Before you roll your eyes, it really was a sensation I had never felt before and I have not since. There was no "light at the end of a long tunnel," no voices calling for me in the distance, no angels, none of the things I have heard from near-death survivors. No artistic beams of light whisking my vaporous soul away as in the movie Ghost or dozens more. This feeling was something entirely different. It was an overwhelming sense of calm, of peace, of solace. It was a deep inner sense of tranquility.
I noticed later, in the cardiac care unit, that I had some very painful circular burns on my chest. When I asked the nurse what they were, she nervously informed me that my heart had "stopped" (specifically, I went into asystole) during the procedure and I had to be "defibrillated" 6 times to resume an effective heart rhythm. The burns, I was informed, were from the haste of the cardiologist to apply the paddles to my chest with inadequate conductant gel and the increasingly higher voltages used in the attempt to get my heart back into a functional pulse. When I discussed the episodes with my cardiologist, a good friend who I had actually trained during his Internal Medicine residency, he told me he "was scared to death" he was about to lose his former Chief Resident and friend. [More truthfully, it was probably that he would have to explain the death of a Staff Doctor to his superiors] His exact words were that I was "dead for about 60 seconds."
Since that little heart stopper, when I was the ripe old age of 42, I have lost all fear of death. Death, in my mind, body and in the innermost depths of my soul, is nothing to be feared. It, I am convinced, will be an almost orgasmic peace. Perhaps not in the circumstances in which one dies - car wreck, gunshot, heart attack - but, when the heart pumps its last, I am convinced we will all have this peace. When those last few red blood cells deliver their last molecules of oxygen to the last living brain cells and we have an "irreversible end of consciousness," we will experience a final, ultimate, overwhelming sense of placidity.
With apologies for the diversion, I return now to the point of all this rambling: whatever lies ahead, it's all OK. Through all the aches and pain of waking up each morning, all the alopecia, all the wrinkles and blemishes, the daily loss of neurons, it's all going to be just fine. And when people question my judgment, drivers cut me off on the freeway, the power goes off in a storm, or I forget to record my favorite TV show, I will try to remember that lesson. I wish, as we all do, that I could go back and visit myself when I was 18 and scared to death of starting college, or when I was 24 and marrying for all the wrong reasons, or when I was 39 and leaving the Army for the alien and increasingly competitive world of private practice, or even just 3 years ago when my son died. I would smile, knowingly, and whisper "you will get through this, too."