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Finding the Best Care for a Loved One in a Coma 


(The Intensive Care Unit)

A guide to the medical personnel and their roles in providing care.


  • Anesthesiologist
A physician who administers anesthesia for surgery and other medical procedures. This physician may meet with family members before surgery.
  •  Attending Physician
The physician primarily responsible for the care of the patient, often a neurosurgeon.
  •  Consulting Physicians
Physicians who are specialists in fields other than neurology and neurosurgery. They may be called upon by the attending physician for their expertise on other facets of medicine, especially in the event of other injuries.  
  •  Intern
A physician who has finished medical training and is usually in the first year of training in a specialty. Interns work under the supervision of attending physicians and residents.
  •  Internist
A physician who specializes in internal medicine. They are experts in problems of the heart, digestive tract and other internal organs, and are often consulted after a brain injury.
  •  Neurologist
Physician specialist concerned with treating disorders of the brain, spinal cord, nerves and muscles.
  • Neuropsychologist
A psychologist who specializes in evaluating brain/behavior relationships.They use a variety of techniques, including testing. Groups of tests, called batteries, can establish the location of the brain injury. Neuropsychologists plan training programs and recommend alternative cognitive (thinking) and behavioral strategies to help brain-injured people think and behave as close to their pre-injury status as possible. They also get involved in helping families to understand what is happening to their family member. In addition, they help families try to come to grips with the fact that this injury effects not only the person who is injured but all members of the family. Neuropsychologists typically have more time to talk to patients and their families than other members of the medical team. You should feel free to ask to speak to the neuropsychologist.
  • Neurosurgeon
Physician specialist trained to care for all varieties of nervous system problems and perform brain and spinal cord surgery as needed. This person is primarily concerned with coordinating the medical treatment of the brain injured, and deciding whether or not there is a need for surgical treatment.
  •  Nutritionist
An expert in the nutritional requirements of patients. Nutritionists are also adept at various methods of feeding, for those unable to take in food and fluid by mouth.
  • Occupational Therapist
OTs work to improve function in the patient's hands and upper body. They become involved in the acute rehabilitation phase.The occupational therapist uses self-care, work and play activities to increase independent function, enhance development and prevent disability. This may include the adaptation of a task or the environment to achieve maximum independence and to enhance the quality of life.
  • Orthopedist
Physician specialist concerned with the study and treatment of the skeletal system, its joints, muscles and associated structures.
  • Physiatrist
A physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Some physiatrists are experts in neurologic rehabilitation. The physiatrist examines the patient to assure that medical issues are addressed; provides appropriate medical information and oversees the patient's rehabilitation program.
  • Physical Therapist
The physical therapist evaluates components of movement, including: muscle strength, muscle tone, and general mobility. This is done initially by moving the arms and legs (called Range of Motion) and thereby exercising unused muscles in order to prevent further deterioration of physical function in the unconscious patient. The physical therapist also evaluates the potential for functional movement, such as the ability to move in the bed, transfers and walking and then proceeds to establish an individualized treatment program to help the patient achieve functional independence.
  • Primary Care Nurse
The nurse principally responsible for the nursing care of a given patient. The primary care nurse develops and implements a care plan, participates in conferences, collaborates with the patient, the rehabilitation team, and the family, as well as evaluating the outcome of care.
  • Psychologist
A professional specializing in counseling, including adjustment to disability. Psychologists use tests to identify personality and cognitive functioning. This information is shared with team members to assure consistency in approaches. The psychologist may provide individual or group psychotherapy for the purpose of cognitive retraining, management of behavior and the development of coping skills by the patient and members of the family.
  • Rehabilitation Nurses 
Nurses especially trained in rehabilitation techniques as well as basic nursing care. Nurses assist the patient and family in acquiring new information, developing skills, and achieving competence. They provide and coordinate all patient care, liaison to other team members and are often a patient advocate.
  •  Resident
A physician who has completed medical training and is taking additional training in a specialty, such as neurosurgery. Residents work under the supervision of attending physicians.
  • Respiratory Therapist 
Concerned with helping the patient breathe adequately as a means of preventing further complications and/or infections. If the patient is on a respirator, the respiratory therapist is responsible for maintaining the equipment. If the patient is unable to cough up secretions, the respiratory therapist may assist by lowering the head, tapping the back, and suctioning the patient.
  • Speech Therapist 
Assists patients in their recovery of all aspects of communication skills and swallowing ability.

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Equipment found in an ICU

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Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.

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