Thursday, January 28, 2016

Rocking the creek

Returning from a photo op among some boulders along the creek that bisects the garden.

Tumblr pics: Conejo Valley Botanic Garden.

It's gotten so that stair-climbing doesn't always merit a photo on our rehab walks/hikes. Ho hum, Stephanie climbed another flight of stairs.

On our first visit to the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden in early January, 2015, I very carefully made my way over the steps inside the garden. Not long before that, it would've been impossible for me. The steep stairs going up the garden were hard enough, even though they have rails.

I couldn't have managed the stairs in the picture below it weren't for my then-new hiking sticks. Now I can take steps far more easily. Still, I wouldn't have been able to traverse the broken rocks in the pic above without them.

Keith scampered along the boulders like a kid, but I stayed below, carefully making my way along the rubley ground. The resulting photo op can be found in my Tumblr, as can a photo of the great blue heron who settled down by the creek soon before we reached the outcropping.

You can't immerse yourself in nature if you can't make your way through it.

 

We wisely decided to leave behind the wheelchair on our first trip to the botanic garden.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

No pain, no gain, no sustain

Doing a little mugging during a walk. We have our own exercise bike at home.
Skating was the first thing I gave up after my lungs became damaged when I was 11. I loved nothing more than to skate...and skate fast. And I would skate until it was time for me to come home.

The first time I tried to skate when I was supposedly recovered, after several weeks of battling what was diagnosed as pneumonia, I returned home after only a few minutes. I couldn't understand how I could be so exhausted already. I tried a few more times, but those attempts ended the same way. I didn't yet know that I my lungs had been permanently damage, so I thought I would eventually take it up again after I fully recovered.

The bike went next. I could barely pedal up the slightest of inclines, so I was walking the bike more than I was riding it.

I thought I would return to the bike one day too.

I was still sickly for years after that, and there's a lot we may never know about what was happening to me. I suspect there was still some continuing disease process involved.

But the exercising I've been forced to do for my coma and stroke recovery has shown me how much strength I could've maintained if only I hadn't completely given up my formerly active lifestyle.

I didn't appreciate the profound impact of inactivity.

After my lung damage was diagnosed, the physical therapist I was assigned by Children's Hospital gave me aerobic exercise program to build my endurance back. But the PT greatly overestimated my ability. I could barely make it through the warm-up exercises, and that reinforced the idea of my new weakness in my mind.

I think I can't. I think I can't.

Even though I'm much stronger now, I still have difficulty with that kind of fast, sustained, vigorous exercise. Perhaps it has to do with the nature of my lung damage, which was later worsened by my two Legionnaires' disease bouts and repeated pneumonias.

Thanks again, prednisone!

I've always known that I could improve my stamina by exercising, but I never realized how much until I was forced to do it.

Not being able to walk is a great motivator.

The home physical therapist I was assigned after I left the nursing home used to take me for walks around our street. I liked Alan a lot more than I did walking along the suburban street. He advised me and Keith to find somewhere to walk. That was the best rehab advice he could've given me. I never would've built the endurance I now have by walking in our neighborhood. It's way too boring.

We started walking in the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve, with its abundance of Pacific Flyway birds, and branched out to various gardens. My attitude changed, as I began to push myself to walk ever farther.

Though I was pushing myself because I knew it would help my recovery, I never would've gotten as far as I have if weren't also enjoying myself.

Spinning is less fun, but we make the time pass by playing lectures from the Teaching Company. I love learning. Instead of concentrating on how tired I feel, I focus on the absorbing the information. When we can't watch a lecture, the time passes slowly and it begins to feel like a slog.

Hopefully, most people won't need Legionnairesacise to motivate them. But I think my experience holds some lessons for the people who haven't been through the kind of medical traumas I have.

It's not that exercising is too hard; it's just that you're weaker than you think. I can't emphasize enough how weak inactivity can make you. According to research, it only takes a few weeks for muscle atrophy to begin.

Make the exercise fun. Don't pick an exercise routine just because it's trendy or simply because you think it would be good for you. If it feels like torture, you'll eventually quit. If I had been assigned the exercise program I have now--fun, gradually advancing, and sustainable--I would've been much more likely to actually have stuck with it.

In short, do what I do now, not what I did!

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Chaplain's Cat Logic


The Secular Spectrum: The Chaplain's Cat Logic

I had interviewed Keith and my mom about the lying hospital chaplain I've nicknamed the Prevaricating Preacher when I first wrote about him in Coma Chameleon. But the one person I had neglected to ask about him was Joella because she isn't a nonbeliever like the other two.

I finally did so the other day, in preparation for writing "The Chaplain's Cat Logic.

Joella confirmed what I had expected, that PP had prayed for me while she was there. But as I was talking with her, I explained what Keith and my mom had told me about the cleric. I realized that he had apparently adopted cat logic after he promised Keith repeatedly that he wouldn't bother me.

In PP's mind, he didn't have to obey Keith if he wasn't there to catch him...just like a cat.

I had my hook for the SecSpec post!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Parambulating with peacocks

Watching a passing peacock at the Arboretum.
Rehab walk Tumblr: The Los Angeles County Arboretum.

The LA County Arboretum is enormous, filled with a huge variety of exotic trees and plants. Peafowl roam the grounds, imported by a rich former owner, Lucky Baldwin in 1880. Hummingbirds, Canada geese, and other local wildlife take advantage of the Arboretum's lakes and abundant flowers. It's huge expanse always makes for a beautiful and tiring walk.

Keith told his mom as we walked back from the relocated 1890 Santa Anita Depot, which is now a period museum (see Tumblrs for pics), how exhausting it was to push me up the hill on the way back in my wheelchair. He compared it to the Bataan Death March.

Those days are long gone. We walked almost two miles, and I could've walked further. I climbed the
steep stairs to the living quarters of the depot with relative ease. On our first visit, on my birthday last April, I clung to the banister for dear life.
Here are two photos taken on my first walk at the Arboretum on 1/4/14.

And one of me walking the opposite way at a pedestrian and (that day) peafowl crossing.
Why did the peahens cross the road?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Walking the straight and narrow

Hiking through the rough back trails of Descanso Gardens.
At breakfast Wednesday, I remarked to Joella that it felt almost weird to be walking straight. I had gotten so used to wobbling when I walked that I can't help marvelling at what it feels like to be walking nearly as stably as was perfectly natural since I was a toddler.

Now, when I say walking straight, I don't mean completely so. I now look like I might have some mobility issues, instead appearing drunk. The difference, however, is marked.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was despairing, as I was doing my physical therapy exercises, over when I would finally get rid of the unsteadiness and vertigo. It had slowly improved, but the advances had, um, stabilized.

Some of the exercises are clearly aimed at preventing falls. Now I wobble but I don't fall down, like a weeble. Others improve balance, and I think those are the ones that are best for retraining my brain.

As we've learned in recent decades, brains are plastic. Right now, my brain is rerouting functions around my stroke damage, just as an electrician might bypass a damaged circuit. Synapses are a bit different than electrical circuits, though. Everything I do to encourage those synapses to fire actually improves the strength of their connections.

But I think the main catalyst of this great leap forward (okay, so I'm not doing a lot of leaping just yet) is more active exercise. My six-days-a-week spinning is very important part of this, improving my strength and stamina. I spend an hour on the bike, and once a week we advance the tension one notch. I'm the strongest I've been since before my lungs were damaged when I was 11. Then I could roller skate as fast as I could for hours on end.

Still, I believe that the main driver of this current improvement is our rehab walks, which have become more and more like hikes lately. I had two strenuous hikes in the span of two weeks, and suddenly I began walking better.

That's no coincidence. I have a history of improving after a leg strain has healed. Exercise creates micro-muscular tears. When they heal, your muscles strengthen. That's how exercise works.

But that doesn't explain why my vertigo has lessened, you may say.

Recently, Luminosity was fined $2 million dollars for it's overinflated brain training claims. But every time I balance on uneven ground, climb up and down hills and stairs, and maneuver around obstacles, I perform another kind of brain-training exercise. Just as my physical therapy exercises help strengthen those rewiring synapses in my brain, so do my hikes.

It's fun...and it's free.

With all my concuritant problems, many of which are out of my control, it's gratifying to know that some of my remaining physical impairments are in my power to overcome.

There may be no higher power aiding my recovery, but I have the power in my hands...and feet.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Isn't There Something in the Bible About Lying?


The Secular Spectrum: Isn't There Something in the Bible About Lying?

When I first wrote about the Prevaricating Preacher in Coma Chameleon (here and here), I had to interview Keith and my mom about their encounters with him because I was too busy being comatose at the time these events occurred.

We all learned something.

Keith learned that the clergyman had visited me at least two other times after he promised Keith for the second time to stop bothering me. My mom had no idea that he had promised Keith he would stop coming around.

Far from giving my non-religious loved ones comfort, he made them feel uncomfortable. He also provoked annoyance, frustration, and anger, all in the guise of giving consolation.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Walking through a wintering wonderland



We took our very first rehab walk at the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve in late November of 2013. Keith had to roll me most of the way. The walker was hung on the handles of the wheelchair (see photo below).

Keith would park the wheelchair at the entrance path to the observation areas. I would get up and walk to the concrete bench and sit down again in the wheelchair to watch the birds. I would get up again and walk back to the concrete circle at the end of the path, then plop down once more in the chair.
On our walk through Sepulveda last Sunday, I walked the entire circuit around the wildlife lake, only sitting down a few times to rest while I watched the magnificent display of birds. There are no benches on the backside of the artificial lake, so I stood while I watched the hundreds of birds in this stop on the Pacific Flyway.


We walked less than half of the way with Keith's mom Joella, but she was tired. So after we had circled our way back to her, we headed home.

A panorama of pelicans viewed from the backside of the lake.
Yet I still had some gas left in the tank. Joella used to be the stronger one, but no more.
And here's the Fitbit map of my last round trip around the wildlife lake.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Fear is not magically delicious

Some of the difficult terrain I navigated on my first hike of 2016.
For the past week, I've been less unstable than usual. No, not my personality, it was my walking. I'll leave it to others to judge my emotional stability.

As some point, my exercising and increasingly strenuous rehab walks/hikes became more about retraining my brain than merely strengthening my muscles. I was originally told that most of my leg weakness was due to inactivity during my six-week coma. But I eventually reached a level where I could walk longer distances and for far longer than I could before my coma. I realized that the stroke-related weakness in my right leg, which seems slight when tested by my neurologist, has a much more profound effect on my walking than we recognized.

Wobbling from stroke-caused vertigo has a major effect as well. My balance exercises have helped tremendously in that regard, mostly by keeping me from falling on my face. But some of my exercises are directly aimed at reorienting my brain, encouraging it to get it's little synapses in gear and get on with the business of rewiring around its damaged areas.

Thank you, evolution.

Though I've said that I had nothing to do with the early days of my recovery--evolution again--I can own my later milestones. That took hard work. And my recovery is still a work in progress.

Yesterday, I had a follow-up appointment with my rheumatologist. My labs are still good, and she told me that after my next round of tests in three months, I don't need to see her if they remain that way. But the conversation soon turned to a few nagging concerns I've had.

Unfortunately, she confirmed a suspicion I've had for a while. My dermatomyositis (DM) is not in remission, after all. It's simply being well controlled. If I had been in remission, she would've taken me off my meds. At least I was finally able to get off the prednisone.

So long, and thanks for the brittle bones and nearly fatal immunosuppression.

The good news is she said that the fact that I haven't gone into remission doesn't mean I might have an underlying cancer triggering my DM. That's been a worry since my DM was diagnosed. That's a possibility I uncovered when I first discovered that I matched a list of symptoms of DM.

I'd crow about the fact that I diagnosed myself, except it hardly feels like a triumph that I have this serious rare autoimmune disease.

I haven't looked it up again because I quit Googling the condition cold turkey. It always depressed me because there are some deeply scary aspect to it. The foremost of which is my increased cancer risk.

She recommended that I do what I can, but forget about the things that I can't control. Well, I have been doing everything I can, exercising and getting cancer tests. But I have a hard time letting go of the known unknowns.

I told her that I don't believe there's a higher power making things come out alright for me. I need that sense of control, even if it's not real. But I'm not about to believe in a great big genie in the sky to give me that comfort.

But what can serve as a rabbit's foot for someone who doesn't believe in fate or lucky charms?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

At Sea in the Gulf of Understanding


Here there be creationists.

The Secular Spectrum: At Sea in the Gulf of Understanding

If I knew that my now-former friend didn't understand that she had subscribed to my secularist posts when I brainlessly asked her--along with my other Facebook friends--to like my Facebook page, I might have suggested to her that she unlike my page. I tried to suggest that later, but by that time she had already blocked me.

She thought I was sharing anti-creationist posts to taunt her.

Indeed, if I had thought about it, I never would've asked her to like the page in the first place. I knew that my Facebook page would be aimed at my skeptical and atheistic readers. And she was far from that.

"Penny" was on the extreme edge of Young Earth creationists.

Our differences had kept us from friending each other until then. And sadly, our friendship couldn't survive our friending.

Monday, January 11, 2016

My latest Free Inquiry essay is out

Notice the final name listed on the cover.
Free Inquiry: Sympathy for the Devil-Believers

In late October, 2015, Free Inquiry editor Tom Flynn sent me an email asking if I wanted to add a reference to a widely publicized Gallop poll that came out after "Sympathy for the Devil-Believers" had been accepted for publication in their February/March issue.

While I opened the essay with a much-discussed 2014 Pew poll showing that more than half of the American public wouldn't vote for an atheist for president, a 2015 Gallop poll showed that 54% would vote for an atheistic presidential candidate.

Wahoo--only 46% to go!

I added the Gallop poll to the essay because I'm a perfectionist, but my larger contention about the negative views held against atheists still stands. This is a point that is immediately obvious to most nonbelievers who are "out." Many, if not most, have personally confronted bias.

I recounted some of my own incidents of prejudice in "Sympathy."

Tell me your own stories in the comments section!

Friday, January 8, 2016

A step up in my recovery

Rehab Walk/Hike Tumblrs: Descanso Gardens

For the first time, Keith and I hiked the entire circumference of the always beautiful Descanso Gardens. According to my Fitbit, it was a total of 1.64 miles. But I think it would be only fair for me to get extra credit for the verticality of the hike.

We hiked up two steep hills bookending the gardens, and climbed hundreds of steep steps, for a total of 15 floors. (Those weren't all steps, the Fitbit also counts steep inclines as steps.)

At any rate, it was certainly a step up, so to speak, from our first post-coma trip to Descanso, on 12-22-2013. That time (and on many subsequent visits), Keith had to push me in a wheelchair through much of Descanso.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

I've finally made it...my first anti-woman troll


It had to happen sometime. In fact, I should've felt a bit hurt that it hasn't happened until now. I've read about the widespread phenomenon. I've even seen the noxious comments, but until today, it had never happened to me. Yes, I've finally arrived; I've drawn my first anti-woman troll. Ah, they grow up so fast....

It all started with a friendly exchange with my fellow atheist and friend Steve Watson regarding my post for the Secular Spectrum, Seeking a New Year's Evolution. I have a long-standing policy of not responding to negative comments. Someone had posted a comment with his pet theory that contradicts my contention (along with everyone else who truly understands evolution) that evolution doesn't have a direction. It sounded like he was mostly trying to promote his obviously self-published book, helpfully pointing out that it's on Amazon. Though his post wasn't that negative, he was clearly trying to pull me into a discussion where he would supposedly show off his impressive (in his mind) intellect and "brilliant" thesis.

I opted not to respond because I don't like getting into arguments where neither side could possibly be swayed to change their mind. Steve opined that I should take him on. Then he posted again to say that I was actually "taking the fight to the enemy as much as anyone."

My response self-mockingly played off the "enemy" part by saying, "My writing is indeed war by other means. ;-)"

Now, perhaps I should've made the self-mockery more evident--it was late and I was getting ready for bed--but the winking smiley is a universally understood clue. I'm sure Steve got it.

But here was the response it from my first woman-hating troll.


Sheesh, what an f-ing drama queen - "war by other means."
You're just one more lesbo skank who confuses anger and bitterness with intelligence.
Get over yourself, creep.
There are so many sarcastic ways I could take him down, but I've opted to keep to my policy (though I did downvote the post and flag it as inappropriate). By the way, I'm assuming it's a he based on the juvenile, sexist language. "Trueliguist" would no doubt love nothing more than for me to feed the troll. This has nothing to do with my comment, and everything to do with him.

Yeah, that's right, he was exhibiting so much more intelligence in his comment--without a hint of anger or bitterness. And his clever use of the term "lesbo skank" showed that he was indeed a true linguist.

Creep, indeed.

Fast-tracked into the graveyard


When I was in the nursing home, I drew up a living will. A doctor explained to me my various options. He said I could opt for continuing life support for eternity, no matter how hopeless my situation (he actually used the word eternity); life support with a trial weaning, where I could be weaned off the ventilator to see if I could breathe on my own, though it could be turned back on at any time if I couldn't, or a do not resuscitate order. Well, the DNR was out of the question, but I thought about the other two options.

I'm not one who dreads living on life support. As long as I'm mentally there and not suffering, I want to live as long as I can, whatever the means. Been there, respirated that. But there are situations when it doesn't make sense to keep alive a husk of a person who is truly as profoundly brain-damaged as my doctors thought I was.

At the time, it made sense to choose the trial weaning option. After all, how could it hurt to see if I could do without the ventilator?

But here's the rub, given that my doctors were so ready to give up on me, despite the fact that I was, unbeknownst to them, covertly aware. Even worse, as I've recently learned, there are even cases of people effecting full recoveries after being declared brain dead by their doctors. Brain dead. Instead of a trial weaning, would it instead be a terminal wean, as was the case for George Pickering III?

The fact is, the more I learn about the limits of what doctors know--and their inability to acknowledge it--the more I doubt that I can trust doctors to fairly evaluate my condition. Yes, perhaps my doctors might switch the respirator back on after I failed the trial. But who's going to make that decision, and what will they base it on? And can I trust that they've done all the appropriate tests in the first place? The doctors in the case of George Pickering III clearly hadn't. A simple EEG would've shown that he still had brain activity, and was thus not brain dead. What snap judgements have they made based on the odds, as opposed to my actual condition?

Furthermore, I now no longer trust that the doctor who explained my options was presenting them evenhandedly. The way he phrased my choices betrayed the way he was trying to lead me. I'm not old, nor do I have a fatal illness. I shouldn't be a candidate for being fast-tracked into the graveyard.

The more I learn, the more I'm convinced that I should go back and amend my living will...while I'm still able.

Death panels were never real, but doctors informally create them every day.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"God is Good," But for What?


The Secular Spectrum: "God is Good," But for What?

I suppose you can say that I violated my policy about avoiding offending the religious. But it wasn't deliberate. I had an instant and visceral response when the priest asked me, "Have you thanked God for your life?"

No!

At least, that would've been my response if I could speak. But my trach prevented that, so I responded with as vigorous a head shake as I could managed, considering my weakened state from six weeks of complete immobility.

I didn't mean to offend him, but I'm not sorry about it either. If he had looked at my chart he would've seen that my religion was listed as atheist (not that atheism is a religion, of course).

Monday, January 4, 2016

Seeking a New Year's Evolution


The Secular Spectrum: Seeking a New Year's Evolution
I admit to a bias against evolutionary psychology. Obviously, it does indeed provide a valuable prism through which to view human behavior. We are part of nature, after all, not above it. But too often, evolutionary psychology presents just-so stories that seek to explain observed or assumed traits by cherry picking evidence to support previously held beliefs. That's a recipe for bad science.

But if, as theorized by some, the human brain evolved a need for religion--out damn God spot!--is there any chance that humanity will shed it's religious magical thinking?

Yes. There is reason to hope, with or without evolution.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Really most sincerely brain dead?


On Christmas day, a friend posted a link on my Facebook timeline to an article about a tabloid-ready story of a father, George Pickering II, who held a three-hour stand-off with the police, initially at gunpoint, to prevent a hospital in Texas from putting his son on a "terminal wean," after they proclaimed him brain dead. That means they were slowly withdrawing his life support. Another son disarmed their distraught father.

The doctors had convince that son and their mother--the father's ex-wife--to allow the supposedly brain dead George Pickering III to die. I guess a terminal wean is supposed to be gentler than yanking the plug, slowly easing him into his grave. The hospital contacted an organ donation center that a death was imminent.

The hospital had appointed his ex-wife and other son as guardians of George, Jr. The father admitted that he was drunk when he pulled out his gun, but his desperation was real. “I felt hopeless," he said. "They were moving too fast. The hospital, the nurses, the doctors.” His son had suffered a stroke, but he was convinced that his son wasn't brain dead. And indeed, during the siege, his son squeezed his hand on command three or four times. That reassured him that he would be able to convince the hospital that the junior Pickering wasn't in fact brain dead, and he eventually surrendered.

Was he fooling himself? Out of his mind with denial? Or just drunk? No, no, and no. The standoff occurred in January of 2015, Today, George Pickering III is fully recovered. This is what he has said about his dad's actions, "There was a law broken, but it was broken for all the right reasons. I’m here now because of it."

There are so many things about this that are disturbing that I hardly know where to start. When I recounted the story to Keith and Joella, I was surprised at the level of anger I felt welling up. First, how could they so confidently proclaim the son brain dead? If they had performed a simple EEG on him, they would've seen that he still had brain activity, as mine showed. My doctors never said I was brain dead, only that I had "profound brain damage."

Next, there was the rush to "harvest" George III's organs. Um, maybe we should wait until they're actually brain dead, what do you think? I'm a strong believer in organ donation--I'm a donor myself, if any parts of me are still useful. But this ghoulish eagerness to give up on him and give his organs to someone else, who is of course very deserving of them, if it weren't for the fact that George III is happily still using those organs.

One of the reasons people are afraid to be donors is that they fear there might be just such a hasty decision to call them dead while they're still fresh, so to speak.

But I have to go back to the diagnosis of brain death by the Tomball Regional Medical Center in Houston. Not being a doctor, I can't imagine what lead them to this conclusion. They couldn't have followed any of the standard procedures to diagnose brain death, which is irreversible. Once brain death occurs, there can be no recovery. And the diagnosis should be pretty cut and dried.

However, a few days after I learned of the Pickering's drama, I read a shocking article in the LA Times about the differing definitions of brain death among hospitals. Many of their protocols haven't kept pace with the science of this literally life-or-death diagnosis.

I'm reminded of the issue I've pondered countless times about the one in five consciousness disorder patients with covert cognition. How many of them have had their plugs because they were written off as basket cases, as I was? But until now, I didn't have the same worry about those who have been diagnosed as brain dead. After all, nothing more could be done for them...assuming they're really most sincerely brain dead.

Obviously, you can't endorse the father's desperate gambit, but you can certainly sympathize with his desperation. After all, he yelled, "I'll kill you all," as he pointed his gun at hospital personnel. But, the fact that his son was about to have his life support shut off, yet he's now fully recovered, does tend to lend credence to his sense of urgency to action. The courts seem to have agreed. One of the charges against him were dropped, and the other was reduced to time served. This is what George Pickering III went on to say:
It was love. It was love. It’s the duty of a parent to protect your children and that’s all he did. Everything good that made me a man is because of that man sitting next to me.”
And he was sitting there because of him, too.

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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.