After I had a sudden cardiac arrest, I used to tell people that I died.
It just felt right because the use of the term was commensurate with the gravity and significance of the event, at least to me. I was clinically dead for 15 minutes or so, with my heart not beating nor my lungs respiring on their own.
What could be more grave or significant than that?
And I was counting on the expression, “I died”, to imbue my listeners with, and make them feel, that gravity and significance too.
I was often disappointed.
My declaration of death was met with polite silence and blank stares as often as outright rejection. I’m still not certain which I found more disconcerting.
• The former response, I eventually learned, was based on a not illogical analysis of my statement that concluded I had developed some personality or perceptual issues, as a result of my SCA. Now I know what pity looks like.
• The latter response was simply a reaction to what was perceived to be a mistaken or patently false belief on my part, like if I said “global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese government”. Starting with their own assertion that, no, I didn’t die, the subsequent refutation usually included a lengthy explanation of exactly why I was clearly wrong in believing otherwise.
If I didn’t enjoy feeling pitied, engaging in an existential debate was not an attractive alternative.
For those with either response, death appears to be the permanent state of not being alive, whereas ephemeral or episodic departures from life such as mine rest in some other category, like sleeping or being comatose.
Trust me, the paradox inherent in a living person asserting they had died didn’t escape my notice. Yet, in making the paradoxical declaration, I would end up either defending my sanity or explaining the arcane terminology of medical science regarding the difference between clinical and irreversible biological death.
• In the first instance, the more vocal and lengthy the defence, the more it seemed to confirm my audience’s beliefs about my internal mental state.
• In the second, the best I could hope for if they sat through my lecture was “So you weren’t really dead, were you, if you came back.”
Who’s to say they’re not right?
So, I stopped mentioning my untimely death.
Now, if I’m telling my story, I will say my heart stopped pumping and my lungs breathing for about 15 minutes.
And the reaction is often, “Wow, you died!”.
Canadian, Athlete and SCA Survivor