All you have to do is say the words to yourself and you're sending weak electrical currents from your brain to the speech muscles. Jorgensen's trick is to record those signals (known as electromyograms), process them with statistical algorithms and compare the output with prerecorded signal patterns of spoken words, phrases and commands. When there's a match, the unspoken turns into speech."
http://www.forbes.com/free_forbes/2006/0410/084.html?partner=yahoomag


Bob Clark

hhEb09'1
2010-Jan-23, 10:33 PM
Especially if he were saying instead, I want to join the circus as a sideshow, and become a functioning member of society by paying my own way.

or maybe, like in Johnny Got His Gun, he is saying- over and over again- Kill Me. Please kill me.
but that wouldn't make for a very good human interest story..Not or, and :)

RGClark
2010-Feb-04, 07:11 PM
Good point. Here are two articles on two separate methods for communication that might work for these kinds of cases:

ON SCIENCE
Sharon Begley
Mind Reading Is Now Possible.
From the magazine issue dated Jan 21, 2008
"A computer can tell with 78 percent accuracy when someone is thinking about a hammer and not pliers."
http://www.newsweek.com/id/91688

Technology
The Silent Speaker
David Armstrong 04.10.06
NASA researchers can hear what you're saying, even when you don't make a sound.
"When we speak aloud, we're forcing air past the larynx and tongue, sculpting words using the articulator muscles in the mouth and jaw. But these muscles go into action regardless of whether air is sent past them. All you have to do is say the words to yourself and you're sending weak electrical currents from your brain to the speech muscles. Jorgensen's trick is to record those signals (known as electromyograms), process them with statistical algorithms and compare the output with prerecorded signal patterns of spoken words, phrases and commands. When there's a match, the unspoken turns into speech."
http://www.forbes.com/free_forbes/2006/0410/084.html?partner=yahoomag




Just heard about this on the news today:


Brain Scan May Foster Communication With Vegetative Patients
Study May Reinvigorate Right-to-Life Debate, Experts Say.
By DAN CHILDS and MICHAEL SMITH
ABC News Medical Unit, in collaboration with MedPage Today
Feb. 3, 2010
"The new study released Wednesday that could spell hope for many families likely will arouse a measure of controversy as well.
"I think it shows that if you just use the conventional bedside-type of exam [to determine consciousness], you can get it wrong," Schindler said.
"In the new study, researchers found that a 34-year-old man was able to answer simple yes or no questions by imagining different types of activity, which caused changes in brain activity that could be seen in the machine, according to Martin Monti of the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, England, and colleagues.
"The finding showed that at least some patients who are otherwise unresponsive may have some residual awareness, the researchers reported online in the New England Journal of Medicine."
http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/locked-fmri-brain-scan/story?id=9742322&page=1


Bob Clark

mugaliens
2010-Feb-06, 09:23 AM
A good friend of mine, Pat Horan (http://www.wusa9.com/rss/local_article.aspx?storyid=66565), from NOVA, where I grew up and graduated, went through a similar, yet abbreviated experience.

He has come a LONG way, and is doing much better these days! I worked with Peggy as a student at Virginia Tech.