Katie Hafner’s article with the NY Times shows just how damaging severe
brain injury can be. Hafner’s article focuses on a type of surgery
often done on people suffering from stroke (where swelling of the brain
can lead to big problems), called decompressive craniectomy. But this
surgical procedure has been done in many types of patients beyond those
suffering from stroke, including soldiers suffering from wounds in the
field, and presumably on victims of car crashes in which they suffered
traumatic brain injury.
The procedure involves removing a portion of the patient’s skull, which
alleviates pressure in a swelling brain where it otherwise would have
none and would otherwise be fatal. But in those for whom the procedure
has been done, many aren’t experiencing very positive outcomes.
It may save your life, but you are very likely to be disabled.
That’s why many surgeons aren’t entirely enthusiastic about it.
Hafner quotes neurosurgery department chairwoman Dr. Karin Muraszko of
the University of Michigan: “All of us have seen miracles in people
we’ve done this on, but the truth is we’re also probably creating
a larger population of patients who are significantly disabled.”
It’s arguable whether this is a good or bad thing. Obviously, the procedure
can be life-saving in those who otherwise would’ve died. On the other
hand, becoming permanently disabled is just as troubling, especially given
the manner in which this procedure is performed, which of course gives
rise to Hafner’s line that surgery is barbarism with a purpose.