Am I alone here?
April 14, 2006 10:20 AM   Subscribe

What goes through your mind when you think you are about to die?

My sister and I were talking this morning and the topic of what you think about when you think you are about to die came up. Not necessarily about to die like, the point of being in the tunnel with the white light but, say on the plane when you hit a very rough patch of turbulence and think “oh my, I might die today”. For me it is always something so mundane like, "Gasp, there are clothes in the wash and they will mildew" or "Oh no, I will die and someone will have to clean my house.. and I didn't scrub the shower this morning!" Am I alone here? What do other people think in times like this?
posted by kantgirl to Society & Culture (67 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Investigators who work for the National Transportation Safety Board listen to cockpit flight recorders from crashed planes. Reportedly, the most common final words of pilots just before they die is "Oh, shit!"
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:24 AM on April 14, 2006 [3 favorites]

My Dad's voice saying "Goddammit". Seriously.
posted by saladin at 10:26 AM on April 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'll let you know after I die.

It's probably something pretty mundane. Like "Oh shit that's going to hurt" or something.

I've never been in a situation where I thought I had a good chance of dieing. Certainly airplane turbulence doesn't scare me. The one maybe that I did get close I didn't think about it until after the event, like "you know, I probably could have died there. Huh"
posted by Paris Hilton at 10:27 AM on April 14, 2006

I've had a few very close scrapes with death (freehand rockclimbing as a teenager, and enough head injuries to leave me with over 150 cumulative stitches to my face) and my immediate reaction is always, always just one of pure blind rage. Nothing really goes through my mind - I'm just overwhelmed with anger. It's gotten me through some pretty hairy situations.
posted by Ryvar at 10:29 AM on April 14, 2006 [2 favorites]

You want to know about Near Death Experiences? Dr. Moody, mentioned in the wiki link, has written some popular novels about the subject.
posted by skepticallypleased at 10:32 AM on April 14, 2006

I once skidded terrifyingly on a difficult turn, driving tired and too fast on a wet day. The only thing on my mind was "Ohshitohshitohshitohshit." (For what it's worth, I didn't hit anything, and I then pulled into a McDonald's parking lot at the first possible opportunity and took a nap.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:34 AM on April 14, 2006

The only time I came close to death was when I pedaled one of those little plastic bikes across the street without looking. I was only a few feet from getting creamed. I guess I was too young to think much of it, because I was just wondering what was for lunch.
posted by danb at 10:34 AM on April 14, 2006

Another vote for the goddamnit/anger during near death experiences.
posted by furtive at 10:34 AM on April 14, 2006

I came about six inches from getting crushed by a boulder in a sudden rockslide, and the thought in my mind was pretty much "dammit, not now! it's too early!" and then when the rockslide was over and I realized I was unharmed I remember weeping with relief.

On preview, yet another vote for the godammit/anger response.
posted by ambrosia at 10:35 AM on April 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I often think about this, and what will happen to all my digital data. I have gigbytes of personal photos, music, journal entries, etc, all stored on my computer, which is password protected, along with all my web accounts. ("What will become of my MeFi account when I'm gone?!")

I've thought about writing my passwords out in a list and storing them in a safety deposit box, but I've yet to get around to it.

More importantly, I think about all the relationships I've had with different people, and how I would want them to know how I really felt about them, perhaps in a letter. Then again, writing and securely storing tons of those kinds of letters is also something that I just haven't put time into because I am fooldish and think I won't die soon.
posted by patr1ck at 10:37 AM on April 14, 2006

I fell off the back of a very fast-moving vehicle when I was a teenager. I can't remember the fall (or the next few hours), but apparently as I slipped (other kids were there with me) I said "oh shit".

So I agree with most of the posters above.
posted by gaspode at 10:40 AM on April 14, 2006

I was once in a particularly bad earthquake at that hit around 4:00am. As I lay in bed with window glass shattering around me, I distinctly remember thinking, "Oh, well, may as well go back to sleep."
posted by Lillitatiana at 10:46 AM on April 14, 2006

I had a brush with death while swimming at Makapuu Beach in Hawaii - there were huge waves and I got pulled out by the rip tide. As soon as I realized that I was in trouble - that I was trying to make it back to shore and was getting pulled further out - I felt a mixture of emotions. I was very angry with myself for being stupid and getting myself in this situation. But I also felt intense fear and a rush of adrenaline.

This was perhaps a unique situation because I was literally fighting for my life. One particularly bad wave crashing over my head and I could have drowned. I had to keep above water and dive under when a big wave threatened. So I didn't have time to reflect until after I made it back to shore (with the help of my buddy and a lifeguard - I wasn't stupid enough to be swimming alone.)

After collapsing on the beach and thinking about it the biggest emotion I recall is feeling mad at myself for almost dying because of the pain it would have put my family through. I kept thinking about my mother and how devastated she would have been (especially after she had explicitly warned me about the rip tides before I left for Hawaii and I stupidly ignored her advice). I thought of my own future and what I had almost lost, and all of my friends and the rest of my family - but most of all, I had an image of my mother collapsing to the ground in tears. I was rattled for days.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:47 AM on April 14, 2006

I've had a couple close calls and it was always a combination of 'ohshitohshitohshit' and 'not now'.

I actually fell into a quarry while doing geological field work and my partner said I had this very bewildered look on my face and said 'goodbye' as I fell.
posted by daveleck at 10:47 AM on April 14, 2006

there's been lots of work with nde's using ketamine and other dissociative anesthetics, but i can tell after an experience with 5-methoxy-dimethyltryptamine(not the same type of drug as ketamine, just another used for nde) the only things that were on my mind were, "I'm going to die like this?, who's going to take care of my dogs?, what will the ems people do to me when they get here?, etc" nothing profound, spiritual

if you have an interest in nde's and nbe's check out this book, or this one
posted by killyb at 10:47 AM on April 14, 2006

It's only come up a couple times but I remember wishing I were out of debt and that I'd wiped my harddrive.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:53 AM on April 14, 2006

Also, how much it was going to suck for whomever I was with at the time, assuming I died and they didn't.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:54 AM on April 14, 2006

One other thing - I mentioned that my reaction was always intense anger, but I probably should add that after the situation was resolved my reaction was, "oh shit." So, yeah, that part comes in but it's more of a post facto realization of how close I just came to dying messily.
posted by Ryvar at 11:04 AM on April 14, 2006

I bet it depends on your mood. I was treated for a potentially although not commonly fatal disease at 26, and I thought a lot about it (because I was too young/melodramatic/etc to take to heart that 90% of people were cured). Some days I was angry and some days I was very much at peace with it and some days I felt bad for my family and some days I wished I had done more with my life - etc.
posted by mdn at 11:04 AM on April 14, 2006

Every man has a secret fear that they will die and, when their mothers are cleaning out their house, will discover their porn stash.
posted by wubbie at 11:06 AM on April 14, 2006

Twice I've been in situations where I had enough time to realize that it might end in death. Both times what went through my mind was "ok, what do I need to do right now to NOT die?" I'm happy to say both times I managed to calm myself down, think hard, and focus on what I needed to do to live through it.

One of those times was after I was married and I remember thinking I really wanted to see my wife again.

Other times, close calls with cars as a kid, early plane trips where I assumed turbulence meant the plane was going to crash, and near car accidents, I never really had enough time to think about it. Mostly the emotions were after the fact, thinking "I could have just died. That would have sucked."

The concept of knowing you're definitely about to die has always interested me, though I also find it terrifying. I find cockpit recorder transcripts morbidly fascinating.
posted by bondcliff at 11:06 AM on April 14, 2006

More grief than anger . . . strong feeling of "not now, I'm not ready, there's so much I've left undone", that something I really love is about to be ripped away from me . . . worry about loved ones.
posted by treepour at 11:22 AM on April 14, 2006

Every man has a secret fear that they will die and, when their mothers are cleaning out their house, will discover their porn stash.

That's a good, specific job to entrust to a close friend. It's not just men, by the way.

To answer the question -- my one moments-away-from-death experience had me narrowly avoiding a head injury from a falling piece of equipment. I didn't think anything at all -- everything went silent, and my body just reacted before there was any thought at all. I ducked low, people deflected the falling object, and I received only the tiniest bump on the head. Had it hit me and immediately smashed my head or broken my neck, though, I doubt there would have been any verbal thoughts at all. It all happened to fast for anything but the lizard brain to be functioning.
posted by Miko at 11:24 AM on April 14, 2006

A few years ago I was in a very scary SUV rollover accident. As the car was rolling (it flipped over one and half times) into the middle of the freeway the thing I noticed was that time seemed very slow and unreal. The only thought that went through my mind was "God please let us be ok."

Looking back I was surprised by how simplistic my prayer was given the gravity of the situation. Amazing thing is, no one hit the car and all 5 of us walked away from the accident with only minor injuries. Only the driver and the front passenger had to get stitched up but we in the backseat were perfectly fine.

Now remembering back it's all very clear, but removed. Like I'm remembering a plot in a movie.
posted by wilky at 11:25 AM on April 14, 2006

DMT, 5MEO DMT, and pinoline, courtesy of your pineal gland.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:27 AM on April 14, 2006

"!&^* $%@! that hurts!"

(waking up from kidney surgery before they got a dilaudid drip in me.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:27 AM on April 14, 2006

not exactly what you're asking, i think, but the novel turing has the best description i have ever read of what it's like to die, and know that you are dying:
the candles are put out one by one, but you fight back, you light them up again. perhaps the colour of your nursery wall goes first, perhaps the name of your linear algebra tutor, or the shape of his fingers. you sweat, you get it back. you find the pathways, you reactivate them, you get it back. but another neuron will go next, asphyxiated and starved, perhaps the same one you just recovered. you fight back, you win a few, you're soon exhausted. sisyphus had it good. all this happens in a foggy bright space, you understand, in the most absolute silence, no sensory input whatever. but then you suffer a more serious setback: a candle that was part of your recovery algorithm is lost - you forget how to remember, how to fight back. but you're a clever man, you'll probably recover from that too. you go meta, you use a higher-order algorithm. but what if it goes? how many layers can you defend simultaneously? death is a bloody pain, prince, truth told.
maybe you have to be a total geek to understand that (it's a geek book), but, for me, it cuts down to the bone. the writing's not that good, the neurological details grossly simplified, but those are ideas and values i understand, use, believe in. to know that even "going meta" fails...
posted by andrew cooke at 11:28 AM on April 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

The 2 times I've almost died

1) Almost blindsided by a van cross an intersection. The van passed literally inches in front me at speed, and the cliched "life passes before your eyes" thing happened to me, except it wasn't full visions, it was more the emotions associated with peak experiences in my life, positive and negative, all distinct as they rush through my mind, even though it only took a split second.

2) Fell out of a moving car in heavy traffic (don't ask). I didn't think anything, I kinda blanked out (didn't hit my head or anything) as I rolled to a stop. I've done many years of martial arts and it was very similar to the flow-states one can reach while doing something very physically and mentally intense, where there is no thought, you simply act and don't think about it. It's like the (thankfully) very few fights I've been in. I credit the ability to go into that state with coming out of that experience without a single scratch, even though every odd was on my cracking my head open on the pavement, or getting hit/run over by a car.

After both experiences, after the fact, when I'd had a few seconds to conciously dwell on what almost just happend, I experience the "oh SHIT" feeling that many of the above posters describe :)
posted by 1024x768 at 11:30 AM on April 14, 2006

I used to live in a rural area and my room had very large windows facing a highway. One night I had just walked past them and bent over to check on one of my PCs in the corner of the room. A bullet went right over my left shoulder and hit a door frame in front of me, I heard a very loud "click" and I was sprayed with drywall fragments and fine dust from the rear. It's hard to separate the initial shock of "Was I just shot at?" translating to "I almost died", but I was definitely pissed. I've lost a very close friend to a self inflicted gunshot wound and I've always wondered what you would feel like in those final moments as the electrical charges dissipate from your brain tissue and what is left or your vision creeps away. I've had very strange dreams about this that are nothing like "going towards the light", and much more like an "enveloping sea of infinite oblivion spreading from the center of my distorted vision as time ceases to exist". I've always been predisposed to this morbid curiosity after learning about the "blink-tests" performed by those that were set for execution.
posted by prostyle at 11:33 AM on April 14, 2006

On my bicycle, as a car slid out of control toward me at 50 MPH I had two thoughts at pretty much the same time..
Oh shit
no way

Sidenote: Helmets are our friends.
posted by cccorlew at 11:40 AM on April 14, 2006

A friend almost suffocated to death, and had time to think about it a little bit. It followed along the lines of, "Not now, not yet, not like this." She was more concerned for the people involved than with being afraid of dying.

I've had a few potential brushes. When I've had the time to think, I tended meet it with calm acceptance, though there was one "but wait!" in there most recently. When I haven't had the time, I did the cringe-oh-shit.
posted by moira at 11:43 AM on April 14, 2006

Mine was pretty much like bondcliff's above. I was in an automobile accident where there was plenty of time to ponder my imminent demise as my vehicle hurtled down the freeway, spinning. I was mainly thinking about the particular things that were going to kill me, scenarios that would play out over the next five seconds or so, and what I could do to maximize my chances of survival. Nothing about family, friends, bright white light, "did I leave the iron on?", none of that.

I walked away from it.
posted by jellicle at 12:11 PM on April 14, 2006

For some reason I think about what the evening news report would say about the accident. At 4:45 this afternoon, a young girl in Honolulu died while ...
I also visualize my friends and family and their reactions.

Is that narcissistic?
posted by killjoy at 12:19 PM on April 14, 2006

This is the best thing I've read on the subject. ("Arrow and Wound" by Mark Slouka, originally from the May 2003 Harper's, in case that link eventually goes bad.)
posted by languagehat at 12:29 PM on April 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

The first time I thought I was going to die, I had a relatively long time to think about it (15 minutes, at least), so I blindly panicked. I actually WASN'T going to die, but I didn't know it at the time, so I was angry at myself for putting myself in the situation. I flailed and screamed and ran around, and then when I realized I wasn't going to die, after all, I immediately calmed.

The second time was when I was lost control of my car and sideswiped through three lanes of traffic in rush hour. Complete blankness. There was nothing in my head except the moment ahead of me. Afterwards, I walked out of my car and fell to the ground.
posted by Zosia Blue at 12:36 PM on April 14, 2006

I was driving scary fast once to return a video i rented on someone elses account.
(In retrospect already what a stupid way to die.)
Suddenly a grey beat up station wagon made a fast left without checking the oncoming.
I remember waking up, standing up, about thirty feet from my car, looking at the crushed front end of my car, all tangled into station wagon. I have no memory of the accident and sometimes get the creepy feeling i was killed, and my current life is part of an endless series of second chances we get when we die.
I do remember the last half second before the accident. I remember taking my hands off the wheel and saying "oh fuck me".
posted by cascando at 12:46 PM on April 14, 2006

I've been in a couple of close scrapes. I don't think I've been that close to death, but I've certainly looked back and said "wow, I'm glad that didn't happen just a bit differently.." The biggest difference I've noticed in my thought patterns is a matter of control:

When I lost control of my car on an icy road a few years back, my mind was locked on "oh shit, I can't believe this is happening, and I really hope I don't wreck this car 'cause I sure can't afford a new one right now." At that point, I was in the midst of a spin and I had no idea what to do to stop, other than, well, landing in the ditch.

On the other hand, when I nearly avoided a snowmobile accident this winter, my thoughts ran along the line of "Okay, I know I am in a world of trouble. If I don't fix it, this is going to hurt. A lot. So what can I do to fix it?" In that case, I was able to maneuver myself out of the situation.

The big difference was thus: in the car, I felt powerless -- I'd never been in a similar situation; I had zero traction; I was more or less along for the ride by the time I realized I had a problem. On the snowmobile, I knew avoiding rolling the thing was a matter of managing my center of gravity and speed..
posted by Alterscape at 12:50 PM on April 14, 2006

!%#*, my ex is still on my life insurance....
posted by jerryg99 at 12:54 PM on April 14, 2006

Just before passing out due to a (very accidental) drug overdose at 23: "Oh shit, how awful for my parents for me to go like this." And then I managed to gasp out (because my lungs were filling up), "Oh, B***", because I wanted my last word to be my boyfriend's name. (I still can't quite believe I was didn't sustain any long-term damage from that; by the time I got to the hospital my heart had stopped, I was told, for almost three minutes. No NDE for me, though: just blacking out and then coming to with no sense of any time in between.)

For what it's worth, in my will I have a list of my accounts and usernames and passwords, and email addresses of friends so that the online communities I belong to could be notified. There's also passwords and instructions for taking down my websites, passwords for my email accounts, and so on. I think it's a good idea to have that information accessible, just in case.
posted by jokeefe at 1:03 PM on April 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

It'd be interesting to categorize the types of incidents people are recounting, and look for patterns in the reactions.

I've had a handful of moments of the suddenly impending violent impact variety. It has seemed that time slows, as one part of my mind retreats a bit, almost to the calm of a lucid dream state. Meanwhile in another part of my brain, training and reflexes take over, almost autonomously, and fight fight fight to the finish. And there's a sense of apologetic embarrassment: "Aw shiat, I screwed up. This is gonna ruin everyone's day."

I haven't found myself pondering debts and things left undone, or reviewing my life, but I can imagine doing so if there were more time to process some looming disaster.

But I do recall once hoping I'd live long enough to ask a rescuer to tell _____ that I loved her. I try to retain a lesson from that.
posted by Tubes at 1:14 PM on April 14, 2006

OK, this isn't quite on the level of "almost dying," but the time my car got broadsided by a pickup truck that ran a red light, the car was spinning around and i was sitting there thinking "oh my god. i can't believe he broke my windows!"
posted by clarahamster at 1:17 PM on April 14, 2006

Disbelief mixed with "I've screwed up!" both times for me.

As for the internet thing - I am going to leave an endowment in my will to keep my website alive. People in future centuries deserve to know my wisdom!
posted by A189Nut at 1:27 PM on April 14, 2006

8 years ago, the town I lived in was hit by a line of tornadoes. My family and I had grown up in a part of the US where tornadoes were extremely rare, although not completely unheard of, so we weren't awfully well prepared for this.

Anyway - my girlfriend, our daughter, and I were hunkered down in the bathroom of our apartment, listening to a little weather-band radio, and the tornado sirens outside. A bulletin came over the radio that a tornado had been sighted at the military base about 2 miles from where we lived, and was headed in our general direction.

Before this night, I had heard that a tornado, when on the ground and close by, rumbles like a big freight train at full speed. Shortly after hearing that bulletin come over the radio, I heard the train for myself. The whole room started shaking, I heard glass breaking outside the locked bathroom door (we lost a couple of windows to flying debris), and I remember thinking - "no, this can't be happening to us." I went over to my (then) 4-year old daughter, who was in the (dry) bathtub (and in retrospect, utterly bewildered), gave her a kiss and told her that I loved her. Then, I sat down next to my girlfriend, and we held on to each other and waited for the worst.

As it turns out, tornadoes sometimes 'bounce'. This one, an F2-3, did exactly that - it did major damage just to the southeast and to the northwest of us, with our apartment relatively unscathed along the straight line in between. As far as we can tell, it bounced right over us. One person did die, not far from us, when a tree fell on his house.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:44 PM on April 14, 2006

Wow, thanks for that link languagehat!

This thread is interesting to me if only because people didnt respond the way I thought they would. I've had a couple near-death experiences (one involved a kidnapper who I was sure was going to kill me) and in both cases I remember thinking "Aha! So it is time now...." Later, in retrospect, I can only look back and think that I was mistaken.

It fits in (per languagehat's link) well with this very clear perception of my own death and that this "event" is not more than 40-50 years out for me. It may come sooner though, of course. And so me thinking it has arrived has been more of a "The visitor is early but its it not like it was a visit I thought I could avoid. Its just earlier than I expected." Not morbidity - just a sense of inevitable destiny.
posted by vacapinta at 1:55 PM on April 14, 2006

posted by mnology at 1:55 PM on April 14, 2006

My husband is weird. I just asked him this question-he used to do a lot of climbing when he lived in Colorado-once he fell and as he tumbled down he was thinking it was a good way to die.

He's the least morbid person I know. Go figure.
posted by konolia at 2:30 PM on April 14, 2006

"Oh Shit - I might not make it out of this one"
posted by -harlequin- at 2:46 PM on April 14, 2006

I've had three experiences where I could have come to a very nasty end and in all three cases I was both thinking and screaming NO NO NO!!! I remember feeling angry too while screaming NO ... like I just wasn't going to let it happen because it just wasn't my time yet, you can't have me. Then I stopped thinking at all, and it's like my body and mind just did what it needed to do to get me out of the situation. Immediately afterwards came the ohshitohshitohshit and weeping and amazement that I had managed to pull off survival.
posted by Orb at 3:22 PM on April 14, 2006

In two drug-related incidents--nothing.

In a separate incident, a car I had recently crawled under crashed to the ground as the tire jack shot across the garage. I stopped and thought exactly how fucking stupid I had been, and how I had ignored all of my father's safety advice growing up. This would have been the same thought running through my head as I would have been crushed and then suffocated.

To this day this memory stops me in my tracks. I need one of those Men in Black memory erasers.
posted by vaportrail at 3:29 PM on April 14, 2006

I was staying at Las Vegas' finest accommodations (R.I.P. Tam O'Shanter) and went to the lobby for coffee at the ungodly hour (for L.V.) of 8 a.m., hungover but still drunk (?) when a Hollywood-like car chase broke out right on the strip, about 15 or 20 cop cars chasing a Jeep Cherokee up and down multiple times, using both sides of the street and the median, and the cop cars smashing up here and there, swiping and colliding with uninvolved cars. Then there was silence, and I started trudging back to my room with my styrofoam cup of coffee. Suddenly the Jeep was coming straight at me down the sidewalk, and nowhere to go on account of a big wall. I grabbed a nearby woman who didn't notice and flattened both of us against the wall. The Jeep went by between us and the light poles, and as it did I swear I thought, "This will be more exciting a death than most people will expect from me."
posted by planetkyoto at 3:40 PM on April 14, 2006

Trying to get home on a lonely stretch of Interstate.
Mid winter.
Very Snowy.
Just getting to be dusk.
Posted speed limit is 65, I’m doing 30 in the right hand lane
Headlights on.
Haven’t seen another car for at least 20 miles.

A tractor-trailer comes rocketing up the highway in the passing lane with only running lights on and doing much more than the speed limit.

He sideswipes my car, sends me through the guardrail and over a 40 foot embankment. Car rolls 6 times and comes to a rest on its roof at the bottom of a 12 foot snow gully (into which snow plows push the snow from the highway). The car is entirely encased in snow.

I awaken hanging upside-down from my seatbelt in total blackness. The reason being is that the entire (crushed) passenger compartment is packed almost solid with snow. I go to take a deep breath and inhale nothing but snow into my mouth, throat and lungs. The snow burns inside me. No air gets in at all. My body and mind begin to panic. I try to claw at my mouth to no avail.

Here is what is relevant to the question:

At that point the thought that went through my mind in the second-person point of view was this, “You are going to die faster unless you calm down”.

I did calm down and here I am. There are very grizzly details and decisions that happened during the ensuing two hours after the thought, but aren’t relevant to the question.

That is the exact thought I had at the moment I thought I was going to die.

P.S. the tractor-trailer didn’t stop and they never found the driver.

P.P.S. Its amazing how handling things calmly since then has been a benefit to my life. Go fig :-)
posted by sandra_s at 3:47 PM on April 14, 2006 [3 favorites]

I had a very, very similar experience to PercussivePaul's while swimming in the Florida Gulf. Oddly enough, my reaction was very close to his. I'd travelled out to Florida to meet my boyfriend's (later, husband and ex-husband's) mother for the first time. I'd just graduated from art school the month before, and I was not her idea of an appropriate future daughter-in-law.

My ex and I escaped to an unpopulated beach one afternoon, and I remember thinking, as I was getting pulled out to sea, that this was an extremely crappy time to meet my demise since I hadn't felt anything but misery since arriving in the land of sugar white sands. I felt cheated and angry and (having a lot of time to think as I watched my frantic boyfriend grow smaller and smaller on the shoreline) wished I could have at least drowned someplace where I was happy. Like in Maine, for example.

I think the resignation that came after the anger saved my life. Once I stopped fighting the currents I began to take in less water and was able to swim sideways and eventually out of the pull. Three people died in the rip tides that day a mile further down the coast. I always wondered if their interior dialogs were close to my own.
posted by stagewhisper at 3:55 PM on April 14, 2006

During a (somewhat minor yet still significant) surgery for which I was sedated but not fully anaesthetized, and which ended up more complicated than it should have, my blood pressure and heart rate and oxygen levels suddenly plummeted. There were machines beeping, and my surgeon cursing in french and ordering the nurse around. My head was covered by a pink cloth, and I remember staring up at it and thinking "Oh." Not oh shit. Not that someone had to feed my dogs, or that I couldn't remember if I had finally gotten rid of my old journals I didn't want people to ever find in the case of my death. Just "oh."

Maybe it was the sedation.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 4:18 PM on April 14, 2006

I've been enjoying this thread a good deal because my own experience was only a few months ago and still pretty fresh in my mind... It's been interesting to hear everyone else's.

It just suddenly occured to me that this question was addresed in an episode of the dark comedy TV series Dead Like Me. In this series a young girl dies and discovers that her fate in the hereafter is to become a grim reaper. Interestingly, grim reapers work in a rather boring office environment and the job involves a lot of paperwork. In this particular episode (called Vacation; it's the only one I've seen, in fact), the reapers have to spend an entire day reorganizing huge stacks of files, each one of which corresponds to someone's death.

I seem to recall they end up doing data entry on the final dying thought. They categorize them by type, i.e. mundane expressions of surprise or horror, pet-related final thoughts, family-related final thoughts, lamentations on lost loves or on being alone, and so on. THe last category turns out to be by far the largest, a revelation which makes one of the reapers realize how lonely she is.

Has anyone else seen this? If so do you remember it better than I do?
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:20 PM on April 14, 2006

I was driving too fast on a windy back road once, and the next thing I knew was that I was hanging upside-down from my seatbelt. I'd flipped my car over. I would definitely have died if I hand't been wearing my seatbelt. I don't remember any near-death thoughts, because my brain just checked out. (I wasn't drinking or doing drugs; apparently my brain just didn't want to deal.)

Several years ago, I was on a plane flight and there were 60 mph cross-winds as we were landing. The tips of the wings were going up and down and I had an excellent view of the wing on my side as it got closer and closer to the ground. People were freaking out, most distressingly, including the flight attendants. It was pretty scary, but more than that I was pissed oiff that I was helpless and couldn't do anything but watch. The worst part was it was a layover, so I had to get back on a plane in half an hour, in the same weather.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:49 PM on April 14, 2006

I have never had a near-death experience but I've dreamed them. One time, as I was dumped off a conveyor belt off a vat of acid, I felt a rush of fear for about a second, then a tremendous calm swept over me and I said, "ah, well, now I guess I get to find out what death is like."
posted by kindall at 4:50 PM on April 14, 2006

At least twice it's been the same for me: "So this is how it happens." As in, so this is how my particular death goes down. Both times were quickly developing situations, that never reached fruition obviously.

The anger others report mystifies me, but maybe that's enabled by having more time to anticipate.
posted by NortonDC at 4:58 PM on April 14, 2006

I did calm down and here I am. There are very grizzly details and decisions that happened during the ensuing two hours after the thought, but aren’t relevant to the question.

Nonetheless, I think I speak for many of us when I say: "Do, tell on! We'd like to hear!"My near-death experience: brained myself snowboarding.

Now when I've put myself in other dangers I've typically had a lot of the "oh shitshitshit" thinking as I simultaneously do whatever it takes to save my sorry ass from myself. Knock on wood, so far so good.

But these were all dangers where I came out unscathed or nearly unscathed. Braining myself was the only time I was truly on the edge of death—and I have no memory of the moments leading up to the collision.

In the brief moments of memories from the several hours I spent passing in and out of consciousness afterward, both while being rescued, being ambulanced, and being thoroughly examined by a parade of surgeons and technicians, I have no memories of fearing death.

I was aware on some level that I could slip away, but it didn't concern me. Days later, I began to understand just how serious the injury had been and how concerned the doctors had been.

The experience mostly removed fear of death from me. I honestly don't expect my mind to really stick around for the event. Certainly pain isn't a great concern: I don't remember feeling any pain at all.

Nonetheless, death still cheeses me. As crap as my internal life is, my external experience of it continues to be fair interesting and given that it's a brief blip of a few dozen years out of the eternity of whatever else we might experience as "souls," I'm not keen on giving up on it all too quickly.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:01 PM on April 14, 2006

excuse me, I want to test horizontal rules; the one I thought I used seems to have disappeared.
there should be a line above this text.

posted by five fresh fish at 5:03 PM on April 14, 2006

My experience is different than most of those related on this thread because I had a looong time to consider my demise. I was on a plane headed to Reno when the pilot got on the intercom and said "Buckle up and put your heads down, we're going down for an emergency landing in Las Vegas."

Then the plane tilted almost vertically down (or so it seemed). During the next 10 minutes or so I thought there was at least an 80% chance that I was going to be dead before the day was out. As we got closer to the ground I saw the line of fire trucks waiting for us, and we bounced down the runway, hitting the ground HARD.

I still don't know what was wrong with the plane.

Anyway, to answer the OP's question: I was with my three year old (at the time) kid. The only thing that went through my mind during the whole incident was "Stay calm. If you freak out, he's going to freak out." I smiled at him. Told him everything was going to be fine. Hugged him, insofar as that was possible. My whole existence became centered on making him comfortable during his last moments on earth. I honestly wasn't scared at all because I was so focused on this task.

That's it for me. No other near-death experiences.
posted by crapples at 5:29 PM on April 14, 2006

When a bus knocked my car sideways on the George Washington Bridge, sending it airborne, I thought of someone I loved, and our unfinished business - it flashed into my mind unbidden. I really thought I was going to go over the side and buy the farm.

When I had a panic attack flying on a plane a couple of weeks after 9/11, on the other hand, I actually wished the damn plane would blow up already, so the unpleasant feeling would end.

Apparently people dying of hemorrhagic shock feel rather inert and calm, probably due to the effect of massive amounts of adrenal hormones and endogenous opiates flooding their pathways.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:44 PM on April 14, 2006

Huh. Y'know, I don't consider "near misses" to fall into the category of N.D.E. Maybe because it's not physically traumatizing.

I've had all sorts of things happen that could have gone wrong, from the red light runner who nearly totalled us, to perching on a narrow ledge on a cliff with no clear means of successfully rescuing myself.

They were all momentarily exciting (well, some were many excruitiatingly long minutes of excitement), but none were "near death." At no time was I actually on death's doorstop, knocking on the door. I was merely preparing to visit him.

Whereas the head trauma thing, I tried kicking his door in. For a couple hours there was a whole lot of concern (on the part of others) that I'd punched my ticket. It was gambling odds for the outcome.

In retrospect, I wish it had been more exciting. I read some of the stories here, and they're all way better than mine.

The experience of near-death isn't nearly as exhilirating as putting oneself into the precarious position of having a chance of experiencing a near-death experience...
posted by five fresh fish at 6:59 PM on April 14, 2006

I was trapped between a rock and a raft in a river for long enough to pass out from lack of oxygen as a kid. I remember distinctly thinking, "Well this is kind of a dumb way to die," and being impressed at how my vision kind of faded out at the corners and worked its way in before going totally black.
posted by honeydew at 7:57 AM on April 15, 2006

I remember seeing the Dead Like Me episode based on people's last thoughts, but I can't add much about it that hasn't already been said.

I don't have a lot of near death experiences, but the few times I have been, I was pretty calm and didn't think.
posted by stoneegg21 at 9:37 AM on April 15, 2006

how my vision kind of faded out at the corners and worked its way in before going totally black.
posted by honeydew

Yes, this was my experience too-- I mean vision disintegrating from the edges to the centre.

On reflection, I also had time to register that there was something very wrong with my heart, which had gone into tachycardia. And that was more like, Whoah, it's beating waaay too fast, that's not right, and then Oh my, it's stopped. Uh oh.
posted by jokeefe at 10:55 AM on April 15, 2006

i know i'm late on this thread but just last night, as i was driving down the freeway, the hood of the car in front of me flew off, over that car, and into the airspace into which i was speeding at about 60mph. time slowed down enough for me to count very clearly as the thing flipped end over end towards me three times in the air. my thoughs were as follows:

that's that car's fucking hood! are you kidding me?

wow. i could die very soon.

stay calm and drive.

which i suppose is what i did - just instinctively avoided it - and why i'm typing this now. i pulled over and freaked out on adrenaline a few minutes later.

i've had a few other brushes, mostly automotive, but one on a plane that was struck by lightning twice and momentarily lost power, dropping several hundred feet. people were crying and screaming and praying. that was the only time i ever had time to really think about it. mostly i just said a bunch of silent goodbyes to people i cared about, and i remember i prayed a good deal, despite not being a particularly religious person usually.
posted by ab3 at 7:50 AM on April 16, 2006

i've thought of my latest (ex)girlfriend every time i've been on a potential deadly situation. being an ex and all, she has been the most significant individual in my life. i've also thought what would be of my family (parents and sister) if i died.

then, when the scary moment has passed, i feel greatly relieved - not for myself, but for them - as (i think) it's far worse to mourn a lost one than to die oneself.
posted by ArchEnemy at 7:23 AM on April 19, 2006

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