For my final exam of the semester I had to write an extended description of what a “near death experience” is, similarities between research study participants, etc. In the textbook the course was using, a near death experience was described as “the distinctive state of recall associated with being brought back to life from the verge of death” (Duffy, Kirsch & Atwater, 2011). And perhaps as usual, according to my professors, I disagreed with that definition. I disagree with it because the heavily implied suggestion is that some outside source or person “brought” the person back. Almost a month ago I had a near death experience, and as I live alone at the moment, there was no one there to help. No one, no medical assistance or higher power that brought me back.
What happened (and part of my essay response): “My health has been extremely problematic the last two years beginning with a bite from a very poisonous spider May 2010. I nearly died within three days of that bite and have experienced severe side effects at times since, which eventually culminated in needing heart surgery December 2011. Because the lingering effects of the venom have changed hypertension and pressure, one is always cognizant of ill-feeling in a variety of ways. Despite all of that I continued life as usual as much as possible, though effects became even more debilitating climaxing almost a month ago. Heavy stress with personal situations and then professionally, a directed cyber attack by a group of “readers” (or non-readers as you’ll find they labelled my work), it was all too much.
As usual, spending much time on the computer with my publishing work, I experienced severe head pain and weakness and drowsiness. I decided to lay down to rest and lost consciousness only to awake unable to speak, again with terrible head pain. I couldn’t make any concerted effort to move, my limbs were weighted. I felt alarm, and I felt myself close to death. I could hear my heartbeat slowing, my thoughts. I couldn’t see but my eyes were open, and I felt as if I were floating. I thought and felt utterly in those moments: “this is my time. I am going from this life” but I couldn’t even wait for that last moment. I lost consciousness again.
As I live alone, it took me almost two days before I could get out of bed and get to a doctor, where I was diagnosed as having a Transient Ischemic Attack. This used to be called a “mild stroke”, but no stroke is mild. It is now more correctly labeled a “warning stroke”, 1 in 3 people go on to have a massive stroke, which some survive but often completely incapacitated, though many do not survive the first hours or days. I am now working through the continued left-side weakness and head pain, and sometimes a kind of mental haze, a lack of acuity.
I’ve been hit by a car while on patrol, I’ve fallen from three stories and survived. I’d been in a car accident in the last five years where I broke several ribs, had a concussion, internal bleeding and knees broken yet again. This last event was the closest I’ve been to death, and no one brought me back. This was my individual experience. My body continued to fight on, and it brought me back. It is logical to assume others have experienced and felt the same, as they’ve been away from any help. That is my reason to not accept the broad definition of the authors of this textbook’s terminology suggesting some thing or someone else had something to do with it, although it must almost inherently have been used for the subject matter.”
I had to write that essay earlier, and though I’d been somewhat better after a number of doctor’s visits and medication given, had been back having head pains. I can more closely sense when my body is having difficulties again although yes, I can project health. I’ll keep walking, working, that’s all I know but especially what I have to do for my son, my family….Yesterday (because its now almost 2am where I am) was one of those days. Too exhausted to sleep at the moment, but decided to converse with my son via computer.
We started thinking about a song we’d heard, which strangely reminded me of what happened. It was from the film version of “Where the Wild Things Are” whose author, Maurice Sendak recently passed. The song, “All is Love” by Karen O and the Kids, was harshly critized by some people who didn’t “get it”, but by others was described as conveying the joy, melancholy, crazy fun and darkness of life. If you know the book originally written for children, which became so beloved, was one the author said he wrote that wouldn’t patronize children. Not minimizing their emotions or fears, or triumphs.
I listened to the song again after months of having not heard it. I had been rather glad because my son has been transfixed by it and played it over and over again, sometimes more than 10 times per allowance of it. I never disliked it, but that many times in a row…well, I was glad for a break then. When I heard it again, in a crazy way it made me feel again what I felt in those moments of “near death.” The melody, the pitches, the impromptu clashes of voice than became harmony? You become the child again, as helpless as one can be as an adult, but completely cognizant of it as only children can more naturally be: sensing the things beyond vision, the unexplained terrors….Through it all, you just have to go with it, wherever it leads you. I continued living, and as always, you have to keep the song in your heart and mind and keep dancing.
“L-O-V-E is a mystery, where you’ll find me, where you’ll find all is love….”
Hear a sample of Karen O and the Kids, All of Love, at Amazon.com.
Duffy, K., Kirsh, S., & Atwater, E. (2011). Psychology for living: Adjustment, growth, and behavior today (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.