Wednesday, November 25, 2009

23 years of conscious coma

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 dreamed myself away,' he added, tapping his tale out with the aid of a computer.
The truthfulness of this story has been criticized by none other than the acclaimed skeptic Randi. Is the story real or not, or somewhere in between?
Wired article Houben has since proven able to answer yes-or-no questions with slight movements of his foot. It’s a tremendous accomplishment, and raises the chilling possibility that, as estimated by Coma Science Group leader Steven Laureys in a Monday New York Times story, as many as four in 10 people considered utterly comatose may be misdiagnosed. But the legitimacy of interviews given by Houben and his facilitator to Der Spiegel, and shown on video by the BBC, may not be as certain. “I believe that he is sentient. They’ve shown that with MRI scans,” said James Randi, a prominent skeptic who during the 1990s investigated the use of facilitated communication for autistic children. But in the video, “You see this woman who’s not only holding his hand, but what she’s doing is directing his fingers and looking directly at the keyboard. She’s pressing down on the keyboard, pressing messages for him. He has nothing to do with it.”
Imagine how messed up it is for this guy if he IS conscious and sees the woman typing stuff that he IS NOT thinking.
MSNBC article Most troubling about the claim that Houben is communicating are the facts that he is doing so with the help of a therapist who points his finger to the keys on a computer keyboard. The therapist, Linda Wouters, has told news reporters that she can feel Houben guiding her hand with gentle pressure from his fingers. She feels him objecting when she moves his hand toward an incorrect letter. But, given his injuries, Houben should not be able to generate any pressure in his fingers. And if he can do so, why did no one else detect this ability over the past 23 years?
There is a simple way to test this. Say or show a simple word to Mr Houben while the person guiding his hand is not there. Then have the facilitator come back and ask Houben to write that word. If he can answer Yes/No questions with his foot, then you could also ask him, are you typing these words? We need more info on this story. I hope someone gets to the truth of this. Locked-in syndrome @ wiki Facilitated communication @ wiki


annom said...

Randi calls a fake.

cybrbeast said...

Weird and scary.
What I get from this is that the man might be in Locked-in-Syndrome, so that he is conscious but can't express himself. This might be what brain scans showed.
However the facilitated communication bit is probably a fraud as Randi suggests.
So that mean the man hasn't "woken up" but might still be conscious.

I've seen experiments where people could move a pointer left or right by just thinking about it. Couldn't they hook this person up to that and show him a screen with feedback and see if he learns to move it.

Because this man doesn't look comatose, you can see him blinking and moving a bit.

cybrbeast said...

I've updated the article and moved it up again.

I hope we get to know what's really going on here.