On this day, May 5, 1980

The closest I have come to dying was on this date in 1980, when I was 14 years old. That year, it fell on a weekday. At the time, I was getting weekly allergy shots. It was so routine, that I took it for granted. My Mom dropped me off at 1:00, on her way back to work, and the usual ritual was a few minutes sitting in the waiting room, getting the shot in an examining room, then sitting again for about 10-15 minutes in the waiting room to make sure there was no bad reaction — which I always thought would mean just an itchy rash.

The office was very busy that day. I waited longer than usual in the waiting room, and the nurse had to give me my shot in the hallway behind the receptionist. My allergist had sent over a completely new kit. The kit was still in its packaging in the refrigerator in the hall. When the nurse opened it, I noticed that the serum seemed a tinge more amber than usual, but figured it was a new kit, and maybe I had graduated to the next level of potency. She gave me the injection and I went back out to the waiting room to sit for fifteen minutes. It didn’t take that long.

As soon as I sat down, I noticed that the spot on my arm where the needle had gone in burned, and itchiness was rapidly spreading around it. I wondered if this would be normal if I had moved up in potency, so I decided to wait the full fifteen minutes. I didn’t even make it to five minutes.

The itchy area erupted into first a pink rash, then tiny red spots, and finally red spots with white peaked centers — hives. Moreover, the affected area spread rapidly along my arm and up my shoulder onto my chest. I began to feel other ill effects — weakness, trembling, rapid heart rate, wheezing, dry mouth, and even mild nausea.

Panicking, but trying to remain calm and polite, I got up and went back into the hallway to get the nurse and show her. It wasn’t common for anyone to enter the hallway without the nurse or receptionist’s bidding, especially on a busy day, so when I came through the door, the first response I got was “What are you doing here? You need to go sit back down and wait.”

“Something’s wrong,” I said with a thick, pasty tongue. I bared my arm and involuntarily found myself leaning back against a wall, which I began sliding down.

The nurse, seeing my arm, immediately shouted for the doctor. She called his name so loudly that the receptionist spun around to see what was wrong. In a fraction of a second, both of them were catching me as I pitched forward. There was some quick discussion about what was happening and where to take me. All the examining rooms were full.

The doctor came out from one of the rooms and helped the nurse and receptionist get me into his office. He ordered the receptionist to empty the nearest examining room, then he began checking me over in his office, asking me questions about what I was feeling and for how long. He told the nurse to call an ambulance and tell them he had a patient in anaphylactic shock.

A minute or so later, they carried me into the examining room. While the nurse unbuttoned my shirt, the doctor grabbed a newly arrived adrenalin kit. I could see the panic in his eyes. I was having a harder and harder time breathing, and I felt like I had thousands of needles shooting through me. The nurse tried to persuade me to keep my head back, close my eyes, and relax. The doctor cut open my shirtsleeve and hastily put in an IV connection — so hastily that blood sprayed out onto my shirt. He then looked at some paperwork that came with the adrenalin kit, and I heard him mutter, “I don’t understand; I don’t know what to do.”

I blacked out. Not because of fear, but because I ran out of air.

I’m told that I was out for several minutes and that, during that time, I didn’t breathe, and my heart briefly stuttered to a stop. Was I clinically dead? No one can really know that for sure — my brain must’ve kept going at least enough that I eventually came back. Nevertheless, the question everyone asks about this is: Did you have a near-death experience?

Oddly, I did experience something — something that, for a few days, made me wonder if I had died and crossed over.

I found myself immersed in a rich gold light — and I don’t mean a bright, almost whitish yellow. I mean the color of 14-karat gold, highly saturated, but not blindingly bright. As if it were a movie fade-in, a corridor came into focus around me. In tones of gold, I saw a framework of windows, an open doorway, and a brick wall. It wasn’t just any corridor, and certainly not some heavenly corridor. It was my high school, specifically a doorway near the music rooms and theater. I was standing off to one side of the doorway, and no one else was there. Then I heard voices and saw my sister, also colored gold, round a corner with a guy. They were talking and headed in my direction. I tried to speak to her, but nothing came out — or rather, I had one of those weird moments where you can’t tell whether you’ve said something or not. I’ve had the same experience when I’ve run a high fever or been on heavy medications. I kept trying to call to her, but she didn’t hear me. Nor could I move from where I was, though I was able to pivot my attention slightly as she walked by and continued down the corridor behind me.

So why don’t I think that was a near-death experience? Well, I know my Mom dropped me off at the doctor’s office around 1:00. I know I got the injection by 1:30, and so on. I know the schedule of events from the time I was dropped off at the doctor’s office and through most of the afternoon that followed. I was unconscious for, at most, maybe 10-15 minutes. When I came around, I was on a stretcher being hauled out the office door to the ambulance. Therefore, I know fairly well when I would have had the experience.

When my sister came to visit me in the hospital a day or two later, I asked her if, at that time, she was walking through that corridor with a guy. Her answer was, essentially, no. Or rather, not at that time. She did pass through that corridor with a guy during that day, but not at the time I was unconscious. While that would seem to leave open some eerie premonition or other possibilities, I asked when. Her answer was not even within an hour of the time that I was unconscious. Moreover, I asked her other questions about where she had come from when she passed through there, where she was going, and which side she walked on — his left or his right. None of her answers matched what I saw. Nor were she and the guy the only ones in the corridor when they did pass through. She said she often passed through that corridor, as it is a main corridor of the school, and she had several male friends who would sometimes walk with her.

Scientifically speaking, the theory that I had a near-death experience had been tested and proved invalid. I apparently had a hallucination that was realistically consistent with what could happen sometime during my sister’s day, but did not accurately correspond to a real event. Perhaps, when I passed out, my brain was so oxygen starved that it drifted out to wondering about my sister and fabricated a mental projection of what she might be doing.

The shame of it is that it is an experiment that cannot be readily repeated. At the time, I would have liked to have tested and confirmed that NDEs are really spiritual and that there is a God. However, it was sufficiently disappointing that I take it as some evidence that maybe NDEs are nothing more than the brain going into a hallucinatory state during times of extreme stress. I won’t know again until the next time I come that close to death.

I spent a day in the intensive care unit and most of a week recovering in a hospital room, pondering how close I had come to death and what I might have been able to learn from the experience. Despite the disappointing results of invalidating NDEs, I did, for a time, become much more religious. However, subsequent events eventually led me to question my faith and lose my religion, as well.


By Christian Lee

Christian Stuart Lee's Rants and Chants has entertained and informed readers since January 2002. Rants and Chants includes non-fiction writing -- anecdotes, essays, movie reviews, and more. He is diligently working on a novel and other projects, which he hopes to publish soon. He is available for freelance writing -- the materials in Rants and Chants will give you a sense of his interests, knowledge, and style.