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.

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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.