Questions for those in the medical field or with similar experience...


12 Years
Nov 12, 2007
I thought I'd reach out to my fellow BYCer's for some info.

My grandmother had open heart surgery to repair a valve. The surgery was three weeks ago. During the surgery she had a reaction to one of the medications and her blood pressure plummeted. While the surgery was a success concerning her heart, it appears she may have suffered brain damage. She seems very restless, moving her legs and her left arm. To me the motions look very repetitive.
I am very confused about everything, 2 of my aunts and my father say they've seen signs that she acknowledges their presence yet yesterday the results of a test (I wasn't told what the test was called) show very little brain activity. My other aunt is up from FL, her son is in medical school and they talked to the Dr. at length yesterday, according to them this is the 2nd test of that nature performed and she is "brain dead". I guess I had different visions of what brain dead looks like because I can't reconsile that term with what I see when I visit her. I'm not asking anyone to diagnose someone they know so little about, just looking to see if anyone can provide some insight on this type of situation. I'm a bit of a wreck and frustrated over the whole limited information game my family seems to like to play.


12 Years
Jun 4, 2007
Central Arkansas
I'm sorry I'm not any help but just offer hugs.

My mother had a 2 strokes this summer but the second one was worse. The MRI show lots of brain damage and the dr told us we had to make a decision on what to do because she was not going to be able to do therapy because she was so bad. I called my siblings in and the surgeon that had done the her surgery on her carotiods that afternoon after the other dr had given me the new. My mother was moving both sides and talking. We asked the surgeon why the other dr told us and he said some people respond differently.

I would give her some time because that just doesn't sound right that she is moving like that.



On the Hill
12 Years
Jun 14, 2007
central louisiana
i have not dealt with anyone being brain dead. but my mom did go into a diabetic coma when i was 25 and pregnant with my first child. it was very scary.

second opinions are always best! i believe in them. i had a second opinion and avoided a surgery this summer. i know what i was dealing with is minor compared to your grandmother.

so sorry for what you are going through and the confusion of it all. it has to be very frustrating on top of it all



Cows, Chooks & Impys - OH MY!
14 Years
Nov 9, 2007
SW Arkansas
I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry you are going through this. I have a difficult family too; one big reason why I live in Arkansas and they are all back east. Unfortunately my Dad also lives back east and relying on my sisters for info. about how he's doing is frustrating to say the least.
The only thing I feel comfortable about telling you about brain death is that it helps to remember there are many many things our bodies do as a result of brain stem function. A large portion of the brain can be damaged, yet as long as the brain stem is not damaged the person will continue to breathe, the heart to beat, swallow, and perform other functions that the brain stem has control over.
I'll be keeping you in my thoughts. ~Kat~


In the Brooder
11 Years
Aug 29, 2008
Hi there,
Sorry about what you are going thru. I am a neuro nurse here in Rhode Island. Please excuse my bluntness but you seem to want some answers. This is difficult.

The test you are describing is an angiogram or flow study. When the test is performed under a CT scan they are actually looking for blood flow in the brain. If there is very little flow your grandmothers brain she may still have some reflexive movements. Reflexes can include leg twitching, coughing, gagging, what appears to be hand squeezing, blinking etc. They are primitive reflexes. If there is no flow than she is considered brain dead. Both outcomes are difficult, once there is no flow to parts of the brain that brain tissue begins to die. Brain tissue cannot regenerate and once brain death occurs those primitive reflexes disappear.

sometimes a flow study is done many times to check a patients standing on their illness. It is very difficult for families to understand this because their loved one looks very much alive and seems to be responding. They might even just look asleep.

A better indicator if she is responding is to ask her to give you a thumbs up or stick out her tongue or nod her head. Hand squeezing is reflexive and not a good indicator of function. These tasks require higher brain functioning.

Again, I'm sorry you have to go thru this. I hoped i have answered your questions without being too harsh during this difficult time.


Flock Mistress
14 Years
Jan 12, 2007
Land of Lincoln
Best to get a second opinion as my EMT hubby says. Even third is better too!

Sorry that your grandma isn't doing well but at least she is comfortable for now if the nurses are doing their jobs to make her comfortable as much as they can!

we had a very dear friend that got into a very bad accident and he was declared brain dead, however his heart was still functioning but every organ was failing or already dead. He was unresponsive to anything they had for him and his wife said to pull the plug. Glad he is in a much better place.

From what I saw on the show on Medical channel, about Death, for a doctor to test brain death is reflex of the pupils, eye placements when head is moved back and forth (the eyes turns when heads turns due to balance), needle or flat object such as pen pushed into the quick of toe or finger (one isnt brain dead, would flinch at the pinch of the object), reflexes are non responsive or knuckles rubbing on chest (most will push the hand away) to get a response from the patient. Remember every doctor have their own interpretation of brain death so it is very likely you would need to get a second or third opinion on these matter of "brain death". Not every doctor would agree one hundred percent of their fellow doctors may say of said brain deaths........

Good luck and do post when you are able! Keep a level minded head when dealing with family members because at a time like this, emotions runs high and amok at times and one would over react to the situation or doctor's explanations becomes muddled and once you got things under control, you can even talk to the doctor himself or sit in the room with them if you are allowed.


12 Years
Nov 12, 2007
Thank you all for the responses. It's one of the reasons I love the board, no where else have I found such a supporting and friendly group of people. The advice is much appreciated.

hsmamma...thank you for your bluntness. I have sat with her praying her hand squeezes were in response to my talking to her but have watched her squeeze the air when no one is holding her hand. She seems to have all of the motions as you've described.

It's so difficult not having access to direct information. I am not on the list for Dr.'s to call and have yet to time the visits right to be present when the rounds are made. I haven't even been to see her for the last 10 days as I've been staying at the farm to help care for my grandfather who turned 94 on tues. He doesn't require much, just fixing meals and making sure he takes his medication. The main thing is that someone is there just in case. They seemed to have like to have made staircases narrow & steep in the 1800's
He was born in that house and I for one want him to stay there as long as he wishes.


11 Years
Aug 29, 2008
North Texas
I'm so sorry you're having to deal with this, it's very difficult at best. Kudos for taking care of your grandfather, he needs you now. (and yes, those staircases are indeed steep and narrow-- try some of the ones in Amsterdam sometime!) HSmamma gave you great info, if not the best news. I worked in Neuro ICU occasionally, and those movements are not usually good signs. But definitely get that 2nd/3rd opinion, maybe someone's got a miracle up their sleeve. Hugs.

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