Thursday, September 3, 2015

Deathlessly speechless

If I could've said something, it would've been, "Oy!"

In his book The God Impulse, this is what Kevin Nelson had to say about those who believe "experiencers" like Eben Alexander were actually brain-dead during their NDEs:

The brain doesn't die in near-death. Being near-death is very different from returning from death...the brain is nowhere near physically dead during near-death experiences. It is alive and conscious.

Dr. Kevin Nelson is a professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky, and the researcher who conducted the seminal REM intrusion study of near-death experiences referred to in my Skeptical Inquirer article Covert Cognition: My So-Called Near-Death Experience. NDE true believers like to cite the fact that Eben Alexander is himself neurologist. But he only decided that what he experienced during his coma--which was in fact medically induced, unlike mine--was a near-death experience well after the fact. As I did, as well.

That's because we're interpreting our experiences though a prism of our own preconceptions. I think both sides can agree on this point...at least regarding the other side of the issue. The main arguments against my story from NDEers generally fall along the lines of A) It wasn't an NDE because you didn't die. B) You didn't have a "real" life review. [I'll delve further into objection A and the others in future blogs.]

Many of the arguments presuppose that the brains of those having the NDEs were dead at the time. That is impossible, as Kevin Nelson describes in more detail than I can quote. Alexander must know this, as well. He has chosen to disregard the mountains of scientific evidence that contradict his personal theory, which is also in direct opposition to the reports of a doctor who treated him. This is a quote from the excellent Esquire expose of Eben Alexander, written by Luke Dittrich]:

I ask Potter [Dr. Laura Potter, the first doctor to see Alexander in the ER] whether the manic, agitated state that Alexander exhibited whenever they weaned him off his anesthetics during his first days of coma would meet her definition of conscious.
"Yes," she says. "Conscious but delirious." 
In Proof of Heaven, Alexander purports to have yelled out, in a crystal-clear voice... 
"God, help me!"
 Later in the Esquire piece...

Potter has no recollection of this incident, or of that shouted plea. What she does remember is that she had intubated Alexander more than an hour prior to his departure from the emergency room, snaking a plastic tube down his throat, through his vocal cords, and into his trachea. Could she imagine her intubated patient being able to speak at all, let alone in a crystal-clear way?
 "No," she says.
I can tell you from personal experience that after I had my second bout of Legionnaires' disease, I could say nothing while intubated. All who knew me were no doubt relieved.
Keith fanning me with the white board with which I as forced to communicate.

Now, I’ll confess that, as a skeptic, I've done extensive research on NDEs from a scientific perspective, but until now I haven't been exposed to the vehemence of NDEers. We will never convince each other, of course, and I certainly have no wish to try. I can only present the facts and let the readers decide.

And here is one final quote from the Esquire piece:

His survival is a miracle, he [Alexander] says. His doctors told him that he is alive when he should be dead, and he believes intensely that he is alive for a reason, to spread the word about the love awaiting us all in heaven.
I’m alive when I should be dead, too. I consider my recovery to have been remarkable, and certainly unlikely, but not miraculous. And my mission is to spread the word of science and reason.

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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.