A REAL SCARE
More and more of my patients who are recovering from serious illnesses tell me there is a life after death. There is a heaven and a hell. I had always thought of death as painless extinction. I had bet my life on it. Now I have had to reconsider my own destiny, and what I had found isn’t good. I have found it may not be safe to die!
I requested that a patient perform what we call a “stress test” to evaluate complaints of chest pain. In this test we exercise the patient and simultaneously record the heartbeat. A treadmill machine paces the patient’s exercise so that he slowly builds up to a jog, then to a run. If the heart record (EKG) goes “haywire” during the exercise, we can usually be sure the patient’s chest pains originate in the heart, explaining the source of his “angina pectoris,” or pain in the chest.
This patient was a forty-eight-year-old white male who was a rural mail carrier. He was of medium build, dark haired, and had a personality that would please anyone. Unfortunately, he represented one of those rare instances where the EKG not only went “haywire,” but the heart stopped altogether. He had a cardiac arrest and dropped dead right in my office. Instead of fibrillating (twitching without a beat), the heart had just plain stopped. He crumpled to the floor, lifeless.
With my ear to his chest, I could hear no heartbeat at all. With my hand alongside his Adam’s apple, I could feel no pulse. He gave one or two sighing breaths before he quit breathing altogether. There were scattered muscle twitchings and then convulsions. He was gradually turning blue.
Although six doctors worked as partners in the same clinic, it was late afternoon and they had gone on to other hospitals to make evening rounds. Only the nurses were left. But they knew what to do and their performance was commendable.
While I started external heart massage by pushing in on the chest, one nurse initiated mouth-to-mouth breathing. Another nurse found a breathing mask, which made it easier to expand his lungs for him. Still another nurse brought the emergency cart containing pacemaker equipment. Unfortunately, the heart would not maintain its own beat. A complete heart block had occurred. The pacemaker was needed to overcome the block and increase the heart rate from thirty-five beats per minute to eighty or one hundred per minute.
I had to insert a pacemaker wire into the large vein beneath the collarbone which leads directly to the heart. One end of this electric wire was manipulated through the venous system and left dangling inside the heart. The other end was attached to a small battery-powered gadget that regulates the heartbeat and overcomes the heart block.
The patient began “coming to.” But whenever I would reach for instruments or otherwise interrupt my compression on his chest, the patient would again lose consciousness, roll his eyes upward, arch his back in mild convulsion, stop breathing, and die once more.
Each time he regained heartbeat and respiration, the patient screamed, “I am in hell!” He was terrified and pleaded with me to help him. I was scared to death. In fact, this episode literally scared the hell out of me! It terrified me enough to write this book.
He then issued a very strange plea: “Don’t stop!” You see, the first thing most patients I resuscitate tell me, as soon as they recover consciousness, is “Take your hands off my chest; you’re hurting me!” I am big and my method of external heart massage sometimes fractures ribs. But this patient was telling me, “Don’t stop!”
Then I noticed a genuinely alarmed look on his face. He had a terrified look worse than the expression seen in death! This patient had a grotesque grimace expressing sheer horror! His pupils were dilated, and he was perspiring and trembling – he looked as if his hair was “on end.”
Then still another strange thing happened. He said, “Don’t you understand? I am in hell! Each time you quit I go back to hell! Don’t let me go back to hell!”
Being accustomed to patients under this kind of emotional stress, I dismissed his complaint and told him to keep his “hell” to himself. I remember telling him, “I’m busy. Don’t bother me about your hell until I finish getting this pacemaker into place.”
But this man was serious, and it finally occurred to me that he was indeed in trouble. He was in a panic like I had never seen before. As a result, I started working feverishly and rapidly. By this time the patient had experienced three or four episodes of complete unconsciousness and clinical death from cessation of both heartbeat and breathing.
After several death episodes he finally asked me, “How do I stay out of hell?” I told him I guessed it was the same principle learned in Sunday School – that I guessed Jesus Christ would be the one whom you would ask to save you.
Then he said, “I don’t know how. Pray for me.”
Pray for him! What nerve! I told him I was a doctor, not a preacher.
“Pray for me!” he repeated.
I knew I had no choice. It was a dying man’s request. So I had him repeat the words after me as we worked – right there on the floor. It was a very simple prayer because I did not know much about praying. It went something like this:
Lord Jesus, I ask you to keep me out of hell. Forgive my sins. I turn my life over to you. If I die, I want to go to heaven. If I live I’ll be “on the hook” forever.
The patient’s condition finally stabilized, and he was transported to a hospital. I went home, dusted off the Bible, and started reading it. I had to find out exactly what hell was supposed to be like. I had always dealt with death as a routine occurrence in my medical practice, regarding it as an extinction with no need for remorse or apprehension. Now I was convinced there was something about this life after death business after all. All my concepts needed revision. I needed to find out more. It was like finding another piece in the puzzle that supports the truth of the Scriptures. I was discovering that the Bible was not merely a history book. Every word was turning out to be true. I decided I had better start reading it closely.
The man, by the way, has stayed “on the hook.” He is now a strong Christian, although before this incident he had gone to church only occasionally. Although he is too shy to speak before groups, he has remained a compelling witness for Jesus Christ on a one-to-one basis.
Note: This true account was taken, by permission, from the book Beyond Death’s Door by Dr. Maurice Rawlings, published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. Dr. Rawlings is a noted heart surgeon, a graduate of George Washington University Medical School. He serves as consultant to various hospitals, was physician to the surgeon general and joint chiefs of staff, Pentagon. He was appointed to the American Heart Association’s Council on Clinical Cardiology and is a teacher in the Canadian and American Heart Association. Dr. Rawlings has been present at many resuscitations whereby the patient passed “beyond the veil,” perhaps more than any other person.