Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Interview with the vampire...er, ex-night owl


Today, Simon Davis, a fellow skeptic who writes the Post Mortem column for VICE interviewed me about my coma experience and my Skeptical Inquirer article, "Covert Cognition: My So-Called Near-Death Experience." His column focuses on death-related subjects. I did nearly die, after all. I've often joked that I came about as close to dying as you can get without actually dying. Plus, I did have a near-death experience, a subject that came up repeatedly in our conversation. Another topic that came up frequently was my coma-dream. I know that's a subject that often fascinates people. It would me, too, if it hadn't happened to me.

I thought I would be nervous, but apart from my usual ADHD-related nervous energy, I was fine. In fact, it was a lot of fun. Who doesn't like to talk about themselves?

It will be interesting to read his interview when it comes out. He's requested that I send him some photos, and I've sent him the first batch--the few pics taken while I was in the coma, plus the photo of me beside the graffiti that read, HOPE. I have to go through more so Simon's editor can pick the best.

And speaking of hope, I hope he mentions the plight of patients like me who are covertly aware, but are dismissed as hopeless vegetables. Somebody has to speak for them, because they certainly can't. The closest any have come was when they were lucky enough to be included in a covert cognition study. Scott Routley was asked by Dr. Adrian Owen if he was in pain. He answered no, using Dr. Owen's tennis/navigating familiar locations technique. Sadly, Scott died without ever regaining full consciousness. But before that, he gave hope that similar patients will someday be able to participate in their own care.

And I'm glad to know he wasn't in pain.

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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.