He had suffered a heart attack and was clinically dead, with no vital s, for a considerable length of time. Remarkably, he survived, and has since described his impressions of what happened.
You lose your senses
The last thing he remembers is seeing two of the Tottenham player Scott Parker. Interestingly, he reports no feeling of pain. When will it come? Hopefully, not for many years.
What will be its circumstances? Peaceful, I hope. And, very simply — what does it feel like to die? In scientific literature, there are numerous reports of people who have had similar experiences to Muamba, many involving light.
The oldest medical description of a near-death experience, from the 18th centuryrecounts the tale of a French apothecary who lost consciousness during blood-letting, a treatment believed by physicians at the time to relieve fever. More recent recollections include seeing bright lights, sensations of entering an unearthly realm and occasionally the feeling of leaving the body and viewing it from above, known as an out-of-body experience.
In many cases, researchers were also asking people to recollect events that happened decades earlier, the details of which may have been changed, or lost in the mists of time. Then medical researcher Sam Parnia and his colleagues decided to take a more objective approach.
Of the 63, seven could recall thoughts from the time they were unconscious. They included coming to a point or border of no return, feelings of peace and, in one case, jumping off a mountain.
Does it feel like
So, while only a minority could remember being close to death, what could be recalled was generally positive. Surprisingly, the patients able to recall their experiences actually had the highest blood-oxygen levels — feelings such as heightened sensual awareness had ly been thought to result from brain-oxygen starvation.
Yet better brain oxygenation would allow for improved cognitive function during the resuscitation, explaining more vivid experiences and the ability to commit them to memory. As part of the experiment, suspended boards with painted writing and figures on their upper sides were hung from ceilings throughout the hospital. Any patients reporting an out-of-body experience could then reasonably be asked to describe what they saw on the upper sides of the boards.
This would have been very troublesome for prevailing scientific understanding — certainly, a rethink of human consciousness as something entirely dependent upon the billions-strong network of neurons in our brains. These simple devices had the capability of turning conventional neuroscience on its head.
However, no out-of-body experiences occurred in this patient group, so this ingenious idea was not properly tested. This time, it encompassed 15 US and European hospitals, and, unlike the earlier research, two resuscitated patients did recollect vivid out-of-body experiences.
One became aware of a woman up in one corner of the room beckoning to him, and the next moment he was up there, looking down at himself. Unfortunately, neither patient underwent resuscitation in areas where boards were positioned. The researchers got closer this time, but once more the opportunity to verify or refute out-of-body experience was missed.
Does it feels like
Some simple and elegant painted wooden boards illustrate this beautifully. So, what does it feel like to die? As these studies record, death by cardiac arrest seems to feel either like nothing, or something pleasant and perhaps slightly mystical.
The moments before death were not felt to be painful. I take comfort from the notion that death is not necessarily something to be feared.
Death and dying. What does it feel like to die?
People who have survived clinical death sometimes recount out-of-body experiences. But can these sensations be physically proved? A patient receives CPR. Photograph: Alamy. Richard Stephens. Sun 1 Mar What you can learn from a dying breath Letters.
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