Friday, March 6, 2015

Keep on the sunny side

This was taken on one of our rehab walks, so I was just pretending. Notice the mismatched socks. I had forgotten to take off the second slipper sock, possibly because I wasn't awake yet.

Experiencing multiple strokes on both sides of your brain and falling into a 6-week coma can have some upsides.

For one thing, I've been forced to break some of my many bad habits. Among the top ones is the crazy night-owl sleeping schedule I was keeping before my illness. BCE (Before Coma Era), I too often greeted the sunrise only because I hadn't gone to bed yet. In the nursing home, breakfast was at 7 am, so sleeping in was not an option. And when I left the nursing home, I was forced to get up at 6 am along with Keith, since he had to make breakfast and prepare things for me before going to work so that his mom wouldn't have to do too much for me. Fortunately, I'm a lot more self-sufficient now.

I'm still a night owl inside, but I value sleep much more than I used to. I no longer sacrifice sleep for things that really could wait until the morning. Of course, I'm not exactly at my best then, and I frequently wake up cursing the sunshine for looking so cheerful. But being in sync with the rest of the world has its perks, too. My screwed up sleep schedule often made it hard to see museums, which is one of our favorite things to do.

And I never realized how much I would enjoy garden and nature walks. It's kind of hard to do them in the dark--unless you're looking for actual night owls. Even after I no longer need the walks for rehab, I want to continue doing them. When I'm feeling down, my mood always lifts when I'm walking through forest canopies or soaking in the lovely colors and textures of gardens. BCE, I went to the Sepulveda Dam Wildlife Preserve with Keith only once, and that was because he had extolled its charms so often. I've been there countless times during my recovery, however, and I've come to look forward to watching the wildlife there. I took walking for granted until I couldn't do it anymore. BCE, walking was a drudgery, but now it unlocks nature for me.

Last Tuesday, we were heading to our polling place, which was only a few blocks away. Keith was going to drive us, but he asked if I wanted to walk. I said, "Sure. Walking is good for me." When we were on our way, Keith remarked that I never would've agreed to walk there before my illness. I couldn't have ridden the stationary bike more than a fraction of the time I can now, either...assuming I even tried. And I want to keep that up after I no longer need it for rehab, too. Walking through museums and on vacations will be a lot easier thanks to my improved endurance.

What's more, nearly dying made me want to live. I didn't want to die before, of course, but I also didn't do anything to ensure my continuing health. Most people don't. Death may be inevitable, but it doesn't seem real until it almost happens. I was incredibly lucky this time, but next time I might not be. I'll probably live longer now that I've decided to take my health in my own hands.

I'm still not a exercise or health fanatic, but I did receive a wake-up call (even though I accidentally fell back asleep for a half an hour yesterday). I will never be a morning person, but I'll probably have a lot more groggy mornings because of the positive changes in my life.

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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.