When a patient is in a persistent vegetative state (PVS), they are not what is commonly referred to as being “brain dead.” They can perform involuntarily, but particular, actions on their own, since their lower brain stem is still fully functioning and considered healthy.
Difference Between Persistent Vegetative State and a Coma
PVS patients differ from those in comas, since in the latter cases, the individual is entirely unconscious. Coma patients lack any perception or response-ability, though they are capable of making movements of an involuntary nature.
The Life of a Persistent Vegetative State Patient
The majority of PVS patients have no ability to react because they lack any concept of perception. The movements or responses are based simply on physical impulse, so such actions are unconnected to anything, as well as being unpredictable and spontaneous.
With some aspects of everyday life, a patient’s life is normal. They sleep and awaken in standard fashion, have regular circulation in their bodies, can open and move their eyes to track objects and breathe on their own.
Still, any movement of their limbs is simply from reflexes, and their ability to cry and laugh is independent of anything they are witnessing. Also, they aren’t able to speak, and many are unable to respond to any commands from others. Finally, they can suffer from bladder and bowel incontinence.
What sounds they do make are limited to laughing, crying, moaning, screaming and grunting. Virtually all of these are made involuntarily and are not in response to anything in particular.
How Does a Persistent Vegetative State Occur?
When a PVS patient enters that phase, it’s usually the result of either a head injury or disorder of a genetic nature. There are other causes as well, including seizures, tumors, infections, strokes and drug abuse.
Awakening from PVS without warning can often happen during the first month. However, after three months, the likelihood of an individual emerging to become their old self is extremely remote. Those microscopic odds get even larger if the PVS extends past one year. If they do awaken, they must often deal with severe disabilities.
In most cases, medical personnel is limited in what they can do with a PVS patient. Since the most common cause of death for someone in a PVS is an infection, which can include such things as pneumonia, those individuals in charge of caring for the patient should possess a greater awareness of that possibility.
In the event of any violent spasm or aggressive impulse, sedation drugs should be available. Other such issues like a fluid buildup in the brain or joint stiffness must also be addressed.
A Family’s Rights
A PVS patient’s family members should be in close contact with those caring for their loved one. They should feel free to express their opinions on the course of treatment if they believe another avenue should be pursued. Also, they should be ready to ask those personnel pertinent questions and be able to receive an honest and forthright answer.
Choosing the Proper Rehabilitation
Rehabilitation options exist but are dependent upon the cause and severity of the PVS, a person’s chance of recovery and whether they are receiving the correct type of rehabilitation.