Sometimes I get curious about things that happen in the outside world. And when I do, I make an effort to talk to people. As a writer, there are few things I love more than hearing people’s stories. Tales of drunken mishaps. Recollections of first love. Of children being born. Of hobbies that excite.
Oh, and you know…that time they died.
It’s a unique experience, and I had to learn more. So, when three separate people who died and came back to life landed in my bubble earlier this year during my time on Cracked.com’s personal experience team, I knew I had to take the opportunity to jot down their demise. I was lucky enough to talk to Peter, Kate, and Brian, who filled me in on what happened during that slip of existence between life and death.
5) How did this even happen?!
I’ll start by saying off the bat, there is absolutely nothing in common with these “back from the dead” stories. Kate’s situation occurred 5-6 years ago when she was in her early 20s. It was a suicide attempt; she overdosed on Aspirin before bed. Because her body was in such good physical health, she made it through the night and half the morning before her actual death happened. As for Peter, it happened 40 years ago when he was 14 years old. He had gone through an appendicitis operation a week prior by a terrible doctor who botched the operation on another young patient a week earlier. An anesthesiologist (during hospital discharge) told Peter’s mother that he was extremely ill and would be dead before morning. He’d contracted peritonitis from the botched (and later discovered unnecessary) operation. As for Brian, he got his shoelace caught in a riding lawnmower/turned go-kart that ran over him, shredding his kidneys, breaking his spine in two places, and damaging the lower part of his lung.
4) Leading Up to Death
Of all the deaths that occurred here, Kate’s was the most prolonged. Her story was actually really tense and interesting. Hers was the only suicide attempt of the three deaths at hand, the other two were and accident and an illness. Kate managed to make it through the entire night, but by morning she was in a lot of pain. She was working in a troupe that did door-to-door magazine sales in Texas. The job had a no-bullshit standard, so if you didn’t come to work, you’d get sent home on a bus. Kate was in no condition to go anywhere. After not meeting up with her troupe for the morning pow-wow and neighborhood drop off, her boss came to her door, angry and telling her it was time for work. She begged to go to the hospital and was denied. Once dropped off in a neighborhood, she repeated that she needed to go to the hospital. That’s when her senses began to shut down one by one. Muffled hearing, leading to blurred vision, to constant painful heart attacks. Whereas with Peter, he was ill for a week after an unnecessary appendectomy (which was likely slowly killing him for a week until he died on the examination table) and Brian’s death was sudden due to being crushed/sliced up by a lawn mower.
3) “The Moment”
What was fascinating about Kate’s story was that moment of surrender as she collapsed to the ground and died. Her senses began failing, one by one. She fought to get to the hospital because she knew that was the place where people died. She thought “I made it to a hospital, I can die now.” Once she let go, the pain stopped, and she remembers the darkness, but doesn’t remember when she hit the ground after collapsing.
Whereas for Peter, it was different. As he put it, “If you’ve got to die the best time is when a doctor has his hand up your backside doing a proctological exam – it takes no time to whip off the gloves and do heart massage. That’s what happened to me. It was all so quick I wasn’t pronounced dead – my heart stopped and they got it going again immediately with heart massage.” Although my thoughts remain that since Peter had the botched appendectomy a week prior that led to illness, he may have been slowly dying the whole time. Especially if the surgeon and anesthesiologist predicted he would be dead by morning.
Brian claims he died three times, in increments of 12 and 20 minutes. The first time it happened, it was complete silence and blackness. His father started his heart back up and he came to. By the time the ambulance came, he was dead again, only this time, his experience falls somewhere in between Kate’s and Peter’s.
2) “The Afterlife”
This is where there continues to be zero ties between the first two stories. Whereas Kate had this very tense, anxious, fast moving/nerve wracking experience leading up to the silence, Peter’s death came abruptly and without warning. Kate states she was dead for two and a half minutes and in that time, it was only darkness and silence. Once she was resuscitated and came back online, the first words out of her mouth were “I have to go to work.” She remembers being in the hospital room with people fussing around her and asking questions, but she assumed she was in their way and wasn’t supposed to be there.
Peter, on the other hand recounts an entire “out of body experience” during the time his heart stopped. “I’d “slipped out of my body” during the examination and was watching it all from above. Pretty typical of a lot of these near-death-experiences. At the time and for many years later I couldn’t talk about it – it freaked me out. During the mid-70s there started to be publicity about NDE’s so I realised I wasn’t on my own. Lots of other people had had remarkably similar experiences. I recovered from the operation quickly but I can’t say I’ve ever recovered from the out-of-body experience. I’d love a rational explanation why so many NDE’s are so similar. I’m not religious so the whole thing was weird and inexplicable so I have to put it down as visions caused by lack of oxygen.”
However, on the whole experience Peter also said:
“The eerie thing was that my consciousness had left my body. It (I) was ranging by itself around the ceiling and observing the proceedings with great interest and complete detachment – and acute vision. I had perfect vision of a verifiable situation. After a period of watching I seemed to slip into a tunnel. At the end of that tunnel was an incredibly bright light. I also knew something else with complete clarity. I knew that if I went towards the light I could not come back. I knew I had a choice as to whether to live or die.”
As for Brian, going back to that second passing: “After my father got my heart beating again I remember laying there in pain. Also remember feeling my back and short of breath. I felt what I still believe as my stomach in my hand while I was feeling my back. Once I was in the ambulance everything went blank except this time I saw myself laying there and the medics shocking me. I felt a hard pull and I was back in myself. Few minutes later I was on a table with strangers in white all around me. I remember them in a panic then standing next to my grandmother who passed when I was 3. She told me she was my Nana. we were there watching them jolt my heart with tiny round paddles. she kept telling me it was ok. They called my death time at 6:06 pm. Then all of a sudden, I wake up and I’m all fixed and stapled up. My parents told me I had died 3 times. The first for 5 minutes. The second was a little more than 12 min. But the last time was astonishing to the doctors. My heard stopped beating for 20 minutes. My parents made them continue jolting my heart.”
1) What are the Misconceptions?
Kate’s misconceptions match Peter’s experience. She said that “People ask about the light, the out of body experience. People imagine “the moment of return” much like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. I’m pretty sure that’s not the normal. My body was in a lot of pain. One by one my senses faded. And then they came back.”
But that “Uma Thurman” moment seems to have gained a lot of traction, because when Peter shared a anecdote with me about the same quack doctor who killed him saving his life a year prior from a reaction to a Bluebottle (a jellyfish-like thing in the ocean) he compared that live saving experience to that from Pulp Fiction. “I’d been to the beach nearby and had been stung with every bit of skin covered in tentacles from my neck to my knees (except the skin under my Speedos). I staggered the short distance home and had collapsed. The doctor had come hurrying across the road from his practice opposite. I’d had such a bad reaction to the massive amounts of toxins all my veins had collapsed so the doc had to hit me with an adrenalin shot to the heart a la the scene in Pulp Fiction. So the doctor and I were “revenue neutral” in that he saved my life once and took it once! Strangely, I’ve been completely seafood intolerant since that day which is a pity when you live in a place like Sydney. I even have to carry an antidote with me in case I accidentally eat any seafood – or get stung by another bluebottle.”
In Brian’s case, it changed him. He never quite came back the same from it, and the incident happened about 20 years ago. “I’ve had a very odd creepy feeling since. I’ve never quite been able to figure it out.”
As for Kate, she says her heart is good to go. She’s been extensively tested and deemed healed. She was very weak for a few weeks and then she healed from it.
“But dying hurts,” she says. “No one wants to feel that sensation of 5 minutes heart attacks. I know this much- I’m never taking Aspirin again!”