People Have Near-Death
Experiences While Brain
Michael Sabom is a cardiologist
whose book entitled
Light and Death
includes a detailed medical and scientific analysis of an amazing
near-death experience of a woman named Pam Reynolds.
She underwent a rare operation to remove a giant
basilar artery aneurysm
in her brain that threatened her life. The size and location
of the aneurysm, however, precluded its safe removal using the
standard neuro-surgical techniques. She was referred to a
doctor who had pioneered a daring
surgical procedure known
hypothermic cardiac arrest.
It allowed Pam's aneurysm to be excised with a reasonable
chance of success. This operation, nicknamed "standstill"
by the doctors who perform it, required that Pam's body
temperature be lowered to 60 degrees, her heartbeat and breathing
stopped, her brain waves flattened, and the blood drained from
her head. In everyday terms, she was put to death. After removing
the aneurysm, she was restored to life. During the time that
Pam was in standstill, she experienced an NDE. Her remarkably
detailed veridical out-of-body observations during her surgery
were later verified to be true. Her case is considered
to be one of the strongest cases of veridical (i.e.,
verified) evidence in NDE
research because of her ability to describe the unique surgical
instruments, the surgical procedures used on her, and her ability to describe
in detail these events while she was clinically brain dead.
of Pam's vital signs were stopped, the doctor turned on
a surgical saw and began to cut through Pam's skull. While
this was going on, Pam reported that she felt herself "pop"
outside her body and hover above the operating table. Then she
watched the doctors working on her lifeless body for awhile.
From her out-of-body position, she observed the doctor sawing
into her skull with what looked to her like an electric toothbrush.
Pam heard and reported later what the nurses in the operating
room had said and exactly what was happening during the operation.
At this time, every monitor attached to Pam's body registered "no
life" whatsoever. At some point, Pam's consciousness
floated out of the operating room and traveled down a tunnel
which had a light at the end of it where her deceased relatives
and friends were waiting including her long-dead grandmother.
Pam's NDE ended when her deceased uncle led her back to
her body for her to reentered it. Pam compared the feeling of
reentering her dead body to "plunging into a pool of ice."
The following is Pam Reynolds' account of her NDE in her
next thing I recall was the sound: It was a
Natural "D." As I listened to the sound, I felt
it was pulling me out of the top of my head. The further out
of my body I got, the more clear the tone became. I had the
impression it was like a road, a frequency that you go on ...
I remember seeing several things in the operating room when
I was looking down. It was the most aware that I think that
I have ever been in my entire life ...I was metaphorically sitting
on [the doctor's] shoulder. It was not like normal
vision. It was brighter and more focused and clearer than normal
vision ... There was so much in the operating room that I didn't
recognize, and so many people.
I thought the way
they had my head shaved was very peculiar. I expected them
to take all of the hair, but they did not...
saw-thing that I hated the sound of looked like an electric
toothbrush and it had a dent in it, a groove at the top where
the saw appeared to go into the handle, but it didn't ...
And the saw had interchangeable blades, too, but these blades
were in what looked like a socket wrench case ... I heard the
saw crank up. I didn't see them use it on my head,
but I think I heard it being used on something. It was humming
at a relatively high pitch and then all of a sudden it went
Brrrrrrrrr! like that.
Someone said something about my veins and
arteries being very small. I believe it was a female voice and
that it was Dr. Murray, but I'm not sure. She was the cardiologist.
I remember thinking that I should have told her about that ...
I remember the heart-lung machine. I didn't like the respirator
... I remember a lot of tools and instruments that I did not
There was a sensation like being pulled,
but not against your will. I was going on my own accord because
I wanted to go. I have different metaphors to try to explain
this. It was like the Wizard of Oz - being taken up in a tornado
vortex, only you're not spinning around like you've
got vertigo. You're very focused and you have a place to
go. The feeling was like going up in an elevator real fast.
And there was a sensation, but it wasn't a bodily, physical
sensation. It was like a tunnel but it wasn't a tunnel.
At some point very early in the tunnel vortex
I became aware of my grandmother calling me. But I didn't
hear her call me with my ears ... It was a clearer hearing than
with my ears. I trust that sense more than I trust my own ears.
The feeling was that she wanted me to come
to her, so I continued with no fear down the shaft. It's
a dark shaft that I went through, and at the very end there
was this very little tiny pinpoint of light that kept getting
bigger and bigger and bigger.
The light was incredibly bright, like sitting
in the middle of a light bulb. It was so bright that I put my
hands in front of my face fully expecting to see them and I
could not. But I knew they were there. Not from a sense of touch.
Again, it's terribly hard to explain, but I knew they were
I noticed that as I began to discern different
figures in the light - and they were all covered with light,
they were light, and had light permeating all around
them - they began to form shapes I could recognize and understand.
I could see that one of them was my grandmother. I don't
know if it was reality or a projection, but I would know my
grandmother, the sound of her, anytime, anywhere.
Everyone I saw, looking back on it, fit perfectly
into my understanding of what that person looked like at their
best during their lives.
I recognized a lot of people. My uncle Gene
was there. So was my great-great-Aunt Maggie, who was really
a cousin. On Papa's side of the family, my grandfather was
there ... They were specifically taking care of me, looking
They would not permit me to go further ...
It was communicated to me - that's the best way I know how
to say it, because they didn't speak like I'm speaking
- that if I went all the way into the light something would
happen to me physically. They would be unable to put this me
back into the body me, like I had gone too far and they couldn't
reconnect. So they wouldn't let me go anywhere or
I wanted to go into the light, but I also
wanted to come back. I had children to be reared. It was like
watching a movie on fast-forward on your VCR: You get the general
idea, but the individual freeze-frames are not slow enough to
Then they [deceased relatives] were feeding
me. They were not doing this through my mouth, like with food,
but they were nourishing me with something. The only way I know
how to put it is something sparkly. Sparkles is the image that
I get. I definitely recall the sensation of being nurtured and
being fed and being made strong. I know it sounds funny, because
obviously it wasn't a physical thing, but inside the experience
I felt physically strong, ready for whatever.
grandmother didn't take me back through the tunnel, or even
send me back or ask me to go. She just looked up at me. I expected
to go with her, but it was communicated to me that she just
didn't think she would do that. My uncle said he would do
it. He's the one who took me back through the end of the
tunnel. Everything was fine. I did want to go.
But then I got to the end of it and saw the
thing, my body. I didn't want to get into it ... It looked
terrible, like a train wreck. It looked like what it was: dead.
I believe it was covered. It scared me and I didn't want
to look at it.
It was communicated to me that it was like
jumping into a swimming pool. No problem, just jump right into
the swimming pool. I didn't want to, but I guess I was late
or something because he [the uncle] pushed me. I felt a definite
repelling and at the same time a pulling from the body. The
body was pulling and the tunnel was pushing ... It was like
diving into a pool of ice water ... It hurt!
When I came back, they were playing Hotel
California and the line was "You can check out anytime
you like, but you can never leave." I mentioned [later]
to Dr. Brown that that was incredibly insensitive and he told
me that I needed to sleep more. [laughter] When I regained consciousness,
I was still on the respirator.
For practical purposes outside the world
of academic debate, three clinical tests commonly determine
brain death. First, a standard electroencephalogram, or EEG,
measures brain-wave activity. A "flat" EEG denotes
non-function of the cerebral cortex - the outer shell of the
cerebrum. Second, auditory evoked potentials, similar to those
[clicks] elicited by the ear speakers in Pam's surgery,
measure brain-stem viability. Absence of these potentials indicates
non-function of the brain stem. And third, documentation of
no blood flow to the brain is a marker for a generalized absence
of brain function.
But during "standstill", Pam's
brain was found "dead" by all three clinical tests
- her electroencephalogram was silent, her brain-stem response
was absent, and no blood flowed through her brain. Interestingly,
while in this state, she encountered the "deepest"
NDE of all Atlanta Study participants.
Some scientists theorize that NDEs are produced
by brain chemistry. But,
Fenwick, a neuropsychiatrist and the leading authority in
Britain concerning NDEs, believes that these theories fall far
short of the facts. In the documentary, "Into
the Unknown: Strange But True," Dr. Fenwick describes
the state of the brain during an NDE:
"The brain isn't functioning.
It's not there. It's destroyed. It's
abnormal. But, yet, it can produce these very clear
experiences ... an unconscious state is when the
brain ceases to function. For example, if you faint,
you fall to the floor, you don't know what's
happening and the brain isn't working. The memory
systems are particularly sensitive to unconsciousness.
So, you won't remember anything. But, yet, after
one of these experiences [an NDE], you come out with
clear, lucid memories ... This is a real puzzle
for science. I have not yet seen any good scientific
explanation which can explain that fact."
"The modern tradition
of equating death with an ensuing nothingness
can be abandoned. For there is no reason to
believe that human death severs the quality
of the oneness in the universe." - Larry
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Near-Death Experiences and