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.

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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.