TITLE: Back from the dead
AUTHOR: Amanda Cable
SOURCE: The London Daily Mail
DATE: November 19, 2003
Amanda Cable had always been cynical about life after death and stories of white lights leading people back to life. But when the writer, left, nearly died on the operating table during surgery for an ectopic pregnancy, she not only saw bright lights but believes her five-year-old daughter led her back to life.
Here, Amanda, 36, who also has 23-month-old twin boys and lives with her photographer husband Ray in Blackheath, South-East London, gives a compelling account of her near-death experience and explains why it has changed her views for ever.
There is a picture on my mantelpiece which never fails to send a shiver down my spine. It shows my five-year-old daughter, Ruby, on her first day at school - with an unmistakable beam of pride and excitement on her face.
Her face is shiny and scrubbed, her dark hair is tied in neat bunches and she is wearing her new uniform for the first time.
It's the sort of first-day photograph which sits in living-rooms across the country. But while other mothers gaze fondly at such snapshots, I go cold at the sight of mine.
Because hours before Ruby posed so proudly for this picture, I had nearly died on the operating table.
I lost so much blood my pulse stopped and, as doctors fought to save me, I had the most extraordinary experience.
Somehow, and in some way, my young daughter led me back to life. More extraordinarily, she appeared just as she was to look a few hours later, on her first day at school - even though I had never seen her dressed that way before.
The experience has changed my life and way of thinking for ever. A complete cynic, I have never consulted psychics, never read astrology pages and have no superstitions.
I've read accounts of near-death experiences but have always dismissed what they say happens as being due to chemical changes within the brain as vital organs shut down.
I simply didn't believe that anything extraordinary happened to sensible, down-to-earth mothers like me - until the day I found myself staring death in the face.
On Sunday, September 1, four days before Ruby was due to start at the local prep school, our family attended a 'welcome' picnic for her class.
My twin sons, Charlie and Archie, sat on a blanket and laughed as Ruby and her classmates played chase. It was a wonderful afternoon, and as we packed up our picnic I said to my husband, Ray: 'Life couldn't be sweeter.' That night, I had a disturbing, vivid dream. I was back at the park with my children, but a fourth child - a little boy - ran away from me. I chased him, thinking at first he was one of my sons. But as he turned and laughed, his face seemed to be an amalgamation of all my children's features, as though he was their brother.
He laughed, and slipped through my grasp. Each time I reached out to touch him, he leapt forward and left my fingers trailing in thin air. I awoke with a start, drenched with sweat.
My Monday morning began as normal, but by 11am I had developed a nagging pain in my side. I was forced to lie in bed while our nanny took the children out. I thought I simply had a painful stomach bug.
By the following day, the pain was worse, and on Wednesday morning, I was in such agony that I called out the GP to my house. He arrived at 1pm, and within ten minutes he had called for an ambulance, explaining that I was dehydrated and showing signs of peritonitis - a potentially fatal infection caused by a tear in the stomach wall.
At casualty, with my husband called to my side, I underwent emergency tests, and it was then, to our astonishment, that we learned I was eight weeks' pregnant. Doctors diagnosed an ectopic pregnancy, where the foetus develops inside the fallopian tube instead of the womb.
The decision was made to send me to the ward overnight to await surgery the next day. As I lay in my hospital bed, my last thoughts turned to the strange dream of that little boy.
Could this have been the baby I didn't know I was expecting?
On the ward, I fell into a fitful sleep - until I awoke at 3.30am, with a splitting headache and agonising stomach pains. I remember pressing the bell and telling a nurse: 'I don't feel very well. Can I have some pain relief?'
The next thing I knew a doctor was slapping my face. 'Don't fall asleep. Stay with us,' he shouted and I became aware that the ward light had snapped on, and running feet were echoing down the corridor. 'Oh dear,' I thought, 'someone's been taken ill.' A doctor felt my neck. 'She's tachycardic'. I knew this meant my heartbeat was irregular, and suddenly I realised it was I who was sick.
'She's haemorrhaging,' said a doctor. 'Get her to theatre now.' The medics pushed my bed down the corridor towards theatre. A male doctor, running by my side, said: 'Darling, I don't know how to say this - but this doesn't look good. We need your next of kin by your side. Can I call your husband and your parents?' I thought about my sleeping twins - and my daughter who was due to start school a few hours later - and asked him not to ring my house. It meant that Ray would be unaware of my critical condition. But I didn't want to upset him or the children.
'Am I going to die?' I asked in terror, but no one answered. I asked repeatedly until a doctor finally replied: 'We will do the best we can.' In theatre, they struggled to find a vein for a transfusion. But because of the massive haemorrhage in my stomach, all my veins were collapsing.
I was in so much pain, I could hardly breathe. At the same time, I was terrified at the thought I might never see my beloved family again.
Finally, the anaesthetist managed to get a transfusion line straight into my neck. She said: 'It's hopeless, this is too thin. She's bleeding twice as fast as I can get blood in.' I heard a surgeon saying: 'I can't wait, we've got to start ...' and then suddenly my pulse stopped.
Strange though it sounds, I remember hearing a doctor shout: 'There's no pulse. I can't get an output. Can anyone find an output?' All hands frantically grabbed my body, trying to locate a pulse, and I fought to stay calm despite the terror.
How long did I have left - 30 seconds? 60 seconds? Think straight!
Say goodbye to the children ...
I forced myself to shut my eyes, and mentally bid farewell to each of them.
First, I thought of Charlie, and his smiling, happy face swam in front of me. 'Goodbye my kind, sweet boy. You'll make someone a wonderful husband one day.' Next Archie, the mischievous baby of the family. 'Bye-bye darling. I hope they tell you what a mummy's boy you were.' And finally Ruby, with her sweet smile and huge brown eyes. 'Thank you for being a perfect daughter. Look after Daddy and the boys for me.' With that, I gazed up at the operating light, felt a searing pain in my stomach and prepared to die.
Instead, the white light above me suddenly 'sucked' me upwards and with a strange 'whoosh' in my ears I was instantly transported into a tunnel of brilliant whiteness - so bright I couldn't tell where the floor ended and the walls began.
I heard the sound of someone breathing loudly, and realised it was me. I knew I had left the operating theatre below, but in an instant the pain and terror had gone.
Instead, I felt completely calm and unhurried. I took a few steps down the white tunnel, and in the distance, I saw a shadowy figure standing.
I felt a mild curiosity, and with my breath echoing in my ears, I walked slowly and effortlessly down the tunnel. As the shadowy figure grew closer, I could see it was someone facing away from me. As I walked nearer, I realised that person was wearing red and grey.
I was several feet away when the figure slowly turned - it was Ruby.
Not as I had ever seen her before, but dressed in her new school uniform, with her hair in neat bunches.
She smiled her wonderful, familiar smile and reached out her hand.
'Come on Mummy, we'll be late for school.' Without speaking, I took her hand and she led me along the corridor. I was calm, relaxed and unhurried.
Ruby, however, was determined.
'Come on, Mummy, keep going.' We walked forward and suddenly, out of nowhere, the giant wrought iron school gates appeared, totally blocking our way. Now Ruby became agitated. 'Hurry Mummy, we'll be late for class. Quick!'
She opened the gates, and for a few seconds I hesitated, wondering if I should continue. Ruby stepped through the gates and waited for me. 'Mummy, come to me.' With that command I stepped through, and Ruby flashed me a triumphant smile. Then she swung the iron gates violently with all her strength, and as they banged shut, I felt my whole body jump. This was the point, I am convinced, that my pulse started beating again. I left the white tunnel as quickly as I had been sucked in.
I knew nothing more until I woke a couple of hours later - still in theatre.
The walls were white, and I thought I had died. Then I felt burning pain from my stomach where a large incision had been made to stem the haemorrhaging, and a doctor wearing a mask leaned over me.
'You are seriously ill. Don't move. You are having a blood transfusion through both sides of your neck. Can we call your next-of-kin?'
I instantly remembered Ruby and the white tunnel - and I knew that I had somehow made a decision to live - I would be OK. 'No, tell my husband that whatever happens, my daughter has to go to school.' I cannot recall the next few hours. I know now the hospital called Ray - and he went along with my wishes.
Ruby went into school for her first day, tightly holding her father's hand, blissfully unaware of Mummy's condition.
Meanwhile, I was being wheeled back to the ward. A few hours later, my husband came to see me, bringing a special gift - a picture of Ruby taken earlier outside the school.
When I saw it I froze. Ruby had her hair in bunches and was dressed in her new uniform - exactly as I had seen her in the tunnel.
I had never before seen my daughter's hair tied up, nor watched her try on her new uniform - by the time it had arrived, I was already ill. But here, down to the last detail, was the child who had walked me down the corridor.
What did it mean? I told Ray about the tunnel and seeing Ruby there, and he stared in shock. He said: 'She's never worn bunches before. How could you have known?' I couldn't forget what I'd seen.
Before I went home a week later, I needed five further blood transfusions, so I had plenty of time to think about it. For all my cynicism, I couldn't help but wonder whether it was a sign that there actually is life after death. It was so disturbing that I wanted to know more.
I have since put my questions to Dr Sam Parnia, a specialist registrar at Hammersmith Hospital, who has spent seven years studying near-death and out-of-body experiences. He says the scientific community has three views as to why they happen.
'First, is that it could simply be some sort of chemical change in the brain as people die. Second, it is a psychological phenomenon whereby people who think they are about to die imagine something pleasant to comfort themselves.
'Or it may indicate a separation from human mind and consciousness at the point of death. In other words, a soul which lives on after death. This is supported by people who claim to have had out-of-body experiences during circumstances where there is no blood flow to the brain and can report details they otherwise couldn't know.
'I believe all three theories are true, and we can't rule out life after death.' According to Dr Parnia, it is estimated five per cent of the population have had a near-death experience, and my story is typical.
Certainly, it has cured my fear of dying. While other children believed in heaven, I was convinced that a body lies decomposing in the ground. The older I grew, the more terrifying this thought became.
Now, after what happened, I believe it can be a peaceful experience - a crossover between life into something unknown.
But I do appreciate, probably for the first time, just how fragile our grip on life is, and that has made me wary. I walk down the road and wonder if a car will hit me. I board a train and panic in case there is a crash. I may not be afraid of dying but I don't want to go yet.
At the same time, I am more determined to live every minute to the full. I appreciate the children far more than before, and realise that joining in their games, walking in the park and jumping in puddles with them is more important than becoming stressed about issues beyond my control.
I am determined to spend my life doing the things I enjoy with those I love because I don't want any regrets when I do die.
I still don't know whether the white tunnel is a trick of the dying brain or a real sign of an afterlife.
But I do know that at exactly the moment I stared death in the face, my own daughter came to save me.
Ruby - or my intense love for her - dragged me back to life that day.
And I can't look at the photograph of her first day at school without thinking how close we came to losing each other for ever.