Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Locked-in hope

Tooling around the Owen Lab's website, I learned that Dr. Adrian Owen and his colleagues at the Brain and Mind Institute have developed a portable device that allows communication with people suffering from complete locked-in syndrome. Here's the NewScientist story: Portable mind-reader gives voice to locked-in people.

I didn't suffer from locked-in syndrome, but I think Kate Bainbridge did at one point. She refers to being aware, yet unable to communicate. I, on the other hand, was only semi-conscious. That's why stimuli from around me only leaked into my coma-dream, as I call my near-death experience.

Still, this is an exciting advance. The Owen Lab is also working on ways to detect covert cognition with EEGs. I received an EEG, though all it could detect was that I wasn't brain dead. You may have surmised this by the fact that I'm writing this. At any rate, I wish them luck in their further endeavors as they seek to help people like Kate Bainbridge and me.

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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.