Destinations Magazine

So, Like, This One Time I Died?

By Landfall @landfallvoyages

Like, This Time Died?

Say that in a Valley Girl accent. It's kind of funny if you have a defective but overactive sense of humor, like me. A Valley Girl preparing to tell a very serious story about a potentially global life-changing event but saying it in the form of a question. I crack myself up.

But yeah, that happened. One time I died.

Eli was still so little, almost three and his tracheostomy was still fairly fresh. My clearest picture of that day was he and Tamiko sharing a shitty mauve chair in the surgery recovery room, him on her lap with a blue corrugated nebulizer hose trailing down from his neck to the ever present buzzing machine that we carried everywhere, next to the other portable vacuum machine that we also carried everywhere. Nurse Stern was looking on in her bleached 19th century uniform like a raptor, ready to strike. A surreal scene, this huge and empty hospital room with only one bed in it, one chair and stool, one creaky tray table, the nurse who hated me and the two most precious people in the world, all together in one corner, like crumbs collected.

I had just undergone (is this the only time we use the word undergone?) a minor surgery to remove a fatty tumor, the best kind, from over one shoulder blade. The surgeon later said that he slit the skin and a pound of fat fell out into his hands and he stapled me back up quicker than you can make a sandwich. Nothing to it he said, the easiest surgery he'd ever done. Cool.

But not cool. San Luis Obispo County is still mostly rural. There are miles of fields and farms and beach between the towns. Not a lot of people. It does not attract world class physicians; there just isn't the population. We get people who are willing to sacrifice income for quality of life-they're generally awesome, and we get those that couldn't get hired anywhere else. The anesthesiologist that we had at that time, she was one of the latter. Third, fourth, or fifth string. Not the MVP.

I was in recovery for ever. Over 2 hours, no TV, just the ultra taut nurse with the echoes of her hard little white shoes and those two very important, very worried faces. I needed to escape. It felt like that-that urgency, but I really felt lousy. The Raptor eventually inclined the bed to remove my IV and I passed out. I needed out so bad and I needed a cigarette-so, I told the richest lie of my life. I passed out because of "the blood, yeah, it was the blood. I'm fine. I'm fine now." All lies. Whatever it to took to get out of there. Blood has never bothered me.

I saw it on Tamiko's face. She knew I was lying. She told the nurse I was lying. And, I later learned, told her that I hated being stuck down, hated waiting, that I just wanted a cigarette and that I wasn't ready to leave. It wasn't safe. Guess I'm a pretty good liar.

A short time later, they poured me into a wheel chair and pushed me out. Wow, it was bad. Hard to stay conscious. Upright like this. The docent parked me in the sun. I told him no, but not why and he wouldn't acquiesce. The hotter I got the worse it was, waiting in the sun for Tamiko to bring the car around. Don't puke, they'll roll me back in to The Raptor. Struggling. Trying to stay awake. It felt like weeks. Knowing that if I fell down that hole I'd probably never make it back out.

The parking lot was large and full and she'd had a long walk to the car and it was taking way too long and I was slipping, but knowing that the reclined seat in the car could make it OK with some wind on my face, maybe it would be cool enough and I could not go but stay instead and it was a struggle, like pulling a car uphill in a sprint.

The car. That beautiful hammered, faded, scratched old purple Volvo wagon came around the corner and I almost knew that I could hang on enough. Probably. Hanging on by my fingernails. Because they still really needed me and I needed to stay. On this plane. In the Volvo, rolling. Wind, cool wind on my face helping me. Out onto the world famous CA Highway 1. PCH, baby. Northbound. Headed home. And it was almost good enough for a couple minutes but then I started to slip again. Growing weightless.

No traction and it was pulling me back down but they still needed me, my gorgeous baby boy with the blue plastic demon in his throat. Tamiko, my stunning wife, the most intelligent person I've ever met, she needed me too, she couldn't go it alone with that life saving demon because nobody could, but it was too hard and I was slipping. TAMIKO! Turn the car around and go back to the hospital because I can't can't... Gone.

Somewhere. Good. I didn't expect this shit but, cool. Have you ever driven out of the hills towards the coast and it was foggy? Everything down there was gray but the tops of hills here and there prodding up? You could just about see/ feel the tidal effects sloshing the fog side to side. I was like that, but I was the fog. My soul. I wasn't sure that I had one until then but I was the fog and a lot less dense than I would have ever guessed. My soul was LARGE. There were others, other souls who had been there longer, right next to my edges, mixing a tiny bit over there on the edges. They were waiting for something that had to do with me; I wasn't ready. There was love. More than there ever could be. I was really big and gaseous and my body was gone and I was so comfortable, like never before. So big and everything was so fucking good and God was there too. God loved me and I was beginning to learn and realize that love was everything here and everything was made of love. I didn't expect that shit at all. God was quite far away and God was light. As far away as India or Australia. The size of the moon, as seen from earth.

I might have been closer, you know, closer to that God light, had things gone differently in my life...but it was perfect and where I should be. I'll be getting closer as I work for it, I knew, but this was right for now. Much of my life I did take the best option of those available to me but not always, not the whole time.

I didn't even think that I believed in God. It was a maybe, but there the fucker was, like it or not. I wasn't even really thinking there, not like here-it was more like learning than like thinking. Like sounds. Sounds are not thoughts. You hear them and you identify them but you don't think them. I liked it there. Everything felt good. Things were right.

Those others, they were still there at my edges and they were love too. We might have communicated at some near time but we knew that I wasn't ready. What wasn't I ready for? I wasn't ready. I learned that as a fact. Fire is hot to the touch. Fact. Clear skies are blue. Fact. Water is necessary. Fact. I wasn't ready. Fact.

I was going back. Fact.

No. no no no. Everything here is good and I can't go back. I was going back. Fact. I need to stay! I'm going back now. Fact.

Laughing. I was laughing at the absurdity of trying to fit my soul back into that tiny ridiculous squishy body, I was too big for that thing. SOOO funny, like watching somebody who thinks they can fit the whole ocean in a coke bottle. That's how big I was there, the size of an ocean. The size of fog. Laughing. I'll never fit! If I tried my body would look like an inflated rubber glove! Funny, all round with fat arms and legs sticking straight out!

BAM! Still laughing, in the car, with Tamiko on top of me in the passenger's seat crying like never before, her arms weak, her body crushed and crying COME BACK! WE STILL NEED YOU! COME BACK! please please please please please...

Laughing under her, the saddest person in existence.

BAM! she went from sad to mad pretty quickly. Her arms not weak anymore, as she hit me in the chest. Fucker! What the fuck are you laughing about you motherfucker! OhmygodIloveyou!

As we returned to the hospital she told me that I was gone for 5 minutes, no pulse, no respiration. In the USCG they taught her that stuff, pulse and respiration, CPR, in their emergency medical classes. She had checked the clock. They taught her that too. The CPR didn't quite work either. I came back after she had given up.

Back in the hospital I told them what had happened. They denied it. Low blood sugar, they said, and a hallucination. There was an older guy hovering in the ER, wearing tan scrubs, cleaning and tinkering and listening. He looked familiar to me. As I ate their sad little low-blood-sugar-sandwich and drank almost cool apple juice, he sauntered over. Yeah, a longboarder that I'd surfed with before, but not lately.

"Hey Steve, wussup?" Hey, how are you? "Good man, good." Another lie. You've told it too. "I heard your story and they're full of shit, man." "This anesthesiologist sucks, she does this all the time." "Couple a week, man." "You'll be fine." "I know that really happened to you cuz they all say the same things, kinda, the ones that live." He slid away.

You, my friend, you already have your own beliefs. I don't care if I change them. I didn't return for that. I didn't return to teach you or anyone else, except my son.

It didn't even really change me very much; why would it change you? I'm not afraid to die anymore. I can't wait to die. But not by my own actions, I don't think you're supposed to do that. Remember that distance I talked about? You'll want it to be closer no matter what it ends up being. You can change it pretty fast over here I think. For better or for worse. It's a lot slower over there, I suspect.

So now, my beliefs, because they change what you think and how you see, don't they? They do. I'm pretty fucking sure that there's a God and an afterlife now, you can bet. But I don't really understand either of them. Can't claim to. I once believed, a long time ago, that God controlled the falling of every leaf and every rain drop. I don't think that anymore. I once believed that there was no God at all and nothing after this, but I don't believe that at all now. Now, at least for me, God set this all up, this planet, this universe, to work like it does, some big crazy machine, and then he mostly leaves it alone and leaves me alone and I live within the rules of physics. The physics that we only understand a little bit of, so far. God comes by sometimes to see how it's going, like a teacher in a classroom might glance at your paper, but she doesn't hold your hand and guide you through every letter that you write. Sometimes an adjustment might be in order, like me coming back. That was to happen and that's all there was to it. Sometimes, something happens that couldn't happen. That might be God, sometimes. Other times, it's our incomplete grasp of physics or even our limited vision.

Our senses can't see everything, can't hear everything, can't feel everything. Our senses are limited. We can't see UV light, for example. We can't hear above or below a certain threshold, you know that, maybe you had a dog whistle when you were a kid. You can't feel the millions of subatomic particles that shoot through your body every day that came from the other side of the universe a million years ago. We're limited. When something happens that no human can explain, how could I tell you what part of it is physical things that we can't even perceive and what part of it is God? I couldn't even tell you where to draw the line between the two, so how can I tell you what to believe? My own beliefs are ever changing as new information comes along. What should yours be? I'll never know.

This is all pertinent, because our beliefs cloud our vision as surely as a hood over our heads. How did mine affect what I think happened that day 15 years ago? I don't think very much, because as my beliefs have changed over the years, my recollections of that day and that place have not. I have made no new realizations relating to the afterlife, death, or rebirth in the 15 years since, that I didn't make that very day.

The Afterlife. Atheists believe that nothing happens after we die. It's over. We cease to exist. That what I saw was just a flush of serotonin in my brain, along with a cocktail of other chemicals, causing a grand hallucination as a result of an oxygen starved brain struggling to keep going just a little while longer. That could be correct. That could explain why there are so many common themes to the stories that we tell after we return from nearly (or mostly) dead. Or completely dead. Can't say, I wasn't here. That might explain it, but there's more to the idea than just that. If they were right about the effects of those drugs on our brains, wouldn't LSD hallucinations be almost all the same?

Virtually every single culture to have ever existed on the planet earth that we've become familiar with has believed in an afterlife. No matter how old. Even some instances of hominids, besides Homo Sapiens, believing. Neandertals performing burial rituals. Pyramids! Mummies! Grand Burials with gold and jewels! Postured bodies in graves of every description with beautifully carved valuables used only for that purpose. And Ceremonies. Countless ceremonies throughout the ages and around the world. So many billions and billions of ceremonies we humans have held to honor and assist the souls of our loved ones and leaders on to their next plane of existence. So many resources, so much time spent over so many centuries by so many people belonging to so many cultures. And they were all wrong? You few. You very, very few who don't believe in anything after this, isn't it really rather arrogant to believe (there's that word again) that you're the only ones in history intelligent enough, cognizant enough to have figured out that it's all a sham? Well. That could be. You could be right about that, but I doubt it. If you are right, then so are the Communist leaders, or at least what they say is right-I'm not so sure that they believe it for themselves. They say that all pilots in planes that are going down, 100% of them, include two words. Shit and God. Not usually in the same sentence.

Then, there's science. 21 grams. Many of us believe that we lose 21 grams at the moment of death. It's a nice belief. In the early 20th century, Duncan MacDougall, a physician, developed a theory that our souls have weight. If we believe that energy doesn't disappear, it only changes, then our souls (if you have one) could have mass and therefore weight and there could be a change at the moment of death. He studied death for a time and wrote his conclusions. He concluded that there was, in fact, a loss of mass at the moment of death. He put 6 different terminal patients on a scale and waited. He published his results and those publications formed that idea in our collective mind. There's a problem or two though. Of the six, two results were thrown out due to technical difficulties. The remaining four: Two had an immediate drop in weight at the moment of death. One had an immediate drop in weight, which returned and then later dropped again. So that leaves three. Each of the three lost different amounts of weight, and one of the three lost half an ounce and then lost another ounce several minutes later. Of the last two, one lost three-eighths of an ounce and the other three-quarters of an ounce. Either different people's souls have different weights or there were errors in the measurements. MacDougall said that his scale's accuracy was to two-tenths of an ounce.

Beyond that, there is a lot of information about what kills us. There is also a lot of information about what happens to human bodies after our death. There isn't much about what happens at the instant of death. Even that, is difficult to determine. We once said that death occurred when the heart stopped. Now we have CPR. We've also said that it was the moment that we stopped breathing. Back to CPR. Or it could be when brain waves stop. Many people have returned from that and many of them, like me, believe that they crossed over to another state of being and returned to this one. How many? What percentage? I cannot tell. There is a reluctance, especially in the US, where we have so many lawyers looking for work, for physicians to report instances of patients dying and returning. If I were the doctor, I wouldn't want a hungry attorney coming after me nor would I want to tell a lot of people that my patients are dying. I'm sure that it's hard to get funding and volunteers to study the moment of death. Hell, even asking for either would probably kill your career.

My conclusion?

Death is a process. Like most biological or most psychological and basically all spiritual events, there is a large variation experienced or witnessed between these misfortunes/ mistakes/ miracles/ milestones.

I do have the secret to life, if you want to know. The secret to happiness. It's the love of a beautiful tattooed girl with pink dreadlocks, the love of a sarcastic dwarf boy, the love of an old mutt dog, and a small Mexican fishing village.

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