Mysterious Ways|Dec/Jan 2020
While working in intensive care units, she has encountered several patients who’ve had near-death experiences (NDEs). Her book, Near Death in the ICU, focuses on the importance of doctors listening to their patients’ mysterious experiences. Her interest in the value of these stories started with two inexplicable experiences: that of one of her first patients—and her own.
The little girl looked familiar. She sat in the corner of my hospital room, staring out the window. She wasn’t looking at me or saying anything. She seemed serene. I found her presence uplifting after a harrowing week of being severely ill. But who was she? And what was she doing here in my hospital room?
I’d been admitted to the hospital a few days before, diagnosed with septic shock from a urinary tract infection. I was in my mid-twenties and too focused on my job in viral research to pay attention to my symptoms. It didn’t occur to me that I had an infection that moved to my kidneys until I became sick. Really sick. My husband, J.C., came home from work to find me barely conscious, with a fever of 105°. I don’t even remember going to the hospital.
The doctors immediately started me on antibiotics and monitored my condition closely. Those first few days, I was improving but still pretty out of it, drifting in and out. One afternoon, I was awake and lying on my side, facing the window. I was hooked up to an IV, the medicine slowly infusing into my veins, the heart monitor making steady beeps. J.C. sat nearby. That’s when I noticed the little girl.
She was about 10 years old. Her short red hair was parted on the side and pulled back with a plastic barrette. She wore a simple cotton dress, cardigan and white ankle socks with Mary Jane shoes. It was similar to outfits I’d worn as a child, growing up in the 1960s.
“Who is that?” I asked my husband.
“Who?” he asked, looking up from his magazine.
“The girl in the corner.”
J.C. glanced over, then looked concerned. “There’s no one there.”
Was I hallucinating? I could seeher; he couldn’t. It didn’t make sense. I’m a fairly logical person. It’s what prompted me to go into research, what made me want to be a doctor. I’d just been accepted into medical school at the University of Tennessee. I’d been waiting for the first semester to start when I got sick.
When the doctors heard I was seeing things that weren’t there, they performed various tests and mental health assessments on me. They double-checked my medication to make sure none of it caused hallucinations as a side effect. Nothing appeared to be wrong.
“We’re not sure what could be causing her to see this,” I heard them tell J.C.
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