Spiritual awakenings, whether quiet and subtle or dramatic and breathtaking, are deeply personal events. More than half of us have undergone a spiritual transformation, each unique and life-changing. We may only have a moment or two to act or we may have a few months to sort things out. We may curse the gods or sink to our knees in gratitude. Th e circumstances vary but two things are certain. One, our life is about to change. And two, it's a day we will not soon forget. Sixty Secondsis an uplifting collection of intimate, heartfelt stories from prominent people who graciously share their personal experiences with the profound. Their moving, life-altering interviews powerfully illustrate that sacred moments of illumination and insight are available to us all.
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Atria Books/Beyond Words
April 14, 2008
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Excerpt from Sixty Seconds by Caroline Myss
JANIS AMATUZIO, M.D.
Known as the "compassionate coroner," Dr. Amatuzio writes and speaks about her personal experiences and insights regarding life after death and how to apply those lessons to live a richer, more rewarding life. The founder of Midwest Forensic Pathology, P.A., a company offering private autopsy services, she serves as coroner and provides forensic pathology services for several counties in Minnesota and Wisconsin. She has authored Forever Ours: Real Stories of Immortality and Living from a Forensic Pathologist and Beyond Knowing: Mysteries and Messages of Death and Life from a Forensic Pathologist. For more information, visit www.foreverours.com.
Back in 1978, I was in my last month of my internal medicine internship and doing a rotation at the University of Minnesota Hospital, working a grueling schedule of thirty-six hours on and twelve hours off. Thank God I was in my twenties, because I couldn't do that now! One night, I nodded off to sleep at 2 AM but it didn't last long. At 2:30, a nurse called and said, "Doctor, we need you to get up and start an IV for a man whose IV catheter dislodged. He needs a heparin infusion."
I considered myself a pretty seasoned intern by then, having spent eleven months at it. I said, "Tell you what, hot-pack it [to make the veins more pronounced] and call me in thirty minutes." I really, really wanted that extra thirty minutes of sleep.
The nurse knew I had a habit of sleeping through phone calls, so thirty minutes later she strode into the room, flipped on the light, stood at the foot of the bed, and said, "Get out of bed now, Dr. Amatuzio. This man's arm has been hot-packed for thirty minutes and he's waiting for you."
Exhausted and half-conscious, I dragged myself out of bed, grabbed a couple IV catheters and a tiny 25-gauge butterfly catheter, and trudged down the hall. I remember being envious because I could hear people snoring. There's a certain intimacy to 3 AM in a hospital ward. As you walk down the halls, it's quiet, dark, and the only sound you hear is rhythmic breathing. I could see in the distance that one of the rooms had a light on. I walked around the corner and into the room. The light coming from the ceiling made a cone over my patient, Mr. Stein, who was in the bed closest to the door.
When I looked at him, my heart sank. He was a very large man and was immensely swollen. The only thing that looked bright about him was his eyes. I thought, How am I ever going to start an intravenous catheter quickly on this poor man?
I sat down next to the bed and unpacked the moist hot packs from his arm. Since men don't have as much subcutaneous fat as women do, they usually have good veins that are close to the surface. But I couldn't see a vein anywhere on his arm, so I had to try to find one by palpation.
I introduced myself and told him I had to start a catheter. As I was feeling for a vein, this man looked at me and said, "You know, doc, I died once." My first thought was, Whoa, he's off his rocker. He's sundowning. He read my thoughts like he was reading a book and said, "You don't believe me," with such sadness that I was terribly embarrassed.
I said, "It's not that I don't believe you, but you know that's a pretty extraordinary thing you just said."
He said, "I know. But I did."
While I was feeling for a vein, I thought, Well, I'm going to be here a long time; I might as well hear a good story. So I asked him to tell me what had happened.
He said, "Well, you know I've got blood clots in my legs and they like to travel up to my lungs."
"I know," I said, "that's why it's so important to get this medication into your veins." He told me he had had a filtering screen put in his interior vena cava, the large vessel that brings the blood from the lower extremities up to the heart, to stop the clots from passing to his lungs.
"That was two years ago," he said. "And that's when I died."
I nodded. "Yeah, but you're here now."
"Yep, I came back to life." I felt a shiver go down my neck and remember thinking, What is this? But he looked so earnest. He told me that when the doctors had finished implanting the screen in his heart, which had taken five hours, he had been wheeled into the PAR (post-anesthesia recovery room). "I remember laying there, trying to come to consciousness," he said. "A nurse was squeezing my shoulder, trying to awaken me, but I just couldn't quite wake up."
By this time, I had palpated for a vein, found one, and was taping on the IV. "Then the strangest thing happened," he said. "All of a sudden, I left my body."
I looked at him and asked, "And how did you do that?"
He said, "Right through the top of my head."