Friday, November 21, 2014

A journey of a thousand miles...

I flopped over and hit my head the first time I tried sitting up unsupported long enough to be transported into a wheelchair. I was in a nursing home, recovering from my 6-week coma. I couldn't stand even when I was being held up. Physical therapists put me in a device that resembled a giant vertical sandwich press. My legs were the sandwich. The pressure was supposed to aid my standing. It didn't. They kept increasing the pressure until I yelled--UNCLE! Still, I couldn't stand. It looked hopeless, but eventually I was able to stand with a special walker that braced my arms (see above). At first, I had to throw my arms at the arm braces and hope I could catch it. Before long, I could very slightly edge my feet forward. They called those steps. Soon, I was able to take a couple of actual stiff, Frankenstein-like steps.

John Silva was the main therapist who helped me to walk again, Another physical therapist scoffed that I wasn't really walking because he was holding me up as I walked. Later, after I was walking without support, other therapists thought he was pushing me too fast. But it worked. He was using the techniques he learned at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, which he said was nationally recognized for its innovative approaches, and for that I'm eternally grateful. Without his help, I wouldn't have made it home in time to save my Kaiser health insurance, which would've been canceled if I had stayed in the nursing home past last November 1st. If they made a movie about him, he would be the maverick defying his hidebound colleagues to save a patient without a chance.

This is a picture taken with John the first time I walked outside the nursing home, which was his method for helping patients progress. That made one of the therapists practically roll her eyes. By the way, he wasn't holding onto me, just grasping a belt around my waist, which was a required safety measure.
And here is the video I made using pictures my boyfriend Keith took on our garden walks, which I started at the suggestion of the outpatient physical therapist I saw when I returned home, Alan Lee. The walks have greatly improved my walking, so I owe a debt of gratitude to him, as well. The video features my playing of "Morning Has Broken" on a vintage Folk Roots mountain dulcimer as its soundtrack. I posted it on the day after my birthday, both to celebrate my rebirth after nearly dying and to thank my dulcimer-playing friends for their emotional support through my difficult recovery.



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Coma Girl

Coma Girl

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In July of 2013, I fell into a six-week coma and nearly died. When I awoke from the coma, I could barely lift my head. It has been a hard road to recovery. The doctors advised my loved ones to give up all hope for my full recovery, but while they were shining lights in my eyes to gauge my level of consciousness, I was telling them grumpily to leave me alone because I was trying to get back to sleep...in my coma-dream. I was experiencing covert cognition, and the coma-dream was my version of a near-death experience. I'm a skeptic, so I saw surreal images instead of spirits or dead loved ones. According to my research, as many as one in five people with consciousness disorders have covert cognition.

Not a miracle recovery, but a miracle of modern medicine

In 2013 I fell into a six-week coma and nearly died after I contracted legionella. The Legionnaire's disease was in turn triggered by immunosuppression caused by the prednisone I was taking for my rare autoimmune disease, dermatomyositis.

I suffered a series of strokes on both sides of my brain when the sepsis caused my blood pressure to plummet. I fell into a deep coma. My kidneys and lungs began to fail, as my body was began dying one organ at a time. My doctors told my loved ones to give up hope for my full recovery. They expected me to die, and even if I somehow lived, I would remain a vegetable or at best left so hopelessly brain-damaged that I would never be same. But unbeknownst to them, while they were shining lights in my eyes and shaking their heads, I was telling them in my coma-dream--my secular version of a near-death experience--to leave me alone because I was trying to get back to sleep. I was experiencing what is known as covert cognition, the subject of my Skeptical Inquirer article "Covert Cognition: My So-Called Near-Death Experience," which appeared in their July/August issue.

But it wasn't a miracle--despite what so many continue to believe--that I recovered so fully. I owe my life not to God, but the miracles of modern medicine, as well as the nature of the watershed-area brain damage I suffered, as I detailed in my article and in this blog.