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What happens after you die

A long-time supporter of the blog died on Thursday, October 6.

But it’s okay. He’s alive and well now.

Given that this is the second time such a thing has happened to somebody hereabouts, and given that he tells his story in a way that’s both entertaining and good for the lessons it might convey, I thought I’d print what he had to say about it. So with his permission …

First, N. wrote on F*c*b**k:

For years, when things went wrong, or somebody complained about something, I’d quip, “Yes, but it could be worse – it could be Thursday!”

I had a couple of variations to that, but mostly, I basically bashed Thursday as the most vile and corrupt day-of-the-week. It’s not Friday, and doesn’t even have the ignominy of being Monday. It’s just a placeholder at best, in-the-way-of-better-or-more-important-days.

I’ve been saying this for years – long enough that it has spread onto some acquaintances’ lips, and occasionally boomeranged back to me from a family member.

As many know by now – I died on October 6 – a Thursday. I suffered the whole flat-line CPR + defibrillation for four minutes. Only the incredibly professional Grafton VOLUNTEER Ambulance Service ( and good neighbors and good luck ) saved my butt.

I was asked several questions after this experience – did I feel the shocks, what do I remember, etc.. One question was – “What was your last thought before losing consciousness?”

Well, actually, I remember the last TWO thoughts before dying –

“Oh shit, it’s Thursday.”

Followed by

“I should have a more uplifting last thought than THAT!”

No realizations about life, the universe, and everything ( that came AFTER I woke up ), just – a silly little meme I made up to be funny and snarky at the same time – but actually kinda negative. Had it actually ensnared me, and was it Thursday – or me?

I try to be humorous, and I’ve been told that I am, in fact, pretty funny. But, I think that the Thursday joke was actually pretty negative. “Sure, things COULD get worse….” – kind of funny, but unnecessary, too.

I’ll stop picking on Thursday. Perhaps I won’t find it necessary to pick on anything else, too, and concentrate on being funny without snarkiness lurking just below the surface…

Then he added, to me:

As an aside, I seem to be none-the-worse-for-wear aside from three broken ribs, and bruised lungs and internal organs. My marbles seem to be in the same random state they started in, and I know a dodged the Reaper’s scythe by the thinnest margin. Yeah, I know, metaphors still don’t come easily. But, the compound adjectives do. [Ed. note: That’s an in-joke. I apparently ruined his life a few years ago by teaching him about compound adjectives, the kind you hyphenate. Now he sees them everywhere.)

Nationally, the percentage of people who survive a ventricular tachycardia ( “VTAC” ) episode outside of a hospital is in the middle single digits. Those who survive with no brain damage and almost no cardiac damage is even tinier. Take into account that my tiny town’s VOLUNTEER ambulance service ( which my son is also a member ) is 45 minutes away from the hospital, and it just gets crazier and crazier.

I could go even further – the event happened at mile 10 of an 11.2 mile bicycle ride. The first 9.1 miles are on a “rail-trail” – in the woods with no cell signal and no houses. I almost never encounter other walkers or riders, either. The tracks I see along this portion are usually my own. I went through all that, before turning-off to the paved 2.1 mile portion of the “final leg” of my five-legged ride.

Even here, the odds are still elevated – the last 2.1 miles include three hills, the second of which is the “big one” ( not really big, but enough to dread ). I was already listless by the time I got to the base of the second hill. Please bear in mind – I had NO PAIN – none at all. I was just – very very tired. THAT is what screwed me up. I’ve never heard of a heart attack with no pain.

Usually, when tired on the hill, I can do mini “switchbacks” on the road to help. If that doesn’t work, getting off and walking has always worked before. After THAT didn’t help, I stopped, and rested my head on the bicycle seat – still no pain! I stopped at the only place I could where there were two houses right on the road. All the other houses went up steep driveways – something I clearly wasn’t going to manage.

So, I walked the 20 feet to the little house and knocked on the door. Knocked again. Finally an exasperated man holding a phone to his ear answered the door. I mumbled something and he said, “I’ll call you back.” He then ushered a total stranger, at night, into his living room,offered me aspirin and his couch, and said he’d had a heart attack a couple of years earlier.

I said I had no pain at all – which confused him, too. Anyway, I told him I just wanted to call my EMT son a mile up the road, and he said he should call 911, I said – I just want to call my EMT son, he should do OK. He gave me his phone, and I busied myself with the call talking with my wife.

After I got off the phone, someone who I despise from my interactions with him at the Town Meetings every year sat next to me and asked me a couple of questions and took my pulse. Turns out many years ago he had been an EMT, too.

My son showed up a couple of minutes later, and he and my wife were only there perhaps 2-3 minutes when – the ambulance arrived. The “bad neighbor” had called 911 even though I’d demurred. The two new EMTs took BP, and asked if I wanted to walk to the ambulance where they had more equipment. I got up – wobbled – and walked with help. They offered the seat in the front area, which is normally more comfortable for people in my condition, but I went straight to the bed.

My shirt was open already, and they started attaching leads for the ECG monitor. I remember the second lead going on, and some shaving and stuff, when I died, having that insipidly superficial final thought.

The only thing I did right was not trying to macho my way up the hill. Once in the hands of the neighbors and ambulance people, I got ridiculously good care, but it was serious luck before that.

On the Sunday after my attack ( my birthday ), the head of the ambulance service dropped by and filled-in a lot of blanks. He got very teary-eyed as he recounted that mine was the first time, in fifteen years of doing this, that he’d had a complete save of a person in my condition. He’d revived only three total – the other two died in the hospital. He thanked ME for surviving.

Humans try to find patterns out of random dots or splashes of color, they also try to attach meanings or purposes to events that happen to or around them. Most of the time, the dots are just a snapshot of trees or clouds, or whatever, and if you look a second time, the pattern is gone, as it was really a chimera placed upon nothing by a mind with a need for meaning and order.

When an event like this happens the primitive, irrational mind wants to attach a meaning to it. If I was religious, it would be clear that God wasn’t ready for me yet. But, I’m not. There isn’t really a particular meaning to the event itself. A series of causes led to the effect of a myocardial infarction. Luck and professional preparation took it from there.

I don’t want to take away at all from the professionalism but boy my timing was amazing – if you’re going to die in the boonies and get revived, I did it right within the guidelines.

I am not expressing this well, but the upshot is that the only “meaning” to take out of this is what *I* decide to inject into it. I can intellectually go over the results my death would’ve had – my insurance is extensive, and my wife would’ve been ok. My kids even have separate clauses in a policy to ensure they could get a year or two of college, and / or cars and so-on. My workplace would survive, as I’d wrestled that into submission. My current side project would undoubtedly die, and that would be a shame. Some people around here would be relieved at my exit ( including the “bad” neighbor? ), and the next town over’s policeman would get away scott-free on some shit he’s pulled.

Otherwise, not a whole lot of ripples in the pond, and at least in some ways, my family better off financially.

Sooooo, in my rambling way, I guess I’m thinking of the cliche ways of re-dedicating my life, or yada yada. It really IS a cliche, but I find I’m afflicted by it. I don’t even mind, damnit. Important shit from last Wednesday do not interest me in the least. Trump? Hillary? They both stink. I don’t care. Server down at work? Oh well, I’ll fix it – but I’m not stressing about it. “Bad” neighbor? Hmmm. Have to re-evaluate that.

I assume it’s not the BP meds – but the Fibber McGee closet of my life came crashing down and – I didn’t just shove it all back in, but just carried a massive load of “stuff” to the dump, much of it without even looking at it. Unimportant. Excess baggage and rage and such – at least for now – seem to be just – ‘gone.’

Maybe that’s why people in my position frequently seem to suddenly ‘get happy’ perhaps? When the defibrillator resets the heart, it seems to reset the life in more ways than one. Things are brighter and more colorful; music is more bewitching, and I look forward to more stuff.

All sappy cliches, which I seem more susceptible to now.

He later told me he feels “luckier than a five-footed rabbit” [note compound adjective 🙂 ] and added some weird details about watching his own heart go wacky on a hospital monitor. I’ll spare you those. But that’s some story ‘eh?

Glad you’re on the mend, N.

14 Comments

  1. John
    John October 13, 2016 2:21 am

    Luck, God, fate, right-karma, people? Being on this side, I’m glad “N” doesn’t know how to die properly and is sticking around. Random dots. Maybe I’ll just skip Thursdays and go with long Wednesdays. Thanks for sticking around N.
    (Someday I might learn about those compound adthings…)

  2. Pat
    Pat October 13, 2016 5:13 am

    That aspirin may have helped! (I’d like to know if he took it. Aspirin is good for more than fever and pain. It may be one of the very few “wonder drugs” around.)

    And I have a thing about compound adjectives myself — nobody uses them anymore.

  3. Desertrat
    Desertrat October 13, 2016 6:15 am

    I quite often do the compound-adjective thing.

  4. N
    N October 13, 2016 7:20 am

    Yes, I took the aspirin. About 10 baby aspirin. The Doc in the catheter lab said that without it, I would’ve certainly had serious cardio damage. He also offered nitro-glycerin. I did NOT know at the time that nitro would’ve been ok and is pretty safe overall.

  5. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty October 13, 2016 7:26 am

    Wonderful story! I’ve seen that kind of miracle a few times over the years. Even more rare, however, is such a profound positive response by those who receive the miracle. (And I don’t mean “miracle” in a religious context myself.)

  6. Laird
    Laird October 13, 2016 9:09 am

    No long tunnel with a bright light at the end? Or doors? As near-death experiences go that one is rather dull.

    Still, I’m glad N pulled through, and those are some nice philosophical musings. Dumping some of the “excess baggage” we all carry around isn’t easy to do. I’m terrible at it. I wish him luck with that.

  7. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal October 13, 2016 9:23 am

    Welcome back, N.
    Have you noticed any craving for brains yet? Just asking- no particular reason…

  8. Claire
    Claire October 13, 2016 9:24 am

    “No long tunnel with a bright light at the end? Or doors? As near-death experiences go that one is rather dull.”

    My other friend that this happened to reported the same thing. No bright lights, no family members waiting at the end of a tunnel, no saints or deities in white gowns. In his case, he described only a blackness that was black beyond sleep or unconsciousness — a blackness in which he knew, upon awakening, that he had no longer existed in those moments his heart was stopped.

  9. Joel
    Joel October 13, 2016 10:15 am

    Huh. Kid’s stuff. The time I checked out, I got a life lesson from Hyborian gods. Of course some extremely serious drugs were involved…

    Seriously, though, that is “I’d rather have your luck than a license to steal” class lucky. Suggest you stay out of casinos henceforth, on the theory that you’ve used it all up.

  10. Willytee
    Willytee October 13, 2016 10:38 am

    Awesome story ! Glad you made it back.

  11. richard
    richard October 13, 2016 7:07 pm

    Been there done that although my last thought was sh**, it happened 3 years ago in November. From the time it happened to a pacemaker in my chest was 1 hour. Gave me a new outlook on life. My wife suffered a stroke this past weekend and came out ok, she is taking life different now andnot stressing over everything. It is life altering for some people. Neither of us had any indication what was happening, it just happened. Glad to hear that someone else survived the experience.

  12. M Ryan
    M Ryan October 14, 2016 9:21 am

    Having done the first responder bit including doing CPR and using an AED, the first thing I will say is “N” needs desperately to get out and buy some lottery tickets. I’m glad to see he made. Being out for four minutes normal would have caused some brain issues but with the team doing CPR kept the blood flow to the brain going so damage would be avoided.

  13. LarryA
    LarryA October 14, 2016 12:42 pm

    “It isn’t what you know, it’s who you know.” Gotta love small town people.

    And I have a thing about compound adjectives myself — nobody uses them anymore.
    Beg to differ. I edit a local newspaper, including press releases, obits, letters to the editor, etc. Lots of people use compound adjectives. They just don’t know how to hyphenate them.

    On the subject of last thoughts, I’ll bet one of the most common is, “I don’t need 911.” There’s a lesson there, if you listen.

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