Between Life and Death

Between Life and Death

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By David Jonathan Marchant

“To be or not to be, that is the question.”

First line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, 1602

Over seven tenths of the total surface area of planet Earth is covered in water, yet in contrast to its ubiquity, water holds the unique property of existing in three distinct states within the normal range of temperatures and pressures that prevail upon our planet.

Imagine having to explain to someone who had not received the benefit of a traditional school education that a glacier, an ocean and a cloud all consisted of an identical molecular structure and as such was categorised as a single substance.

So, if asked, how might we describe what water really is in light of the fact that it co-exists on our planet in the three very distinct and seemingly separate conditions of a solid, a fluid and a vapour. In other words what makes water, water? What is the essence of water as opposed to its physical state of being? It appears circumstantially that the true nature of water must endure independently from that of its physical condition. If this is indeed true of water, then what of other physical matter upon Earth, perhaps even humans. After all, we are described as human beings are we not, but is that to say that we are simply being human and that our true nature actually exists independently of that of our condition? Such is the nature of the philosophical debates of the ages, in particular that of the ancient Greeks who not only dared to contemplate such matters but also made a profession out of it.

In support of the hypothesis that our true nature exists independently of our state of being, I have detailed below an account of a personal experience I inadvertently received whilst working within the UK medical profession in the early 1980’s. I hasten to add that I was not working as a nurse or a member of the medical staff, but rather as an in-house electronics engineer responsible for first line maintenance, calibration and repair of the ever-growing number of electrical devices that were populating the most critical area of the hospital I was assigned too. Although some thirty years or so have passed since the occasion of this event, I found the experience to be so profound that the memory of it remains with me to date.

Having arrived at work one day, I was greeted and then instructed by my immediate boss that my task for the morning was to drop in at the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) of the hospital and check that the nurses and medical staff who worked there had not turned up the brightness of the screens of the bedside monitors to such an extent that the beam that was tracing out the patients heart rhythm, was in danger of permanently damaging the device, as was their custom. Furthermore, I was instructed that should I find evidence of this practice, I was to alter the maximum externally selectable intensity of the beam to a safe level by adjustment of an electronic component within the machine itself that was not accessible to the nurses and medical staff.

Dutifully I arrived at the CCU and set about my task having first been granted permission to do so by the senior nurse in charge.

Moving from bed to bed I eventually came across a bedside monitor whose screen was so great in intensity that it required immediate attention. I introduced myself to the patient to whom the monitor was connected and explained my intention to recalibrate the equipment whilst simultaneously trying to reassure him that these adjustments were a regular requirement within the department and were not born as a consequence of his particular medical condition. Unfortunately, my polite bedside manner did not solicit a response from the patient and thus I commenced the task at hand without his approval. With the side off the machine and tools spread upon the bedside table, I suddenly became aware that the patient’s heart rhythm had faded to a flat line upon the monitor screen and as a result the patient and I were quickly surrounded by the emergency crash team. Beating a hasty retreat, I abandoned my work and my tools to allow the medical staff to work on reviving the patient.

Sometime later the same morning I received a call from the staff of the CCU to say that all was well and that I could now return and finish the work I had begun. Remarkably, upon my return, the patient was not only conscious but responsive too. Consequently I re-emphasised the reason for being at his bedside and sought once again to reassure him that this work was not born as a consequence of his particular medical condition. To my astonishment the patient then proceeded to engage me in a conversation as follows:

Patient: “I saw you, you know”

Me: “Saw what?”

Patient: “I saw you working on this machine they have me connected to. Have you fixed it yet?”

Me: “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. What do you mean you saw me working on this machine?”

Patient: (getting a little annoyed with me) “I saw you working on this machine and then I saw them over there (referring to the staff) gather round the bed.”

Not wishing to annoy him further with my ignorance especially in light of his obvious frailty I changed tack.

Me: “When did you see me and from where?”

Patient: “From up there (gesturing toward the ceiling). I saw it all. I saw myself too.”

Incredibly, the patient who was in effect unconscious at the time he described, was able to give me a detailed account of the events immediately following the cessation of the beating of his heart, witnessed through the medium of an out of body experience or some form of projected consciousness.

Having completed the adjustment of the equipment, I could not help but confront the medical staff with what I naively considered would prove to be some form of revelation. To my surprise, the staff did not seem to consider my experience to be anything out of the ordinary and passed it off as such. I did however get the distinct impression that whilst frequently experienced by the staff of the unit, events such the one I had just experienced, were not readily spoken of.

The example above is a true account of the extraordinary event that took place that day back in the early 1980’s. I relate this story to you solely for the purposes of illustration of the concept that our true nature, that which makes you the person that you are and me the person that I am, could in fact endure independently of our current physical condition. If the element of water can exist in such distinct and separate forms but still retain its identity, then why not us? Moreover, do we possess the capacity as human beings to transcend that of the realm of physical being in favour of not being, if only for a moment and without necessarily having to endure a near death experience?

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