Source: TAT Journal Vol. 2, No. 3.
Note: Richard Rose, philosopher and mystic, made frequent reference in his lectures to this article by Mr. Victor Solow, which describes an after-death or near-death experienced. Rose said he knew nothing about the author's religious life or history, but felt that the reported experience of "essence" was genuine and matched his own experience.
A Ten-Minute Drive
When I left home with my wife last March 23 to go for a ten-minute jog, I did not know that I would be gone for two weeks. My trip was the one that all of us must make eventually, from which only a rare few return. In my case a series of events occurred so extraordinarily timed to allow my eventual survival that words like "luck" or "coincidence" no longer seem applicable.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning. We had jogged and were driving back home to Mamaroneck, NY, along the Boston Post Road. It was 10:52 a.m. I had just stopped at a red light, opposite a gas station. My long, strange trip was about to start, and I must now use my wife's words to describe what happened for the next few minutes:
"Victor turned to me and said, 'Oh, Lucy, I....' Then, as swiftly as the expiration of a breath, he seemed simply to settle down in his seat with all his weight. His head remained erect, his eyes opened wide, like someone utterly astonished. I knew instantly he could no longer hear or see me.
"I pulled on the emergency brake, pleading with him to hang on, shouting for help. The light changed and traffic moved around my car. No one noticed me. My husband's color had now turned gray-green; his mouth hung open, but his eyes continued seemingly to view an astounding scene. I frantically tried to pull him to the other seat so I could drive him to the hospital. Then my cries for help attracted Frank Colangelo, proprietor of the gas station, who telephoned the police."
When Seconds Count
It was now 10:55 – three minutes had elapsed since my heart arrest. A first-aid manual reads, "When breathing and heartbeat stop and are not artificially started, death is inevitable. Therefore, artificial resuscitation must be started immediately. Seconds count." Time was running out. In another 60 seconds my brain cells could start to die.
Now came the first of the coincidences: Before police headquarters could radio the emergency call, Officer James Donnellan, cruising along the Boston Post Road, arrived at the intersection where our car seemed stalled. Checking me for pulse, and respiration, and finding neither, he pulled me from the car with the help of Mr. Colangelo, and immediately started cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
In the meantime, the police alert had reached Officer Michael Sena, who chanced to be cruising just half a mile from the scene. He reached me in less than half a minute. From his car Sena yanked an oxygen tank and an apparatus with a mask which is used to force air into the lungs. Within seconds he had the mask over my face. Donnellan continued with heart massage. Sena later told me, "I was sure we were just going through the motions. I would have bet my job that you were gone."
Police headquarters also alerted the emergency rescue squad via high-pitched radio signal on the small alert boxes all squad members carry on their belts. When his warning signal went off, Tom McCann, volunteer fireman and trained emergency medical technician, was conducting a fire inspection. He looked up and saw Officers Donnellan and Sena working on a "body" less than 50 yards away. McCann made the right connection and raced over, arriving just ten seconds after his alarm sounded.
"I tried the carotid pulse – you had no pulse," McCann later said. "There was no breathing. Your eyes were open, and your pupils were dilated – a bad sign!" Dilated pupils indicate that blood is not reaching the brain. It can mean that death has occurred.
It was 10:56. McCann, who weighs 270 pounds, began to give me a no-nonsense heart massage.
The strange coincidences continued. The emergency-squad warning beeper went off at the exact moment when Peter Brehmer, Ronald Capasso, Chip Rigano, and Richard and Paul Torpey were meeting at the firehouse to change shifts. A moment later and they would have left. The ambulance was right there. Everybody piled in. Manned by five trained first-aid technicians, the ambulance arrived three minutes later. It was 10:59.
When I was being moved into the ambulance, United Hospital in Port Chester, six miles distant, was radioed. The hospital called a "Code 99" over its loudspeaker system, signaling all available personnel into the Emergency Room. Here, an ideal combination of specialists was available: when I arrived, two internists, two surgeons, two technicians from the cardiology department, two respiratory therapists and four nurses were waiting. Dr. Harold Roth later said: "The patient at that point was dead by available standards. There was no measurable pulse, he was not breathing, and he appeared to have no vital signs whatever."
11:10 a.m. A cardiac monitor was attached; a tube supplying pure oxygen was placed in my wind-pipe; intravenous injections were started. An electric-shock apparatus was then attached to my chest.
11:14. The first electric shock was powerful enough to lift my body inches off the operating table. But there was no result; my heart still showed no activity.
11:15. A second electric shock was applied – a final try. Twenty-three minutes had elapsed since my heart had stopped. Now, excitement exploded around the operating table as an irregular heart rhythm suddenly showed on the monitor. To everyone's amazement, I sat bolt upright and started to get off the table. I had to be restrained.
"There ... and Back"
Sometime later I was aware that my eyes were open. But I was still part of another world. It seemed that by chance I had been given this human body and it was difficult to wear. Dr. Roth later related: "I came to see you in the Coronary Care Unit. You were perfectly conscious. I asked how you felt, and your response was: 'I feel like I've been there and I've come back.' It was true: you were there and now you were back."
A hard time followed. I could not connect with the world around me. Was I really here now, or was it an illusion? Was that other condition of being I had just experienced the reality, or was that the illusion? I would lie there and observe my body with suspicion and amazement. It seemed to be doing things of its own volition and I was a visitor within. How strange to see my hand reach out for something. Eating, drinking, watching people had a dream-like, slow-motion quality as if seen through a veil.
During those first few days I was two people. My absent-mindedness and strange detachment gave the doctors pause. Perhaps the brain had been damaged after all. Their concern is reflected in hospital records: "Retrograde amnesia and difficulty with subsequent current events was recognized.... The neurologist felt prognosis was rather guarded regarding future good judgment...."
On the sixth day there was a sudden change. When I woke up, the world around me no longer seemed so peculiar. Something in me had decided to complete the return trip. From that day on, recovery was rapid. Eight days later I was discharged from the hospital.
Now family, friends and strangers began to ask what "death was like." Could I remember what had happened during those 23 minutes when heart and breathing stopped? I found that the experience could not easily be communicated.
Later, feeling and thinking my way back into the experience, I discovered why I could not make it a simple recital of events: when I left my body I also left all sensory tools behind with which we perceive the world we take for real. But I found that I now knew certain things about my place in this our world and my relationship to that other reality. My knowing was not through my brain but with another part of me which I cannot explain.
For me, the moment of transition from life to death – what else can one call it? – was easy. There was no time for fear, pain or thought. There was no chance "to see my whole life before me," as others have related. The last impression I can recall lasted a brief instant. I was moving at high speed toward a net of great luminosity. The strands and knots where the luminous lines intersected were vibrating with a tremendous cold energy. The grid appeared as a barrier that would prevent further travel. I did not want to move through the grid. For a brief moment my speed appeared to slow down. Then I was in the grid. The instant I made contact with it, the vibrant luminosity increased to a blinding intensity which drained, absorbed and transformed me at the same time. The sensation was neither pleasant nor unpleasant but completely consuming. The nature of everything had changed. Words only vaguely approximate the experience from this instant on.
The grid was like a transformer, an energy converter transporting me through form and into formlessness, beyond time and space. Now I was not in a place, nor even in a dimension, but rather in a condition of being. This new "I" was not the I which I knew, but rather a distilled essence of it, yet something vaguely familiar, something I had always known buried under a superstructure of personal fears, hopes, wants and needs. This "I" had no connection to ego. It was final, unchangeable, indivisible, indestructible pure spirit. While completely unique and individual as a fingerprint, "I" was, at the same time, part of some infinite, harmonious and ordered whole. I had been there before.
The condition "I" was in was pervaded by a sense of great stillness and deep quiet. Yet there was also a sense of something momentous about to be revealed, a further change. But there is nothing further to tell except of my sudden return to the operating table.
I would like to repeat that these experiences outside the dimensions of our known reality did not "happen" as if I were on some sort of voyage I could recollect. Rather, I discovered them afterward, rooted in my consciousness as a kind of unquestionable knowing. Being of a somewhat skeptical turn of mind, I am willing to grant the possibility that this is a leftover of some subtle form of brain damage. I know, however, that since my return from that other condition of being, many of my attitudes toward our world have changed and continue to change, almost by themselves. A recurrent nostalgia remains for that other reality, that condition of indescribable stillness and quiet where the "I" is part of a harmonious whole. The memory softens the old drives for possession, approval and success.
Postscript: I have just returned from a pleasant, slow, mile-and-a-half jog. I am sitting in our garden writing. Overhead a huge dogwood moves gently in a mild southerly breeze. Two small children, holding hands, walk down the street absorbed in their own world. I am glad I am here and now. But I know that this marvelous place of sun and wind, flowers, children and lovers, this murderous place of evil, ugliness and pain, is only one of many realities through which I must travel to distant and unknown destinations. For the time being I belong to the world and it belongs to me.
© Mrs. Victor D. Solow. Reprinted by permission (to TAT Foundation). This article first appeared in the October, 1974 Reader's Digest and then in the TAT Journal Vol. 2, No. 3. Archived at SearchWithin.Org
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