I almost died as a child, more than once. When you are seriously ill and endure two major operations before the age of six, your perspective on everything changes forever. You don’t believe that health or life itself should ever be assumed or taken for granted. More than that, you tend to live with a certain alteration in how you view the categories of life and death. I don’t see things in black and white anymore; the binary oppositions that define Western culture and especially Western science don’t define reality for people like me. Existence appears to be more of a continuum: what is and what isn’t becomes more like “what neither is nor isn’t”. Allow me to explain.
Before one of my operations, I was asked by a kind nurse (actually, I don’t know if she was a nurse, a doctor, a tech or what. At five, if you wore a white coat and wielded needles, you were powerful and scary no matter what your title) if I preferred to be knocked out by the mask or by the needle. It was a pathetic attempt to give me some control over an uncontrollable situation; but it my case, it worked. I was very definitive: NO MASK. Needle, please. I hated the mask over my face, anesthetizing me by degrees. I had been in the hospital long enough to know that the needle knocked you out fast, and when you woke up, they were done with you. My next memory of that operation was watching it from above, over the heads of the doctors working on me. There was a sheet in front of the actual surgery, but it was definitely my body down there.
They had put the mask on me. I didn’t know what it was for at the time, but I had asked for no mask, and there was it was, clamped down on my face!! I felt no surprise that I was floating above my surgery and watching them work on me, but I was definitely upset that they had lied to me. Oddly, I always knew that it was “me” floating up near the ceiling, and that it was “me” on the table, but the self I identified with the most was the Kirsten floating, not the Kirsten on the table. In any case, as soon as I was able to see the doctor and the nurse who had asked me the question before the operation, I told them that they had promised not to use the mask, but they lied and did use the mask on me during the surgery. I remember them exchanging looks and appearing quite confused. They didn’t deny it nor affirm it, but simply mumbled something unintelligible.
Looking back, they must have thought that I wasn’t completely out. I was, though. Seeing myself on the table was very clear and very real. The conventional explanations for OBEs and NDEs runs the gamut from hallucination, oxygen deprivation, effects of narcotics, activation of a particular region of the brain, etc. etc. All of these explanations have been refuted by Dr. Melvin Morse, Dr. Raymond Moody, and several other medical professionals who have taken the time to examine the issue. Some OBE’s and NDEs can be refuted, no doubt; but the majority cannot, especially in those cases where verifiable information is recalled where no ordinary explanation can exist. There is no way that I should have been able to recall details from the surgery, especially since the mask was placed long after I was knocked out cold and removed long before I regained consciousness.
At five, that experience was equivalent to all my other, conscious experiences. I had no reason to question it. Later, of course, I would learn that such things were “impossible,” and later still–currently–I’m back to the position that such experiences represent consciousness just as I am consciously typing this entry. Simply because our current understanding of consciousness and the brain cannot explain these experiences does not mean that they are not real. I, for one, am thrilled that consciousness does not depend on my brain to function. My brain can fall prey to disease and age, becoming a very poor device for interpreting and relaying consciousness. If there are other venues for me to be me, then so much the better–because I have never felt that my body represents “me”.
If you’re sick a great deal, or suffer from a chronic condition, or have come close to death at any point in your life, then you understand this. My body must be endured, pampered, loved and treated with appropriate medical care when necessary, but it does not DEFINE me. “I” am something else, something that transcends the body and will outlive it. Thank God for that, because bodies fall apart and hurt, but your spirit is not sick.
I knew that then but was forced to forget it. Now I am learning it all over again, to honor the five year old I once was, who knew what was real and true and wouldn’t let the adults tell her otherwise.