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.

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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.