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Hamilton, Dr Allen - Sarah's out of body experience when clinically dead

Identifier

011904

Type of spiritual experience

Background

I don't know quite how to classify this, as clinically she was dead - or at least dying, but from her evidence she had an out of body experience rather than a near death experience.  I have hedged my bets and put all three.

This observation is about a patient who underwent controlled hypothermia in which she became effectively brain dead in order to surgically repair an aneurism.  ‘The patient’s body cooled, the heart stopped as expected and the brain waves disappeared.  She was dead be every clinical criterion used in modern medicine’.  She was like this for 17 minutes whilst the titanium clip was put into position.

A description of the experience

The Scalpel and the Soul – Dr Allan Hamilton

There's a video and audio track documenting the operation through the microscope. The audio portion is simply a recording of whatever ambient noise is picked up on a small boom microphone. Nothing fancy. A microphone like the kind one would pick up at Radio Shack. This audio track would eventually prove to be one of the most important pieces of evidence we would sift through.

As the operation began to wind down, several trivial conversations were picked up. One part related to a conversation between Tom Reed and the perfusionist, the technician who oversees the heart-lung bypass pump.

"We're going to need to start the pump back up in a minute or two.  Everything ready to go?" Tom asked.

"Yeah, we'll be ready.  We've got to blow first," the perfusionist answered. To "blow" is vernacular for firing up the pump and letting it circulate for a few seconds to ensure any bubbles in the system are cleared before re-establishing blood flow in the patient.  

While the pump was readied, there was a second important conversation picked up by the microphone. One of the nurses in the operating room, a certain Rita Hightower, announced she had just gotten engaged. A couple of the other nurses shrieked in excitement. Because Rita was scrubbed in, wearing surgical gloves, she wore no engagement ring.

But she said, "Oh, wait till you see it. It's a one-and-a-half-carat square-cut yellow diamond. And he proposed to me right there at Morton's. John got down on his knees and proposed. In fact, one of the waiters didn't see him and tripped and fell into the wine case. Nothing broken, but it was funny." A couple of oohs and ahhs. Someone in the background asked where the ring was from. "Johnston Fellows." This was one of the most exclusive shops in the Phoenix area. "John had it custom-made for me."

The pump was cleared. "Thar she blows, captain" came the answer.

"Okay, then. Let's pump this baby up, shall we?"

The bypass machine churned and red blood began to flow again through the patient's tissue. The patient's body was gently rewarmed. Her heart started beating again. A few minutes later a normal, healthy brain wave pattern reappeared on the EEG. The operation by Dr. Reed went flawlessly. But there was one matter that troubled everyone. That was why I felt compelled to go see things for myself.

As the patient awoke in the intensive care unit, she emerged gradually from the grogginess left by all the anesthetic agents. After several hours, her head cleared. She sat up to greet Dr. Reed and his team of residents when they stopped in to see her in the evening.

"How did everything go today?" the patient asked.

"Textbook-perfect," Tom said with a smile. He quickly examined her. All of it was recorded on the video camera in her room.

"Well, I thought I remembered hearing something 'blow' during the case," she said. "Did the aneurysm blow?"

"No" Tom must have gone sheet-white. I could not see, as his back was toward the stationary camera in the corner.

"I thought someone said, 'Thar she blows.' Like in Moby-Dick."

"Yes, well that. . . what you might have heard. . . was the tech telling me all the air bubbles were blown clear out of the lines. That's all."

"Oh. I'm glad. I was just remembering what a disaster you said it would be if the aneurysm leaked or ruptured."

"No. Everything went fine with the aneurysm." Tom leaned in closer to the young patient. "Is there anything else you recall?"

"Yes, a ring. A one-and-a-half-carat yellow diamond from Johnston Fellows. Oh... and Morton's restaurant where someone fell into a wine case."

Tom just kept staring at her. "You remember all that?"

"Yes.  Why?  What does it mean?"

*'Well, those were just conversations we had in the operating room.  Nothing special."

Tom left the room and immediately paged the anesthesiologist.

"She remembers what happened in the OR!"

"No. No  way!" answered the anesthesiologist. "No, it's impossible."

“Well, you come here and ask her what she remembers!"

The anesthesiologist came up a minute later and charged into the room and made her repeat word for word everything she could remember. He began to scratch his head and muttered, "How the hell could this happen?"

What shook everyone up who watched the video between Tom and his young patient was we all knew that this woman's brain had been dead-without discernible electrical activity whatsoever. This meant that no brain cells were active, working, firing, or emitting electrical signals. Yet somehow the patient managed to recall the conversation in the operating room while her EEG was flat. In other words, while she was, for all intents and purposes, clinically dead-with no ability for her brain to function-she somehow managed to make or "encode" specific memories of that conversation in the OR. And this was no hazy recollection. The patient was reproducing practically word for word what had been said. Right down to the jewelry store and the waiter stumbling. No, she clearly recalled what had been said. There was no doubt about that.

[Later Dr Hamilton continues the conversation with her and visits her]

"Is there something wrong with me? With my brain?”

"No. Not at all. It's just when you came up to the ICU, you recalled so much of the conversation from the operating room. That's, well, that's never happened. It's not supposed to. . under circumstances like. .. the conditions of your surgery. Do you have any recollection of being in the operating room? Of looking down from above? Maybe of seeing yourself on the operating table?" I asked.

"No," she answered, almost brusquely. "I'm sorry. I don't remember anything. Just what I heard."

"Do you remember hearing the voices? Hearing people speak?"

"Yes and no. I can tell if it's a woman's voice, for example. But I don't know what she looked like."

"What do you imagine" I asked, "say, about the woman you heard discussing her engagement?  What do you think she might look like?"

Sally looked down at the nurse's call light button in her hand. A look of sadness came across her face. "I imagine" Sarah confessed, "she's blonde. About five foot six. Petite. Wearing a surgical mask and hat."

"'What color eyes?"

"Blue." She concentrated on the call light.  Like she might have to call for help.

"Does the hat on her head look like a large surgical hat?  Pulled over her head like a shower cap?"

"Yes. I think so."

"Sarah. . . how do you know she's blonde?  Which she is, by the way."

She closed her eyes. "Because I think there was a curl of blonde hair showing. Sticking out. Like it had fallen out. Onto her forehead."

As I quizzed her for further details, it was obvious she had an image of everyone in the operating room. There were so many little facets that she knew. For example, she was able to tell me exactly where the heart-lung bypass was located in the suite. Yet it had only been brought in after she was under general anesthesia for more than two hours. In other words, she could not have seen the machine before surgery began.

Sarah also knew the pump technician had a beard. She told me the second scrub nurse was African-American and very tall. In fact, she was over six feet tall.

What emerged from the several conversations I had with Sarah over the next two days was that she was aware of the room, its occupants, and the conversations that took place within it. Her consciousness was present in the operating theater even though it was not supported in any way by her brain.

The source of the experience

Hamilton, Dr Allan

Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image

Activities