Some years ago I volunteered to be a guinea pig for a medically-induced “near death experience” experiment. I was asked to lie on a bed (which, in reality, was more of a table than a bed) under the supervision of doctors, leads running from electrodes taped to my head and body to an array of silent monitoring equipment nearby. The idea was that I would be given various doses of the dissociative drug, ketamine, and my resulting experience would be documented. That’s it. Piece of cake. Lie there and trip out for a little while, collect a hundred-dollar check, and go home with a smile on my face. The doctors repeatedly stressed to one another that they should say nothing, give no cues that might influence my expectations of what my experience would be, but it was all just hollow tokenism really; they were careful to assure that I understood what was hoped of me, that I would undergo some kind of NDE, even though there would be no actual danger of death. So that was precisely what I expected to experience after I had “gone under.”
I was a little scared, I admit. I had never tried ketamine before, but I’d messed around with LSD a few times as a curious teenager. Tried peyote with some Colville Indians once. Had a bad trip or two (or three, maybe) and didn’t want to freak out there in that dimly-lit room with people in white lab coats standing around laughing at me. But I trusted that these doctors knew what they were doing. I wasn’t their first guinea pig after all.
After the first injection, I didn’t feel any significant effects. My ears picked up a humming sound after a few minutes, and I became completely focused on it, obsessed with it really, as if it were the only thing that existed in the world. It didn’t take long, however, for me to realize the sound was coming from one of the monitor machines in the room. It was such a negligible sound that I likely never would have noticed it under different circumstances, but my senses seemed ultra-enhanced. Not enjoyably so; it was uncomfortable and annoying. I asked one of the doctors if he would talk to me for a bit. He asked me what I wanted to talk about. I told him I didn’t care, talk about anything. But he didn’t have anything to say.
I closed my eyes and saw some random images dancing around on the inside of my eyelids, but nothing worth remembering.
Another injection, and I began to feel relaxed and happy. I kept my eyes closed and sort of dreamed little flashes of this and that. Saw people in my head, heard them talking, although I don’t remember what was said. My brother, Rob. Some friends. Other people whom I might have seen in movies. It was a pleasant experience, but when I opened my eyes it all went away, and it took me a few moments to remember that I was in a laboratory. It was quite a shock, not immediately recognizing my surroundings. My heart was pounding in my chest so rapidly I thought it might explode, and I asked the doctor if I was having a heart attack.
“You’re fine,” he answered. “Your heart rate is normal.”
It wasn’t beating nearly as fast as I thought it was. I closed my eyes again and escaped into my little dreams.
A third injection, and then I left the lab, the doctors, the world behind. I found myself walking across the flat, heat-cracked earth of a desert. The shadowy silhouettes of mountains rose in the far distance. It was dark, nighttime, but I could see the ground clearly. I hadn’t walked far, when there was an explosion just beyond the mountains. Nuclear without a doubt, but soundless. A massive fireball mushroomed high into the sky as the ground began to tremble beneath my feet. A face appeared in the fireball, the face of a goat, a demon, The Devil perhaps. Years later I discovered that the scene was quite similar to what is depicted on one of the covers of Robert McCammon’s novel, Swan Song. I’m quite sure my mind had constructed the scene before me based on a memory of that book cover.
There came a tremendous roar, which grew so loud I was certain my eardrums were going to shatter, then quiet, tranquility. I was in a tunnel inside a mountain, or maybe it was my own body, I never learned which-–I remember the walls of the tunnel being rocky, but pulsating like bubbles in a thick, boiling soup.
I was weightless, floating. I could leave my body at will and watch myself floating horizontally through the tunnel, which was dark, even though I could see everything as clearly as I had been able to see the desert earth outside in the night. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. It was diamond-shaped and as bright as any light I had ever seen, but the brightness of it was wholly contained within that diamond. It cast not even the slightest glow on the area around it. I drifted toward that diamond-shaped light in awe, and when I drew close, I had the sudden notion that I should not go into the light, that something bad might happen if I did. Maybe I would die.
I tried to turn away from the light-–tried to “swim” away-–but I could not. I was being drawn to it against my will. No. No, I can’t go into the light. I can’t–-
And then I opened my eyes, and there I was in that room again. But the doctors weren’t dressed in lab coats any more. Instead they were standing over me in surgical gowns and green masks and anti-fog face shields, and in their hands were shiny metal instruments.
There was a halogen lamp-–perhaps several–-directly above my bed. The light was fierce, blinding, growing brighter until I was engulfed by it.
“Whoa,” I said.
“What are you seeing right now?” asked the doctor in the white lab coat as he rolled himself closer to my bed in his wheeled, plastic chair.
I told him everything, just as I’m telling you now.
So what are your thoughts on the whole “near-death experience” phenomenon? Do you believe it’s something our minds construct as a way to deal with the threat of death? Or is it something more spiritual? Have you ever experienced one? What was it like? Please share in the comments section below. I’d love to know how you feel about it. I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of an afterlife, which is why I decided to volunteer for the experiment to begin with.