Friday, August 14, 2015

Scenes from (Before) My Coma Recovery: I've fallen and I can't get up!

This is the first installment of a two-part post. First up: a vignette from when my dermatomyositis was in its active phase, at a time when I thought it was possible I had DM, but before it was diagnosed. The second one will be about an ability I haven't had since that harrowing time, which I'm finally starting to get back thanks to my rehab exercises.

A little background: DM damages the proximal muscles: arms, shoulders, hips, buttocks, and legs. I had begun using a plastic stool to help me push up from the ground when shovelling our multi-cat household's litter boxes. Soon, that too became next to impossible.

I was kneeling in front of the litter box, my right leg cramping against my chest. The left leg didn't hurt that much...at least until I tried to unpin it from the ground. I pulled the stool in front of me and pushed with all my might. Nothing. I tried again, leaning forward as I attempted to push myself high enough for my left leg to open up under me. But the leg seemed to be glued to the floor.

"Move, goddamn it! Move!" I said as I began to cry. A lightning bolt of pain shot from my hips. I pushed again. This time, I slipped, my leg plopping back down painfully as the stool shot to my left. I yelled out an obscenity.

The stream of obscenities continued as I stretched my arm out, scrambling to reach the stool's leg. Eventually, I managed to edge the stool close enough to grab it.

I squared the stool in front of me again. But my left leg would still not move. I tried again and again. Still nothing. It wasn't long before I began to panic.

"Help me! Please help me! I can't get up!" I yelled, or rather tried to. My ragged voice barely escaped my throat [another DM symptom]. But everyone was asleep, and even if my voice had been normal, the game room was so far away from the bedrooms. It was hopeless.

"Help!" I continued, anyway, as I sobbed. I tried yet again. This time I managed to get my left foot under my me, but I flopped backward, hard onto my butt. I had landed a few feet away from our large, three-legged cat scratching post. Each post had a different kind of scratching surface. I inchwormed myself with my legs toward the tree-limb post, which was the one closest to me. When I was finally close enough, I grabbed the post with both arms and slowly pulled myself toward the steep step that lead to the dining room. It was only a couple of feet, but it felt like a mile.

Not one of our cats--they're only grumpy when you're petting one of the other cats.
If I could make it to the step, maybe I could edge my butt up that way. One, two, three...ugh. I slipped down again. I tried again. Plop. It took several tries before I manage to get one cheek on the step. For a couple of minutes the edge of the step was wedged in the crack of my butt, before I finally managed to turn the other cheek, so to speak. I pushed up with my hands on the edge of the step and propelled myself forward.

My feet unfurled, and I was standing once again. Instead of feeling relieved, though, I started crying again, this time out of fear of what was happening to me. It was times like this that the voice in my head would whisper, "You probably have DM." 

Soon, the voice would be proven right.


  1. Frightening. Touch wood you are well out the other side. Theidiocy... sorry Theodicy comes to mind. Miracle? Look what went before: the Judeao-Christian 'God' is sure a twisted shit, eh? And the bullshit produced to deny this is even more twisted. One of the many good reasons to prefer chance is, as Pasteur is reputed to have said, it 'favours' the prepared mind. You prepared yourself for battle and you won. Three cheers for the human organism and four cheers for you.

    Chin Chin.
    Steve Watson

    1. Thanks, Steve--that's so sweet! It was an absolutely terrifying time. This kept happening until my DM was diagnosed and I was put on prednisone. (Yup, the prednisone that eventually lowered my immunity so much that I caught Legionnaires' disease.) Even then, it was still painful and difficult to shovel the litter boxes. Keith is now doing that, but I've been adding deep knee bends to my other physical therapy exercises in hopes of regaining my ability to squat. A couple of days ago, I reached down to pick something and instinctively squatted. And I was able to get up again without pushing on something. That's what part two will be about. I haven't been able to do that since these episodes were happening, in late 2012-2013.

      Yes, my recovery is due to my own personal strength, which is really just an extension of the evolutionary drive to survive. So it's not God I owe thanks for my recovery, but Darwin.



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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.