I've been reading Near Death in the ICU, by Laurin Bellg, MD, and finding a lot of fascinating material in it. But before I present some examples, I need to offer a caveat. At the beginning, the author says she has done her best to conceal the identities of the patients and family members in the stories told here. That's understandable, but she goes on to say that in some cases she has even created composite stories based on two or more episodes blended together.
I'm not entirely happy about that approach, since it necessarily means blurring the details of individual accounts and suggesting a more elaborate experience than any one person may have reported. Personally, I think that when it comes to NDE accounts, composites should be avoided and the details should be changed as little as possible.
Nevertheless, there is a lot of good stuff here, and I have no reason to doubt the general accuracy of what's being reported. Much of it is consistent with other NDE accounts, but told from a fresh perspective.
One common thread involves seeing a spiritual being (or more than one) in the form of a glowing point of light or a luminous orb. Another feature in common in several accounts is the patient's relocation to an ethereal space of perfect peace.
Here is an excerpt from the account of someone identified only as Dr. John, which includes both details:
His next awareness found him completely and peacefully enveloped in what he could only describe as a soft shroud of mist with tiny points of light blinking in and out, as they darted quickly back and forth all around him. He felt completely weightless and peaceful, void of any fear. The feeling of love was immense, almost unbearable, and recalling it now, Dr. John’s voice became fragile as he paused to fight back tears.
Regaining his composure, after a few moments he continued. He described floating in such a beautiful and bright place of total peace that he lost all thoughts and concerns related to anything connected to his physical existence. He was aware of nothing except how good it felt to be there where he was – wherever that was. How long he lingered in this space he could not say because time had immediately lost meaning for him.
Out-of-body experiences feature in many of the accounts, and in some cases veridical observations are reported. I've already mentioned the next NDE in a book review of another book, The Self Does Not Die. Here is part of the story:
Howard started from the beginning and gave us a play-by-play of his experience. He recounted that at some point, he didn’t know when, he felt more than heard an intense, escalating buzzing. Not long afterward he experienced the sensation of shooting out of the top of his head with incredible speed ...
“Next thing I know,” he said, “I’m looking down on my body and it feels like I’m bobbing and bouncing against the ceiling. I was too shocked to be scared! It occurred to me that I might be dead, so I started to panic and, as crazy as it sounds, I tried swimming through the air to get back to my body. It didn’t work. That convinced me I must be dead, so I just watched and listened ...”
After this, he found himself rising up through the ceiling, where he saw the plumbing pipes and other fixtures between floors. Then he entered a strange environment in which mannequins were laid out in hospital beds. The nurses were flabbergasted when he described this detail to them, because there was no way he could have known about this room, which was used for training purposes. This part of the story is excerpted in my earlier post.
Two features of the above excerpt are interesting to me. First, the buzzing sensation is commonly reported by people who have OBEs, including people who have learned to induce these experiences at will. Exiting via the top of the head is also a pretty familiar observation. (The buzzing sensation is also reported in many cases of so-called alien abduction, a fact that lends credence to the idea that these episodes are OBEs misinterpreted as events in physical space.) Second, the business about bobbing against the ceiling reminded me of a time, some years ago, when I used to have exceptionally vivid dreams in which I would "bob and bounce" weightlessly against the ceiling of my home, sometimes exploring corners of the ceiling or treading water in midair. Was I dreaming? Or was my astral body exploring my environment while I slept?
A woman who suffered a series of heart attacks reported several NDEs that included the orb, veridical observations, and a sort of impromptu scientific experiment that she herself performed in her out-of-body state:
“What happened next was a big surprise, and that’s when I knew I must have died. I became distracted by a growing, bright light to my left, and when I turned my attention to it, it became bigger and brighter. It seemed like it should have been a blinding light, that’s how bright it was, but it wasn’t hard to look at, even though it was so intense. The more attention I gave to it, the closer it came and then, suddenly, I wasn’t concerned at all about what was going on with my body in the ER. Not one bit. In fact, in an instant, I forgot all about it. In just a blink, it was all about that incredible light for me.
“It was coming closer and I wanted it to, because the closer it came, the more intense love I felt ...
“It’s so hard to explain that kind of love. It was very intense and so real. More real than this,” [she said, indicating the room around her].
Later in the experience, she was reunited with her mother, who told her she had to go back. She didn’t want to return, and she put up quite a fight about it.
“I even tried pleading with her to let me stay. I told her, ‘It’s my life, I should get to choose. I should have a say-so.’ Then she told me, ‘It’s not that you don’t get to choose. Part of you, in fact, is choosing and participating in this decision. It would be easy for you to choose to stay here, but you understand on a level you can’t quite comprehend just now that there is more from your family relationships you need to experience and learn. And more they need to learn from you. When choosing is not an act of escape but an act of completion, then you will stay.’"
She did go back but suffered a second heart attack.
She knew it was coming. She felt a subtle buzzing sensation, then perceived a voice saying, “Get ready for it. Here it comes. It’s going to happen again.” Strangely, she said it sounded like her voice, as if she could hear aloud the thought she had spoken internally ...
Having the notion that the voice she heard was actually her own thoughts audibly manifesting so she could perceive them, she decided, in her disembodied state, to test her hypothesis and found her suspicions were correct. True to her self-professed, smarty-pants nature, she tossed out random words – butter, ping pong, tacos – and heard these very words echo aloud, although she was looking at her physical body that was unconscious, mouth unmoving, and clearly in distress. But she wasn’t in distress, not in the least. Rather, it fascinated her ...
Note that her OBE was also precipitated by a buzzing sensation.
Later, she had a third cardiac arrest. Afterward she reported a veridical observation.
She described it to me, and astonishingly, even reminded me of something I had forgotten. She was watching us from a position in middle space – not exactly floating above and not entirely standing; rather, she was somewhere in between. After having the thought, “Your heart is going to stop again,” and feeling the soft buzzing sensation tingle through her once more, she then saw the [sterile] blue drape being lifted up and the nurse reaching under it to start chest compressions.
Then she mentioned something I had forgotten entirely. She saw members of the resuscitation team try to tilt her whole body sideways to put a long, flat board under her and me saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, my stuff,” as I grabbed the things I had set on top of the sterile field to prevent them from falling onto the floor ...
The board is used to make the chest compressions more effective. The patient made this observation when she was totally unconscious and in need of CPR to restart her heart.
One of the book's more elaborate NDEs involves many of the above elements – and more. It is so lengthy and detailed that I have to wonder if it is one of the composite accounts. In any event, here are some excerpts from a much more extensive account:
[Marlene] soon became distracted by the presence of a soft blue orb of light that came into view on the opposite side of the room. She watched as it began to move slowly toward her the moment she had noticed it. How long it had been there hovering, watching before she had actually seen it, she could not say, but it seemed that the mere engagement of her attention drew it forward. While the orb was slowly approaching, she noticed that the voices below [in the hospital] became thinner and more distant while the visual scene grew ever smaller and more remote, as if she were looking through the wrong end of a telescope.
As the orb, about the size of a beach ball, came to rest in front of her, she felt overwhelmed with emotion and intense feelings of peace, love and complete safety. While nothing in particular was said, the thought came to her that she was going to be okay but that something was going to happen first. This was confusing to her, but she did not feel afraid or threatened ...
She passed between the floors, seeing the pipes and wiring, and then emerged into a hospital room where a patient was eating a meal in bed.
She noted a couple of vases of flowers on the window sill and perceived, more than actually smelled, their intoxicating fragrance. The flowers were the most vivid colors she had ever seen and the petals, stems and leaves all seemed to be made up of tiny particles that vibrated very fast. Remarkably, there was a palpable, humming energy emanating from the flowers that vibrated across the atmosphere, entered into her body, if she could call it that, and presented itself in such a way that she could feel the flowers ...
[After more such experiences, she concluded that] whatever she visually locked in on – from the hospital room where she had seen the flowers, to the roof and then the parking lot below – she gained an instant awareness of the sounds, smells and colors in hyper-sensory detail from a great distance. Her guide, if that is what it was, seemed in no hurry to move her along, allowing Marlene to marvel and observe with this phenomenal skill ...
Moving into lighter space, she was aware that the orb was less dense as well. Looking to her right as they moved along, she realized that her companion was actually no longer an orb but seemed to have stretched out to a filmier smudge of an elongated, cloud-like substance. She wondered why the orb had changed like that – dense and round in physical space but lighter and less formed in a more ethereal atmosphere ...
Her movement became literally as rapid as thought itself, as she whirled over the ocean and the field of rippling wheat, still accompanied by the cloudlike "guide."
Suddenly, she reported, they came to an instant stop with absolutely no sense of deceleration into a vast void that was incredibly silent. But even the silence seem to have texture. After a brief pause of floating in this splendid quiet, the environment took on more density, with subtle shifts in color and hue. At this point, Marlene really struggled to explain this to me, saying that it was like a cloud, but not really – like a mist, but not exactly. She described the feeling of silk or soft fog settling around her while, at the same time, muted colors of blues, grays, and faint pinks and greens fluctuated in and out. With the color there was a faint sound that had a somewhat musical quality, but there were no specific tones that she could identify. It was more vibrational than anything, she recounted, much like the connection she had felt from the vase of flowers ...
In this more rarefied environment, Marlene encountered deceased loved ones, as well as a barely remembered neighbor to whom she had been helpful. Though the small acts of kindness she showed him had meant little to her, they had been more important than she realized.
To her dismay, she was told she could not stay in the afterlife. A child of four or five years old was brought before her; the child, she was told, was "special" and would need her. The child would be named Crystal, and would struggle with a mental issue; the struggle would be helpful to the personal growth of the people around her. The child herself seemed to be looking forward to the assignment. Marlene "was informed, again through a thought that seemed to be deposited in her mind, that this was a preordained task agreed upon by the young child and her guides.”
After this, she retreated to physical reality and was back in her body feeling pain and exhaustion.
For years, Marlene never told her daughter or anyone else about the deepest parts of her experience; she made no mention of Crystal, the girl who was waiting to be born. Nevertheless, twenty-one years after Marlene's NDE, her daughter gave birth to a child who was named Crystal, and the child did struggle with autism and other issues. Bellg writes, “Crystal required a lot of work and attention but her ready smile, infectious humor and unqualified affection more than compensated for it." She goes on:
Marlene and Crystal had a particularly special connection, a bond that was instant and strong. They spent hours together and, living close by, Crystal often stayed the night with Marlene ... Once when Crystal was about four years old, as Marlene was tucking her into bed for the evening, she looked peacefully up at her grandmother and, lost in a soft gaze that connected her to something far away, said, “I saw you before, Grammy, remember?”
“What do you mean, Sweetheart?” Marlene did not immediately understand.
“When you died before, and came to Heaven. I saw you there. Remember?”
With a shiver of excitement, Marlene leaned in toward her granddaughter and replied softly through instant tears, “Yes, Crystal, I remember.” Marlene’s death and return to life so long ago was now a distant memory. It was something she rarely talked about, and certainly not with Crystal. There was no way that this child could have known what she seemed to know about what had happened over twenty years earlier.
“You were sad that you had to go back in your body,” Crystal became pensive as tears poured down Marlene’s cheeks. “Are you still sad?”
“No, Crystal, I’m not sad. I’m very happy to be here with you."
Again, I would prefer it if none of the stories had been conflated to create somewhat fictionalized composite accounts, and I would also prefer to have as few details altered as possible. Still, Dr. Bellg's sincerity is obvious throughout the book, and I don't doubt that she was told of these experiences, though maybe not exactly in the form in which they appear in print.
Near Death in the ICU contains several other fascinating cases. I'll provide excerpts from those in an upcoming post.