Tuesday, September 29, 2009

'Grampa, tell us about that first time you died again!'

Here's another story about a guy who "died" for a while and then came back. Don Piper got hit by an 18-wheeler on a Texas bridge and was so dead, if that phrase even makes sense, that emergency crews covered him with a tarp; they could find no vital signs. But 90 minutes later Don got frisky under the tarp, and there he was again, ready to rejoin the living. (Which raises the question: They left the body sitting there on the bridge for an hour and a half?)

Anyway, I've always been skeptical of these stories about temporary visits to the afterlife. Seems to me that if you come back, by definition you weren't that dead. Ipso facto. No matter how long you were "gone." But now several hospitals are doing a study of the phenomenon, and I'm intrigued. When someone dies under hospital conditions, they plan to place little signs in the room that the person couldn't possibly see from his or her supine position. If the person does revive, and during a post-mortem interview is able to recall the signs, that should constitute compelling evidence of an out-of-body experience. I wonder about some of the procedural stufflike, how long they're going to wait before they decide that people are in fact permanently dead. And I'm assuming they won't implement these procedures with corpses who are likely organ donors, since most organs aren't much use after, say, sitting on a bridge under a tarp for 90 minutes. But I guess we'll see.

I just hope there's baseball on the other side. Someday I want to be able to tell people I belong to a "dead-and-over" league. (It's an inside joke.)


Now that I read through the bootleg version of my Playboy story again (the one about America's organ-transplant industry, linked a few lines above), I realize that it's far more riddled with errors than I'd remembered. Just for the record, those misspellings, typos and broken lines were not in the original, as it ran in the magazine (October 2002); they're the sole responsibility of the party who scanned and uploaded it. There are even a few lines missing here and there. Still, I think you'll get the gist if you stick with it. We covered some very interesting terrain, including a few issues that most of us never stop to think about. Like: When exactly are you dead, anyway?


Anonymous said...

There's quite a history to this undead business, the Victorians built coffins with a bell attached so the dead could ring for attention if they woke up. My favourite is the traditional sailors' burial at sea, sewn up in a sail with a cannonball at the feet and the last stitch through the nose, just in case the corpse was malingering and not truly a goner.

Dimension Skipper said...

"Dead and over" league... I like it.

I too have a skeptical fascination with those sorts of stories. Back in January I mentioned both Piper and Bill Wiese in a SHAMblog comment. Rather than spend time re-typing, I'll just say if anyone's interested or curious enough you can read my original comment here.

Hey, I'm not saying it's great stuff, but whatver.

And I still wonder if Islamic countries are flooded with books about how "I was enjoying the company of 72 virgins when I felt pulled back to this life"...

Steve Salerno said...

DS: Clearly I'm slipping (even worse than I thought). I'd forgotten about your earlier remarks regarding this topic, and you deserve appropriate credit.

Anonymous said...

This may be too obvious, but I'll tell it anyway:

Two friends Moe and Steve were two huge baseball fans. Their entire lives, Moe and Steve talked baseball. They went to 60 games a year. They even agreed that whoever died first would try to come back and tell the other if there was baseball in heaven.

One night, Moe passed away in his sleep after watching the Yankee victory earlier in the evening. He died happy. A few nights later, his buddy Steve awoke to the sound of Moe's voice from beyond.

"Moe, is that you?" Steve asked.

"Yes, it's me," Moe replied.

"This is unbelievable" Steve exclaimed. " So tell me, is there baseball in heaven?"

"Well I have some good news and some bad news for you. Which do you want to hear first?"

"Tell me the good news first."

"Well, the good news is that yes there is baseball in heaven."

"Oh, that is wonderful, So what is the bad news?"

"Steve, you're pitching tomorrow night."

RevRon's Rants said...

"And I still wonder if Islamic countries are flooded with books about how "I was enjoying the company of 72 virgins when I felt pulled back to this life"..."

As if the radical Muslims weren't already pissed off enough! Talk about a great recruiting tool for suicide bombers! "Man, I was THIS CLOSE!!!" :-)

Anonymous said...

I remember reading somewhere that there is some scholarly controversy over whether the correct interpretation is 72 virgins or 72 white raisins. Puts rather a different spin on the idea of being dragged back to this mundane life from enjoying the company of virgins or--- raisins?

Steve Salerno said...

But are the raisins accomplished at oral...?

Dimension Skipper said...

Steve, honestly I didn't mean it that way, that I was seeking "credit" or anything like that.

My line of "Hey, I'm not saying it's great stuff, but whatver" was merely meant as a self-deprecating way to say "I didn't have a clue what I was talking about then and still don't, but regardless there it is..." Just figured the basic thoughts were worth referring to (rather than re-wording or copying verbatim under a post with a different context).

It's just one of those topics I can't help but find of interest and that's the only reason I even remembered ever mentioning it in the first place. Believe me, there's lots of comments I forget 90 seconds after I post them. Certainly, no reason for you to remember among all the posts you've thrown out there over the years and all the comments received in turn.

I find NDEs curious because so many people seem oh so certain in their personal afterlife views as to imply that it's obvious fact when I don't see how anyone could possibly know. At least in cases where someone has seemingly died according to some man-defined technical definition, I'll grant a possible inside track to some sort of insight, so I can't accuse such people of lying. They may take some license in interpretation or maybe have selective memory, but that's not the same as lying. And maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the line one of those people is telling the absolute truth according to correctly remembered experience?

Raisins, huh? Okay, I didn't see that coming... :-)

Seriously, I only remember ever seeing/hearing of such afterlife accounts with Christian scenarios. I wonder if Muslims (or other religious folk) have similar tales of NDEs that confirm their beliefs. If so (or even if not) what does that say about tales of such experiences in general? If there are truly NDEs with other afterlife perspectives, can each be correct? Or is every one of them invalidated because it may just be a dying brain experiencing death according to long-ingrained expectations/hopes?

Has there ever been a case where, say, a Muslim "died" and then returned to recount a tale of a distinctly Christian afterlife? Would that be evidence of one religion being the "right" one? It seems to me that if there's anything to this "being in the presence of an all-loving being of light" (or whatever) then the people who come back probably just attach their own personal interpretation (Jesus, Allah...) to that memory/feeling.

Lastly, I've heard of those sorts of scientific investigations with signs and objects and such to see if patients brought back have specific knowledge of things they couldn't otherwise know, but I have no idea if such studies have ever borne significant fruit.

It's one of those subjects I Mulder/Scully-ize... I want to believe, but I remain skeptical.

Noadi said...

The thought that went through my head here was "Why were they allowed to pronounce him dead." I have a lot of respect for EMTs but they aren't doctors (and even doctors can make this mistake) so they really shoudln't be making that call. If the body is still warm they should be attempting resuscitation until the arrive at a hospital. My understanding is that in some areas that is the requirement.

Steve Salerno said...

Noadi: That's a good point, and one that references a problem/situation that is far more common than believed. You'd be surprised at how much confusion there is over what constitutes death, and who qualifies. I got a considerable education in this subject during the research phase of my piece on organ donation for Playboy, which is linked in the text of the post. (It's a bootleg version of the story, but it's pretty close to what actually ran.) Under current criteria, you can be dead in Ohio but alive in Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

'Under current criteria, you can be dead in Ohio but alive in Mississippi.'
Surely not at the same time?

Elizabeth said...

But are the raisins accomplished at oral...?

I'm sure they are, Steve, if you recruit them from a dental hygienists school.

Now seriously, that's always puzzled me: what's up (no puns) with the 72 virgins? Is the prospect really so enticing? I mean, really -- wouldn't one virgin be enough trouble, much more so 70+ of them?

And who sez what those virgins are up to? They are virgins, for crying out loud -- don't you (a generic you, not just you, Steve) think they may not be so willing and/or able to engage in, um, whatever you want them to engage in?

Which brings me to a larger (and rather pointless) issue/question: why are our imaginings of post-mortem life so stupid?

All rhetorical questions, mind you.