Goodpastures Syndrome

Too close for comfort - a near-fatal encounter, told by the patient

18. Thoughts on Death

(This is a true account of my experience with Goodpastures Syndrome, but a few people’s names have been changed, indicated by *.  My aim in writing this is threefold; first, that victims and families of people suffering from Goodpastures Syndrome can have some knowledge of what to expect in a serious event but also to show that Goodpastures is survivable, even in a case like mine; second, it would do no harm for physicians treating Goodpastures Syndrome or other devastating diseases, not to mention GP’s prescribing medication to patients, to read this as there are lessons here for some of them; lastly I am trying to exorcise the psychological after-effects of my experience with Goodpastures Syndrome).

During my time in hospital I was several times very close to death. I wish to state most emphatically that at no time did I “die” to be “brought back to life”.  I do not believe that it is possible to come back from death and nor do I believe in an afterlife.

Not too many centuries ago if a man stopped breathing or if his heart stopped beating, he was clinically dead by the medical knowledge of the time. We now know that sometimes it is possible to restore respiration and re-start the heart which, to people of the past, would appear to be miracles of re-animation but which merely serve to prove that their knowledge of when exactly death takes place was imperfect.  Naturally, if a person’s heart stops beating and nothing is done about it, he will die just as surely as if the stoppage itself had been death.  I am sure that the medical knowledge of to-day will also in time to come be proven to be less than perfect and fresh “miracles” of resuscitation will take place.  But dead is dead, whenever death actually takes place, and no-one who was truly dead has ever returned from the dead.

Others differ, of course.  One patient in M6 went on at length about how he had once died and gone to heaven before “coming back”.  According to him everyone in heaven “had long, blonde hair.”  The obvious question is, “So what happened to all the Chinese, Indians, brunettes etc in the world over the millennia?”.  One can reasonably imagine a white racist visualising heaven as without blacks or vice versa, but that man's view is plainly ridiculous.  My opinion of this man is that he had certain fantasies about what he would like heaven to be (mine would be full of Pamela Anderson clones!) and that, when close to death and no longer in rational control of his mind, his fantasy surfaced as a sort of dream which he remembered when consciousness returned and which he then confused with what had really taken place.

I have been asked what was it like to be approaching death.  First off, I experienced no sensation whatsoever of “going”, “crossing over” or “arriving” anywhere, nor any reluctance to “come back”.  I was either totally unaware of what had transpired until after I had regained consciousness or I felt myself sinking and then did a sort of U-turn.  When it happened while I was "conscious", the sensation was most akin to fainting slowly.

In trying to describe it more graphically two images come to mind, different from each other and yet having a similar effect. The one is of being surrounded by a huge lens gradually closing and shutting off more and more of your vision – tunnel vision if you like, with what you do see getting fainter and farther away. The other is like a large office building at night with all its lights on but one by one they are going out like functions shutting down and your perception fading away. Possibly meaningless to others but the best I can do.

These are my considered beliefs and are not intended to belittle the genuine beliefs which others may hold. People are entitled to their own beliefs even if they happen to be fantasies. What did puzzle me, however, was how some very "religious" people prayed desperately not to die. If they were so sure of going to heaven why were they so reluctant to go? Of course there are also many other people with religious beliefs who do not make a parade of their beliefs and draw very genuine comfort from them.

One last comment.  My experiences have taught me not to fear death itself, only the manner of it.



Thoughts on Death             copyright 2011 Richard Binstead Goodpasture's Syndrome

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