Medical Mystery Appears Again Across the Globe

Last year, America removed its diplomats from Cuba after some reported mysteriously experiencing the symptoms of mild brain injury.  This year, the same symptoms are being experienced by American diplomats and their families in Guangzhou, China:  sleeplessness, headache, nausea, and memory recall issues.  These are the same symptoms one feels, “following [a] concussion or minor traumatic brain injury.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notes that what has now being reported as occurring in China is, “very similar and entirely consistent with the medical indications that have taken place to Americans working in Cuba.”  It both cases, there is no known culprit, though those in the State Department continue to say that it is likely to be caused by sonic attacks.  Toxins and sounds emitted by listening devices, as well as simply mass hysteria, have also been mentioned as possible causes.  (Twenty-five percent of those who reported brain injury in Cuba were found not to have it, based on medical tests following their return to America.)  The U.S. government suspects that either Russia or China may be causing the attacks in China.  The idea that Cubans could be generating the attacks is not thought in this incidence.

Are sound attacks the new means of warfare?  The news examines this question, citing the known effects of infrasonic and ultrasonic sound.  Infrasonic sound causes such effects as nausea and involuntary bowel evacuation.  Ultrasonic sound can heat up the cells of the body and can cause cavitation, “when the pressure difference between a strong push and a strong pull in a very loud sound causes bubbles to form”.  Generally, ultrasound sound is named as the culprit of the sonic attacks, however nausea, an effect of infrasound attacks,  was reported by some.  Another possibility is that ultrasonic attacks are an effect of eavesdropping, not the means of attack, as ultrasound is used is surveillance.


Magic Is An Illusion; Trauma Is Not

For me and many others, David Copperfield is the nation’s foremost illusionist/magician.  He even earned a spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995.  From 1974 until last week, his magic has been just that; Copperfield could do what seemed impossible.

In 2013, an audience member was selected to participate in a trick called “Lucky 13”.  The trick required participants to enter a box which is then closed.  Miraculously, the participants would then appear at the back of the theater at the MGM Great Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.  (If you want to understand how the trick was performed, click here.)  The aforementioned audience member, Gavin Cox, had a slip-and-fall during the execution of the illusion and, “was taken to the hospital with a dislocated shoulder. After returning to Britain… he suffered chronic pain [and confusion] and a scan showed a lesion on his brain.”

Most simply described, a brain lesion is an injury or disease affecting the brain.  The cost of the two fusion surgeries, plus a diagnosed traumatic brain injury, has been more than $400,000 for the plaintiff.  (I have found no information regarding the non-surgical treatment Cox received for his tbi.)  Cox filed a multi-million dollar negligence lawsuit in 2014 to cover these medical costs and his pain-and-suffering.  In addition to Copperfield, MGM Grand, show producer Backstage Employment and Referral, and building firm Construction Management were named as defendants in this suit.

Given Copperfield’s popularity, this suit has gained a lot of press.  (I even found an article about it in Golf Digest.)  Two other past participants of the trick have since come forward claiming injury as a result of participating in this trick.    Despite this controversy, though, Copperfield is still performing, albeit without this illusion.

SBS: The Horrific Easy Answer

Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is a form of abusive head trauma inflicted on infants.  At least 1.400 babies die of SBS a year, studies show.  That exceedingly high number doesn’t even account for all the babies that are not killed but will live with the lifelong consequences of their parents’ bad actions.  Nor does it factor in all the babies that are shaken “in secret”, without a subsequent hospital visit, call to the police, etc.  According to the CDC, “Nearly all victims of AHT [Abusive Head Trauma} suffer serious, long-term health consequences such as vision problems, developmental delays, physical disabilities, and hearing loss.”

Just this month, March 2018, at least 3 people have found themselves sentenced to jail for SBS:

  • On March 1, Montana resident Austin Blair Johnson, 27, received a 15-year sentence for shaking his 5-year-old son.  Presumably, Johnson received only 15 years, not the 20-year sentence called for by the prosecutors, because he plead guilty.  Johnson sobbed during the sentencing. However, remorse, for his actions or for the result, doesn’t change that 15 years seems like nothing for someone who gave his son a life sentence.
  • Just this past week, 30-year-old Delavon Domique Johnson was sent to jail for 30 years for inflicting such severe brain injury in his 3-month-old daughter that it caused intracranial hemorrhaging.
  • In Oregon, January Neatherlin was sentenced on March 9 to over 20 years for child abuse.  Though this abuse mostly involved drugging the children and abandoning her daycare facility while children were present, which is in no way better than physical abuse, “One family said their daughter suffered a brain injury, consistent with shaken baby syndrome, while in Neatherlin’s care.”

In 2001, the US government issued a statement, co-signed by Canada, on Shaken Baby Syndrome.  Nearly 20 years later, the statement’s recommendations are just as relevant and important: data collection and surveillance, further research (general knowledge, psychosocial and long-term), prevention, care and treatment, further education (primarily for child protection personnel, police, medical examiners and coroners, prosecutors, lawyers and judges), community response (including services and support) and professional training.  The CDC also notes the need for prevention, providing PDFs on prevention.

In 2014, however, the Washington Post cited a study that questions these almost universal beliefs: “most humans aren’t capable of shaking an infant hard enough to produce the symptoms in SBS.”  (Presumably, this means that SBS must often be accompanied by a secondary injury, such as the head also hitting the floor.)  New scientific research doesn’t prove that SBS is not the cause, just that it may not be in some cases.  Though diagnosing a child’s brain injury as caused by SBS may be a knee-jerk reaction, obvious isn’t always true or correct.  Hopefully, with continued education for both the parents/caregivers and members of the justice system, it will become a less common and a less possible culprit.  More so, hopefully fewer parents will find shaking a legitimate means of punishment.

The Risk Goes Beyond Gambling: Brain Injury and the 2017 Vegas Massacre

On October 1, 2017, Las Vegas was home to what is the worst domestic mass shooting in history, when Stephen Paddock took aim at the crowd at the Harvest Music Festival on the Las Vegas Strip – 58 people dead and 489 injured – and subsequently took his own life.  (Note the current gun laws in the United States by state.)  Since Paddock had no history of violence and no criminal record, the police and public were and are quite confused.  Even his own brother simply says, “something went wrong in his head.”  Some sort of mental issue seems to be the most likely culprit.  This CNN article documents the possible problems Paddock may have had, writing that, “It is important to note that a tumor isn’t the only thing that can cause such changes in behavior: strokes or a traumatic brain injury can do the same.”  The article then mentions one neurodegenerative disorder, FTLD, that makes decision-making and emotional control difficult.  Brain injury, of course, also makes these tasks difficult, though through rehabilitation and support from family and friends, those with brain injuries are typically able to maintain decent control of these mental faculties.

As for his victims, I find it relatively fortunate that, at this time, I can only find articles about one living individual who acquired a brain injury from the shooting, though knowing that there are any victims with brain injuries is horrible – Maryland native Tina Frost, a concert attendee who was shot in the right eye.  “When they have to move her, she sits up on her own, rolls herself and pushes the nurses away,” Rich Frost [her father] wrote. “She calms down when we say ‘easy Tina.’ Her eye is swollen shut and she is on the ventilator and still in her coma, but it is encouraging.”  I hope for the best for her, and for the other 488 injured, and pray with the families of all those injured and of the 58 people who lost their lives.

Giffords Shows Support for McCain

Gabby Giffords may be a Democrat, but she also is an Arizonian and brain injury survivor.  Her husband, Mark Kelly, is a former astronaut who presumptively knows many fellow astronauts who have had a brain injury from their travel.  Politically, they differ from Senator McCain.  However, as fellow Arizonians, his friend and his former colleague, she and her husband have expressed their hope for McCain’s recovery.

Kelly expressed the importance of maintaining a positive outlook, just as McCain did during his 5+ years detained as a prison-of-war during the Vietnam War.  Giffords tweeted, “You’re tough! You can beat this. Fight, fight, fight! I am proud to call you my friend.”

Prayers for Senator McCain

As has been widely reported, Senator John McCain was diagnosed with brain cancer on Friday of last week.  As if having to undergo brain surgery to remove what were thought to be benign brain tumors wasn’t enough, now that they are known to be malignant, McCain can look forward to a host of symptoms.  These symptoms can include vision problems, seizures, difficulties with concentration and thinking, difficulties with speech, etc.  In essence, the symptoms of brain cancer largely mirror those of brain injury.  In fact, the National Institute of Health has published the results of a study that shows that there is an, “association between traumatic brain injury and the subsequent risk of brain cancer.”

Despite his medical issue though, McCain has chosen not to stay idle: “Just hours after news broke of McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis, the Arizona senator blasted President Trump amid a report that the administration decided to halt a CIA training program for moderate Syrian rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime.”  Additionally, his diagnosis has produced an almost unheard-of-now bipartisan show of support, which could perhaps open the door for further cooperation.

Update: North Korean Trauma

Yesterday, June 19, 2017, Otto Warmbier succumb to the trauma he suffered for a year and a half while detained in North Korea.  Though Warmbier’s condition has generated more concern over international travel, his comatose mental state is curious.

He shows no signs of understanding language, responding to verbal commands or awareness of his surroundings,” said Kanter, Warmbier’s neurologist at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.  However, “He was home and we believe he could sense that,” said his father.

Warmbier’s death, and particularly the fact that it happened almost immediately after he was reunited with his family, begs the question: Does the unconscious brain have more of a sense of self than currently believed?

See also: North Korean Trauma

North Korean Trauma

An American university student who was returned to the United States this week after being held in North Korea for 17 months has a severe brain injury and is in a state of ‘unresponsive wakefulness’,” doctors told Reuters yesterday.  Specifically, Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old student of the University of Virginia, was returned to America and is now a patient at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he shows no understanding of any communication around him.  Given the limited amount of information provided by Kim Jong Un’s Korean military, the exact cause of Warmbier’s comatose state is not known.  However, one of the top assumptions is that his condition is the result of a traumatic brain injury.

Warmbier, originally from Wyoming, Ohio, has been in a coma for more than a year, shortly after he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda sign in North Korea, where he was a tourist.  (I assume that Warmbier stole the sign as a unique type of memorabilia, so he would always remember his once-in-a-lifetime trip.)

This week, the Warmbier family received a call from President Trump, which they termed “kind” of him.  On Wednesday, Secretary of State Tillerson said that America is now considering travel visa restrictions for North Korea.  (Before all of this, last month, a bill was introduced that would ban United States citizens from traveling to North Korea.)  The United Nations human rights division is also carrying out a thorough investigation into North Korea’s actions.

Not the Easy Answer in Charlotte

The country now knows about the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by a police officer in Charlotte, NC.  This past Saturday, the police released the video of the shooting to the public, which purports to show the victim holding a gun.  Since Scott was killed, some of the public has decided that the actions of the police were racially motivated, as Scott was African-American.  (Scott was shot by an African-American police officer.)  However, I believe that if the public is to see this as discrimination, it is a case of TBI-related discrimination.

In the cell phone video filmed by Scott’s wife, she pleads with the police, saying that Scott had a traumatic brain injury.  In fact, Scott did fall from a motorcycle in October 2015, which would have more likely given him a brain injury, most likely severe.  Brain damage often interferes with one’s response time, which may explain why Scott was slow to exit the truck.  More so, a brain injury can interfere with cognition and understanding of the long-term consequences of one’s actions.  (This behavior is often intensified by fatigue, which is often the most severe in the late afternoon.  The incident occurred at 4PM.)  Based on those facts, Scott may not have understood the necessity of raising his hands.  Also, if Scott did have a gun, he would be more likely to use it.  (The videos of Scott’s death do not show that Scott had a gun; however, they also do not show that he did not have a gun.)

In Scott’s wife’s cell phone video, one can hear her pleading to the police, telling them that her husband had a TBI and he had just taken his medication.  However, she stops at that statement, not explaining how or when that TBI occurred or the severity of it, so, perhaps, the police did not take notice.   To fully understand the situation, Scott must be considered a man with a brain injury, who had just taken his medication, and who was confronted by an unexpected and stressful situation most likely with the excessive fatigue that occurs at the end of a day.

I am definitely not condoning the police officer’s actions.  However, in a sense, I am not saying that, in their view, it was unprovoked.  More than punishing the officer who shot the gun that killed Scott and more than claiming the shooting was a racial issue, I believe the public and the police force should factor in Scott’s medical history.  The police need specific training on how to handle interactions with those who have brain injuries and the public needs to be educated of the effects of brain injury, so that they do not jump to erroneous conclusions.

PTSD = Police Trauma Stress Disorder?

My thoughts are with the Baton Rouge police today, 3 of whom were shot and killed and 3 others injured. With this, and the events in Dallas last week, I understand that many police officers, especially the survivors of these attacks, may be experiencing some form of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  As President Obama said today, “Attacks on police are an attack on all of us.”  My best goes out to the families of those who lost their lives protecting this country and to all police officers.  I hope all Americans soon realize the good work that police officers, in general, do and that officers are given the respect that they deserve.