I mentioned this in a “10 things about me not many people know” blog bling post a few days ago and some of my regular blog network asked for more so here is the full account of my experience, make of it what you will. Rob, I recall you were one who said you’d like to hear the full story so enjoy 🙂
So, this is a 100% true and factual account of what happened, it took me many years to understand it. I never forgot it, I often thought about it and it was only when I was watching a documentary about child NDEs in my twenties that I started to find a way to make sense of it…maybe.
I was a child 8 years old, I had an illness that had been misdiagnosed and had progressed over the course of 2 weeks from something easily treatable to something which was threatening my life, seriously. By the time someone took action and got me to a hospital I was critically ill to the point where emergency surgery was the only option and at that my parents were told to prepare for the worse, there was a very high chance I would not make it back from the operating table. They were told to say their good byes and fast.
I didn’t know this at the time, I was coherent, aware of the pain but very weak from a lack of food, constant vomiting and severe dehydration. I’d not had any hallucinations or delirium at all I was sure of that and everyone around me has always been able to confirm that.
I was prepped for theater, as much as they did in those days the nursing staff assured me that everything was going to be OK and told me what was happening when I asked a million questions. Even near death didn’t curb my inquisitiveness. I had never been unwell in my life and I’d never been in a hospital, and being the type of person who likes to learn from any experience I was bursting with questions even in my sick state. I have a knack of being able to manage pain well naturally and also to manage sickness well, I seem to be able to put it aside and continue to operate mentally at least as usual.
My son has demonstrated this same ability through two very serious illnesses, remaining coherent, mentally lucid and even maintaining a healthy appetite… these are good things but when a doctor is trying to make a diagnosis they can prove to be problematic. Someone at death’s door is not usually scoffing a three course meal and uncomplaining of pain as well as being capable of normal conversation and even seizing the experience as a learning opportunity. It can mask what is really going on inside and this I found to my detriment on the occasion in question. Nobody had taken my condition seriously, hence arriving at the point I now found myself.
I was worried about having an operation. The nurse told me I would be asleep, they would give me some medicine that would put me into a deep sleep and I would not know anything or feel anything about what was happening in the operating theatre. This appeased me somewhat.
Shortly before they started to take me to the operating theatre a different nurse gave me some medication and when I asked what it was she said it was to help me to relax before I went for my operation. From my limited TV knowledge of medical processes and from what the first nurse had said, I took this to mean that I should fall into a deep sleep at that point. I wasn’t falling asleep. I tried to make myself go to sleep. I squeezed my eyes shut and willed myself to sleep. Sleep didn’t come. I didn’t quite understand the anesthetising process.
The porters came to stretcher me to the operating theatre and I was still wide awake. “Don’t take me yet I’m not asleep!” I called out to them and they said “Never mind you will be soon”. I took this to mean that I would fall asleep on the way. I bade farewell to my mum, was distressed to see that my dad wasn’t there (later found out that he was a bawling heap of blubbering mess and couldn’t compose himself to see me before I had to be taken down and added to that was struggling with saying goodbye, he hadn’t wanted to scare me and had opted to miss the opportunity to see me for what he knew could very well be the last time and as such he had his own turmoil to deal with. I can only imagine how hard that was for him and I have never held it against him. This was a man who didn’t cry and who always knew how to make things better). I kind of needed to see him though, if I’d have seen him I think I would have relaxed but then if I had seen him crying it would have panicked me and so ultimately it was best the way it happened.
I remember sliding around on this stretcher as the porters jostled me to the operating theatre. I remember feeling we were going down a slope, as if I was sliding to the foot of the stretcher. I could hear them talking to each other. I could see the light coming from windows up to my left hand side (I later worked in this hospital and know that the route to the operating theatres was down a gradually sloping walkway and had high windows on the left had side as you were heading to the theatres I also found out that only hospital staff were permitted beyond the point where the sloping walkway began). That was clearly my impression at the time too as I had bade farewell to my mum and my eldest brother and elder sister at the beginning of that long corridor/walkway.
I remember feeling I was slipping, I remember telling the porters I was slipping, I remember feeling sleepy, I remember trying to make myself go to sleep before we arrived at the operating theatre. I remember telling the porters that I was not asleep and asking them to wait. At first they answered me and assured me I would be asleep soon, closer to the theatre turn off they stopped responding to me I figured they had tired of my constant questioning. We entered a small room and I was placed onto a narrow table. A nurse was there wearing scrubs. I told her I wasn’t asleep yet. She didn’t respond. I thought it was rude how she acted as if I wasn’t there.
She busied herself with setting up an IV. She was having problems with it and eventually after trying both arms she managed to insert it into the back of my right hand. I couldn’t feel anything and she didn’t speak to me, rather she spoke to herself and I could hear her, cursing as she couldn’t find a good place to get a line in. I stayed very quiet so as not to distract her somehow also feeling it was my fault that she couldn’t do it.
I carried on willing myself to fall asleep, worried now that I was going to be cut open while I was wide awake. I didn’t realise at the time but the medication I had had in my bed was the pre-med which was administered prior to anesthesia to settle the patient, no wonder that I hadn’t fallen asleep however many patients do relax to the point where they do fall asleep, but being asleep and anesthetised are two different things of course.
Next I remember the nurse putting my long hair into a paper hat, I’d already been gowned up in a hospital robe.
“Aww what pretty hair” I heard her say as she bundled it all up into the too small paper hat and she reached out for another one so I ended up with two kind of juxtaposed side by side on my head to contain my long, thick locks.
I was then wheeled into a room and lifted from one narrow table to another. I could see that everyone in the room was wearing scrubs and masks. They were talking to each other. Some were male voices others female. There were around 6 people in the room and from what I made out 2 were male and 4 were female.
As I lie on the table I was aware of one of the males positioning himself at the head of the table and performing some kind of checks on me, I had a blood pressure cuff around my upper right arm, the canular in my hand had been attached to a bag of fluid that was suspended above me to my right from a metal stand. Then to my left I saw another table which had instruments laid out on it. A nurse was pushing it towards me. I saw blades from scalpels and tongs and scissors gleaming and became aware of the lights above me, a set of orbs blended together to flood the scene below with bright white light.
I started to cry. I wasn’t asleep yet and really felt I should have been. I heard a bleeping sound and everyone around me started to hurry, they started to move more quickly. I carried on crying. I closed my eyes tight and willed myself to sleep. Then I heard a voice say as clear as day, louder than all of the other noise in the room, the bleeping, the male and female voices talking to one another “Why are you crying?”.
I opened my eyes and next to me was a lady. She was quite plain. She was right beside me to my left. I could see her from around the waist up from my position. She had blonde hair cut into what was termed a pageboy cut then, a short bob by today’s terminology. She wore no hat or head covering and had on silver rimmed round spectacles, kind of like the type John Lennon wore. She had quite a round face, if I could have a police artist here now I could get her drawn up, I remember her so vividly. She had no make up on and a very pale complexion, very clear with a pink flush on her cheeks. She had a slight overbite. She wore a navy blue cardigan buttoned up with navy glass buttons, very delicate and small, under that she had a white collared blouse fastened to the neck. The broaderie anglaise collar settling just over the top of the round neck of the cardigan. The cardigan had long sleeves and looked very soft, probably a cotton/cashmere blend. That was it. That was all there was of her that I could see.
“I’m scared” I told her.
“What are you scared of?” she asked in a very gentle voice with a slight accent from wherever I didn’t know.
“That I’m not asleep yet and that when I am asleep I might not wake up again” I sobbed.
“Do you want me to help you fall asleep?” she asked
“Yes, but then I’m scared if I do I won’t wake up again” I sobbed “I think I might die and I don’t want to.”
I had this overwhelming foreboding that I was going to die. Nobody had mentioned how sick I was. I had no idea of the gravity of my condition and everyone had tried to play it down as a routine thing that happens to lots of kids. I’d believed it until this point when I had this terrible feeling that I was going to die.
“What if I promise you that you will wake up again?” she asked.
“You can’t do that how do you know what’s going to happen?” I challenged, even then in that state at that age not willing to just accept things.
“I can promise you but you have to do something for me to make sure it happens” she said
At this point I already had complete faith in her really, I didn’t have many options. I was completely oblivious at this point to what was going on around me, it was like it was all blurred out and the doctors and nurses were shadows, my focus was on the lady and nothing else.
“OK” I whimpered “I want to wake up again please”
“OK she said, I want you to hold my hand” she reached out and I bent my left arm upwards to take her hand “and no matter what happens, no matter how frightened you are, no matter what happens you keep hold of my hand OK?” I nodded. “And I promise you that I will keep hold of your hand too but you are the one who has to make sure I don’t let go, you have to hold my hand so tight, squeeze it tight and do not let go and I will stay with you until you wake up again and I promise you if you do that you will wake up again”her voice had changed from being soft to being more determined yet still reassuring and comforting, almost compelling.
“Do you promise really?” I asked.
“Yes, keep hold of me and I’ll help you fall asleep and I’ll make sure you wake up again. Hold on to me.” She gripped my hand and I gripped hers.
“Who are you?” I asked “My dad will want to say thank you to you for helping me”
“I’m Jane, I’m a nurse here” she replied “Now hold on, close your eyes and you will fall asleep”.
The next thing I recall is my dad’s voice. I was in a blur, I was in a lot of pain, and I heard him repeating my name over and over, like it was coming from a long way off down a long tunnel and gradually drawing closer. I tried to open my eyes, I couldn’t. I wanted him to know I could hear him because I could tell he wanted me to reply. I heard other voices around me, my mum saying I was in a deep sleep, another voice saying I was very unwell and probably too weak to respond. In my heart I knew I had to let my dad know that I was going to be alright, I knew I was going to be alright without a doubt but I needed to let him know. I tried to move but couldn’t, I tried to speak but couldn’t, I tried to open my eyes and couldn’t.
My throat was so sore I couldn’t even gulp as a sign that I was at least awake. Then I felt someone holding my hand and realised it was a big, heavy but soft hand, it was my dad without a doubt, so I put every effort I could into moving my fingers. I visualised all of my strength gong towards my hand and making it squeeze closed. I must have managed it because I heard him say “Oh, she’s OK, she can hear she squeezed my hand”, after a bit more of a struggle and drifting in and out of consciousness I was able to smile and a while later say yes in response to a question. I didn’t know it at the time but my dad had sat waiting 2 days for the squeeze of the hand and it was a further 2 days between it and my saying yes in response to a question.
Sometime after my saying yes I woke up properly. I looked around there was nobody there. I was in a small room with a window to the right of me and a half wood panel half windowed wall to my left with a double sliding door. At the end of the room (foot of the bed end) was a wardrobe and dressing table with drawers, it was covered with greeting cards. As was the windowsill I noticed and as I turned my eyes (I was unable to move anything else) to look at the bedside table it too was covered with cards and my favourite (always) yellow roses in a vase. I smiled at the roses, I loved them and knew I shared this passion for them with my dad and knew he had put them there for me. My mum would have chosen pink ones with a strong scent. It was the first time in my life anyone ever bought me flowers.
I was so thirsty. Incredibly thirsty and incredibly weak and in intense abdominal pain.
I tried to shout out for a nurse “Hello, hello hello” it was pathetic, my voice wouldn’t carry, I had zero energy and I wasn’t sure what I should shout in any case. I didn’t realise there was a buzzer at the side of the bed but I couldn’t have operated it anyway.
I started to cry. Then the door opened and the nurse Jane came in. Still in her blue cardigan and wearing her round glasses. From this angle I could see she was wearing a navy blue A-line skirt with a front pleat.
“Why are you crying?” she asked me, smiling.
“I’m thirsty, so thirsty I can’t bear it but no one’s here.”
“Well I’m here so I’ll tell you what, you can’t have anything to drink but I will fetch some ice and hold it on your lips, how about that?”
“Yes, anything thank you” I answered.
She left the room and I saw her walk by through the half glass wall on my left although the glass was mottled and so images on the other side were blurry. Later I found out that the kitchen for the ward was where Jane went that night.
I saw a clock on the wall it said that it was a quarter past 2. It was dark outside so I guessed it was night.
Jane came back with a plastic tumbler with 4 ice cubes in it. She set it on the beside table. She commented on the roses. “I think my dad got me them he knows I love them and so does he. I’ve been trying to speak to him but I’m always in a deep sleep when he comes so tomorrow I can speak to him properly, I hope he comes before work.” I rambled.
Jane held one of the ice cubes to my lips and it was devine. The feeling of cold moisture on my lips and as it melted some of it trickled into my mouth. Gosh it felt like when you watch the Serengeti flood after a long dry season and everything comes back to life. That was exactly how it felt.
“I’ve been visiting you too” Jane said.
“Oh sorry I’ve probably been asleep” I answered.
“Sometimes I’ve just sat and held your hand and you’ve held mine.” she smiled.
“I know they’ve been coming but I can’t speak to them but I do try” I said.
“You’re doing just fine” she smiled “Don’t worry about it. Your dad will be here at 7 he had to go get some sleep he was very tired.”
“Have you met my dad?” I asked.
“No I’ve not met him but I’ve seen him here, when he goes I come and sit with you a while and hold your hand” she smiled.
“Thank you” I said and feeling more comfortable, having had the relief of the ice cube I started to fall asleep but heard a bit of a commotion and opened my eyes again and saw some nurses and doctors come into the room, but I was so weak and tired I drifted off.
I remember Jane coming one more time before that, I wasn’t sure when it was but I remember her reading me a story and telling me to make sure I listened to the very end, it was when I couldn’t open my eyes or speak and I just knew it was her by her voice. That time there was another nurse and a doctor in the room too. I later recognised the voice of the nurse as the same as that of the nurse with the glass eye. I’m not sure what they were doing but they were there.
I woke up again and looked at the clock, 6.30. I felt awful. My head was hurting, my throat was hurting, my abdomen felt like it had been torn apart, my chest hurt, my arms everything. I willed the clock to reach 7 so that I would see my dad.
At 7 on the dot I heard him, outside in the corridor and I could see him through the mottled glass windows. I could see that he was talking to some people one was definitely the one eyed nurse and the other two were doctors as they had white coats on. I saw him put his head in his hands and felt sad that it seemed to indicate that he was worried and I wanted him to just come into the room so he would see I was fine and I just wanted to talk to him.
I looked at the clock 7.15 and he was still outside, I tried to shout him but it was pointless.
Eventually he walked into the room and he looked so sad and tired then he looked at me in the bed and he started to smile the biggest smile I ever saw and he shot over to the bed and started asking me millions of questions. Eventually he sat on the edge of the bed holding my hand carefully as the drip was still in there.
I started talking to him and told him how scared I’d been and how I’d been waiting for him because Jane told me comes at 7. He asked who Jane was and I told him she’s a nurse and I told him how she held my hand in the operating theatre and how she had read me a story. He stood up “She might still be here, she must be night staff, I’ll go thank her now” I knew he would want to thank her.
He left and came back a few minutes later with a Welsh nurse who was in the sister’s uniform so she was important I later found out.
“Michelle, are you sure about Jane’s name? They said they don’t have any nurses work here called Jane. None at all.” he asked.
“Oh maybe she just works where they operate then” I replied.
“Where did you see Jane?” the sister asked.
“In the room where I had my operation, then she came here to see me too” I replied.
“What did she look like?” the sister asked.
I described her. “I think you must have been dreaming pet” the sister said and then to my dad “I was in the operating theatre when the operation took place, I accompanied Michelle down from the ward, she was asleep the whole time and there would never be anyone in the theatre out of uniform, that just wouldn’t have happened and we definitely have no nurse who works on this ward called Jane or who looks like that.” turning back to me “It must have been a dream darling, you’ve been very poorly, you must have dreamed it.” and she smiled at me and my dad and left.
I was really confused, Jane was a real person, I felt her holding my hand, I heard her, I wasn’t asleep going to the theatre, I remember seeing the windows, I saw the instruments and the lights, I saw the doctors and nurses in their scrubs, I did see Jane she read me a book and she brought me ice… I blurted all this out to my dad.
We both looked at the bedside table at the same time and there was a plastic beaker with a small amount of water in it. “See dad, she brought me that it had ice in it but it’s melted now go and tell the nurse”.
He went out again and called the nurse in. “Did anyone give Michelle any water last night?” he asked.
“No, she’s strictly nil by mouth there isn’t even a water jug or cup in here as you know” she smiled to my dad who had obviously spent a couple of days in there.
“Well where has that come from then?” he asked pointing to the beaker.
“I’ve no idea” the sister said as she walked over to it.
“Who gave you this?” she asked me.
“Jane” I replied, “I told you, it had ice cubes in.”
“There is nobody called Jane who works here, it must have been the night nurse but I’m not happy if it was you should have nothing at all to eat or drink” and she swished out.
Dad followed her, he came back a few minutes later. “The night nurse didn’t give you it. Or did she give you it and tell you not to tell anyone?” he asked.
“No Jane gave me it” I insisted.
“What book did she read you?” he asked.
“It was the Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde” I replied, no hesitation. It was the first time I’d heard the story but not the last.
Dad looked around the room and then spotted in the top alcove section of my bedside table a book, he pulled it out and it was the Happy Prince and other Tales by Oscar Wilde.
“See” I said “Jane is real”. I was so weak these conversations had not been easy, they’d drained me but I had to have my say (as usual).
My dad was on a mission then to find her but he never did and I never saw her again. I was so confused. I knew she wasn’t a dream. Was she a ghost? That’s what my brothers said she must have been the ghost of an old nurse who still worked the wards. I kind of never believed that, she wasn’t a ghost she was real.
I also later found out that on two occasions after my operation one of which was the morning before my dad came and I was back to being fully coherent I’d gone into heart failure and had to be revived, besides the twice it happened on the operating table, once at the onset of the operation and once further into it.
Many years later I was watching a documentary about children’s near death experiences. I remember feeling eerily shocked yet comforted when I heard that many accounts involve a person who is to all intents and purposes real but unknown to the child who stays with them and insists they hold their hand and don’t let go. This led researchers to develop a guardian angel type theory. But for some children it isn’t a person but a friendly dinosaur or a teddy bear and that has led to critics of the guardian angel type theory to suggest that it is the child’s own will to survive which conjures up an entity to cling to which gets them through their ordeal.
I can understand that but it doesn’t explain the story and the beaker in my case. How could a mentally conjured up entity carry out a physical act?
There are possible explanations of course. The night nurse might have brought me water or ice and not wanted to admit to it for fear of reprimand. Maybe I did cry out for some relief from my thirst. Someone would have had to hold the ice to my mouth I was too weak to even manage that. But I saw Jane go and fetch it. Possibly in my condition I got confused. But I knew every detail of the Happy Prince story.. maybe someone else had read that to me but even now I hear her Irish lilt when I recall the story and there were no other Irish nurses on the ward and I stayed there long enough to meet all of them (I figured out much later that the slight accent was Irish). Maybe one of the team who helped resuscitate me that morning left their own drink beside my bed, maybe they’d brought the water for some other purpose.
Who knows? It’s all very strange. I did see that operating theatre, I could draw it now. In fact years later when I went to visit when I worked there everything was as I remembered, every detail, where the door was, the lights the table itself, the glass and steel cabinets against the walls, in the anesthetic room the cupboards, everything was just the same as it had been that day.
Dream, reality or near reality, virtual reality… whatever it is it happened.