Rep. Gladys N. Spellman's recovery, if it occurs, is likely to be "slow and gradual over a period of weeks or months," her doctors said yesterday after new tests yielded little information about the congresswoman's condition.
Yesterday's statement indicated for the first time that doctors on the case have ruled out the possibility that Spellman, who has been in a semicomatose state since she suffered cardiac arrest two weeks ago, might quickly emerge -- or "wake up" as one friend put it -- from her light unconscious state.
"Recovery from her present condition will not be dramatic or immediate," said the statement released by Prince George's General Hospital, where Spellman is being treated.
Neurological testing has indicated some brain activity but has not helped doctors determine the cause of her illness or the extent of damage that may have resulted from her collapse.
Spellman's physicians and family would not comment on this week's tests. But others familiar with the results said one of the tests, an electroencephelogram (eeg), which monitors electrical activity of the brain or brain waves showed "some" activity, a finding that is in line with recent improvement in Spellman's condition, such as eye movement and musclar relfexes. Exactly how much brain activity the test showed could not be learned yesterday.
The other test, called a CAT scan, a highly sophisticated X-ray that offers cross-sectional views of an organ, revealed no apparent physical damage to Spellman's brain, a finding that was somewhat expected.
Doctors suspect that Spellman's collapse and incident of heart stop-page on Oct. 31, may have briefly deprived her brain of blood and oxygen, thus causing the semicoma. The lack of oxygen would not necessarily cause the type of physical damage that could be seen on a CAT scan.
Spellman's cardioligist Michael Schwartz has said in the past that he does not know if the 62-year-old representative, who just won a land-slide election to a fourth term despite her serious medical condition, will ever make a full recovery, though he is hopeful that she will.
Spellman has been in a "sleep-like state" since evening campaign appearance at a Laurel shopping mall. While she has shown some physical signs of improvement since the night of her collapse when it was feared she wouldn't last the night, there have been continual and grave concerns about her neurological condition.
Her heart and other organs have been functioning property, although earlier reports that Spellman was breathing entirely on her own were apparently inaccurate. Hospital authorities said yesterday that in fact Spellman has been receiving oxygen on occasion.
Within seconds of Spellman's collapse several persons near her began giving her cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. It is unknown at this point whether Spellman's heart stopped beating for more that a few minutes or whether her pulse was too weak to provide adequate flows of blood and oxygen to her brain, in which case neurological damage could have occurred.
If Spellman remains semicomatosa and is therefore unable to serve the fourth term to which she was elected, it would be up to the House to declare a vacancy before a successor could be chosen in a special election. Unlike the Senate, where vacancies are filled by appointment, all members of the House a must be elected.
Stantely M. Brand, general counsel to the House clerk, said yesterday that there is no precedent for declaring a vacancy because of incapacitation. But Brand said a resolution declaring a vacancy could be introduced by any member of the House. If that occurs, or if Spellman dies or resigns, Gov. Harry Hughes would be required to call a special primary and general election. The primary must occur no less than 35 days after Hughes' announcement of a special election with a similar time frame for the general election.
Such a scenario is likely to involve virtually every prominent politician, both current and former, in Prince George's. Already, jockeying for position has been begun in both the Republican and Democratic parties in preparation for Spellman's possible removal or resignation from office.
Spellman's longtime friend and aide Edna McLellan said yesterday that when she hears of the jockeying she tells people "Look, she [Spellman] gave us 18 years, we can give her at least a few days.")