My "miraculous" recovery from a 6-week coma through a skeptical and humanist lens, written by a writer published by Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry. When I awoke, I could barely raise my head, and it has been a hard road back. I also aim to educate the public about covert cognition. Too many people who are still conscious are being dismissed as hopeless vegetables, as I was. As many as one in five people with consciousness disorders have covert cognition. For them, there is still hope.
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 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.
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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.
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