First things first – there is no white light. Forget it. It just gets dark and silent.
Second thing – after it was all over, my heart doctor told me that death was one of the possible side effects of the drugs they had me on. Why do you suppose he didn’t tell me that before I died?
Third thing – OK, so I’m alive again. Death, apparently, is reversible.
Anne, my wife, was at work, and she had the car. I worked from home, and some mornings I would get right to it at 6 AM, and then shower at lunch time. Or not, depending on who might have to physically interface with me that day. This was one of those late-shower days. I’m finishing up in the shower and surprisingly tired. Noting that I wasn’t that dirty to start with, I figured it had to be something other than the effort to scrub.
I have an inconvenient heart condition known as paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. It causes an occasional rapid, irregular heart beat and shortness of breath, like I suddenly got real old. (Instead of getting real old slowly, which is the actual case.) At first I dismissed the symptoms as a-fib, but they felt different than the usual episode, so I called Anne to come and get me to go to the hospital.
I must have really been hurting because I never volunteer to go to the hospital. My default cure for anything is to wait and see. By the time we got there, I was in pretty bad shape, even considering my normal shape isn’t all that notable. As a 54-year-old male with chest pains, I jumped right to the head of the line. Even so, they took the time to be sure I could afford to be diagnosed and treated, and then wheeled me back to the emergency room, Anne coming along without any objection from anyone.
The nurse was connecting me to machines, and I was trying to look recuperative, smiling as best I could, to calm Anne. When the nurse had plugged in some device, she stopped and watched the displays behind me and then turned, calling to someone, “Doctor, you’d better look at this.”
I’ve never thought I was immortal, but for some reason, I haven’t really ever had a fear of death. It is simply too hypothetical too me. (See Asthma-induced Hallucinations, below.) And I wasn’t scared at that moment, just curious and concerned for Anne, who was still at the foot of the bed, holding my foot and trying to be brave.
A woman in a lab coat with a stethoscope came over and looked at the display, and I heard her yell a word that you only want to hear on TV – stat. It came at the end of a short sentence that I don’t recall, and was obviously an order because the next thing I knew, there were people hustling all around me, doing things in an orderly if somewhat frantic way.
The action was sort of stop motion. Everyone doing something urgently, then they would all freeze and stare at the monitors. Then someone would mutter something and they’d start all over again. They repeated the process several times before the doctor told me that I was in ventricular fibrillation and they were going to have to use the defibrillator. She said they usually didn’t do this without some kind of prep, anesthetic or sedatives or something, but there was no time.
“This is gonna hurt,” she said. And then she said “clear.” And it hurt.
Here’s how it hurt. Imagine an infinite number of Mike Tyson’s at the prime of his career. Imagine that they surround you from every direction, from inside your body and out, that your cells have all somehow become Mike Tyson. Then imagine that they all hit you in the chest at the same time.
Anne said I levitated, a hang time Michael Jordon would envy. I remember that much. I remember shouting, “Whoa! Jesus!” And I remember seeing Anne so scared I could have died from sadness.
Then there was no white light. All that happened was that my vision narrowed from the outside in until it was dark, but I was dead before I went blind.
When I woke 30 or 40 minutes later, Anne was at my side. She told me they’d used the defibrillator again, and got my heart going.
And probably hers as well.