My "miraculous" recovery from a 6-week coma through a skeptical and humanist lens, written by a writer published by Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry.
When I awoke, I could barely raise my head, and it has been a hard road back. I also aim to educate the public about covert cognition. Too many people who are still conscious are being dismissed as hopeless vegetables, as I was. As many as one in five people with consciousness disorders have covert cognition. For them, there is still hope.
From the beginning of my recovery, milestones have been achieved before I realized it. I'll be performing some task that I always took for granted, and it's some time before I suddenly realize that I'm doing something I couldn't do before. Yesterday was one of those days.
This phenomenon is one of the main reasons that my recovery has forced me to become more willing to take on physically difficult endeavors. That and nearly dying makes merely feeling dead seem less dreadful somehow.
It's also the reason why I waved off the well-meaning suggestion of one of the volunteers at the Japanese Garden that I take the stairless route out the back of the tea house. And that's why I climbed every step in the garden. Yeah, I know it's harder--that's the point. "It's good for me," I assured her.
Indeed it was. I noticed there was something different in the way I marched up the open steps without rails within the garden, a certain ease. And I was doing it much faster, too. I thought, wow, I really have gotten stronger.But it wasn't until I ascended the steep flights to the observation area that I realized that I was mostly powering up the steps without pulling myself up using the rail. I used to cling to rails as if they were life preservers, which I guess they were. Then came the real shock: I was taking the steps in sequence. Instead of step, stop, step, stop, I was actually climbing the stairs, one step after another! I haven't done that since before I developed dermatomyositis, which damaged the very muscles I need to perform this instinctive movement. And that was before the strokes and coma.
This is the reward that awaited me.
Plus the knowledge that I was one step closer to complete recovery.
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.