Many philosophers and deep thinkers, including those from the medical fields who work most closely with death, have written great volumes on the subject of death from numerous and diverse directions. They use technical jargon, some Latin, words with more syllables than appear necessary and even try discerning from experiments exactly what death is. Theologians talk of death as a passage but once they try and explain passage the, what or where they get all confusing and they go into their diffusion through use of sublimely defined terminology and references to writings by other theologians who were equally vague or tripping on some strong hallucinogenic drugs. This will be none of these as this is just as much my recounting of experiences and putting feelings as well as descriptions as best as I am able of three separate, though two are related and the other describes the differences from the others, times I have had a brush with death. This will not be as much a definition than a description of events as best I can recall, and these are, if I may borrow a description from soon to be ex-Secretary of State Kerry from his descriptions of his battles which resulted in his three Purple Hearts from Viet Nam, “etched firmly into the crevasses (he likely was saying ‘crevices’ but with his overly-pronounced Bostonian accent it sounded more like crevasses) of my mind,” or something equally and grandly pathetic. Anyway, let’s proceed on to the actual subject.
My first brush with death was the one I almost forgot, and had my life never come close again I would have completely forgotten, tucking all away deep in the back of my mind, which is that part of your mind that gives nightmares and is only freed up by future traumas. It was Christmas vacation, that means long enough back in time that Christmas was a word used in people’s lives and had yet to be replaced by ‘Winter’ when describing school vacations, public events and the reason there is a big pine tree in the town circle but is no longer adorned with festive lights after Thanksgiving and on into the new year, now it sits there blankly and blandly staring as if to ask, “Now what am I to do?” My family had gone to warmer climes for the holiday and I had just finished swimming in the pool but had not made it to the edge. I sank, threw a hand up out of the water waving it frantically, or so it felt. This was the deep end of the pool and I was not able to stand or reach the bottom so I waved, then slower, then I began to feel warm and then I jerked upright sitting on a stretcher throwing off a sheet from my face. I heard a thump and turned to see the attendant at the rear of the stretcher fall back to the ground, he apparently had bounced after feinting. I was in the hotel lobby, not the pool, but I was also confused enough not to question this. They checked me out after I finished spitting out water from seemingly everywhere within including coughing it from lungs and spewing it from wherever. That was what I remembered for years about my drowning experience. That was approximately fifty or so years back from this writing. Not much insight except the mind really prefers to tuck these remembrances away, far, far away where you will hopefully never find them. You all know the place; it is that place you put things to be safe and then can never find them again, that kind of put somewhere safe. Safe from even yourself.
Moving along around twenty years and we are parking the car and going into the Auxiliary Administrative and Out Patient Building of a major hospital in the City of Brotherly Love. It is a late Friday afternoon before a three day Memorial Day weekend and I was to be the last patient. We were fifteen minutes early but apparently some patients had cancelled and likely headed to the beach rather than that doctor’s office. The staff was in a hurry to get my brain scan done and probably head to the beach and join the rest of Philadelphia’s population. These were those primitive, pre CAT scan days of medicine where they pumped copious amounts of radioactive iodine into your bloodstream and then took passive radiation X-rays where there is no beam of electrons, it just reads the isotopes shooting out their particles within your circulatory system, and thus lighting up everything. Well, they were really in a hurry so they hooked up the IV, increased the flow rate asking all the while, “Are you feeling dizzy?” I was not so I told them so and they had the stopcock almost all the way open position and they went off to prepare the exam room. I did start to feel dizzy and inhaled to say something but never made it that far. I felt warm and odd, a very weird but not uncomfortable odd which is indescribable. Then I realized that what I was looking at was me sitting there with my wife sitting next to me likely daydreaming as she had nothing she was supposed to be doing except driving when we left. I looked down and floated around doing a 360o turn thinking that this was rather strange. Just as I thought that I transitioned to a new place and all new scene and realized that I had not had a body during this entire series of events. It was dark with a faint thin line of light and I was moving towards it but there was no real sense of motion like wind rushing by, simply I was approaching the line of light and as I got closer I started to hear voices and then joined conversations. The closer I came the more conversations we were sharing all at once, each separate, different but all equally understood at the time. The voices then slowed and became one very piercing, loud, booming, deep voice which stated with urgency for me to, “Step forward and stay or turn now.” For reasons I cannot explain now and could not then, I turned and woke in my body just as the defibrillator screeched to full charge. I gave a yelp type sound like a scared puppy. They internally discharged the paddles into the unit. They had stopped the IV and they returned to the room leaving a nurse to watch me, probably should have done that originally.
While I waited the three or four minutes for their preparations to be completed I looked at the strip they had printed out likely for the required report when you kill a patient. After later working in a hospital I now know that allowing or having a patient die are two different actions that a hospital defines. While allowing patients to die can depend on such little items such as end of life family decisions leading to a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ (DNR) notation on the door, to homeless people whose Medicare has run out, these people are allowed the ‘dignity’ of death. On the other hand, having a patient die is something to be avoided at all costs and everything possible is done to revive patients who forgot to keep breathing. This is because the legal department does not like working, especially responding to wrongful death suits as these cost hospitals million and even tens of millions of dollars. Back to looking at my strip which contained heart wave (EKG) and four channels of Electroencephalogram (EEG) and realized I had done something impressive. There was no heart-rate with close to almost five minutes and just under three minutes of no brainwaves.
That evening after having something to eat I sat back in my recliner rehashing through my memories of that day’s events. Everything was still quite clear to me and the something that did not fit entered my thoughts. The events were not exactly the same but that loud voice was the same. My drowning returned to be relived in memory. I had gone quickly from thrashing to warm to somewhere else where I was moving forward to a distant point of light which grew ever so slightly wider when something blocked my continuing and that voice ordered me, “GO BACK!” There was no debate, no choice, just this overwhelming and undeniable movement of turning and going back, but back where? Then I sat up and realized where. The rest is above with the poor attendant getting the shock for the week in a job which probably sees it share of the unusual. The similarities of these two events struck me and have stayed with me. The confusion was that the second time I was granted to choose. The drowning was not meant to be and that was rectified, I was not permitted passage beyond, period. This second time was what was intriguing more so than troubling. The concept that one can choose whether or not to die makes for interesting debate, even if the debate was all in my head. This choosing whether or not you pass that point of no return, and that point in apparently somewhere during the transition where you are already accommodating and acclimating oneself for the next phase of our continuing existence.
This inner debate may have been critical in my last episode, my last brush with death thusfar. This time there was no out of body experience though I did not realize that I was actually having my fight in the hospital, I thought it was more metaphysical, thoughts of actions rather than actual actions. I was to find out differently. This story does require some back information, my friends, please put up with one last telling or jump to the next paragraph. This starts off on one evening living in Green Country, Oklahoma where there are no tumbleweeds, no cacti, no barren rocks and sand but rather trees, bushes, grass and real cattle country. I was about to turn in while wiffy was still playing away on the computer. I lied down and just felt wrong, so I took an accounting of what I was feeling. I had no chest pain but tingling in the insides of both arms, legs felt heavy, vision was clouded at the periphery, a general sense of weakness and ill of ease. As I listed these and more I realized that I had just listed every secondary symptom of a heart attack. I interrupted wiffy and told her we needed to go to the hospital. She informed our son that Dad was having a heart attack and she was taking me to the hospital to which he showed minimal interest, with some side-eyed disbelief, as I recall. Despite there being an Emergency Squad stationed less than a full block away at the Firehouse, we chose to drive to the hospital. Advice, if you think you are having a heart attack, get an ambulance otherwise they tend not to believe you. Wiffy (who shall remain nameless) let me off at the entrance, as you really do not want to make your spouse who may be having a heart attack walk too far, and I walked ten feet to the desk. The lady receptionist asked if she could assist me and I told her I was having a heart attack plainly, calmly, as if telling her she was raising nice looking tulips. She asked if I had chest pain and I responded that I was not. She then questioned why I thought I was having a heart attack. I told her I was exhibiting nearly every secondary symptom and listed five or six. She inquired why I thought these were signs of a heart attack so I told her I was a bio med-tech and had worked for a dozen years in a thousand bed heart centered hospital in Washington D.C. and was familiar with many diagnoses including heart attack. She had me sign a form and asked me to fill it out when Wiffy arrived and I handed her the form and my insurance card. The receptionist had an orderly politely show me to the back area in a corner to a bench filled with more people all of whom looked rather less than joyful. Arlo Guthrie described this in Alice’s Restaurant as the ‘Group W Bench’ which is where they send people they do not quite believe are having a problem and are likely trying to obtain drugs for a night’s entertainment, self-entertainment that is. Fortunately for all involved, they did take blood and sent it off to the lab, possibly but not necessarily with a STAT order. Anyone who has been in a five hundred bed or better hospital with a major Emergency Department knows that blood work sent to the lab takes from thirty minutes to forever to be returned. Mine came back in under ten minutes and all of a sudden there are eight nurses making me as comfortable as I desire in my own room and three doctors examining me and a tech hooking me up to an EKG monitor. I assumed they had found a particular protein in my blood sample.
I was given a room fairly soon thereafter in a ward where I was the only patient who was conscious. Their treatment while hooking me up to this, that and the other was not particularly taking my comfort into account treating me more like a cadaver in Nurse College than a conscious, feeling patient. This soon upset me as one particular insertion was attempted with minimal if any lubricant and I went off! We finally struck a compromise where I would inform them of any need to take that measurement and we would go from there. Wiffy left later that night as I apparently was resting peaceably so she missed the fun. Sometime after midnight, my recollection is around 2:30ish in the morning I felt a familiar presence. My old friend had come for me once more and was insistent that this time was the time. We proceeded to argue and a fight broke out with my insisting that I was not leaving this mortal plane and my old friend insisting somebody was leaving with her and my name was at the top of her list, or some other silly insistence.
From what I was informed by overhearing nurses talking as if everybody was in a coma, they really were not used to conscious patients in this ward, there had been a death soon after our scuffle had ended. Apparently I was fighting anybody who came anywhere near me and had caused a commotion resulting in people trying to contain me. The number of people was consistently around ten to twelve people who had formed a ring around me to contain me. That seemed correct as that was the number there when I apparently returned consciously to this world from fighting apparently still in my body physically but my mind operating in a netherworld between places. I must have been aware of my surroundings to some extent because when I realized where I was I found myself on the floor in the middle of the ward open area surrounded by nurses and four or five large either male nurses or orderlies. They inquired why I had ceased trying to get up and I told them the truth. I stated, “The bald guy keeps throwing me on the ground, so why get up?” This appeared to baffle and please them and they assisted me back to my room, hooked me again to the monitors and intravenous pump leaving the bald guy to watch me, probably as intimidation. Apparently, during my argument I was also talking in the real world and, as I did serve some time as a United States Army infantryman, had chosen some colorful declarative terminology during our scuffle. The doctor the next morning was not upset about the physical altercation as he was about my choice language as this was a Catholic Hospital and I would be refused care if such continued. I assured him that there would be no more problems.
That was me near-death and apparently in-body experience and as I was told by my cardiologist, the hospital had initially written me off not expecting me to survive the night. I had under 10% heart function and was told I would definitely require having an internal defibrillator as part of my treatment once I was strong enough. They had been able, after a week of treatment, to place two stents (Israeli stents) into arteries on my heart and cleared apparent blockages. Much if not most of my left ventricle was black in color, not deep red, black. The cardiologist who performed my catheterization and follow-up has given us a detailed description when giving us the good news of my one year heart function tests. I had cleared 50% heart function tests (a measure of heart efficiency and output where over 50% is low end norms for a man in his 60’s and sufficient to not require any internal medical equipment, no defibrillator, no pacemaker, no nothing. My cardiologist all but danced a jig whenever we met as he had doubted I could clear 33%, let alone match what had been a boast of clearing 50%, I actually hit 51%, which was remarkable and to have only a small scar on the heart muscle which was one-third black is my personal miracle, Baruch Hashem. But our subject is not completely about survival but the challenge called death.
What I have come to find is that death comes in more than one form. The most pleasant is the form where you are permitted, with limitations, to neaten up and do whatever last items you might need such as saying good-bye to everyone, apologizing to an old friend for some stupid act, whatever it is and then when you are ready you agree you go quietly and peaceably to the next part of our journey. This might even include after you have been struck by a bus and are in two pieces ten feet apart and death will ask if you are ready implying you should use great haste if there is anything left to do. If one were to refuse to go quietly, allowing them to see their present state would be sufficient for them to agree to leave. Medical science cannot treat such injuries. Then there is the more insistent messenger of death, angel of death if you prefer, who comes bearing an order with your name on it, not at the top of a list of candidates, just one name and you are it. No choices, no moment to say good-bye, just that split instant where your face turns blank and then you are gone off to the next stop. We all go to the same next place and we make our way there as best we can. That was the gist of what I was told that one time I was graced with conversing.
There is no want in the next realm as we have no bodies to feed or care about upkeep, we are simply thoughts bundled in a sheath of energy. We can talk but in concepts and a kind of enveloping understanding. The interesting part is you can take time; apparently, to be alone with your own thoughts or you can have one-on-one or small group discussions or have as many separate conversations with groups, individuals or any combination thereof. Your identity remains whole and intact and you have the same feelings you had when on the Earthly plane but without the actual body. Whether that wanes over time or what happens after you have spent time in the next realm, that I do not yet know and likely one cannot know that and return here to your former physical self. Can one return, I honestly do not know but from my one experience my question is why would anyone wish to return? Is the next realm our final place or is there something beyond that where we would later transgress into? I cannot answer that any more than a zygote can fathom the life ahead of them and eventual death. The closest I ever found myself was as a potential seed about to be planted to grow in the next realm. By planted I do not in any way imply anchored as tour spirit, your next self, is free to do as it pleases within whatever physical realities exist in a place where energy is the means of communication and existence. There is nothing but a small ball of energy which is the essence of all you ever were, a crystallized energy with no absolute form or restriction of location as you can obviously exist in near endless and innumerable conversations and interaction simultaneously, so there is really little if any restriction known as location to our physical selves. Imagine conversing with every person who ever lived and all having knowledge base which becomes a sense of singularity of all but one still remains with a knowledge of self. Everything is mixed into a larger entity with every part interacting with the others and still you can feel like you move about though the mode of travel is thought energy, you move as per your thoughts much as the physicists describe quantum theory. Perhaps the best of descriptions of the interactions in the next realm, it would be described as similar to quantum entanglement except one can entangle with multiple others and the spin is up to you or as Einstein put it, “spooky action at a distance.”
Beyond the Cusp