Thursday, March 31, 2016

Stopping just long enough to smell the roses


Tumblrs: Orcutt Ranch

One of the first places I wanted to see when my mother and I moved to LA was the La Brea Tar Pits
Seizing the day, in this case, Easter.
(translation the the tar tar pits). Well, the discoverer of the Tar Pits was W.W. Orcutt, the previous owner of one of our favorite nearby places to walk, Orcutt Ranch.

We hadn't been back since May of 2015, however, because it was beginning to become too small for me. The reason we returned last Sunday was that when Keith's sister and his mom were there on a holiday last year, it wasn't crowded. That sounded appealing, since the last time we walked on Easter Sunday, it was a madhouse...a madhouse!

One of the downsides--really the only one--of getting stronger is that some of our favorite walking places have to fall by the wayside. I'm afraid that Orcutt Ranch is going to be one of them. Oh, there's plenty to see there, cool statuary, dozens of vibrant varieties of blooming roses and other fragrant flowers, ancient oaks, and citrus orchards to boot (see Tumblrs).

How could I forget the orchards--I walked through them enough times last Sunday! We eventually managed to rack up 2.40 miles, but the map of our walk looks like silly string.

Not that I'm complaining. Okay, I'm complaining. It's not that I didn't enjoy it, but even though we took different routes each time, it got a little tedious after a while. All in all, we took two plus round trips around the ranch. I also climbed every staircase in the ranch, to the point that I climbed one and then walked right back down again.

I can remember when the "hill" felt more like a mountain. This time, I walked up what felt like a mere incline.
Posing with the Three Graces for the first time at Orcutt Ranch, in March, 2014. I'm struck how fat my face had become from prednisone every time I see an old pic.
As we made one more lap around the ranch, our conversation drifted to other favorite walking place that I've grown past. The world-class Japanese Garden in Van Nuys sprang immediately to mind. Next time we go there we'll have to make a couple of loops through it, as well.
It seems strange to feel nostalgic for weakness, and of course I'm proud too. The fact is, I couldn't have walked a fraction of what I did Sunday before my coma.

I literally didn't stop to smell the roses. In fact, I wouldn't have gone out at all just for pleasant walk. Oh, we would walk through the Natural History Museum and afterwards we stroll through the adjacent rose garden on the way to the parking lot. But I would already feel wasted from the museum and I couldn't wander as much as I would like to have.
Throwback Thursday, taken in May of 2010 in front of the Rose Garden.
Indeed, my entire attitude about exertion has changed. Now, I actively seek out opportunities for exercise instead of avoiding them like the plague. I push myself through the exhaustion instead of quitting when I'm starting to feel tired.

So so long, Orcutt Ranch, with its roses, magnificent oaks, statuary, and swastikas. Yes, you read that right. W.W. Orcutt fetishized Native American culture. As the signs carefully point out, the swastikas festooned throughout the grounds were Native American sun symbols installed in the twenties, long before the Nazis came to power. But I regret not posting for one last pic next to the pylon with the huge swastika. How could any Jew with a sense of dark humor resist?
The last time I posed with the swastika, in May, 2015.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Abuse of Use and Disuse


The Secular Spectrum: The Abuse of Use and Disuse

Keith and I have different memories of the incident I recount in The Abuse of Use and Disuse. He remembers it as him reading aloud to me the encyclopedia passage about how Lamarckism had displaced Darwinian natural selection. But I distinctly recall staying up until the wee hours of the morning, after deciding to thumb through the delightfully Art Deco Funk and Wagnalls volumes from 1934 he had just purchased. Before my coma, I had the bad habit of staying up late to read things when I should be getting ready for bed. And how could I resist finding out what they had to say about my favorite subject, evolution?

The next day--or should I say later in the day--I told him excitedly about what I had found. I remember struggling to find the relevant passages. Was it in evolution or natural selection? Where was that quote about Lamarckism?

When I mentioned the idea for the SecSpec post recently, we dug out the encyclopedias. I initially didn't remember thumbing through such small volumes. But as I looked through them again in preparation for writing the post, the memories flooded back. My eyesight had deteriorated enough for me to require a magnifying glass to read the tiny print.

Who was right? Well, obviously, I think I am. My memory of the incident is more detailed and defined, and I have a better long-term memory than Keith has. That afternoon, we read through all the relevant entries, reading aloud the juiciest bits. That could be what Keith is remembering.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Springing through the Arboretum

Climbing over the radiating low trunk of a white karee.
Tumblrs: Los Angeles County Arboretum

Sunday, we walked the expansive LA Arboretum, which was approaching its spring splendor. As we meandered through its exotic flora, the air was filled with the cat-like mating calls of the garden's peacocks, a legacy of Lucky Baldwin's menagerie.

While the Arboretum is no longer as physically challenging for me as it once was, it more than makes up for it in distance. For the first couple of years, the only way I could see the Arboretum's far-flung gardens was for Keith to push me much of the way in the wheelchair.

That gave us both of a workout, since on the way back, Keith had push me uphill. Now, I have to walk that loooong incline myself (and, at any rate, I've finally returned the wheelchair). And there are certainly other challenges within the Arboretum.

I climbed numerous staircases, not only the steep one beside the waterfall, but also these uneven steps repurposed from broken concrete, And let's not forget my half-vaulting over the snaking, low growing trunk of the white karee (see above).

Still, at the Arboretum we have to make up the relative lack of rough hiking, as I indicated, by walking a good distance. In this case, it was 2.34 miles.

Keith was certainly glad that I was trudging up the hill on my own two feet.


Last year, on my birthday, climbing the staircase in the relocated late-Nineteenth Century train depot. I had to half-pull myself up the steep stairs. It was much easier when I climbed them earlier this year.
Look, Ma, only one hand!
















But even that first labored trip up the staircase was a major improvement over our first visit to the Arboretum, in January of 2014.

Along for the ride in my wheelchair, in front of the falls.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

My own devices


Finally sending away my wheelchair last week did more than free up trunk space. It's also revived memories of the path I've traveled since my awakening and the now-unneeded mobility tools that helped me get there, however briefly.

I haven't needed the wheelchair for some time, and I had no real attachment to it. In fact, the only reason I hadn't made the call to have it picked up was it didn't really matter to me one way or the other. Plus, my ADHD makes me an inveterate procrastinator.

But now that it's gone, I've been casting my eye on the other mobility paraphernalia that we can't return because we purchased them ourselves.

I'm using the walker as parallel bars for my physical therapy exercises, so it still serves a recovery-related purpose. But two of the rollators are simply taking up space. They're awaiting burial in the garage, alongside with the light rollator I thought would be easier to hook on the back of the wheelchair, but was actually harder. We'll eventually give most of them to Goodwill.

One is currently serving as a particularly bulky table for clutter.

Perhaps one of our moms will be able to use the three-wheeled rollator I liked so much. Indeed, my mom has been thinking of buying a similar model. The Winniewalker was the best of the bunch by far.



And then there are the various canes. Lately, I've taken to leaving the Hurrycane behind, though I may still use sometimes it when I think I'll be in a crowd.

Indeed, the history of my recovery is paved with physically enabling devices that I've grown past almost by the time they've arrived. I may never get a chance to use the fancy folding canes Keith gave me as gifts. By the time I don't require the extra stability the Hurrycane provides, I won't need a cane at all.

My stroke-caused vertigo is now the sole reason I might need a cane. That's why I still feel more comfortable with it when I could be jostled and set off balance in a crowd.

And then there are all the accessories we purchased to make those devices more convenient or comfortable. There are several cup holders and totes for the wheelchair, walker, and rollators. The inflatable seat cushion for the wheelchair was insanely expensive, and it was hundreds of bucks cheaper than the top of the line models. We'd like to find a charity that will give it directly to a handicapped person instead of simply selling it to someone who will probably just use it as a regular seat cushion. It's called a Roho. I looked through a catalog my physical therapist in the nursing home lent me. They can run ten times as expensive as the one we chose. Kaiser would only provide a cheap and very thin inflatable seat pad that looked like a waffle. At any rate, since these pads are so obscenely expensive, we're hoping that it will go to a poor veteran or someone like that.

Wheelchairs don't seem to be built for people to sit comfortably in for long periods of time!
You can see the thinness of the pad as it peeks out under my butt. The back pillow is my own pillow. In this case, its thinness was good, allowing it to conform to my back. I'm sitting against it now.
Perhaps we should hold a special garage sale for the mobility-challenged. The only problem is, how to get them here?

And while we're at it, there is the swivel spoon the nursing home occupational therapist
recommended, which I barely needed by the time it arrived.

Or what about the resistance bands? Or the special totes for the walkers and rollators? Or the all-terrain attachment for the cane Kaiser issued to me before Keith gave me the Hurrycane? Or the...




Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Secret Secular Handshake


The Secular Spectrum: The Secret Secular Handshake

I thought I knew what my pulmonologist meant when he asked me if I was wearing my colorful tie-dyed blouse for Easter. But my sleep-addled brain couldn't come up with a response. I guess you could say it was a godless hour.

He elaborated by explaining that he was wondering if I was deliberately dressing like an Easter egg, which is what I thought he meant. (It was obviously meant to be a pleasantry and was by no means an insult.)

In these situations, I'm in the habit of mentioning my Jewishness to get out of of explaining my atheism (and possibly causing a contentious scene). I said, "I'm of Jewish heritage." I had meant to merely inform him of one of the main reason why I wouldn't feel moved to dress for Easter.

But he picked up something else in my statement that's reflexive for me. I didn't say that I was Jewish, only that it was my heritage,

"Meaning you don't practice?"

I nodded.

"I am of Christian heritage, as you say," he replied.

I smiled and said, "Keith is one too."

Later that day, I realized he had given me the gift of a SecSpec post. I'll have to thank him when I see he next.

I deliberately left out many identifying details because godlessness is still largely a negative in deeply religious America, as I detail in the post.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Between a (Vasquez) Rock and a Stoney Point

Queen of the mountain,
Tumblrs: Vasquez Rocks
For perspective...

Literally going out of my way for a photo op.
Though our quest at Vasquez Rocks to see the carpet of wildflowers we had been treated to last year certainly wasn't dashed, our visit was unfortunately premature.

But every visit to the Rocks has challenged me, and this time was no exception. And the magnificent megaliths of the park are of course beyond compare. Hiking Vasquez Rocks is like walking through a movie set. Or rather, countless ones.

As we made our way up the hill, at various times both Keith and I felt mild waves of acrophobia. Yet we pushed on to the undulating curves of the rock wall we've nicknamed the Grand Canyon (see Tumblrs).

A photo taken by Joella of my failed attempt to scale a rock Keith easily ascended. I quickly realized that it was too steep for the hiking sticks, so I attempted to guide myself up with my hands. But even if I made it up, could I make it down again? I wasn't so sure and inched my way down again.
The history of our rehab walks/hikes at Vasquez Rock is marked by boldly going (on terrain) where I had never gone before. Maybe next time I'll be able to climb that mountain...er, steep rock (see below).


And here's that yellow-petalled road we were seeking. Alas, they were just starting to peek out their sunny little heads.

The carpet of flowers stretches off into the distance. I was forced to abandon the rollator on this second trip because we were venturing on rougher terrain than we dared attempt the first time.


And here's a bonus pic, a screen capture of the hike via my Fitbit app.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Goodbye to all that


At least someone will be sorry to see the wheelchair go. Notice the caked mud on the wheels.
I should've done it ages ago...at least since 2015, and perhaps as early as 2014. The wheelchair was
simply taking up space in Keith's trunk. The only thing that kept me from making the call to have the wheelchair picked up was the motivation to get around to finding the phone number.

I finally did that yesterday. And today, FedEx came by to carry the wheelchair away for good.

Good riddance to my earlier dependance!

A photo taken on our first rehab walk. Keith wheeled me between the viewing stations so I could walk the few yards to the outlets using the walker hooked onto the handles of the wheelchair.

The Donald Made Them Do It



The Secular Spectrum: The Donald Made Them Do It

We've been watching the Republican primary debates. Or, should I say, we were watching the debates, since it looks like Trump will nix any more.

The last one, alas, featured no references to genitalia. And speaking of dicks, it appears that the Republican establishment won't be able to stop the hate-spewing vulgarian that is Donald Trump after Tuesday's sweeping primary victories.

But what could've laid the groundwork for the so-called party of Lincoln to go down this ugly path. Could it have been the race-baiting rhetoric of the party for the last fifty years?

Friday, March 11, 2016

SfMCR: The final battle to speak


In my coma-dream, suctioning was represented as being immersed in a tank filled with science fiction-inspired oxygen-permeated gel, which I could barely suck into my airways. Once awake, it felt like my lungs were being sucked out with a vacuum. Still, the plugs in my lungs were getting so bad that I kept having to give in and ask to be suctioned.

But suffering through the waterboarding-like suctioning wasn't the worst travail I was facing.

The morning after my breathing crisis caused by the plugs (see SfMCR: Struggling to breathe because of my trach), Ricardo came to my bed and said, "We're going to remove your speaking valve."

As if a dam had burst, tears instantly poured forth. "Please don't." I interpreted that as meaning they were going to remove it permanently, silencing me once again. "I need it!"

"But we have to. We have no choice. The valve is what's causing the plugs to form."*

"Isn't there something else we can do? I have to be able to speak," I sniffled.

"If we keep it in, it's going to delay your recovery. Don't you want to get better?"

I paused to think of a way out of this. Suddenly, a solution popped into my mind, "What if I let you take it out between visits?" My loved ones visited me in regular shifts, and that's when I most needed to communicate well the most.

He looked at me a minute, and said, "We can try that." Ricardo didn't look enthused. "But if you continue with the plugs, we're going to have to take it out."

And thus, when my visitors arrived, I would ring for an RT to reinsert my Passy-Muir valve, and when they left, I would signal again for the valve to be removed.

In between, I had to do my best to communicate with medical personnel using leak talking, which is as difficult to understand as it is to produce.

This was complicated by my warp-speed speaking style, which is related to my ADHD. Try as I might, I just couldn't force myself to slow down my speech or break my comments into shorter utterances. The best I could manage was to reduce the speed to subsonic.

This was a particular problem when trying to communicate with physical and occupational therapists because doing the exercises sapped me of precious breath.

Still, it was worth it to be able to continue speaking normally with my loved ones.

I was on powerful (and painful) intravenous antibiotics. Every time the younger nurse administered it to me, I had to fight back tears from the searing pain. The older, more experienced, nurse knew how to slowly feed the antibiotic into the catheter so it didn't hurt as badly.

But the excruciating injections paid off. Before long, I tested free of MRSA, and I wasn't an untouchable anymore.

A couple of weeks later, I no longer needed the speaking valve. Ricardo finally removed my trach.

As he was taking it out, Ricardo said he had known I was ready to have it out for some time. Later that day, Joseph broke into a big smile when he saw me without the trach. He told me that he could always tell when patients are ready for decannulation, and he had known that I was from the start. That's why, when it looked like he would be leaving Country Villa Sheraton, he warned me of Ricardo's excessive caution and advised to keep pushing for further weaning.
After my trach was disconnected from the ventilator. They fed me supplemental oxygen as a precaution. 
If I had been weaned faster, I wouldn't have needed the speaking valve for nearly as long, and most of this frustrating saga never would've occurred.**
After I had been red-capped, in preparation for decannulation.


*As I said in my last post, the folks at Passy-Muir, makers of the talking and eating valve, tell me that if my ventilator had been properly humidified, it would've prevented the formation of plugs. I will delve further into this subject in the next installment in this Scenes from My Coma Recovery series. Here is Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and a related SfMCR: Gaining the Power of the Pen.

**On the other hand, I also wouldn't have sold the essay I wrote about the drama of repeatedly losing my ability to speak. "Voiceless" will appear in Kaleidoscope, a semi-annual online literary magazine about disability, in either in July of 2017 or January, 2018. I will post a link to the essay when it comes out, so watch this space...eventually.

Enjoying a tater tot after the decannulation. I was wearing a shirt because that afternoon I had gone on a walk outside the nursing home.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A rocky recovery at a stony park

This time, I was strong enough for Keith not to spot me before I reached the steeper and slipperier section of the path to the wind cave.

Tumblrs: Rocky Peak Park

On our second visit to the stunning and strenuous Rocky Peak Park, we made like our Cro-Magnon ancestors by dining in a rock shelter. Just as they would've eaten their bagels. The rainstorm we were trying to avoid by hiking on Saturday
caught us unprepared on Saturday.

Typical Mother Nature, raining on our recovery parade.

Rocky Peak is extremely steep and the path is sometimes treacherous. It's so difficult that it's even hard on Keith's knees.

Still, I found that I was able to ascend the park's heights more easily than I could just a month prior. It was gratifying to note that my hard work at rehabbing was paying off.

After I had basked in the freedom of having the wind cave to ourselves by exploring the depths I could reach safely (see gif below), we stopped for a picnic. As it turned out, we had lucked upon an open rock shelter just before it began to rain.

It was a good thing we had left the cave because the path out of it would've become a Slip'N Slide. Dry, if not warm, we waited out the rain in our open-plan cave.

Descending on our first trip in February.

Unfortunately, to avoid the slippery slope of descended the path in the mud, we were forced to head back after our picnic, instead of heading deeper into to park, as we had planned. After all, last time, I got cocky and fell down on the descent, skinning my knee. And the ground was mostly dry.

But I'm sure the wildflowers already peppering the park appreciated the precipitation (say that ten times fast.)

See Tumblrs for more pics, including the wildflowers.
Admiring one of the natural rock sculptures at the park last time.
And here I was struggling to my feet inside the wind cave on this trip. It's a measure of how difficult my recovery has been--from the strokes, coma, and the previous dermatomyositis muscle damage--that even the ability to stand up from the ground using only a low rock as leverage is still something to celebrate.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Caught in the Web of @theist Dating



The Secular Spectrum: Caught in the Web of @theist Dating

When I entered the Jewish dating scene, I was thinking that Jews would be more likely to share some of my personal attributes, like humor and liberalism, But I suppose I was also trying to connect to a culture I had only tenuous ties to.

I was sadly mistaken.

In fact, some Jews denied that I even belonged in the "club" because I didn't practice Judaism. There were a number of guys I could tell were interested in me, but were put off by my preemptive announcement of my atheism.

I was trying to screen out guys who would be put off by my beliefs.

It worked all too well.


Friday, March 4, 2016

SfMCR: Struggling to breathe because of my trach


At least my dexterity had improved enough for me to suction the plugs from my mouth myself.
After all of the dramas I had suffered in my struggle to speak, you would think I had finally come to the end of my speech travails when Keith bought me a replacement for the talking and eating valve--aka Passy-Muir valve--which had been carelessly thrown away with my used trach.

You would be wrong.

Within a week or so after the replacement speaking valve was put in, I came down with pneumonia. Not just any pneumonia, but the dreaded MRSA--Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. That meant that I was Typhoid Stephanie. All visitors had to dawn sterile gowns and masks before seeing me.

Even worse, I was barred from the "gym," as the physical therapy room was called. I had no access to the exercise equipment that would help strengthen my coma-weakened muscles. The PTs went
The balloon was there for my physical therapy.
into my room to give me the limited therapy they could provide there. I had to leave the nursing home at the end of the next month or lose my Kaiser coverage, and I still couldn't walk.

The clock was ticking. But that was far from all.

The phlegm from the pneumonia was forming into thick plugs, which clogged my breathing tube. Trachs make it harder for you to cough up phlegm.Thus, it was actually impairing my ability to breathe. The irony is that it was becoming increasingly clear that I didn't need the trach anymore (a fact Ricardo admitted when he finally removed my trach a month later).

Joseph, a big, bald-pated Jamaican respiratory therapist explained in his sing-song Caribbean lilt, "It's your your speaking valve, my dear. The valve dries out the mucus, making it form into plugs."*

But I wasn't about to give up my hard-won ability to talk.

I had already grown to trust Joseph, who prided himself on how many patients he had talked through breathing crises. Being a skeptic, I initially doubted his self-assessment until I saw it for myself (and with myself). He calmly talked me through more than one such crisis, as he did with Vilma, the fellow coma survivor I shared my room with.

One day, the plugs just wouldn't stop coming. Some of them were huge, clogging the suction tube so badly that Joseph had to open it up to remove the plugs with saline and swabs. (Um, maybe I should've warned you that this post isn't for the squeamish. Sorry!) They were tinged brown because my trach had be suctioned so frequently that my throat had become irritated. (I know, blech. Sorry again!)

And speaking of irritation, Joseph spent his entire shift shuttling back to my bed to suction me yet again. All day, I continually hacked as deeply as I could to bring up the plugs. Sometimes they would shoot out of my mouth like spitballs. We should've set up targets.

As much as I could, I tried to clear them myself by coughing and by suctioning my mouth and upper throat with a long plastic wand (see above photo). I hated having my trach suctioned because it was uncomfortable and little scary--it felt like the RT was sucking my breath away. It was a bit like being waterboarded, actually, though the only thing they're trying to extract from me was phlegm.

Joseph was reluctant to suction the trach too often because of the increasing throat abrasion. He therefore encouraged me to cough them up myself when I could. My chest was beginning to feel like my ribs were boring their way through the skin. I was physically spent, yet every time I started to have trouble breathing, I had no choice but to begin hocking yet again.

At one point, even suctioning couldn't seem to clear my trach. I coughed and I coughed and I coughed some more until I was hyperventilating so much even the ventilator couldn't keep up. What's worse, since my awakening I had been plagued with frequent bouts of painful chest spasms, which coughing often triggered.Whenever my chest spasmed, my hyperventilation worsened.

Now I was scared. And the more nervous I got, the worse the hyperventilation became. Joseph had told me of a heartbreaking case in which he couldn't calm a panicked patient, who eventually died.

I wasn't panicking...yet. Still, the story was meant to illustrate the very real dangers of a breathing crisis.

But Joseph's soothing manner relaxed me. I focused on imagining a particularly peaceful scene with Keith at an ancient Greek ruin Sicily. As I calmed down, my breathing became more regular. With a several forceful coughs, I expelled the plug restricting my airway.

At the end of the day, with my last bit of physical reserves spent, I gave in and allowed them to remove my speaking valve before I went to bed.

But that still wasn't the end....

*The Passy-Muir people tell me that the plug problem could've been solved if the nursing home had only humidified the ventilator air. That makes sense. I'll get into that subject in my next installment of this SfMCR series. Here is Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and a related SfMCR: Gaining the Power of the Pen.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Born Free (of God)


The Secular Spectrum: Born Free (of God)

Though I was raised as an agnostic, when I was about 10, I began praying silently before bed:
Now I lay me down to sleep,I pray the Lord my soul to keep,If I should die before I wake,I pray the Lord my soul to take.
I must've picked it up from TV or the movies. The reason I was doing this wasn't because I had secretly become religious. I interpreted the prayer as a threat that God might kill you in your sleep if you didn't pray to him.

God was the boogeyman, the monster under my bed.

I also deeply feared Bloody Mary, which Dale McGowan amusingly recalls in his latest post. To me, both God and Bloody Mary were equivalent--demons to be feared. If God didn't get me, the ground might open up and Devil would suck me into the bowels of Hell.

Though I was a fearful child, I was able to shake this strange habit for a girl who would mouth the prayers she was forced to recite before lunch in school. (Both events happened when I lived in Birmingham, Alabama.)

One day, I thought, "This is silly. I don't even really believe in God. I should stop this."

I didn't gather up the courage right away, but eventually I stopped praying to the imaginary killer in the sky.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Walking with Joella's dog where coyotes pupped


Tumblrs: Conejo Valley Botanic Garden

The last time we went to the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden, in with Joella and her Australian terrier Sadie, in June, 2015, they were barred from the garden because coyotes had been spotted in the garden with their pups.

Luckily, there's a nice community park right outside the botanic garden. We eventually left them to rest while we walked through the botanic garden. Still, the highlight of the day was our picnic together, when we watched a family of juvenile squirrel frolicking and poking in and out of passageways under the concrete of a drainage ditch like Whack-a-Moles.



That was our second visit. The first was only the second time I had used my hiking sticks to climb stairs without rails--and these were much longer flights than those had been. Stairs have gotten so old hat for us now that Keith often doesn't even bother to take pictures of me climbing them. Sunday, while Joella walked up the ramp to the garden, I took the stairs.

That visit was also the first time that we left my wheelchair behind at a new garden while I was using the hiking sticks. I guess you could call it a leap of faith that I could do without it.

And now I've left the wheelchair behind for good.

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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.