I've just been to see the new Clint Eastwood film Hereafter. It set me thinking.
A long time ago, more than half my life, I went through an experience that shocked my soul to the core.
In the ventilator ward, the only conscious patient amongst the crash victims and the guy with tetanus, laid out almost totally paralysed, yet fully conscious, being kept alive by the air pumped into my lungs via the tube cut into my trachea.
I'd been having physio. As was common, I had bad pneumonia, so the physiotherapist used to come around every day and beat my chest with cupped hands. I grew to like the percussive rhythm and the contact.
While she beat away with her rhythm, another nurse would disconnect me from the ventilator and "bag me" manually with a balloon type gizmo attached to the tracheotomy tube. Every so often she would disconnect the bag and insert a suction catheter down into my trachea while the physio pushed down on my chest to simulate a cough. They'd suck all the crap out, attach the bag and do some more percussion.
While this was going on, the ventilator technician would service the machine.
This time when they hooked me back up to the machine, something, I don't know what, went wrong. I wasn't getting any air. Every cell in my body started screaming for oxygen, the physical panic was a tidal wave that ripped through me. As the panic wracked me, sight faded, body sense faded, sound faded and then came the calm.
I found myself disembodied, floating above a crystal clear lake. It was only small, the water shallow with smoothed stones about the size of a spread hand. Lush green foliage with small shiny leaves overhung the water. I was as conscious and able to think as I am here now writing this. Yet I was suffused with the "peace that passes all understanding". This was something of a revelation to me and I didn't want to go back to the horrors of the HDU.
All to soon though, sound started to infiltrate the peace and it faded. I was left with the imprint in my psyche,"death is easy, it's the living that is hard, but necessary for the learning"
Body sense and sight slowly returned. I was left stunned and with a terrible head ache. But the fear had gone. It never came back through the rest of a long illness and recovery, and to this day, I am able to tap a certain fearlessness when it is needed.