Friday, June 7, 2013

"Proof of Heaven" / ICU Psycosjs

My mom and I finished reading a fascinating book last weekend called Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife written by Dr. Eben Alexander. Here is a synopsis of the book:
A SCIENTIST'S CASE FOR THE AFTERLIFE Thousands of people have had near-death experiences, but scientists have argued that they are impossible. Dr. Eben Alexander was one of those scientists. A highly trained neurosurgeon, Alexander knew that NDEs feel real, but are simply fantasies produced by brains under stress.

Then, Dr. Alexander's own brain was attacked by a rare illness. The part of the brain that controls thought and emotion – and in essence makes us human – shut down completely. For seven days he lay in a coma.  Then, as his doctors considered stopping treatment, Alexander's eyes popped open. He had come back.

Alexander's recovery is a medical miracle. But the real miracle of his story lies elsewhere. While his body lay in coma, Alexander journeyed beyond this world and encountered an angelic being who guided him into the deepest realms of super-physical existence. There he met, and spoke with, the Divine source of the universe itself.

Alexander's story is not a fantasy. Before he underwent his journey, he could not reconcile his knowledge of neuroscience with any belief in heaven, God, or the soul. Today Alexander is a doctor who believes that true health can be achieved only when we realize that God and the soul are real and that death is not the end of personal existence but only a transition.

This story would be remarkable no matter who it happened to. That it happened to Dr. Alexander makes it revolutionary. No scientist or person of faith will be able to ignore it. Reading it will change your life.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. I definitely know there is an afterlife and that God is real, so I enjoy reading accounts of near-death experiences. I especially found Dr. Alexander's experience interesting since he'd never been able to reconcile his scientific knowledge with any sort of spiritual knowledge. Sometimes I think that people's intelligence or education can really and be a handicap to them if it hampers their spiritual knowledge. I've known people who refuse to believe in God since it's not easy to scientifically explain Him. In cases like this I think these individuals are too smart for their own good. I think that was true of Dr. Alexander before his near-death experience.

While I've never had a near-death experience where I remember being in heaven or having supernatural visions, I have been close to death twice before. I don't remember taking a journey to heaven, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I didn't, either. There's a chance I did, but that I just don't remember the time I spent there.

In the book Dr. Alexander talked about hospital psychosis, or ICU psychosis, which is a real condition that patients sometimes experience while being hospitalized. Since I had my own experience with ICU psychosis in 2008, I especially enjoyed reading Dr. Alexander's experience so that I could "compare notes" with him.

Here's an excerpt from the book where Dr. Alexander is comparing his ultra-realistic visit to heaven to the fantasy-like quality of the dreams he experienced resulting from the ICU psychosis:

I was in fact going through something called “ICU psychosis.” It’s normal, even expected, for patients whose brains are coming back online after being inactive for a long period. I’d seen it many a time, but never from the inside. And from the inside it was very, very different indeed.

The most interesting thing about this session of nightmares and paranoid fantasies, in retrospect, is that all of it was indeed that: a fantasy. Portions of it—in particular the extended South Florida ninja nightmare—was extremely intense, and even outright terrifying while happening. But in retrospect—indeed, almost immediately after this period ended—it all became clearly recognizable as what it was: something cooked up by my very beleaguered brain as it was trying to recover its bearings. Some of the dreams I had during this period were stunningly and frighteningly vivid. But in the end they served only to underline how very, very dissimilar my dream state had been compared with the ultra-reality deep in coma.

Here's a brief recap of how I came to experience this psychosis in 2008. I had a huge kidney stone and I underwent surgery to remove it. The surgery didn't go well, and I developed a lot of complications as a result. I was delirious and completely out of it for the next 10 days. Going into the surgery was the last "real" thing I remembered until I snapped out of it and came back "online," as Dr. Alexander phrased it.

To understand what I was going through, I'll give you a brief overview of what hospital/ICU psychosis is, what causes it and what some of the common tale-tell signs that someone's experiencing it are. The hospital is a stressful place. It feels foreign and it's noisy. Different/unfamiliar people come and go at all times of the day and night which makes it very difficult to get restful sleep. Some other causes include:
  • Constant light from machines/noisy machines, or rooms with no windows
  • Stress from being ill, away from home and loss of control of normal life
  • Limited contact with family members, being away from loved ones or usual caregiver
  • Pain, metabolic disturbances and dehydration
  • Disorientation to time, day and what is going on in the world
Some of the common symptoms of hospital/ICU psychosis are:
  • Extreme excitement
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Nightmares
  • Hearing voices
  • Clouding of consciousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Disorientation
  • Delusions
  • Fluctuating level of consciousness, which include aggressive or passive behavior (patients will sometimes pull out there IVs, catheters or other tubes out)
I experienced many of these symptoms. I was definitely agitated and not myself. I was OUT OF IT!  I would chant, "Leave me alone, leave me alone!" over and over to anyone that came near me, including my own mother, family, friends and hospital staff. Even when no one was near me I would still mouth the words "Leave me alone" over and over. [Mom, Chandra and I now joke about this and will sometimes say, "Leave me alone," in that same way I would say it when I was trapped in my delirium. But even though we laugh about it now, there was nothing funny about it at the time. I was acting in a way that was so unlike my usual calm, cheerful demeanor that it was really alarming for my mom, especially since there was really no explanation for why I wasn't coming around.]

During the ICU psychosis I hallucinated and would sometimes be staring at the corner of the room having a conversation with some unseen person. I was also restless and I remember never knowing what time it was, or if it was day or night. My room was dim, which also made it feel like nighttime, in addition to the fact that I also felt alone. Any time I'm in the hospital my mom is always there with me during the day, and then she goes home to sleep at night. Since I felt alone, I just assumed it was night. 

I wasn't aware of the reality of what was going on at that time, and the only memories I have are the dreams I was having. I know I was partially aware of what was actually going on around me, because certain elements of reality would be a part of my dreams. I knew I was in the hospital, that I was sick and that I was experiencing pain, etc., because those were "themes" in my dreams. Specific friends that came to visit me or doctors that came to check on me would also make appearances in my dreams (just not in the realistic way that was true to what was actually happening).

Most of my dreams were actually horrible nightmares that I couldn't escape from. I would go from one frightening scenario to the next. The dreams seemed so real at the time and it was absolutely terrifying. I wish I could explain the dreams so that people could actually understand what I was going through, but I know I would never be able to do the dreams justice. They weren't your typical dreams. Each one was like a long, multiple act play, complete with a cast of characters and a complex plot. I think most people would agree that dreams are really difficult to explain to others. It's impossible to adequately explain them, especially since they're often so odd/unrealistic. They make perfect sense to you when you're in the dream, but then after you wake up you realize just how bizarre the dream was. 

I'll try to explain one of the more frightening dreams I had. I was in a fight for my eternal salvation between God and the devil. Satan was trying to convince me it would be better for me (and everyone else in my life) if I just gave up on life. What he was saying was so convincing and I felt myself getting further and further away from God and everyone I loved. Someone said, "Heather needs prayers," and people here on earth and in heaven were praying for me. The individuals in heaven that were praying for me were literally "pulling" for me, holding onto ropes, pulling with all their might to keep me with them and to prevent me from giving up my fight. 

Ultimately, I decided to give up, and as soon as I did, I regretted it. Those hundreds of ropes that had been tying me to heaven immediately disappeared and it was like the door to heaven closed, leaving me alone. That "alone" feeling was the worst feeling I'd ever experienced. It's hard to describe what it was really like, but I felt so empty and hopeless, like I'd let everyone down. I felt like all of my chances for lasting happiness were gone. The loneliness was overwhelming. I don't really know what happened after that, except that the dream seemed finished. I can't be sure, but I think this is when I emerged from the delerium and came back to reality. It wasn't like a gradual return to consciousness, but an instantaneous return, like all of a sudden I was back. I was so relieved when I realized that dream wasn't real and that I was still alive and hadn't actually given up. That dream felt so real, and that it was truely life changing. It had such an impact on me and has made me want to always be good so that I never have to experience that lonely, hopeless absence of joy.

This experience with ICU psychosis was a tense, scary time for everyone involved, especially for my mom. There just didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for why I wasn't coming around, and mom hated seeing me in such an altered state. Fortunately, I pulled through; all's well that ends well! I'm actually glad that I had this experience so that I'm aware of what ICU psychosis is for future times that I'm hospitalized. Proof of Heaven is a really interesting book that gets my recommendation.


Photo Booth Rental said...

Eben Alexander offers a view of consciousness after physical life that is complex and rich. His account is in no way simplistic or formulaic yet is consistent in many ways with other teachings from various (mostly Eastern) traditions. Parts of the book are so deeply resonant with what I have sensed in my heart of hearts, that it often brought me to tears of gratitude. Thank you, Eben!

Post a Comment

I love getting feedback on my posts, so please leave me a comment!

If you have a question, feel free to email me at so that I can respond to you directly.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...