Skeptics who do not believe in the validity of near death experiences generally claim near death experiences are the result of an over active imagination, possibly due to neurons over-firing in an oxygen deprived state, such as might occur from drug-induced hallucinations. However, this explanation fails to satisfy the case of “Pam Reynolds,” a 35-year old woman who experienced an amazing NDE, described by Dr. Michael Sabom in his book, Light and Death, recounted in summary here.
In August 1991, “Pam” underwent a unique form of brain surgery to repair a weakened arterial wall in her brain stem at the base of her brain that was in imminent danger of bursting, which would have killed her immediately. In preparation for the surgery, Pam’s arms and legs were secured to the operating table, her eyes were lubricated and taped shut, and sound-deadening molded ear inserts were inserted to continuously play a series of clicks into her ears to invoke auditory evoked potentials (AEPs). AEPs were measured by electroencephalogram (EEG) to determine the activity level in Pam’s brain stem, the location of the failed artery. The surgeons needed her brain stem to be completely flat lined before commencing the most dangerous part of the surgery: repairing the artery buried deep inside the stem.
The “uniqueness” of the procedure was that the surgeons had to lower Pam’s body temperature to 60°F, which would induce hypothermic cardiac arrest, freezing her heart in mid-beat, and halting her breathing. They did this by first cooling and then draining her blood from her body until it was later warmed and then reintroduced at the conclusion of the brain surgery. Because this was brain surgery, three separate brain monitors were used, which conclusively proved she had no electrical activity in her brain during the period when her aneurysm was removed.
Following the surgery, Pam reported a classic NDE, including a veridical OBE that has been considered one of the most important in the NDE literature. Pam had no cerebral cortical activity for at least half an hour, and the beginning of her NDE can be closely timed based on Pam’s accurate description of the first operating room conversation she reportedly overheard while in the out-of-body state. That veridical OBE included Pam’s recollection of a complication discussed by her cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Murray, who commented that Pam’s veins and arteries were very small, complicating his efforts to shunt her blood through the oxygenation bypass machine for cooling. This issue was noted in two doctors’ operative reports, validating the comment and marking the approximate time of the OBE event to about 1 ½-hours after general anesthesia was administered.
Pam reported that during her OBE, she viewed the operating room from above the head surgeon’s shoulder, and described her out-of-body vision as brighter, more focused, and clearer than normal. Pam also reported three verifiable visual observations. First, she observed that the way they shaved her head was “peculiar.” Pam had expected them to shave off all of her hair, but they only shaved off a section of her scalp. Second, Pam described the bone saw as an electric toothbrush with a dent in it and a groove at the top where the saw initially appeared to go into the handle, but did not. Finally, Pam added that the saw had interchangeable blades, and was seated in what looked like a socket wrench case. Each of these three observations was accurate and should not have been known to Pam when she first reported her OBE immediately following the surgery.
As the surgery progressed and Pam’s brain cortex flat-lined she heard her deceased grandmother calling to her, and felt a distinct pull to a tunnel-like passageway. Inside the tunnel, Pam was zipped towards a pinpoint of light that grew ever larger until she finally emerged into a bright light. Inside the light, Pam encountered beings made of light, including her grandmother, grandfather, a cousin, and other deceased relatives. One, a deceased uncle, eventually returned Pam to her body when the doctors warmed her blood and restarted her heart.
This case is noteworthy because Pam accurately reported visions when her eyes were taped shut and she was completely unconscious under general anesthesia. Additionally, Pam accurately reported conversations when she was, again, unconscious, and her ears were plugged with sound-deadening, molded ear inserts that were playing clicks that should have over-ridden any other sounds that might have otherwise gotten past the inserts’ baffling. Finally, Pam’s experience could not have been the result of a temporal lobe seizure, nor any other odd electrical activity in the brain because their was no neural or electrical activity of any sort detectable in her brain for at least a half-hour, as measured by three separate brain monitors. The only reasonable explanation left then, is that Pam had an actual near death experience that shows the human consciousness is not completely dependent on the human body for its continued existence, and does not expire at the point of verifiable death.
This case should provide hope for any who are worried about what comes next, whether for themselves or their loved ones. Indeed, the NDE literature shows that death experiences are far more pleasant than the typical experiences we suffer through in life, and those who have returned from the other side generally feel saddened that they had to leave heaven behind to return to their body.