Death is the final moment that awaits us all but it is the unknown that can be frightening.
Whether a quick end to life or a slow ageing deterioration, many have thought — what is dying like?
A doctor thought exactly that while watching a diligent group of doctors attempting to revive a man at a London hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest.
Vowing to look into the question of “when does life really end”, Dr Sam Parnia has dedicated himself to trying to answer that question for the past 25 years.
After conducting extensive research at 25 hospitals across the UK and US, the Briton discovered a number of themes that people who survived a near death experience reported encountering.
Dr Parnia, an ICU physician who trained in England but is now based in New York, said his study incorporated 567 subjects, with almost 40% having their pulse restored for 20 minutes or longer.
But sadly only 53 people — fewer than 10% of those examined — lived to be discharged from the hospital, according to Medical News Today (MNT).
In total, only 28 participants were well enough to be interviewed after their ordeal, and not all of these had memories of what were almost the final minutes of their life.
Those that did recall events had fascinating insights to impart, however.
Six participants reported having transcendent experiences.
Three people said they had dream-like experiences, which included seeing and hearing a singing fisherman.
In what proved to be vivid recollections, six of the 28 participants interviewed remembered the experience of dying.
These recollections included one woman who heard her dead grandmother telling her to return to her body.
To have a bigger pool of evidence, another 126 cardiac survivors provided self-reports about their experience.
Those supplying their experiences of surviving heart attacks had five major themes in regards to what they went through.
- Feeling CPR taking place
- Hearing the medical team speaking
- Being aware of activities in intensive care after the CPR
- Feeling as if they were heading to a destination
- Evaluating their life
Some reported being aware of the impact CPR was having on their bodies and hearing the medical team.
Others felt they evaluated their lives, some perceived they were heading to a destination and a few described feeling like they were returning to a place called home.
There were frightening memories for some participants.
One believed he was burning in hell, but Dr Parnia thought that might be the brain misinterpreting the medical interventions happening to try and keep them alive.
Researchers in the study wrote that the man was likely feeling a burning from a “tissued” potassium intravenous line, where the liquid was leaking into his muscle rather than going into his blood stream.
Dr Parnia told MNT: “We characterize the testimonies that people had and were able to identify that there is a unique recalled experience of death that is different to other experiences that people may have in the hospital or elsewhere.
“These are not hallucinations, they are not illusions, they are not delusions — they are real experiences that emerge when you die.”
Dr Parnia, a graduate from Guys and St. Thomas’ Medical School in London, presented his findings at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in Chicago this month.
The study by the associate professor at NYU Langone Health was called Awareness during Resuscitation II: A multi-center study of consciousness and awareness in cardiac arrest.