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

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.