Thursday, October 22, 2015

Coma chameleons

Now that I'm a contributing writer for The Secular Spectrum, I have a new outlet for my skeptical and humanist writing. Therefore, I feel free to write more directly about my recovery again in Coma Chameleon again. This blog is subtitled, My Recovery Chronicles, after all. This post, however, is also a continuation of some of my recent subject matter.Yes, that's right, my fellow coma victim and experiencer, Eben Alexander.

A few months ago, I finally received my hospital records from my 6-week coma in 2013, after being mistakenly given the records from my two-week 2014 hospitalization. Both were due to Legionnaires' disease, caused by immunosuppression. Thanks, prednisone.

The 2447 pages of the PDF (I received it on CD) is a treasure trove of details, sandwiched between mountains of repetitive information. I don't have the space to go into all the information, and I've only skimmed through parts of it. But I did learn one juicy tidbit. I knew that my lungs and kidneys were failing, but apparently my liver wanted to get into the act, as well. When I mentioned this, Keith joked that my spleen was doing fine, as was my appendix. Everything else was going south. My impression is that the liver problems weren't as severe as the other organ failures, a speculation my neurologist later confirmed. Otherwise, I would've been given a Charlson Comorbity Scale of 3 instead of 2. Think of what it would've done for the miracle-believers if I had managed to survive a score the maximum of six out of the twenty-two frequently fatal conditions that make up the scale.

In Proof of Heaven, Eben Alexander actually implies that the very rarity of E.coli meningitis in an adult is evidence that God chose him as His Special Messenger. After all, as a neurosurgeon, he was the perfect emissary to the disbelieving medical and scientific community. Yeah, right. Wouldn't neuroscientist Sam Harris have been even better? I suppose his argument is that God chose a rare condition as a sign that this was an act of God. Isn't he special? According the famous Esquire expose, Alexander has a reputation of arrogance. And he hides it so well.

At any rate, he seems convinced that the severity of his illness is another sign of God's hand. But as someone who was at least as close to death, you'll have to forgive me for not being impressed. My doctors were every bit as convinced that my death was imminent. I'll take one life-threatening bacterial infection--in my case, Legionnaires' disease--and raise him multiple strokes on both sides of my brain, severe sepsis, lung, kidney, and liver failure, as well as another potentially fatal bacterial infection, listeriosis. And compared to his measly seven days of coma, I was comatose for six weeks.

Take that, Eben Alexander, messiah to the scientific world.




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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.