Book Proof of heaven a neurosurgeon's journey into the afterlife


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The Hospital
The Lynchburg General Hospital emergency room is the second-busiest ER in the state of Virginia and is typically in full swing by 9:30 on a weekday morning. That Monday was no exception. Though I spent most of my workdays in Charlottesville, I’d logged plenty of operating time at Lynchburg General, and I knew just about everyone there.
Laura Potter, an ER physician I’d known and worked with closely for
almost two years, received the call from the ambulance that a fifty-fouryear-old Caucasian male, in status epilepticus, was about to arrive in her
ER. As she headed down to the ambulance entrance, she ran over the list
of possible causes for the incoming patient’s condition. It was the same
list that I’d have come up with if I had been in her shoes: alcohol
withdrawal; drug overdose; hyponatremia (abnormally low sodium level
in the blood); stroke; metastatic or primary brain tumor;
intraparenchymal hemorrhage (bleeding into the substance of the brain);
brain abscess . . . and meningitis.
When the EMTs wheeled me into Major Bay 1 of the ER, I was still
convulsing violently, while intermittently groaning and flailing my arms
and legs.
It was obvious to Dr. Potter from the way I was raving and writhing
around that my brain was under heavy attack. A nurse brought over a
crash cart, another drew blood, and a third replaced the first, now empty,
intravenous bag that the EMTs had set up at our house before loading me
into the ambulance. As they went to work on me, I was squirming like a
six-foot fish pulled out of the water. I spouted bursts of garbled,
nonsensical sounds and animal-like cries. Just as troubling to Laura as the
seizures was that I seemed to show an asymmetry in the motor control of
my body. That could mean that not only was my brain under attack but
that serious and possibly irreversible brain damage was already under
way.
The sight of any patient in such a state takes getting used to, but Laura
had seen it all in her many years in the ER. She had never seen one of her
fe
llow physicians delivered into the ER in this condition, however, and
looking closer at the contorted, shouting patient on the gurney, she said,
almost to herself, “Eben.”
Then, more loudly, alerting the other doctors and nurses in the area:
“This is Eben Alexander.”
Nearby staff who heard her gathered around my stretcher. Holley,
wh
o’d been following the ambulance, joined the crowd while Laura
reeled off the obligatory questions about the most obvious possible
causes for someone in my condition. Was I withdrawing from alcohol?
Had I recently ingested any strong hallucinogenic street drugs? Then she
went to work trying to bring my seizures to a halt.
In recent months, Eben IV had been putting me through a vigorous
conditioning program for a planned father-son climb up Ecuador’s
19,300-foot Mount Cotopaxi, which he had climbed the previous
February. The program had increased my strength considerably, making
it that much more difficult for the orderlies trying to hold me down. Five
minutes and 15 milligrams of intravenous diazepam later, I was still
delirious and still trying to fight everyone off, but to Dr. Potter’s relief I
was at least now fighting with both sides of my body. Holley told Laura
about the severe headache I’d been having before I went into seizure,
wh
ich prompted Dr. Potter to perform a lumbar puncture—a procedure in
wh
ich a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid is extracted from the base of
the spine.
Cerebrospinal fluid is a clear, watery substance that runs along the
surface of the spinal cord and coats the brain, cushioning it from impacts.
A normal, healthy human body produces about a pint of it a day, and any
diminishment in the clarity of the fluid indicates that an infection or
hemorrhage has occurred.

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