Three Days In Heaven
To kick things off, let’s assume you died. For argument’s sake, let’s further assume there is a Heaven (we’ll leave “you know where” alone for now). Most of us have heard stories of “near-death” experiences, known as NDEs. No matter who you talk to about an NDE, you’ll get differing accounts of the experience.
The interviews I remember reading or seeing on TV seemed to have the same story. The first thing they saw was a bright tunnel of light, followed by the usual cast of characters sent to greet the recently departed. Usually first on the list are long-deceased friends, relatives, and depending on religious and cultural beliefs, Jesus sometimes makes an appearance. Occasionally others claimed to have had a brief chat with the Almighty himself. Others reported seeing a hellish world filled with demons and fire. In either case, naysayers, those of a “sciencey” background, will say a deteriorating brain is the explanation. That a misfiring of neurons in the brain during those last seconds of life causes the experience. They say it's more akin to a hallucination than a heavenly family reunion. Or, on the flip side, a weenie roast in the fiery pits of hell! What they fail to explain, is how a person who is clinically dead miraculously came back to life; most of the time with no apparent brain damage. The heavenly visitors were often saddened to have returned while the other crowd couldn't wait to get back— perhaps for another chance.
Regardless of which direction people reportedly traveled, critics continue to explain that the NDE was due to a dying brain, though they had few words about the experiences of first hand witnesses. Most NDE folk report their journey lasted from a few seconds to several minutes. After a brief recovery and a hospital news conference, the enterprising survivors sign a publishing deal, followed by a book tour and several rounds of church testimonies. Finally, it’s off to the talk-show circuit for the conclusion of their fifteen minutes of fame.
What is your vision of Heaven? The Bible speaks little of it. And when it does, it's in cryptic language and symbolism. Are there streets of gold? Perhaps. Big fluffy clouds? Probably. A nonstop chorus of singing angels? I hope not! My vision? It's a free-for-all! And no, I don't mean a heavenly frat party lasting an eternity. I liken it more to an all-inclusive vacation package tailored to what I want and the things that make me happy. I liked to play golf and had some of the best times of my life on the golf course. Guess what? God likes golf too! He told me there must be a bunch of religious people on the course because they mention His name quite a lot. The point is, I believe one size does not fit all. You can do everything imaginable—within limits. The word is anything goes in Heaven, except what He refers to as “those worldly things.” No hanky-panky goes on there, if you know what I mean. God leaned into me and said, “They should have gotten that out of their system before they got here.”
It is said death and taxes are the only two realities of life. Not true. You can avoid taxes and you’ll go to jail, but it won’t kill you. Death is a certainty for all of us, and sooner or later, tax cheats as well.
My wife took a statistics class in college, in her opinion the most skewed science known to humankind. All they do is keep asking the same question over and over again until they achieve the desired result. Remember the toothpaste commercial that raved “four out of five dentists surveyed recommended…?” I don’t need a survey result for this one, and you can take it to the bank. One out of one of us will die.
Death comes in all shapes and sizes. Some die moments after conception, and too often between then and birth. Others may meet their maker in an instant, and several more will check out on the installment plan with a painful and prolonged illness. Others die by the hands of others, and conversely, many by their own. A lucky few last for more than a hundred years, but most of us seem to die off somewhere in the middle. The only ones with any inevitability of when they will cash in the chips are the folks on death row—for the rest of us, it’s a crap shoot.
Recently in the news, I noticed how many famous and influential people have died, and it occurred to me death really is the great equalizer. Never once did I witness a U-Haul being towed by a hearse. So, it must be added, wherever it is you travel and in whichever direction, “you can’t take it with you.”
Like so many, there was a time in my life when I felt ten feet tall and bulletproof. All of it changed a while back. Unless you own a bulletproof mortality vest—you, me, and everyone we know, sooner or later, will kick the bucket. I am at an age and have been through enough for one lifetime, especially heart-related issues. I'm impressed when I wake up in the morning, and thank God when I do—every day. I had a close friend, Larry, who was the most religious and spiritually devout man I had ever met. He considered this life “the warm-up act” before going to Heaven and couldn't wait to get there. A few years later, Larry got his wish, but sadly for the rest of us left behind, he finally went home.
Me, given a choice, I would like to live forever; well maybe not forever, but a long time. Things were going relatively smoothly and I wanted to keep it that way. I have a successful law practice, and as a bonus, a lucrative contract with Saint Grenadine Hospital. I'm married to a loving wife and have three great kids, and somewhere along the way, made lasting friendships. With all I have, I'm aware that one day this life will end and a new journey will begin. Perhaps I’ll catch up with Larry.
Here’s a question to toss around: Is death the end or a whole new beginning? I have a spiritual faith, not as much as I should, but I hope enough. I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry. If I’m wrong about my belief, who cares? I’ll be a memory, rot in my grave and that’s about it. But if I’m right, the unfaithful, to quote Ricky Ricardo, “Will have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do!”
The emergency room was calm and peaceful for a place usually full of chaos. Call it divine intervention, the luck of the draw, or whatever, but on that day, I was the last patient admitted during the late-afternoon shift. It was though they were preparing for my arrival before they knew a thing about me. No one said a word to the other, they were moving along doing their jobs, but absent was a patient. Equipment was put in place, and instruments were lined up like little soldiers; then they waited.
A few miles away, with the phone close to her ear, Bev ran to me as fast as she could, called for an ambulance and started CPR. One of the side benefits of her working at the hospital, she had years of experience as a volunteer CPR instructor. The kids were out of control, so with the help of our next-door neighbors, they came over and rounded them up. Our house was a few blocks from the fire station, and within seconds you could hear the ambulance coming from the nearby distance. The siren blared and emergency lights glared, they arrived in just over a minute.
The EMTs jumped into action and took over for Bev, placed me on a stretcher and continued doing CPR. They quickly loaded me into the ambulance like fragile freight and hooked me up to a heart monitor to check my cardiac rhythm so the techs could decide what meds to start. They also used an Ambu bag to help breathe for me. When they determined my heart rhythm—what little I had—they started an IV with the right cardiac medication. The EMTs radioed the hospital to give a heads-up of a suspected sudden cardiac arrest heading their way.
The relative calmness of the ambulance was replaced with organized mayhem, typical in a hospital ER. The EMTs emptied their cargo, and wheeled me into the emergency room; unconscious and barely breathing, but still alive, thanks to Bev and the EMTs.
The entire medical team rushed into action, taking over and doing everything their education and expertise had taught them to do. Those people were experts at communicating in one and two-word sentences:
The doctor shouted over everyone in the room, “Be alert people!”
Someone nearby loudly announced, “We're losing him!”
A nurse next to me replied, “Faint.”
The doctor again asked, “Respiration?”
Within seconds, someone shoved a tube down my throat and hypodermic needles were everywhere— all of them seemed to be intruding my body. The team followed the medication protocol ordered by the lead physician. They worked on me for over an hour, never letting up. During all the commotion and chatter from the medical team, one sound stood out from the rest. For a few moments, my heart had a weak but steady rhythm and everyone breathed a sigh of relief—especially me.
The familiar tone of the heart monitor came to life and echoed the room with an endless beep beep … beep beep … beep beep. Though my heart rate came around, the ER doc carried on with his work trying to get us both to the finish line.
It looked like I was going to make it, then out of nowhere a nurse shouted, “Doc, he’s in v-fib!”
My heart fluttered violently, and the heart monitor went crazy; it looked like a kid had a heyday with an Etch-O-Sketch. The doctor snapped back into action and barked new orders.
“I’m going to shock him!” the doctor yelled. Meaning to use a defibrillator to correct my heart rhythm.
He positioned the paddles and yelled, “Clear.”
Then he zapped me. My body contorted with the electric shock. Complete silence consumed the frenzied environment as everyone waited to see my new heart rhythm—but there was no change.
“Does he have a pulse?”
“I’m going to hit him again!”
Then boom! I felt that one, but unfortunately for me and without warning, a few moments later, there was another familiar sound—only this time it was the sound of silence; just a long, smooth tone coming from the monitor.
At the moment, I had plenty on my mind, you know, dying and all, but aside from the quietness in the ER, I heard unfamiliar voices clear as day.
“Hey guys, get over here! I think we’ve got one!”
“What is it this time? I hope it isn’t another jumper.”
“No, he’s a drop-dead heart attack. What do you want me to do?”
Then another voice chimed in.
“Let’s take him while the iron is hot.”
“He’s one of your favorites—he’s a lawyer...”
“Fantastic. Why can’t I ever get John Daly?”
“…but I think he’s a pretty nice guy.”
“Can we move this along? I’ve got things to do. ‘Cross over children. All are welcome. All welcome. Go into the Light.’
“Very poltergeisty. Let’s do this!”
The ER doc sat the paddle aside and checked for a carotid pulse. After a brief pause, he took inventory of all the medical knowledge he had and came up short. He shook his head, paused again, then let out a sigh and asked for the time.
A nearby nurse glanced at the clock.
“6:33 p.m., Doctor.”
Everyone in the room knew what that meant: I was finally at rest. My time card got punched. Or the classic, I just bit the big one. To help end the confusion with the euphemisms; I was as dead as a doornail. Crap!
Throughout the silence, the next word I heard the doctor say was…
I’m not sure how or why, but I’m standing in the middle of a fairway as a line-drive tee shot is fast approaching my head! All of this happens in an instant. I am paralyzed in place and no time to avoid this impending disaster. Right before impact, the ball stops in mid-flight, turns to the right, circles around my head, then continues its flight, landing safely on the green.
I stand there in complete shock trying to make sense of what just happened. Shaken by the averted disaster, I stare toward the tee box. Up the distant fairway, I barely make out three players approaching me. One of them with in a faster stride; it's his ball that almost beheaded me.
He reaches me and asks, “Are you OK?”
I do a quick scan using a hand to check my head.
“I think so.”
“That was a close one!”
He runs to the green to see where the ball landed ... laughing all the way. The other two, not in as much of a rush, reach my spot on the fairway and just stand there. I haven’t moved an inch since my arrival.
The first one smiles, and the other one, a bit cranky, puts an arm around me and asks, “Did you have a nice trip?”
Confused, I answer, “I’m not sure.”
“Well, you’re here now.” He says.
Then curiously asks, “Do you play?”
Not knowing what to say, I utter, “A little.”
Then he removes his arm, gives me a shove and says, “Well, pick'em up. You can join us.”
Out of nowhere, a set of golf clubs appears beside me.
“You’ll make a fourth. We need to pick up the pace; we're in a hurry. Let's ‘git along little doggies!’ He kicks my bag and heads for the trees where he hooked his tee shot.
The other fellow stays with me for a moment while I make some attempt to collect my thoughts. He seems very patient, not saying a word, unlike the other guy who’s already yelling in the trees searching for his ball. I gather my composure enough to try at an introduction.
I extend my hand and stutter, “Hi, my name is T—T—T…”
He takes my hand and gently turns me toward the green.