Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' condition essentially remained unchanged overnight Sunday, doctors at Tucson's University Medical Center said in a Monday news conference.
"No change is good, and we have no change," said Dr. Michael Lemole of the University of Arizona College of Medicine, one of the trauma neurosurgeons who cared for her after the Saturday shooting. "She is still following basic commands, and her CAT scans are showing no progression of swelling. Every day that goes by, we are slightly more optimistic."
Lemole said swelling of the brain typically peaks on the third day after an injury, which would be Tuesday. After that, "we can breathe a collective sigh of relief." Surgeons removed most of the left side of her skull on Saturday to prevent swelling from compressing her brain and cutting off the flow of blood to her brain stem, which would almost certainly be fatal.
The 9-millimeter bullet fired at her Saturday entered the back of her skull and exited through the front, passing only through the left hemisphere and, fortunately, missing the critical area connecting the two hemispheres of the brain.
Had it struck that juncture, it would have been instantly fatal or, at the very least, severely disabling, such as the wound that affected President Ronald Reagan's press secretary, James Brady, during the attempt on Reagan's life.
But the left hemisphere controls speech functions and the movement of the right side of the body, and physicians have not been able to assess how badly those functions have been damaged. Giffords is intubated, and thus unable to speak.
The team has refused to release any details about her condition, specifically which side of her body she is able to move in response to commands.
But Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of UMC's trauma division, told the Associated Press that that Giffords was moving fingers on her left hand in response to commands.
"When she did that, we were having a party in there," he said. The crucial test will be if she can move her right side, which is controlled by the left hemisphere.
And even while sedated, Rhee said, Giffords has reached for her breathing tube to try to remove it. "That's a purposeful movement. That's a great thing. She's always reaching for the tube."
But the doctors have no idea how the damage has affected her mental functioning. "At this point, we can't measure psychologic function, nor would we try," Lemole added.
Rhee said that there are still eight patients from the shooting in the hospital. Two, including Giffords, are in intensive care, one listed in critical condition and one in serious. The remaining six are in regular hospital wards and are listed in good and fair conditions.
The other recovering victims had a variety of injuries, including injuries to the abdomen, bone, blood vessels, chest and extremities.
Rhee also said that patients may start to begin suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychologists were at the medical center to help those patients with counseling, as some of the shooting victims have lost family and friends.
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