Here in Mais Saúde, we focus on scientific, medical topics, but sometimes the scientific intersects with the religious, the mystical. Recently the cover article of Newsweek magazine (similar to Veja in Brazil) was devoted to a report of a U.S. academic neurosurgeon who described his fascinating adventure during the seven days of his own coma.
Dr. Eben Alexander, who has taught at Harvard and other universities, awoke one morning in 2008 with an intense headache. He got to the emergency room of one of the hospitals where he himself performed surgeries—Lynchburg General Hospital in Virginia—and a spinal tap showed he was suffering from a rare case of meningitis, a bacterial infection that had suddenly attacked his brain.
He rapidly lost consciousness and was admitted to Intensive Care and given antibiotics. Due to the virulence of the bacteria that he had somehow contracted—E.coli—his doctors gave him little chance for recovery, and for a week he was non-responsive. At that point, his doctors, his own colleagues, were considering recommending withdrawing life-support.
But after a week, against all expectations, he woke up. He eventually recovered, and when he was able to speak again, he told his story of what he had experienced. Perhaps ironically, he had heard similar stories from patients in his own practice of “near-death experiences” (NDEs), but believed that, as a “rational” doctor and researcher, that these were basically hallucinations.
Many in the medical community, like Dr. Alexander himself before his own NDE, believe that NDEs have a scientific explanation: that they are a physiological response the brain goes through when it is deprived of blood and oxygen, and is dying. Fortunately though, some of the people who suffer cardiac arrest (the heart stops), whether from a heart attack, a car crash, or other trauma, do survive, and many relate an NDE story.
There does indeed seem to be a commonality to the experiences. Often the individual sees himself floating outside his body, watching what is going on to save his life. They typically relate an immense feeling of calm and peace, and many tell of seeing, feeling, a white light in the darkness, and this light draws them forward, sometimes through a tunnel, but, for some reason, they are drawn back to life.
Many people who undergo a NDE radically change their outlook on life. Typically they lose their fear of death, and some people who before did not believe in God, or the afterlife, now become believers. This was Dr. Alexander’s case. While he considered himself a Christian, he rarely attended church before his NDE.
Clearly no one can say, scientifically at least, what ultimately happens once we die. But it is certain that each of us will eventually know…but if you follow our articles and health hints here in Mais Saúde, we hope it’s a very long time from now!
In our next post in two days, we will present excerpts from Dr. Alexander’s fascinating story.
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