Hamilton, Dr Allan - Harry and his heart
Type of spiritual experience
A description of the experience
The Scalpel and the Soul – Dr Allan Hamilton
While I sat there … Harry confessed to me that he had had a near-death experience during his heart attack.
"I got to tell you that there really was nothin' scary 'bout it. I just felt at peace, loved. I just seemed to rise up in the air, like a puffy cloud. I could see myself lying in the grass. But it wasn't like I was scared or anything. I just felt like I was going home, like being on furlough to see my family during the war or something. You know, something that you're jus' dyin' to do. I suppose that's a pun or somethin'. But you get what I mean, don't you? It was like I was lookin' forward to it. Like I'd been lookin' forward to it for the longest time, and now I was goin' to finally get there, get to do it.'
"Now" Harry continued, "it isn't like I wanted to die or somethin' like that. 'cause I sure as hell didn't want to leave Phyllis. Boy, the men'd be swarmin' 'round 'er like bees 'round honey. No, siree,’- he chuckled with a hint of lustful pride. "But at the same time, I knew there wasn't anything to fear 'bout what lay beyond this life." Harry got very solemn.
"I jus' couldn't help but thinkin' 'bout the buddies we'd left in the sea, after them U-boats got 'em. I thought later 'bout it. I jus' kept wishin' that when the end did come for 'em that it would have been like it seemed to be for me when I had my heart attack." Tears slowly rolled down his cheeks.
He was smiling at the same time. "It's like, I think, I now realize that each of 'em when they died was okay. That they are still okay now. I guess maybe it has always been okay. I just didn't know it. But it feels good to know, 'cause you can't help but wonder. Even after all these years."
The next morning when I stopped to round on Harry, things were dramatically different. Harry seemed ill at ease, like the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof, like he was uncomfortable in his own skin. I checked a rhythm strip on the EKG and drew some labs.
The worst of it was the light coming from Harry. It was that yellow, waxy light in his eyes, from his skin. I immediately transferred Harry back to the coronary care unit. That light, the sheen, made me terribly sad for Harry. I had grown to like him a lot.
The interesting thing about all this was that Harry was having no symptoms like chest pain or an arrhythmia. I had nothing solid to go on except my premonition. I told a white lie to the charge nurse to get Harry back into the CCU. I explained I thought I had seen a run of ventricular tachycardia on his monitor. I had just not been quick enough to capture it on the paper strip. It had disappeared. But because ventricular tachycardia is a potentially dangerous rhythm, the supervising nurse immediately granted my request.
Harry, I believe, knew all along what was up. He never asked me once why he was heading back to the CCU. He knew. When Phyllis came, he focused on reassuring her that she had nothing to worry about.
There was plenty of money in the bank. The house was paid up. I kept hovering around. Every time Harry would spook her with his talk, he would back off, reassure her, and change the topic.
Harry told Phyllis to go home, to come back in the evening. He told her he was feeling tired. He hugged her, kissed her on the lips, then kissed her on the forehead. I did not intrude but there are video cameras in every CCU room, so I could see him saying his good-byes.
After Phyllis left, I got some ominous results from the laboratory.
The lab work was preliminary but suggested that Harry was about to have another myocardial infarction - a whopping tsunami of a heart attack. I went in to talk things over with Harry, but he was already holding his chest with one hand over his heart and looking up at the new bad blips showing up on the monitor. I knew. He knew.
"Harry I've got to talk something over with your" I started.
"I know. It's a heart attack. Another one."
"Precisely, Harry. That's what the first tests seem to suggest. I need to know that it is okay with you-if we need to-to go ahead and intubate you. Put a plastic pipe down your mouth, into your windpipe, so if you have breathing problems-"
"It won't matter."
"No, come on, Harry. I've got to get permission to, for the team in case they need to proceed."
"I can give you all the permissions you want. It won't make any difference."
Harry was gripping his chest and now he was, in fact, having a run of V tach. I punched the emergency button for the nurse.
The charge nurse rushed in. "'What's up?" she asked, glancing over at Harry.
"Call the code team. Get the code cart in here," I barked.
The nurse ran out. Overhead, I could hear the stat pages going out over the public address team.
Harry looked distressed. "Don't worry, kid. You can't stop to pick up stragglers. Know what I mean? Full steam ahead."
With that Harry's eyes rolled up in his head and the monitor went flat. A series of alarms went off. The code team arrived. We shocked Harry a bunch of times. We did CPR. We injected his heart with Adrenalin. Nothing we could do was going to bring him back. He was gone, back there in our wake with all his buddies from another lifetime ago.