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Physiatry is More Than...a Glass Coffin

May 04, 2017


“Earle, what is the square root of 25?”

Earle Powdrell had been in a community hospital in Dallas for 3 days, in what appeared to be a vegetative state. Unable to move his eyes to the right or left, Earle could only—at the time—blink.

It was with 5 blinks that Earle saved his own life.

As an aerospace engineer, Earle designed procedures that are used today to train astronauts and cosmonauts to dock to the International Space Station. The question posed to him was simple, but it allowed him to finally express to the physicians and his family that he was fully conscious and aware of his surroundings.

To his wife, Kathy, Earle would later describe those 3 days in the hospital as a “glass coffin.” He was diagnosed with Locked-in syndrome, a rare neurological condition, aware of his surroundings but unable to communicate physically or verbally due to paralysis.

Read the full article in the May issue of The Physiatrist.