Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thankful for my blessings though there's no one to grant them


Biting off more than I could chew at a Halloween festival last year.
November 20th was the anniversary of my first blog. It was about covert cognition, a theme I've returned to again and again in the year I've been writing Coma Chameleon. October 30 was the second anniversary of my return from the nursing home, and August 25 was the third celebration of Coma Day--the day of my awakening. Thursday will be Thanksgiving, they day Americans are supposed to be thankful for our blessing.

I obviously have a lot to be thankful for. Not that I don't do plenty of kvetching, which is one of the perks of being a member of the people who invented that ever-useful word. Whenever I complain about some minor frustration, Keith usually says something along the lines of, "Oh, I'm so not in a coma. I'm so not dying. I'm so not in a wheelchair," or something along those lines.

The truth is, until my coma, I never really thought about what I had to be thankful for during Thanksgiving. After all, I didn't believe there was a god to bless me, to hand me good fortune. It's not that I was ungrateful, it's just that I never really bothered to count my blessings.

But ever since my first Thanksgiving back from the nursing home, mere months after I returned from the brink of death, I have thought about about my blessings--and not only on Thanksgiving. They are many.

I think about all the people in my dire circumstance who weren't so lucky. I think about all the covertly aware patients who haven't been discovered or managed to wake up on their own. And I think about what might have been.

If my doctors had been right and I was profoundly brain damaged, I would've been irreparably brain damaged, a shell of my former self. That's the reality for far too many people. There but for the grace of the God I don't believe in go I.

And that's assuming I even survived. A doctor discussed with Keith what they would do when, not if, I started going into cardiac arrest. He overheard one doctor asking another if I was a candidate for lung transplant. The second doctor replied, "No, we should save it for someone who has a chance."

But I did have a chance. And so many others didn't. And tomorrow, as we sit down at the table Thursday, I will spare a thought to those in my situation who weren't so lucky. I think prayer is a waste of time because there's no one on the other end of the line to receive the call. But I will do something that's a lot more effective: I will pledge to do my best to inform the public about that the one in five consciousness disorder patients with covert cognition. And I will spare a thought to the family and friends who didn't get to see their loved ones wake up.

I have only my doctors and providence to thank for my recovery, but that is enough.

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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.