Heaven Is For Real, But Sometimes They Send You Back
“Life is a dream walking. Death is going home.” – Chinese proverb
He died for a minute and 56 seconds. His heart stopped and his breathing ceased. I’d just say 2 minutes, but hospitals and doctors are exact. They are to-the-second precise. So, when he tells the tale; he died for a minute and 56 seconds, because four seconds more would be way too long.
Just writing this makes my eyes well up.
He…..is my husband.
In December of 2000 he contracted bacterial spinal meningitis on an airplane. Or as I now call them, flying, metallic, germ delivery systems.
He’s a car guy, often referred to as a gear head. That second week of December he took a one way flight from LA to Houston to look at a car, which he then purchased and drove back with a buddy.
Trouble was, he boarded that flight with a bad head cold. It was mid December, everyone’s sick with something around the holidays. Right?
As luck would have it, that was just the route an opportunistic virus used to infect him. The meningitis rode in, like a sinister villain in a spaghetti western, on the back of streptococcus pneumonia. Once the pneumonia chewed up his lungs, to the point where they resembled snowflakes, all the meningitis had to do was dismount, and stroll on in. Meningitis is a jerk. He’s a fragile, lazy, coward of a virus. If everything isn’t just so, he takes his badass self and leaves town. But pneumonia is efficient and the path had been prepared, so he set up camp in my husband’s lungs.
Three days after he got back to LA he felt pretty lousy as the pneumonia went about doing its dirty work. The meningitis was still lurking is the shadows.
He felt lethargic. By then he was probably running a fever, but men don’t check that stuff. He just got out of bed, showered and dressed. He had plans that night.
He had arranged a blind date with someone who was recommended by a friend’s girlfriend. She sounded intriguing. She had big boobs. Yep, he was just that shallow.
That someone was me.
The blind date story is epic and meant for another day. We got married nine months later, so I’m gonna say it went pretty well.
I’ve always been fascinated by near death experiences (NDE’s.) Now I live with someone who’s had one. It profoundly changed him, it set him free.
Two days after our first date, he drove the car up to San Jose, with his dog, to celebrate the Christmas holidays with his baby brother, his wife and their two young kids.
He was driving five hours to cook the Christmas bird. If a turkey is involved you drop everything and call my husband. He is the turkey whisperer. THE turkey cooker extraordinaire.
The next morning he did all the prep, in between long stints in bed. He was trashed, feeling sicker with each passing hour and had developed the headache from hell. Now, he figured, he had a hell of a bad flu bug.
I will remind you, my husband is a BIG guy. He’s 6’3″ 230lbs of big handsome, and that helped save his life.
When he makes a promise, he keeps it. It’s one of the things I admire about him, and damn it, he cooked that turkey. From his sick bed. He never had a bite.
The next day he got out of bed once……and collapsed. The paramedics were called and he was rushed to a local teaching hospital that was affiliated with Stanford.
During transport the paramedics called him Ralph. “Stay with us Ralph. Any pain Ralph?” My husband’s name is Raphael. They do that to piss you off and keep you conscious and talking. It worked. “My name is Raphael” he kept correcting them.
But it was short lived.
His brother told the doctor all he knew, that Raphael had complained of a terrible headache and the flu. He used to have migraines but this was different.
The ER was about to send him home with migraine meds, but his brother refused. He’d never seen Raphael that ill. HE really saved his brother’s life.
Just about that time it ceased to matter. His blood test came back with an astronomical white cell count, and he had gone into a coma.
Now suspecting meningitis, they did a spinal tap. Your spinal fluid is clear and under pressure. Normal is: 70 – 180 mm H20, his reading was over 400 and the fluid was thick and black like oil. It was right about this point in the evening where he flatlined. After they brought him back, they wrote TERMINAL on his chart, pumped him full of morphine and wheeled him into a room to die.
Raphael remembers an all white, foggy, environment, no walls, ceiling or floor. He could see all sides at once. The best thing was, he was out of pain, his head no longer hurt.
He was looking at three beds which contained three Raphaels.
The Raphael on the right was saying: I am suffering, why would I stay in this bed, I want to go where it’s peaceful. Where there’s no pain. Pointing at a bright white tunnel.
He represented the physical self.
The Raphael in the bed on the left said: Go ahead and go! Quit complaining. That’s fine, it really affects no one accept those that are left behind. He represented the intellectual self.
The Raphael in the middle was the observer. He just listened to the two others arguing. He just WAS. No attachment. He represented the soul.
That white tunnel was the path home. It was a silent, pain free, deliciously peaceful place where he wanted to stay forever.
But they started his heart and he came back.
That night a female doctor very much like Dr House from TV, took a look at his chart. She specialized in ONLY terminal cases. Since it was a teaching hospital, she was allowed to literally throw everything in her extensive medical arsenal at these patients, searching for a cure. It was equal parts medicine, alchemy, and wishful thinking. She did everything she could, then she just handed it over to a higher power. Her success rate was 3%. Calm down, they were terminal after all.
It was the fight of his life and he was on the ropes. At that point his size was the only thing saving him.
By that time the hospital had reported their diagnosis of bacterial meningitis to the CDC. Thirteen people from his flight to Houston had come down with it, four had died. Raphael’s brother was told to get his whole young family tested. It was a stressful, scary time.
I remember hearing it on the news. It struck me because one of the women who died was my age at the time, 43. Shit. I had to get on a plane in five days.
Since he was away, I had no idea he was even sick. We only had our one blind date, with a promise of a second on December 28th. He never showed. His cellphone went right to message. I left for New Years Eve in Miami. When I didn’t hear from him by the end of the first week of January I told my friends: He better be abducted by aliens or dead by the side of the road, because those are the only two excuses I’ll accept.
Yikes! We still laugh about that.
His medical file is as thick as a phone book with the lists of drugs and scans she administered that first night. There is even a straight jacket included. She did say he put up a hell of a fight to live. Apparently so.
By the middle of the second day of her treatment, he was slightly improved. He would live, but he’d be a vegetable from the cerebral fluid pressure and its horrible condition.
His brain could never recover from that.
His family, his siblings, who were all now at the hospital, looked at each other to determine who would care for him and for how many months.
A couple of days later, with the determined doctor holding one hand, one of his sisters, holding the other, he woke up……..Just like that.
The doctor shooed everyone out of the room, and started asking him questions, which he answered…perfectly….in detail. Not just: What’s your name, but since he’s an architect, and French, she quizzed him on the architectural intricacies of the Pompidou Centre, even speaking French with him. It was evident he could see her, he could hear her, and he was still his whip smart self. THAT she could never explain. She considered him a miracle. Honestly.
He finally asked what day it was. When he found out it was January, he said: I have to call Janet. For those standing around him, some doubt set in, because no one had heard of any Janet. They thought he had an imaginary friend. Uh oh, brain damage.
Nope, just infatuation. I love that part of the story. It’s like a movie.
He remembers dying as easy, with nothing to fear.
He recalls that he had a decision to make, and either way everything was going to be okay.
Afterword, all the outpouring of love, together with the morphine broke open his heart, and he was a changed man.
Luckily, he decided to stay……and give me a second date…..and for that, I am forever grateful.
Have you had an NDE? Tell me about your experience.
Has it removed your fear of death? I’d love to hear about it!