The records of the first 325 patients entered into the pilot phase of the National Traumatic Coma Data Bank were reviewed. Thirty-four severely head-injured patients who talked prior to deteriorating to a Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score of 8 or less were identified. Of those 34 patients, 18 died or were left vegetative and 16 recovered. While there were certain common factors between those who talked and died and those who talked and recovered, there were also significant differences. The common factors between the two groups were the length of time to deterioration or operative intervention (16 versus 18 hours, respectively), and the initial GCS scores (12.6 versus 12.4, respectively). The primary differences between the groups included the mean age, the degree of midline shift seen on computerized tomography (CT), and the presence of subdural hematoma. Those who talked at some point postinjury, but who subsequently died, had a mean age of 50 years. Those who talked, deteriorated, and then recovered were found to have a mean age of 32 years. Seven of the 18 patients who talked and died had a shift of greater than 15 mm on CT, while this degree of shift was demonstrated in only one of 16 patients who talked, deteriorated, and recovered. Subdural hematomas were significantly more common in the "talk and die" group, as was the overall need for operation. Since the overwhelming majority of patients with marked shift on CT have surgical lesions, early operative intervention is strongly recommended in these patients, prior to their inevitable deterioration.