Monday, August 31, 2015

A Post Mortem interview

I was surprised that they didn't use a coma picture. It's not a bad shot, despite my Frieda Kahlo eyebrows. My hands were still too weak to tweeze them. The computer was basically a prop because my hands weren't yet strong enough for typing, either. Keith was testing to see if I could stand the weight.
No, the interview wasn't conducted at a seance. Simon Davis is a fellow skeptic, and since I survived, no medium was needed, at any rate. I am of course grateful that this was the only post mortem after the coma. I was certainly happy to keep my near-death experience as far away from the real thing as possible. With no further ado, here is the in the VICE Post Mortem column featuring my interview: Being in a coma is like one long lucid dream.

To be honest, I was surprised that they didn't use any of my coma pictures, considering it's a column about death and all things morbid. Maybe that would've made it look sensationalistic, instead of being about the fascinating aspects of my coma experience. I do wish the column had focused more on covert cognition, as the Washington Post article had. But I understand. Simon and his editor naturally concentrated on the aspects of my coma-dream that people are frequently drawn to. I would've been fascinated by it as well if it hadn't happened to me. Actually, I'm still intrigued by it.

But did I have any problems with the column? Well, I would quibble with the characterization of comas being like one long lucid dream. They were for me, but not necessarily for everyone else. Simon did a good job of presenting Kevin Nelson's REM intrusion theory. And according to that theory, my long-standing REM intrusion made it 60% more likely that I would have a near-death experience. But people who have other kinds--like sleep paralysis--will not edit their NDE the way I did because my form is lucid dreaming. I edit my ordinary dreams sometimes, as well. It's the perfect form of REM intrusion for a writer, in fact. According the REM intrusion theory, NDEs are a kind of dream, so in someone with a different form, their NDE would manifest differently. And anyone who isn't susceptible to REM intrusion probably wouldn't have an NDE at all.

I can't say if REM intrusion is necessary for the mix of reality and dream I experienced. Certainly, it's not necessary for covert cognition to occur. Therefore, it's likely that some comatose people with covert cognition only perceive one of these. Or both, but they don't edit their coma-dreams because they're not lucid dreamers. I'm a study of one and that hardly makes for a solid hypothesis.

Still, this is a picayune issue, and I'm overall quite pleased with the column.

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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.