NDE: Near Death Experience
Actress Shirley McClaine had one. Psychology guru Carl Jung had one. I even had one. They’re called Near Death Experiences or NDE and they’re becoming more common according to Allentown radiologist Dr. Ken Levin of College Heights Imaging. He says, “More patients are being resuscitated because of the invention of the defibrillator”, commonly called “the paddles” that sends an electric shock to the heart and converts an uncoordinated twitching heart back to its normal rhythmic contractions.
When it’s successful. It’s not guaranteed but it has increased the number of people who revive from clinical death or what is called “flatlining”, when all vital signs like pulse and respiration cease. There was a movie made in 1990 called “Flatliners” about a bunch of wild and crazy medical students who deliberately stopped their hearts, playing a scientific version of Russian Roulette with nightmarish horror as the result.
They were searching for the highly publicized NDE of seeing “a dark tunnel with a bright light at the far end”. That’s what Shirley McClaine saw. So have many of the people I spoke to about the phenomenon. Kenneth Brown from Pottstown had his heart attack last July. He saw the bright light and felt himself “moving toward the light”. Brown’s Father-in-law had an NDE but said he had a reunion with a dearly departed friend, his dog.
Brown’s cardiologist, Dr. Eugene Ordway of John J. Cassel, M.D., P.C., Cardiology of Allentown, said that he has often heard restored patients repeat the “tunnel to the light” account but he also had a young woman who saw “angels floating over her head”. Mr. Brown’s heart kept stopping for 10 or 12 seconds at a time and he would come out of his NDE and nonchalantly say, “That was interesting.”
Dr. Ordway’s curiosity was peeked, “What was so interesting?”, but he was too busy saving Mr. Brown’s life to chat and spent over 2 hours fighting for him. That gave me “8 or 10 of my gray hairs”, Ordway said. The doctor must have rescued many; his full mane of hair is pure white and gray.
Ordway’s nurse, Elaine Smeltz, R.N., spoke to many survivor’s of NDE when she worked in emergency rooms. Most saw “the tunnel with the sparkling light at the end of the tunnel and beautiful gardens, waterfalls, and dead relatives telling them to go back.’’ But the most profound were those who had “floating experiences” as if they were cameras on the ceiling and “accurately described who had come and gone in the operating room” while they were “dead”.
Dr. Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist, floated even farther, experiencing space travel. He found himself 1,000 miles in space looking back at our earth and that was long before space travel was physically possible. But that trip was nothing compared to the NDE of Mr. Mellen-Thomas Benedict. He was broke and dying of cancer and opted for a hospice worker to oversee his final moments.
Mr. Benedict told the hospice person not to do anything with his body for 6 hours after his “death”. An hour and a half after he died, he came back completely healed. But that is nothing compared to what he says his Near Death Experience was like. He saw the light but, instead of going toward it, he asked to have a first class trip through the galaxy and his wish was granted. Somehow, his NDE was interactive and took orders like room service.
Moving through space “faster than a speeding bullet”, actually he said, “faster than the speed of light” he went from one end of the galaxy to the other, but he wanted to see more. He asked to see Heaven and was not only shown the Christian one but a host of others like Nirvana and the Native Americans’ Happy Hunting Grounds which was his favorite.
He was also shown everyone’s “Higher Selves” and that they were all interconnected proving the old saw that we are all one being. His healing was also moving at the speed of light and that is what he attributes to his miraculous recovery. You can find his fascinating account at
After reading Benedict, I felt gypped by my NDE. On September 15, 2002 or nine months, fifteen days and two thousand and two years after the Christ was supposedly born, I died. At least for four minutes. I flatlined and it took 4 minutes to revive my body; on the other hand, my mind never quit.
I was walking home in Riverdale, New York, around 8 in the evening, up a slight hill, carrying a pizza and a video when my breathing became very labored and it seemed like there was a ring around the front of my chest like the clouds that circle the moon on cloudy nights. It was pretty but it was draining my energy and I was almost out of breath by the time I got to my apartment only one block away.
What does one do? I knew and did not want to know that I needed help. I was in trouble but didn’t have the courage to call the “marines”. I called Patrick O’Flynn JR, my former roommate of 14 years, and asked, “What should I do?” He said, “Call 911!” I asked, “Are you sure?” More forcefully, he said, “Call 911!!” “911, you think so?” “Call 911!!”, was all he said. I thought, “Me?! Call 911? I am not worthy. I don’t want to make a fuss. I am not important enough”. I finally got the message that I was in very deep dodo and better call the “marines” that we call 911. I called 911. Had I delayed 5 minutes this would not be writ.
It took 15 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. Two nice guys strapped me into what looked like a lawn chair with wheels, strapped an oxygen mask on me and wheeled me into the elevator and out the front door. The lawn chair became a chaise/gurney and I was lying flat on my back, bouncing through traffic with the siren wailing soothing music, “Step aside”, it sang, “Someone’s in deep dodo!”
When we got to the Allen Pavilion Hospital in the Bronx, they took me off of the ambulance gurney and onto an emergency room one. I was wheeled through the hallway staring at the ceiling as the lights blipped by, just like in the movies. By now I was drunk or dazed and had no concern for my safety. I was wheeled into a space with a 3-tiered light overhead. People where speaking.
I was trying to pray but I could only remember a few words of my daily mantra, the last lesson in “The Course in Miracles”: “This holy instant, would I give to YOU. Be YOU in charge, for I would follow YOU, certain that YOUR direction gives me Peace.” But all I could remember was “BE YOU IN CHARGE”, and I just kept repeating that over and over to myself.
Then all the lights in the world turned off. With them, went all the sounds. It was silent and it was beyond dark. I marveled at its absolute crystal blackness; not even those pale clouds I see when I close my eyes were present and I don’t remember closing my eyes. My eyes might be open but what I was seeing was not of this world. It had no blemish. It was an absolute state. A space without light. The only thing present was ME, an observer with nothing to see but aware that I was present.
I was alive inside my skin or maybe I was outside of it. Witnesses have sworn I was tossing and turning and shouting that “I am the Orsen Welles of sports films!” , the title of a TV film I was trying to sell. I have no memory of that happening even though I was present in the darkness, feeling no pain. I was actually at peace. My body had died for 4 minutes but my mind never missed a beat. I felt like I was floating in a sensory deprivation tank with all my senses turned off except what I call my mind, my consciousness.
But it was a different mind. It was patient. It’s like all the brush that had grown around my thoughts had been burned away. All the possibilities and worries had been reduced to the simple “I am”. And I was fine. I had no past, no future, only the ever present now. I was at peace. I didn’t question anything. I just waited patiently for the next act.
In what seemed less than an hour later to me (at least 15 hours in Earth time), a primal yellow colored line, like from a thin paintbrush, appeared and started drawing a landscape in the blackness. The landscape was the outline of the tops of the heads of all those who had gathered by my bedside, friends and relatives not sure if this was my end or a new beginning.
Very slowly the rest of the color spectrum returned and faces came through the blackness and became recognizable loved ones. I had successfully survived a heart attack that had taken me very close to becoming a vegetable or a corpse.
The event allowed me to lie in the hospital for almost 2 weeks and review my whole life in slow motion instead of “the whole thing flashing before your eyes, moments before you’re supposed to die but manage somehow to survive” phenomenon.
When I discussed my experience with Kenneth Brown, we both agreed on the peacefulness of our Near Death Experiences. He called it “very tranquil with nothing to be afraid of” and that he had the feeling that he “was going to be alright”. He had been an agnostic but all the lucky coincidences that led him to the Lehigh Valley Hospital and the dogged Dr. Ordway has made him a believer although he is not sure what to call that “Higher Power”.
I have become a more patient person since I was a patient. I have become a courteous driver, offering others the right of way, something the old Simon rarely did. Even though death is the only permanent resident in this universe, I am happy to still be here and share my story with you.
However, if I ever get another NDE, I’m going to steal a page from the fantastic voyage of Mellen-Thomas Benedict and request to visit what the eastern mystics call “The Akashic Sea of Consciousness” where the videotapes of all that ever happened in this universe are stored. Then I’ll find out who really shot JFK and if OJ did it. And visit with a few old friends, some of them dogs.