Surfing Brain Waves

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Finding ways to bring people back to life is hard, even if you are a science fiction writer. Physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson pointed out during a recent Bill Moyers interview, that science fiction fans “…will judge the storytelling based on how much science it got right before starts inventing what the frontier of imagination would bring.”

So when I saw the headline, Peculiar brain signals found in “flat-lined” patient, I began to wonder if it could be the ticket to resurrecting my “Phoenix Characters.”

Photo by Otoomuch via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Otoomuch via Wikimedia Commons

The article tells of a heart attack patient in Romania who had slipped into a coma and was having seizures. When they gave him an anti-siezure medication and an anesthetic, Doctors noticed small v-shaped waves registering on his EEG. It was a wave they would never have expected in a coma, or in someone with a flat EEG.

Scientists tried to replicate the wave in cats. Twenty-six cats were flat lined after being given a big dose of anesthesia. After flat-lining, they were given even more anesthesia to send them deeper into a coma and the v-shaped wave appeared, just as it had in the heart attack patient.  They called it a v-complex brain wave.

Researchers are not sure why the v-complex brain wave, associated with the hippocampus, shows up during an anesthetized coma. One guess is that the wave, which travels out to the other silenced brain cells, reduces atrophy that would normally happen during a long coma. But some researchers believe the brain wave only appears because of the anesthesia, and could never happen on it’s own.neurons

Further, the subjects of study had not experienced traumatic events like car accidents, drownings, and general damage to brain cells that normally accompany a coma. Most researchers concluded the wave is not something that would be found in the average coma patient and even if present, the kind of damage that put the person in the coma in the first place could not be undone.

So my characters who die of gunshot wounds or drown, probably would not return to life even if the v-complex wave kept their brains active, but the article finishes with the words of Stephan Mayer, director of the neurological intensive care unit at Columbia University Medical Center.  “the way we conceptualize death is kind of more blurry than we thought in terms of what is actually happening physiologically.” Knowing that will keep me searching for a plausible way to kill my characters and bring them back to life.



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