Summer Patriot, Winter Soldier describes what it’s like to have open heart surgery, which is probably as close as many people will come to a near-death experience. That is, of course, for those who manage to come back from the threshold of the place that he describes.
i want to tell you about lights on.
when you have open heart surgery, they cut your chest open through your breast bone, or, more precisely, the ribs adjacent, pry it open, and lay bare the heart and the lungs. the heart is stopped, and the lungs lie deflated, and you live off of a wonderful machine that oxygenates your blood, extracts the waste gas, and pumps the blood throughout your body. they repair the vasculature of your heart with a large blood vein excised from your leg, and they take it from the crotch to the ankle: in my case, this presented little problem, as they used a spiral cutter which obviated the need to cut the entire leg open.
and then they wire you shut, and then they start you up. sort of like the frankenstein movies in a way, except they just use ordinary electric sockets instead of relying on the stray lightning bolt.
but the effect is about the same.
i don’t know how they do it, and i really don’t care. but, i am going to tell you, as best my poor powers allow, what it is like.—
from out of the darkness you become vaguely aware of people encouraging you, much like a yell squad as you play on a court, and it is like being in the bottom of a very deep and dark well shaft, and hearing a faint noise and seeing a faint light at the top as the rescuers rush against your desire just to give up.
they want you to breathe.
you want to scream, as the pain penetrates even your sedation, and it is excruciating, like nothing i had ever experienced before. but, i could not scream, or at least i don’t think i could, because there is no air in my lungs. but, even so, i struggle to scream and even as zonked as i am, i know that it is not working, and i know that it hurts, but so what. so, i take what is my first inspiration, and i am aware that i have done so, and my chest which has just been cleaved asunder and then sewn back together, screams with me, and i want to scream again, but i cannot, because i have so much goop in my lungs.
The world’s a wonderful place. Keep the lights on and keep looking around you. We are the one the reasons the world turns. No less than the trees and stars, we have right to be here.