Saturday, June 22, 2024

Tunnel Vision

For all of death’s inevitability, what happens after we take our final breath remains the ultimate mystery. What clues we do have reside in the recollections of those who’ve crossed that bridge, only to return. Three people with South Florida connections share their near-death experiences—and the life-changing impacts that followed.

In the operating room of a Pennsylvania hospital in 1998, Emile Allen found himself at death’s door—for seconds, possibly for minutes. Only he wasn’t the one on the operating table.

Since 1986, Dr. Allen had been a surgeon with a stellar track record. On this February day, he was set to remove a tumor the size of a cantaloupe from a 75-yearold patient he identifies as Mrs. Davis. In the middle of the operation, he requested an electrosurgical unit—a scalpel that uses electricity to cut through tissue and cauterize blood vessels at the same time.

He had deployed the tool thousands of times before in his medical career, and he had just used it to gain access to the patient’s infected kidney when an arc of electricity shot through the scalpel, accompanied by a loud popping noise.

“The electricity couldn’t find ground, so it used the path of least resistance, which happened to be me,” Allen remembers, from his tidy, sparsely furnished home in Boca Raton. “Little did I know, I had been electrocuted. I was thrown aback, about six to eight feet, and collapsed onto the floor.

“I was fighting for my life, because I was rapidly going into shock.”

As he recalled years later in his book, Eaten by the Tiger, “When I first hit the floor, I was screaming in pain and holding my hand as I saw blood quickly fill up my surgical glove. The nonstop pain was excruciating and unlike anything I experienced before.”

“Call a CODE!” screamed a nurse. While working to stabilize the patient, who was unaffected by the malfunction, Allen’s staff immediately followed him to the floor with saline solution to pour over his hand. But Allen seized and lost consciousness.

For a moment, he says, the suffering vanished, and “I felt totally at peace. I had this overwhelming feeling of, ‘Wow, this is fine, everything’s OK.’”

The next thing he knew, an amorphous figure emerged from the darkness and “spoke,” as clear as a bell, the two sentences that would change Emile Allen’s life:

I’m not ready for you yet. You have more work to do.

All of a sudden, he regained consciousness, returning to pain more unbearable than before. An anesthesiologist injected him with a nerve block, and Allen, 38 at the time, was placed onto a gurney and wheeled into a recovery room.

“Most people would not survive something

like that,” he says. “When you have a severe electrical injury, it can cause severe damage to the brain and your muscles, a [breakdown] called rhabdomyolysis [where muscle fiber contents are released into the blood].”

While Allen’s organs miraculously remained intact, he continued to suffer a laundry list of after-effects, with diagnoses not limited to: traumatic brain injury, posttraumatic stress disorder, seizures, migraine headaches, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, atrophy of his left arm and hand, and difficulties with motor function.

For more stories on near death experiences, pick up the March/April issue ofBoca Raton magazine. 

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