Monday, August 17, 2015

Part Two: Finally, I have squat


In Part One, I've fallen and I can't get up!, which is part of my Scenes from... series I presented a vignette that played out on countless evenings before my dermatomyositis was diagnosed and treated with prednisone. It was the prednisone that lowered my immunity so severely that I eventually came down with Legionnaires' disease, triggering a cascade of serious symptoms, including sepsis, strokes, and my six-week coma. But that's another story.

Here is Part Two:

August 25th will be the second anniversary of Coma Day, the day I awoke from my coma. It's a bit of a cliche to say I had to relearn how to walk, but that's exactly what happened. I've certainly gone much further than my doctors' gloomy predictions at the time. But then, isn't hard to be better than "hopeless."

My body's healing mechanisms have played a major part in that recovery. Thanks, body! But it hasn't gotten there on its own. I've had to exercise that body intensely, and put it through difficult and often bizarre physical therapy exercises to get there. At first, the milestones came fast and thick. It seemed that every time my occupational therapist in the nursing home recommended an assistive device, by the time my loved ones had acquired it, I didn't need it anymore. We still have that swivel spoon with my name written on it. This was mostly my body's doing. Thanks again.

As my recovery progressed, though, physical therapy began playing a larger and larger role. Therapy and body worked together to help me walk again. But as my rehab has progressed, the recovery milestones have had a tendency to sneak up on me. These advances have been mainly won by exercise. This was the case for my new ability to take consecutive steps on stairs, as I detailed here: Every step I take, every move I make. That was an ability I lost even before the strokes and coma, since my dermatomyositis damaged my proximal muscles along my trunk, including the muscles in my leg, buttocks, and thighs (as I mentioned in Part One).


And here's where we get to the bit I set up by portraying my battles with squatting, which was one of the first things to go when I started to develop the symptoms of DM. Squatting was once something I did without thinking, to pet a cat, shovel the litter box, pet another cat, scoop a turd, clean up that furball, and, oy, here's the rest of it. Do they really have to walk while they're puking? Hey, let's see how many different surfaces I can cover!

Eventually, it got so hard for me to clean furballs that the other members of the family had to take over. (Even Karena, who feels like barfing herself when she cleans up puke.) But I fought to retain the litter shovelling chore because of Joella's bad back. She also has a bad tendency to bend over at the waist. Whereas I trained myself to squat to spare my own bad back.  Until I did that, I kept throwing out my back while shovelling the litterbox. After I trained myself to stop bending at the waist, my lower back pain, not coincidentally, improved. It became such an ingrained habit that I kept forgetting that I couldn't do it anymore. And then someone would have to come and pull me up from the ground. Sometimes that person was Joella, risking throwing her back out--the exact opposite of my intentions in continuing the litter shovelling. Though my muscles improved after my DM was diagnosed and I was put on prednisone, I never regained my ability to squat, then stand up again without aid.

A few days ago, however, I was reaching down for something I had dropped, when plopped into a crouch, just as I would when I had newly lost that ability. Crap! Now, what am I going to do. I looked around for something leverage myself up with. But to my astonishment, I was able to stand up without using my hands. I did it again to make sure it wasn't a fluke. Yup, the squat is back!

I can't squat long enough clean up puke or shovel litterboxes in our multi-cat, multi-litterbox family yet. But now it's only a matter of time before I will be able to. And when that finally occurs, cat messes will have never smelled sweeter! ;-)

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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.