Death and the Beyond
Medical school was a long time ago for me, 42 years and counting. In med school, a lot of information has to be assimilated, hopefully forming the foundation for becoming an effective clinician. Since then, and almost 200,000 patient encounters later, many experiences, both mundane and esoteric, have colored how I view medicine and the human condition.
An unearthly farewell
Early in residency I was caring for a woman in the intensive care unit. She had been quite ill with kidney failure, multiple infections, blood clots, and a host of other problems. Despite a series of urgent surgeries and all the associated complications, she slowly improved. She was about to be transferred to a standard medical unit when we had an unusual exchange. “Dr. Raider, you’ve been attending to me twice a day for weeks now along with the other doctors. I wanted to make a point of saying thank you for all your kind attention.”
I replied there was no need to thank me, as I was doing my job and it was gratifying how much she had improved. With a serene smile, she said, “Well I wanted to thank you because I’m leaving tonight.” I asked, “Where are you going?” She said, “I’m dying tonight.” I emphatically replied, “No, you are not!” I retrieved some of her medical records and showed her how much better she was. She gave me a thin serene smile. After getting home that night I pondered on what she had said. I was quite certain her condition was improving. When I got to the hospital at 7 AM the next morning, her bed was empty. The nurses informed me that she had died during the night, very peacefully. I told the nurses that the patient had said she was going to pass on. One nurse, who was at least 30 years my senior, told me, “Yes we hear that now and again.” Really, I thought, how interesting.
Fast-forward 42 years. Since then I have heard many patients who do not seem to be in a critical state calmly tell me that they are going to pass away soon. I became acutely aware that often, much more is going on than is apparent at the surface level of medical understanding.
1981 – I was working on a weekend seeing about half a dozen patients for a couple of my medical partners. One gentleman had been in the hospital for about five days after suffering a heart attack and cardiac arrest. He was successfully resuscitated and was in the hospital resting, as that was the standard of care at that time. I introduced myself and said something like, “You had quite a close call in the emergency room when your heart stopped.” He just looked at me and didn’t speak. A very long pause ensued, and then he blurted out, “You know, I left my body.” I answered, “I didn’t know, but near-death experiences are a strong interest of mine.” He said, “Yes, I know that.”
I was quite shocked and wondered how he knew this. After talking with him for quite some time, he told me how he had viewed his body during the resuscitation attempt and realized his physical body was only a “vehicle” to carry around the “real me.” He also mentioned that he knew his body almost died but that his inner self cannot die, and he no longer had any fear of death. He was aware I had an interest in near death experiences (NDEs) and mysticism and said he has an inkling of what people are thinking about when they walk into his hospital room. He also said secrets of the universe were revealed to him during his experience but he couldn’t find any words to describe them.
Since I practice geriatric medicine, I care for very frail and ill elderly patients. I estimate that I have signed approximately 1500 death certificates. In at least several hundred cases, in the hours or days before a person passes, they seem to improve. They often will say profound things quite surprising to their loved ones. In medical school, I was taught the materialistic theory of the human organism. Each human being is composed of trillions of cells which form tissues which form organs which form organ systems and the human being. Millions of chemical reactions are taking place every second. If this is all there is, the theory cannot explain the many phenomena that occur when individuals are close to death.
The only explanation to account for the wealth of data accumulated from thousands of well documented cases is that human beings are endowed with spirit, otherwise known as consciousness. Over the years, the people I’ve met who focus on the spiritual aspects of life most often are at peace when their end is near. Near-death survivors often talk of the bliss, the profound peace they felt, and visions they saw that cannot be imagined on earth. Some did not even want to come back but were told it wasn’t their time. Meditation is a spiritual science that with practice enables us to experience what individuals who were near death saw and felt. Spiritual teachers tell us we are hardwired to have these experiences while sitting in silence in meditation. I envision a time when this spiritual science may well be incorporated into a standard medical curriculum.
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