1. How do you define a near death experience?
It is an experience that some people report following a close brush with death. The experience follows a pattern of common components that were originally defined by Dr Raymond Moody in his book Life After Life in 1975. Common components include hearing the news of being close to death, travelling down a dark tunnel towards a bright light, a panoramic life review, an out of body experience, meeting deceased relatives / friends, meeting a ‘Being of Light’, being sent back to life, a barrier or a point of no return.
Each NDE is unique and not all components occur in every NDE.
2. What inspired you to study near death experiences (NDEs)?
It was an encounter with a dying patient I was looking after when I worked as a nurse in the ICU that inspired me to study NDEs. That encounter made me realize that we really do not understand death so I wanted to have a greater understanding of the dying process to that no other patient would have to undergo such a prolonged and undignified death as that patient who inspired my studies.
3. How has the medical establishment responded to your work studying NDEs?
At first the medical establishment was a little skeptical but as my research progressed they could see that it was ultimately going to benefit patients so they became very interested and supportive of my research. When my research had completed my medical colleagues were very interested and I was asked to present papers at medical conferences to disseminate my research findings.
4. Have you found that age affects the NDE?
No, NDEs can occur in people of all ages even young children who have no concept of death.
5. Do varying cultures affect the NDE?
Yes, the NDEs are influenced by the person’s culture. For example people in the West are more likely to report images of Jesus whereas people from India are more likely to report images of Yamdoots, messengers of Yama the god of the dead or Chitragupta the man with the book of deeds.
6. How are deathbed visions (end of life experiences) different from NDEs?
The deathbed visions are more of a chronic phenomenon and can occur over a few days. As the person gets closer to death so the visions may increase in frequency. Deathbed visions usually begin within a week or a few days before the person dies. NDEs occur spontaneously and occur in a matter of seconds.
7. How do NDEs affect the people who have them?
Many people are profoundly affected by their NDE in many different ways including psychologically, physiologically, spiritually and sociologically.
Their values may change drastically – so much that there can be a high divorce rate in people who have had an NDE. They are less materialistic and simple things in life like spending time with their family or spending time in nature takes priority to their previous lifestyle which may have been very money orientated. Many change careers from a highly paid job to doing voluntary work or working in the caring profession.
Some people have changes in their electromagnetic field and can’t wear a wrist watch or find that electrical items malfunction in their presence.
Some people feel that their religious belief is strengthened whereas others feel that they become more spiritual as opposed to religious. People are generally more compassionate, loving and respectful towards others and also have a heightened awareness of ecological issues.
8. Can you tell my readers a little bit about the 5 year study you did on NDEs?
When I worked as a nurse in the ICU for 5 years I interviewed patients who had survived a close brush with death. I came across 15 people who reported an NDE. I wanted to investigate if the NDE could have been caused by lack of oxygen, the drugs that we give to the patients or due to wishful thinking.
I didn’t find any cause for the NDE – for example one patient reported an NDE while unconscious but at the time he was fully ventilated and receiving high levels of oxygen and his vital signs were monitored throughout and his oxygen levels in his blood were normal. Some patients reported an NDE and had not been given any drugs at the time.
Some patients reported unpleasant NDEs which would not suggest that these are not merely wishful thinking.
I came across some very interesting examples where what the patients reported could not be dismissed or explained away. Patient 10 reported an out of body experience where he accurately reported the actions of the nurse, doctor and physiotherapist – at the time he was deeply unconscious and his eyes were closed. I know what he reported was accurate because I was the nurse looking after him at the time. I’ve nursed thousands of unconscious patients during my 21 year nursing career but no other patient has described an experience in so much detail and with such accuracy. As patients regain consciousness they are very disorientated and groggy and quite vague for some hours and even days yet this patient was very clear and precise about what he experienced as soon as he regained consciousness.
9. Why is it important that we study NDEs?
I think it is crucial that we continue to study NDEs in the clinical environment as they are giving us a different understanding of consciousness. Research in this field is now calling into question the premise that consciousness is produced by the brain. This will then lead us to other ways of investigating and understanding consciousness.
I think studying NDEs will also give us greater insight into the dying process so that we can better support patients as they are dying.
10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.
Ooh, that’s a difficult one.
Ok, if you knew that today would be the last day of your life, would you be doing anything different right now?
Talk about difficult questions!
Probably, but not by much. Instead of sitting here typing while my husband is stretched out on the other couch I would probably shut off my laptop and cell phone and crawl over and curl up on the sofa with him.
About Dr. Penny Sartori:
Dr. Penny Sartori worked as an intensive care staff nurse for 17 years. She undertook the UK’s largest and first long term prospective study of near-death experiences (NDEs) and was awarded a PhD for her research in 2005. She is uniquely qualified as not only has she worked daily with dying patients for many years but she also has the benefit of undertaking doctoral research into NDEs.
Her second book, “The Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences: How Understanding NDEs Can Help Us Live More Fully” is published by Watkins Books. Whereas previous research has been unable to verify events that have been reported, more recent hospital research is showing that NDEs can no longer be dismissed as hallucinations or aberrations of a dying brain. Drawing from many instances throughout her nursing career coupled with many examples from people who have written to her over the years, she discusses that NDEs occur and have very real life changing effects and how, by trying to pathologize NDEs, the very important message that these people bring back has been overlooked. She reiterates that hearing what these people have to say can benefit us all without having to nearly die ourselves.