‘The day I died taught me how to live’
London - The other day, my teenage daughter asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks. “Do you remember my first ever day at school?” she said innocently.
There was only one honest answer I could give. “I’ll never forget it, Ruby. You started school on Thursday, September 5, 2003 - and it was the day I died.”
As my sweet-faced five-year-old was putting on her uniform for the very first time and skipping into school to meet her new teacher, I was fighting for my life on an operating table three miles away.
I may have been unconscious - but what happened somehow remains burned into my brain with disturbing clarity.
I lost so much blood that my heart stopped, and the extraordinary and unexplained events that followed were to change my life… for ever.
During surgery I had a dramatic near-death experience - which was also brought back to me recently when I read that scientists had come up with a new theory to explain the phenomenon.
They say such experiences happen when the quantum substances forming the soul “leave” the nervous system and enter the universe.
Dr Stuart Hameroff, of the University of Arizona, claims the essence of our souls are contained in microtubules within brain cells. These somehow dissipate into the universe if the heart stops - and return if the patient is resuscitated.
I don’t know whether this explanation is true. Others say near-death experiences are a psychological phenomenon; some that they are the result of a chemical change in the brain.
But whatever you believe, it’s a truly emotive subject. More than 660 readers of the Mail Online commented on Dr Hameroff’s research - many recounting their own near-death experiences.
As for me, I am not religious and I have never believed in an afterlife. I’m the pragmatic daughter of a surgeon, and I’ve always followed his belief that life ends after death. I never imagined that anything as extraordinary or unexplained as a near-death experience would happen to me.
One morning, though, I developed a nagging pain in my side. Within a few hours, it was so bad that I had to go bed. The rest of the family had been suffering from a stomach bug, and I just assumed I had caught it, too.
But two days later the pain was still there. I was in agony - unable to eat or walk. For the first time ever, I rang my wonderful GP and asked for an urgent home visit.
I owe my life to the fact that he came to the house almost immediately, letting himself in with the spare key under the doormat.
My husband Ray was at work, and Ruby and her brothers - two-year-old twins Charlie and Archie - were enjoying the last day of their summer holiday at a playcamp.
Within five minutes of the GP’s arrival, he called for an ambulance, and I was swiftly taken to the local hospital’s casualty department. When I arrived, doctors discovered that I was pregnant.
The baby was ectopic, meaning it had developed inside the fallopian tube instead of the womb. Ray was called at work, and he raced to be by my bedside.
Sadly, the quality of care I received was far from perfect. I was given morphine for the pain and sent to an upstairs ward for the night, despite tests revealing I had already lost a lot of blood from internal haemorrhaging.
I was also very upset that I would be missing Ruby’s big day. I sent Ray home, begging him to get her ready and take her to her new school the following morning - no matter how sick I was.
At 3.30am, I woke from a fitful sleep in such pain that I could hardly breathe. I rang a button and asked a nurse for pain relief.
The next thing I knew, a male doctor was slapping my face hard and saying “Wake up, stay with me.” An alarm was ringing. The sound of people running from all directions filled the corridor.
I remember thinking rather dreamily: “Oh dear, someone must have been taken ill.”
Another doctor felt the pulse in my neck and said: “She’s tachycardic.” I knew this meant an uneven heartbeat - then I realised that the sick person was me.
My bed was raced down the corridor by a team of doctors. I was hauled into the operating theatre, and by then I was in so much pain that I was gasping. Then my pulse stopped.
I remained strangely aware of everything around me. All hell broke loose. I remember the entire medical team swearing. I looked up at the huge, bright-white light above my head, and fought to stay calm as I thought of my three children, who were back home asleep, unaware that Mommy was dying. I remember thinking: “By the time they wake up, I’ll be gone.”
I thought of Ray trying to tell them the bad news. I thought of little blond Charlie, who loved kisses on his cheeks, and I sent him a silent message. “Goodbye little boy, you’ll make someone a lovely husband one day.”
I thought of his twin, Archie. “I hope they tell you what a Mommy’s boy you were - and how you used to cry whenever I left the room.”
Then I thought of Ruby with her huge brown eyes and dreamy smile. “Be a good girl for Daddy and look after the boys. I so wanted to see you grow up.”
Death was beckoning but I was aware of everything around me.
Suddenly, I felt my entire body being sucked up into the white light above. I found myself in a white tunnel - and I knew I had died. Away from the cursing of the medics and the bleeps of the machines, there was a wonderful sense of calm.
Instead of awful pain, I felt light and clear-headed. I knew what was happening but I felt no fear.
I knew I had to join my loved ones who were already on the other side. It was a tranquil and warm acceptance.
But I also became aware of somebody standing a few feet away from me. I turned, expecting to see my grandmother, who had passed away some years earlier. Instead, it was Ruby - wearing her new school uniform and with her hair tied neatly in bunches.
I was pleased but mildly surprised. I’d never seen her in her uniform, and she’d never allowed me to put her hair in bunches. She smiled and took my hand. “Come with me, Mommy,” she implored.
I followed her down the white tunnel. She kept turning to check that I was behind her. “Quick Mommy,” she urged.
At the end stood a gate. I stopped, feeling an urge to walk back down the tunnel, where I was sure my beloved grandmother and other family members who’d passed away would be waiting to greet me.
But little Ruby was insistent. “Mommy, step through the gates NOW!” Her urgency bought me to my senses. I stepped through it and Ruby slammed it shut behind me.
The shock jolted my body - and I am sure it was at this moment that the defibrillator pads being used by the medics shocked my heart back into a rhythm.
I remember nothing else until I woke up in intensive care. A masked doctor leant over me and said: “I’m sorry, but you are very sick and you’re not out of the woods yet. We need your next of kin at your bedside.”
Again, I thought of little Ruby and her first day at school, and I waved him away.
Somehow, thanks to the experience of travelling through that strange white tunnel, I knew I would be OK. Hours later, Ray arrived at the hospital, bringing with him a photograph of Ruby he’d taken outside the school gates.
She was smiling proudly, with her new uniform and shiny shoes on. But what drew me to the picture was her hair.
She had allowed her father to put her hair in bunches for the very first time. This was Ruby exactly as I had seen her in the white tunnel.
I left hospital a week later, after a five-pint blood transfusion. The effects of the surgery were devastating. We were never able to have our much-wanted fourth baby. I lost two stone in weight and couldn’t walk properly for months - the blood loss had left me exhausted and anaemic.
I had a huge scar running down my stomach. And as I was a freelance writer, we struggled financially for many months.
But ironically my “death” was to prove the turning point in my life.
My focus had always been my children, and having to bid them goodbye made me realise just how much I wanted to be remain with them. We’d always had a nanny but now I wanted to be totally hands-on with my children. I wanted to be the one who held Ruby’s hand at the school gate.
Also, up until this point, I had spent my life worrying about what other people thought of me. As I recovered, I made a pledge that half-friendships and fair-weather friends were no longer enough.
I stopped seeing the people I didn’t truly love - and told the ones I did just how much they meant to me.
Ray and I had been married for nine years by then, and my experience reminded me that there was nobody else on Earth I wanted to be with. We’d always been devoted to each other but now we both realised just how lost we would be without each other.
Two years after my surgery, I had found new friends, moved my family to a new house, and taken a significant pay cut so I could devote myself to cooking tea and managing every school run - never forgetting for a moment just how lucky I was.
After another year, I was fighting back tears of real emotion as I took the twins to school for their first day. They complained when I took photo after photo - but it meant so much to me that I was actually there.
I will never be able to understand or explain what happened to me on that fateful day nine years ago. But I no longer harbour a fear about death. And at the same time, I have stopped being scared of life. I’ve never looked back since. - Daily Mail