Wednesday, April 20, 2016

These shoes weren't made for walking

The photo op area outside the Magic Castle.
Yesterday was my birthday. But August 25th is my rebirthday. Of course, I'm certainly no Christian--that was the day I awoke from my coma into a different life.

It's been a wobbly recovery, much the way I felt wearing the dressy pumps, with 1 1/2 inch heels, last Sunday during our birthday celebration at the Magic Castle. Even before the coma, I didn't tend to wear high heels, and those are the highest-heeled shoes I own, but also the dressiest. They have a squarish heel, but I still felt unsteady enough in them to bring my Hurrycane.

I guess you could call it a crutch.

I hadn't worn the shoes since my coma, but the strict dress code at the Magic Castle prohibits sandals, and the only other pair of non-sandal dressy shoes I own have a lower, but wedge-shaped heel which kept making my feet go sideways.

Not good.

Neither were ideal shoes for someone who still wobbles slightly due to lingering vertigo and a slightly weak right leg from stroke damage. Though I've taken to leaving my cane at home because I don't generally need it anymore, I felt it would be wise to take it with me this time.

We were visiting the Magic Castle at the invitation of Norman and Madelyn Gilbreath. Norman has been a member since before it was the Magic Castle. He's a magician who invented his very own magic principle that has its own Wikipedia page.

He gave us a private demonstration that was loads of fun.

I won't give you a blow-by-blow account of our delightful evening, but suffice it to say that it was the funnest birthday celebration of my adult life. Well, I have to give at least one supercool detail: We ate a private dinner where they hold tongue-in-cheek Victorian-style seances to contact Harry Houdini, in a room lined with priceless Houdini memorabilia. If only they allowed photos inside the Magic Castle!

The shoes are of glittery gold, and Madelyn said they looked like fairy shoes. They're the most expensive shoes I've ever owned--$80!--but they were originally cost much more because I picked them up these Stuart Weitzman pumps on clearance at Nordstrom Rack (probably because they didn't have a lot of takers who wore size 5). I didn't buy them because of their heels, but despite them. As I've always said, wearing high heels would only make me a very short person in high heels, with a bad back and aching feet. But they are lovely.

Still, I'm no Carrie Bradshaw, and this post isn't about shoes. It's about my confidence that my fairy shoes wouldn't launch me into the air as I climbed up and down the stairs repeatedly in the unfortunately not-handicapped-adaptable Magic Castle.

As we ate in the coolest room ever, I describe how in the nursing home, at first, the physical therapists counted as steps every time I moved my feet forward a tiny fraction of an inch. Two physical therapists had to support my weight for that, and even when I could make a few actual steps I still needed them in the beginning.

My first unsupported steps. As you can see, I was barely lifting my feet.

It was a technique John Silva learned at Rancho Los Amigos. Norman said that he had an aunt who
My first outside steps with John Silva.
work there many decades ago, back when the hospital was filled with polio victims from a defective vaccine. The technique involves doing anything you can to get patients to walk as soon as possible. The other physical therapists scoffed, telling me that I wasn't really walking and later warning me that John was pushing me too fast as he led me on walks outside the nursing home.

I went on to recount how I couldn't stand, but eventually found that I could use a special walker with arm braces (see above). I would throw myself at the braces and grab on for dear life.

But if John hadn't pushed me as fast as he did, I wouldn't have been able to go home in time to save my Kaiser health insurance.

The "fairy shoes" that carried me from from that walker to the Magic Castle were not infused with pixie dust, but determination and rehab. I felt unsteady, but I had faith that I was strong enough to wear those somewhat high-heeled pumps, with the slippery leather soles, without falling on my face.

The last thing I needed was to set back my recovery in celebration of the third birthday I wasn't expected to see.

Admittedly, this step in my recovery pales in comparison to the sequential steps I took on the long staircase in the Magic Mountain. Still, this is another advance on the road to normalcy.

The ruby slippers in the classic movie version of The Wizard of Oz were silver in the books, but not gold in either. Yet I was easing on down the yellow brick road to recovery, in impractical designer shoes I took off the moment I got home.

As pretty as they are, I prefer comfortable.
The shoes are next to the mums Keith gave me for my birthday. Any bets on how long it will take me to kill them? (I'm a notorious serial killer of the plant world.) Peeking out on the left are the artificial flowers Keith gave me for our anniversary because the nursing home didn't allow real ones, So far, I haven't managed to kill those.

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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.