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

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.