"This is a test to see what his function is like," said Dr. Anthony Strong, an emeritus chair in neurosurgery at King's College London. He said that once the sedatives wear off, Schumacher's doctors would see if he can breathe on his own and if he responds to mild pain stimulus, like gentle pressing on his eyebrows.
"Doctors will want to see if he can say 'hello,' if he probe his recollection of events and to see if he can recognize family members and remember his own identity," Strong said. If Schumacher doesn't respond to their voice, they will also look to see if he tries to pull out any of the tubes in him or rip the dressing off his wounds — which would be a sign that he is aware of where he is.
Still, experts said it would likely be months before Schumacher's prognosis becomes clear — and that lasting brain damage was a possibility.
"If he pulls through, he may not be the man he was," said Dr. Tipu Aziz, head of neurosurgery at Oxford University. "Given the length of time he's been in (intensive care), he has clearly had a very severe head injury," he said. "It's too early to know how intact he will be, but I would guess there is going to be some kind of lasting damage."
Schumacher earned universal acclaim for his uncommon and sometimes ruthless driving talent, which led to a record 91 race wins. He retired from Formula One in 2012 after garnering an unmatched seven world titles. His accident happened on a family vacation in the Alps as Schumacher was skiing with his 14-year-old son.
AP Sports Writer John Leicester in Paris contributed to this report.