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Sue Bush
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EMS:Courage And Compassion In Action

By Shawn Godfrey
12:00AM / Monday, June 04, 2007

Shawn Godfrey is a certified paramedic and the operations manager for the Village Ambulance Service Inc. in Williamstown, Mass..
Life “During” Death?

Regardless of the scientific advancements made in modern medicine, emergency medical service (EMS) providers are still faced with only two acceptable treatment outcomes: keeping the patient alive, or simply accepting the fact that people are going to die, despite the best efforts made on the part of the rescuer.

Because of this “black-and-white” approach, most EMS providers aren’t usually compelled to think about the mystical or spiritual element associated with their patients and, quite frankly, why would they be?

EMS providers are responsible for adhering to strict, pre-determined treatment protocols, whereby any major deviation could lead to further patient suffering and/or disciplinary action against the offender. It is not part of their training or in their scope of practice to delve into various theories explaining the connection (or misconnection) between the healing arts and the supernatural. In fact, some educators and medical experts find this topic taboo.

In my opinion, medical care involves serving the whole person; the emotional, physical, and the spiritual. Whether a patient is conscious or not, treatment should involve talking with them, holding their hand, and remembering that their quality of life remains just as important to you as it does to them. Studies have shown that patients can fully understand and appreciate these encounters without exhibiting signs of consciousness.

The "Experience"

Ever wonder what a perilously-ill patient experiences when hanging in the balance between life and death? Can a patient exist on two planes of consciousness; a space between two places or worlds? Do near-death experiences (NDE) exist, for example?

Although subject to criticism by a bevy of scientists and certain religious factions, a growing number of patients adamantly affirm that they have experienced something transcendent during the period between their death and their successful life-saving efforts.

Interestingly, many reported near-death experiences share common characteristics.

According to research, traditional near-death experiences often include unusual auditory sensations, like a “buzzing” sound or a human voice, usually pronouncing the patient dead, as he or she leaves the physical body.

Many have claimed a "ghost" or "spirit" of their "self" lifted from their physical body and levitated above as a spectator.

Others say they were drawn toward a bright, powerful light at the end of a dark tunnel and were greeted by dead relatives or friends, or religious figures, like angels or Christ himself.

The return to the physical body is often recorded as "beyond description;" however, few describe this phase of the experience as moderately painful. Less often, the entire experience may be recalled as terrifying, with suffering and agony as the primary components.

What Causes A NDE?

The two most common theories debating the near-death experience are the psychological explanation and a physiological explanation.

Proponents of the psychological explanation believe that consciousness does in fact survive bodily death, and because the threat of imminent death is so great, the mind is able to depersonalize and create a story as a defense mechanism to aid in coping with the trauma of dying.

Supporters of the physiological explanation maintain that the near-death phenomenon is scientific and the "visions" are simply a collection of hallucinations caused by either the dying brain’s subsequent chemical release or the multitude of medications administered during the resuscitative process.

Regardless of personal beliefs and philosophies regarding the explanation for near-death experiences, it is obvious more thorough research is warranted. Some people argue that science needs better tools to effectively prove what consciousness is. Perhaps when we discover what consciousness is we will be on our way to learning new scientific evidence that there is life after death.

A True NDE Account

(Edited for content)

I was killed in a lone auto accident after unintentionally wrapping my car around a telephone pole at 90+ mph. The road followed three sets of train tracks, and I had just crossed over the train bridge before going down a hill with an abrupt turn at the bottom. I only remember turning and straightening out the vehicle.

After the impact, I was conscious and my head hurt. I was not wearing a seatbelt and, because of this, I was forced into the corner between the passenger’s side roof post and the windshield. I felt my head and it was bleeding profusely. I remember saying “Oh s***!” as I opened the drivers door and fell out of the car.

The next thing I remember, I was standing next to my body. The pain was entirely gone and, in fact, I felt pretty good. I knew I had died at that very moment and felt sadness that my life was over. I thought of my parents, family and friends, and remember thinking, what have I done?

I knew this was it. I wondered, what happens next? I started to hear a low pitched hum that progressively grew louder and louder. I began to float over the scene of the wreck and then over my body as if to say goodbye to myself. I didn't think to "visit" my parents or anyone at the time, which now seems odd and almost selfish because I was very close to them all. I believe I was too enamored with the "situation."

Strangely, as I began to feel at peace with the scene before me, suddenly I was being lifted up backwards into a tornado-like tunnel. The humming sound was extremely loud and I was now traveling very fast. I remember wanting to stop because I could feel every atom of my being strained to its limit; I felt like I was being torn to shreds by the velocity.

Then I saw a flying bright light which slowed down and rested on top of a grassy hill. I was standing there and thought to myself, "I must be dead." I heard a voice in my head reply, "You are." I was also aware of someone behind me, though I didn't turn around. I looked out from my vantage point and saw a pulsating orb to my left, similar to our sun, with a white/golden color. Beams of light were emanating from it.

I looked forward and could see a valley surrounded by mountains of what appeared to be millions of people dancing, singing and raising their arms in praise. They were bathed in the light from this orb.

In a flash, I was back over the scene of the wreck and there were lights flashing from the police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks. My body was surrounded by paramedics and their equipment.

A crowd had gathered across the roadway. I heard them say, "Give up, he's gone." One paramedic said, "I'll give it one more try." They hit me with the paddles again, and I remember thinking, "I really don't want to return," but I knew I had to if I wanted to right things.

I began to "put on my body" as you would a set of clothes. I sat and stretched into each leg, each arm, then fully enveloped myself back into my body.

Until I awoke in the hospital the next afternoon, I had no further conscious memory. I had two deep gashes to the right side of my head that narrowly missed my eye. Nothing was found broken; no brain damage (contrary to some opinions), and no organ damage from blood loss.

I spent almost two days in the hospital before the doctor said I could go home, pending my ability to walk across the room.

To his surprise, I ran, and I am still running to this very day.
Your Comments
Post Comment
Interesting way for getting people to think. I am a holistic practitioner and base most, if not all, of my treatment schemes on the strength of the soul and inner spirit. Good work.
from: Joshon: 06-07 00:00:00-2007

I have been in the field for 20 years as an EMT. To often, we as providers, tend to forget that seeming unconscious persons may have the ability to hear what is being voiced in their presence. Shame on us if those comments are not compassionate.
from: Dean Frankon: 06-07 00:00:00-2007

As an EMT, it's true... I simply pick the patient up, treat them to the best of my ability, then turn them over to the ED staff. I never really looked at my care as deeply as this column suggests. Thanks.
from: Jorgeon: 06-06 00:00:00-2007

That was a great story it really opens our eyes that there is more out there then we can explain. Thank you for your column its always interesting.
from: Darleneon: 06-06 00:00:00-2007

I have always been fascinated with near death experiences. Another great story shawn.
from: jodion: 06-06 00:00:00-2007

I've have gone back and forth through my life on the issue of life after death and still to this day do not know what i believe. Stories like this do bring up some interesting questions though....
great story!
from: bernieon: 06-05 00:00:00-2007

To believe in a near death experience is to believe in the existence of the soul and of life after death. Your article, once again, was interesting and unbiased. There must be many people in your field that can relate stories of similar accounts but find it a difficult and somewhat taboo topic to discuss. Although I have never had a near death experience and I can't explain it, I do believe that the soul exists beyond the physical. Shawn, I think this weeks article will make many of your readers ponder the unknown. ;)
from: g.d.g.on: 06-04 00:00:00-2007

That story at the end gave me goose bumps. Great article and something we should all take a little more time to think about.
from: Taraon: 06-04 00:00:00-2007

Shawn, great column. Keep up the good work.
from: Beakeron: 06-04 00:00:00-2007

Wow! Neat idea for a column. This applies to anyone in healthcare, like nurses, physicians, therapists (myself), etc. Thanks.
from: Stephanon: 06-04 00:00:00-2007

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