Near Death Experience
From all angles
“All of life is a Near Death Experience.”
Clinically speaking, 35-year-old Pam Reynolds was dead. Her heart had stopped beating; her core temperature was 60 degrees Fahrenheit. And her head was drained of all blood.
Yet, Pam survived an extremely complicated surgical procedure to tell an extraordinary story. One that has become more familiar as medical procedures have improved.
People are now surviving life-threatening conditions that would have meant certain death to previous generations.
Pam Reynolds is probably the most compelling case of Near Death Experience in the U.S. because of the credible witnesses to her claims.
Her surgeons and other medical personnel in the operating room confirmed Pam’s assertions about what she heard and saw during her brain surgery.
It is estimated that five percent of the adult U.S. population has had an NDE. This amounts to more than eight million cases.
The numbers are even higher in some countries due to a greater willingness to report Near Death Experiences.
The prevailing strong materialist view regarding anything that cannot be quantified or replicated creates an atmosphere of sharp criticism for even discussing experiences such as the NDE.
This is true not only of medical professionals who may risk their careers by speaking out, but sometimes criticism comes from within the experiencer’s own circle of friends and family.
In his seminal book on the subject, Life After Life, Raymond Moody M.D. brought attention to the Near Death Experience in 1975. Although still taboo in some circles for both the patient and the medical community, the NDE is gradually becoming accepted as a legitimate experience.
But, what that experience actually means is still up for debate.
This nascent atmosphere of openness has resulted in more experiencers and doctors coming forward. Some medical practitioners have even written books about the phenomenon.
There are plenty of skeptics and detractors about the validity of NDEs. We will hear what they have to say, as well. And, we’ll examine the leading theories on the subject from the scientific community – particularly neuroscience.
Now, back to Pam Reynolds.
In 1991, Pam, a singer/ songwriter and music producer from Georgia, began having problems vocalizing words. This was accompanied by bouts of dizziness and severe headaches.
An MRI revealed a large arterial aneurysm on Pam’s brain stem. She elected to have the complicated and dangerous surgery to remove the ballooned artery.
She really had no choice; if the aneurysm ruptured, she would die instantly. If the surgery goes wrong, she may end up not being able to breathe or swallow on her own.
The surgical procedure, called a Cardiac Standstill, required that Pam be heavily sedated to minimize brain activity. Her body temperature was then lowered using ice blankets to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This dramatically reduces metabolic activity.
Then, large amounts of potassium chloride were delivered to the heart causing cardiac arrest.
Essentially, Pam was dead.
Before going further into Pam’s experience, it is essential to note that her eyes were taped shut. Molded plastic speakers were also inserted in both ears to monitor brain activity. The earbuds emitted a staccato clicking sound somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 decibels in volume. *
She was also heavily dosed with a barbiturate. Pam should not have been aware of anything at this point – Nada!
Yet, she claims that she could hear the sound of the bone saw used to remove a section of the cranium necessary to access the aneurysm. She described the sound as a “perfect D.” She should know, being in the music business.
It was at this moment that Pam said, “I popped up out the top of my head.”
Pam explains that her point of view was now above her surgeon, looking down at him and other medical staff in the operating room. Her surgeon was wielding an instrument that looked like an electric toothbrush.
Pam Reynolds was looking at an instrument called a Midas Rex bone drill. She said that it looked like her father’s socket wrench kit. She went on to provide details about the way the bits were stored in the case.
Remember, at this point in time, Pam’s eyes were taped shut!
Pam then heard a conversation between her male neurosurgeon and the female cardiac surgeon. The female voice said, “Her arteries are too small.” The neurosurgeon answered this immediately, saying, “Use the other side.”
The head was then drained of blood so that the aneurysm could be removed safely.
Later, both doctors would confirm this exchange, explaining that they needed to find a viable femoral artery to drain Pam’s blood. Which turned out to be on the side opposite of the first attempt.
I think you will agree that this is a very detailed piece of information on Pam’s part – not likely something that she hallucinated.
Pam said she was surprised to see no less than 20 people in the operating room. This was later verified, although she would have had no way to know this beforehand.
From her vantage point above the surgical procedure, she realized the body on the operating table was hers and that it was dead. She said she was not troubled by this but, instead, found it fascinating.
Coinciding with the sound of the bone drill, she was drawn into a tunnel. There was a pinpoint of light at the end. As she traveled through the tunnel, the light got brighter, although it did not cause discomfort as glare from a bright light normally would.
Pam then heard her grandmother’s voice calling her toward the light.
There, she met with her grandmother and an uncle, who were both deceased. She asked them if the light was God, and they told her no, that the light was God’s breath.
Soon Pam is told she must go back to her life, so her uncle escorts her back to the operating room and instructs her to reenter her body. She refused to go back into her corpse, but her uncle told her it was like diving into a swimming pool.
Still, she resisted leaving her blissful state until her uncle finally pushed her back into her body, just in time to be successfully defibrillated. Pam was alive again.
Pam’s experience was similar to millions of others who claim to have had an NDE.
Not everyone has the exact same experience, though. Some NDEs include being released from the mortal body and hovering above the operating room. This is referred to as an Out of Body Experience, or OBE.
Some recall a life review, which may be compared to what people facing imminent death or severe injury refer to as “seeing their life flash before their eyes.”
It is not unusual for experiencers to talk about encounters with family and friends who are dead. In some cases, the experiencer did not know that the person had died, making the experience even more believable.
Almost universally, those having an NDE call it a profound experience. An experience which has changed the course of their lives.
They often report having a greater sense of empathy after their NDE. Some even change careers to ones in the service of others, such as a healthcare provider or doing volunteer work.
If an experiencer was in an abusive marriage, they are far more likely to leave the union after an NDE.
Sometimes, the immediate family or friends do not accept or support what the experiencer considers a life- changing event. They may become estranged from them.
Almost all those with an NDE refer to it as the seminal event of their life, even decades afterward.
Pam left the hospital believing that her extraordinary experience was merely an illusion, perhaps a hallucination.
Nearly a year later, during a follow-up visit with her neurosurgeon, Pam revealed what she had heard during the operation.
Both her neurosurgeon and cardiac surgeon were astounded that she could have precisely heard the conversations in the operating room. Likewise, they were amazed at the details she provided on what she had seen in the operating room.
Yet, both doctors confirmed publicly that what she claimed to have seen and heard in that room was indeed accurate.
Additionally, her description of the Midas Rex drill was completely accurate. Even though the instrument was not visible to anyone in the operating room until it was used to open Pam’s skull.
At that time, Pam was clinically dead.
Let’s be honest, reader. Either you believe Pam’s story or think it is a load of rubbish. Or, perhaps you think that Pam believes it is true, but that there may be other explanations for her experience.
Unless you have had an NDE yourself, you will probably need additional evidence to believe it represents an afterlife experience.
This is even true among medical professionals and scientists. It is not easy, nor possible, to get everyone on board with any given theory. We have biases and sometimes wish only to hear those things that confirm our biases and reject everything else.
I genuinely hope that you can recognize your own biases and set them aside just long enough to look at the various arguments concerning a reality that the Near Death Experience suggests, an afterlife.
Next week we will look at Near Death Experience through the microscope of critical thinking.
There is a lot at stake here. Death awaits each and every one of us. And, if these personal accounts are true, and there are millions of them, they can offer comfort to those who harbor fear about dying.
And, if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us do.
Next week, For Your Consideration will examine the phenomenon of Near Death Experience from all angles.
Pam Reynolds died from heart failure May 22, 2010.
* Noise is measured in decibels, which are based on a logarithmic scale. Normal conversation is about 60 dB, and 100 dB is about as loud as a chainsaw at close proximity. Noise at 100 dB makes hearing a conversation nearly impossible.