(c) J. Singh, 2016
It was in the summer after my 30th birthday that I decided to sign up as an organ donor. I had watched a documentary on organ transplants and realized the dire need for viable, healthy organs. There were so many people who were suffering and who needed an organ transplant just to survive. And the waiting list was so long. Over a hundred days for hearts and lungs. Almost a year for a liver and pancreas. Six months for intestines. And three and a half years for a kidney. The numbers were staggering.Most people suffering from serious conditions might already be dead by the time the donor organ became available for them.
Compelled by a sense of compassion and a desire to help others, I signed up to donate my organs, eyes, and tissues. It might enhance or save someone's life after I passed away. After all, I wouldn't be needing my physical body after I had died. And I was in an excellent state of health. It would be a shame to waste such excellent organs.
My wife stared at me wide-eyed when I announced my decision to her. At first, she asked why I would want to do such a thing. But after I explained it, and described how long people in need were waiting for the organs, she understood, and reluctantly supported me in my decision.
After that, we forgot about it. Time passed, eventually other cares took over my attention and the topic of organ donation was forgotten and far from my mind. Life progressed, our family was growing, and I was enjoying a rewarding career. It was four years later when everything suddenly and dramatically changed.
Stopped at a red light at the intersection, I did not see the oncoming truck. It blew past the red light at over fifty miles an hour, somehow managed to escape any collision with cross traffic, and smashed head-on into my car. I felt a severe jerk, my head was thrown back against the seat's headrest, and then jerked forward as the momentum shifted and the front of the car crumpled like a piece of paper. I felt the rear of my vehicle lift up into the air. Air bags suddenly appeared, blocking my view and hitting me painfully in the face. Arms flailed outward. Something was holding me in place while all the force of the impact was pushing me forward. It was the seat-belt, which had tightly bound my torso. The entire front and dash of the car was pushed down onto my thighs, crushing them painfully. Immediately following the collision, another vehicle ran into my car, this time from the driver's side door. Apparently the driver had swerved to avoid hitting the truck, but had not slowed down enough or made enough of a turn to clear my vehicle also. This impact sent me lurching to the right. There were at least three more collisions, and then there was an eerie silence.
I was bleeding. I had broken bones. My body was not responding. I had sustained severe head trauma. I was in extreme pain, but could not feel it. I heard distant voices, people shouting. Someone was screaming. Then sirens. Everything was going black. I felt like I was going into a deep sleep. I tried to stay awake.I knew it was very, very important that I stay awake, though I couldn't quite reason why. Still, I struggled to keep my eyes open. My breathing was shallow and strained. I could still hear the voices outside, but they were beginning to sound quieter and quieter, as if someone was turning down the volume on a stereo. I could feel thick hot blood pouring from my head wound. My eyelids felt heavy and I was very, very sleepy. I could not keep my eyes open any longer. I closed them and fell into a deep sleep.
The voices and sounds of the world grew dim and were eventually gone, replaced by a strange feeling of calm and peacefulness. Is this how it feels to die? I wondered. I was still in my body, I knew I had a physical form, so I couldn't be dead yet, could I?
There was blackness all around. I was surrounded by the dark. I didn't hear or see anybody. Wasn't there supposed to be a white light? Angels? Demons? Loved ones who had already passed to guide me forward? That's what I had seen in the popular media anyway. But this was a very strange sensation. I still existed. My body had died, but Iwas still here. In the blackness of this void where there was nothing. I struggled with this.
They must have moved my body. I had a flash of vision, like a sudden memory, of an ambulance. Siren blazing. Four EMT's crouched over my broken body, working feverishly as the ambulance raced to the nearest hospital. I saw this from inside the ambulance, as if I was still in my body. But not in my body. I wasn't looking through my eyes. It felt like I was hovering above my head. Almost like I was watching a movie about someone else. I felt strangely detached from the body that had been mine my whole life. It was a very odd sensation.
And then the vision was gone, replaced by the calm, quiet blackness again. I was not sure how long it was before I had another glimpse of what was happening in the material world. This time the vision was longer. My body was being urgently wheeled into the emergency room on a stretcher. Two doctors in white coats walked briskly alongside the EMT's who were wheeling me in. They talked rapidly and quickly assessed the situation. The patient had suffered severe head trauma in a motor vehicle accident. Profuse bleeding from the parietal lobe. Loss of response. Breathing was shallow. BP was going down. Pulse was down. All vitals were down. They were going to lose the patient. The neurosurgeon was paged and came running. He performed a quick test by checking the pupils in the eyes and then started shouting to immediately take me to an operating room. They began to run.
When the blackness came again, I thought about these glimpses I was getting. Was it really happening? How was it that I could see this, if I was lying unconscious on the gurney? Or was my brain just manufacturing this fictitious scenario and in reality I was still in my car, dead or dying? And why would I only see a glimpse and then return to this odd vacuum in the void?
It might have been hours later – or minutes later, it was really difficult to gauge the passage of time – when I first had the sense or feeling that I could exert a level of control over the visions. With practice, I was able to control when and for how long I "viewed" what was happening to me in the material world. I was elated at this discovery, as it gave me back some power in an otherwise completely helpless situation.
I watched the neurosurgeon operate on my brain. I was able see my own brain matter. It was a very curious sensation. I didn't feel panicked at all. I felt compassion for all these doctors and nurses who were desperately trying so hard, with everything they had, all their years of training and all their skill, all their abilities, to try to save me, who until now had been a stranger to them. They were good-hearted people.
It was a long operation, and they did their best. But the damage was too extensive. As the brain function deteriorated and finally stopped, they redoubled their efforts and worked even more intensely, but nothing they did worked. In the end, the neurosurgeon had to put down his scalpel and declare the time of death. As he pulled off his mask and walked out of the Operating Room, I saw a haggard, defeated look on his face.
The remainder of the staff performed the necessary cleanup duties, then covered my body and solemnly retreated from the room. They were only gone for a few minutes. Urgent discussions were taking place. They had contacted the Organ Procurement Organization and they were on their way to harvest the viable organs. That's when I remembered that I had agreed to donate my organs. They had my consent, now all they had to do was to surgically remove the organs while they were still in good condition. Organs cannot be stored and must be transplanted within hours of removing them from my body. So they had to perform the operation immediately.
They already had organ recipients lined up for these organs. People who were suffering from cardiomyopathy, cirrhosis, coronary heart disease, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and a host of other conditions. They needed these organs to survive. I had given consent to donate my kidneys, heart, lungs, liver, pancreas and intestines, and tissues. This was everything I could give. And it looked like they needed it all.
A team of surgeons walked stoically into the room carrying containers packed with ice. I had started to feel lighter, and found that I was floating higher and higher above my body, until I was almost at the ceiling of the room. I had a good vantage point and could see everyone and everything. My corpse lay in the center of the room, stretched out on the operating table. Surrounding it on each side were four surgeons. Each one had a particular function. They took turns, and worked efficiently. It did not appear that they were particularly enjoying this aspect of their jobs, but there was a palpable sense of hope in the room. These organs were going to save lives. Their patients' lives.
As I watched each organ being removed and delicately placed in the container on ice, I thought of car parts. Different parts of a car all working together to make the car run. Carburetor. Battery.Radiator. Axle. Alternator. Spark plugs. Solenoid. Just like the parts of a body. Kidneys. Heart. Lungs. Liver. Stomach. Intestines. We humans are just like machines. Biological machines. And when the machine breaks down, we die. I mused about "buying" a new body, just like buying a new car. Maybe my next model should be a Mercedes.
When everything had been taken out, they stitched me up again and covered me. I looked hideous, but I was already dead, so it really didn't matter much. And they were going to cremate me anyway. At least, that's what I had talked with my wife about. I hoped she remembered. I felt pangs of sadness imagining the pain she would be going through, waiting outside the operating room.
I didn't know what to do next. I was dead, but I was still here. In this operating room. With the shell of my corpse, deprived of all its vital organs. Now what? Was I supposed to do something? Time passed. I got bored. I didn't even have a body to fidget with.
Eventually, I heard some cries, it was a newborn baby. Where was it coming from? I looked around, but the Operating Room was empty. The cries grew louder until they were all around me, and then I was suddenly pulled from the room, by a very strong force, and a blur of images flashed before me. I was again in a hospital, but this time it was a different era, and a different hospital. This must have been what hospitals looked like thirty four years ago. The nurses' hairstyles were so different back then!
I saw this little newborn baby crying as the nurses wiped him off, measured him, weighed him, and gave him his first bath while his mother lay exhausted on the bed. It took me a moment, but I realized that the baby was me. Witnessing my own birth was something I never would have thought to experience. Just as the joy started to well up in me, I was yanked by that same powerful force, another blur of images, and again settled into another time of my life. This time I was two years old, and playing in the backyard. And after a few moments of observing myself, I was again transported to another time in my life. And again. And again. I witnessed all the moments where I had told a lie, thought unkind thoughts, hurt someone's feelings, ignored a plea for help, cheated on my exams, got drunk. I also revisited all the times I helped someone, brought a smile to someone's face, told the honest truth, acted out of compassion, expressed love to any person, and felt emotionally connected to the whole Universe. These were often the most emotional and intense moments of my life. I was overwhelmed with it all.
At the end of this review, I witnessed my own accident and death in the car crash.And like the scales of justice, I saw all the merits and demerits of my life added up. The account was not in my favor. There was a temporary pang of regret. But just as I was thinking of starting to beg for forgiveness, I was pulled by that same powerful force and thrust into fire.
At least, it felt like fire. It was hot, burning hot.It took me a long while – days, weeks maybe? – to get accustomed to it, but I finally managed to sense my surroundings. It was dark, claustrophobic, hot, and noisy. It felt like I was in a sort of cramped, underwater chamber inside a furnace. There were sounds of liquid gushing, a regular rhythmic ebb and flow, and a pulsing, throbbing sound. Dub-dub Dub-dub Dub-dub. It finally dawned on me that I was inside a uterus.
Suspended upside down in the fires of the womb, I began to meditate and pray.