About the same time, a doctor discussed with Keith what they should do when--not if--I started going into cardiac arrest. Yeah, I was that close to death. I know my believer friends think it was a miracle that I survived. To me, it was a miracle of modern medicine. Plus, I was very, very, lucky.
But what about those potentially one in five patients with covert cognition who haven't been so lucky? My mother and Keith weren't about to pull my plug, but I know a lot of people think, "He/she would never want to live this way." If it comes to that, they would make that terrible decision. How many of those unfortunate people are having their own coma-dreams, happy in their fantasy worlds?
Kate Bainbridge, the vegetative-state survivor I talk about in my upcoming (July/August) Skeptical Inquirer article, "Covert Cognition: My So-Called Near-Death Experience," has expressed similar concerns, as have others who were in the same situation.
As much as medical advancements saved my life, there is much that medical science still doesn't know. Indeed, the word about the latest findings about covert cognition hasn't yet gotten out to all the doctors in the field. My neurologist isn't even familiar with the groundbreaking research of Dr. Adrian Owen and his colleagues at the Brain and Mind Institute. He was the one who discovered Kate's covert cognition when he was still at Cambridge University. Thanks to Dr. Owen, Kate received therapy. Though she's severely disabled now, her cognition is fully intact. Like mine is.
I was fortunate enough to have Keith and my mother to read and talk to me, trying to keep my mind engaged. Much of what they said, read, and played for me leaked into my coma-dream. But I didn't receive therapy, physical or otherwise, because my doctors said it would be useless. I believe that my recovery might have been a lot shorter if I had received it.
Still, the doctors saved my life, and of course I'm grateful for that. I've gotten a second chance at life. But how many people have never had that chance because someone close to them thought they were saving their loved one from suffering? It's a wrenching decision for them, obviously. They're only doing it because of their love. But Dr, Owen has been able to communicate with people who were thought to be beyond hope--profoundly brain damaged--just like my doctors thought. Even if they don't wake up like I did, it may be possible to communicate with them. And then they can decide for themselves if they want to keep on living.
Being a writer, I feel an obligation to use my writing skills to educate the public about covert cognition. Maybe through my efforts, some of those one in five people will be celebrating more birthdays of their own.
While I was in the coma, apparently, Keith told me that when I woke up, I could use my writing to help people like me. Unfortunately, that's not one of the things I remember from my coma-dream, but he knew me well enough that it's come true.
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