Editor’s Introduction:

This anonymous scientist  is a psychiatrist with a major American HMO. He was 38 when this touch with death occurred.

End of suffering near death?

I was 38 years old and had had an artificial aortic valve implanted on Dec 6th of 1993. I was about 2 days out of surgery–I was off the respirator, and in and out of consciousness–time was unclear, as when I would wake up the same lights seemed to be on, and it was just another waking.

I remember having rapidly increasing respiratory rate and increasing difficulty pulling in a breath–it was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, and I was struggling. Alarms were going off, and there were 3 to 4 people in the room talking with upset tones of voice. I heard something about the doctor being paged, and “an AT reaction” (I understood later I had had a reaction to a unit of blood they had transfused into me).

I didn’t rise over my body or wander into any tunnels, but I remember clearly that quite suddenly, although in some way I still felt the struggling and discomfort, I didn’t feel it, in the sense that it was unimportant and distant. It became more like watching my body struggle and my chest heaving up…and I felt very calm and there was no suffering. I also felt a distant feeling of sadness. I thought “So this is how it happens.” I also remember thinking that (still looking out at all the commotion–mine and theirs) that if I just relaxed it might go better. I seemed to pull back further…then someone gave me some med in my IV, and the best I can describe what happened at that point was that I was back in my breath–the feeling was like holding your breath for a long time and suddenly taking a deep breath in…but without the discomfort. It felt wonderful.

It wasn’t until about two weeks later that I came to the understanding that my sadness was that no one in the room knew me, and that I was dying without my family there.

I tell a very few people about this…I was in a hypnosis class the year after, wondering if that state had anything to do with hypnosis, when a member of the (very reputable) faculty got very upset with me for discussing this in a group…oh well. I was not so much proposing that this proved awareness might continue after “dying” but that death might not always be suffering up until the end…

Contributor’s Comments on the Experience

I still find that I can be caught up in all the same craziness of life…and I still fear death at times, but not always as much. It has helped me listen to others’ experiences with more of an open mind, because my science is listening to the stories of others’ lives with wonder…and there is a gradual accumulation of understanding from this…