Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Web Extra: Near-Death Experiences

In 1999, while undergoing her fourth surgery for scoliosis, Denise Merkle left her body. And as the Coconut Creek resident explains, the experience shifted from one of intense discomfort—she was partially awake during the procedure—to one of otherworldly love. And like the other subjects in the “Tunnel Visions” feature in our March-April issue, her near-death experience changed her life forever, leaving her with a newfound enlightenment.

Merkle, who works for a Deerfield Beach printing company by day, shared her compelling story with Boca Raton:

“I wasn’t interested as much [in the afterlife] until this happened to me. When we were little, we would played with Ouija boards, but as far as the afterlife, I didn’t give it much thought. I knew that there was something, but once this happened, I knew for sure, and I know now that there is life after death.

“I had three scoliosis surgeries, and one of them was a 24-hour surgery. I didn’t have any problems with anything prior to this. The ironic thing about it was that when I went in to have this surgery, the anesthesiologist was young, and before he put me under, I said to him, ‘Don’t give me too much and kill me!,” because he seemed like he’d be inexperienced because he was so young. Everybody else I’d dealt with over the years was older, and I never felt uncomfortable. For some reason, with him, I didn’t feel comfortable.

“I don’t think he gave me enough [anesthesia], because when they were getting ready to operate, I could hear the surgeon asking everybody, ‘Are you ready?’ I was like, this is kind of weird, why am I still hearing everybody talk? And the nurse was talking back to him. What I think happened is that he didn’t give me enough. He gave me just enough to put me under, but not enough for my brain to go to sleep. That was a bad experience. I would never want to go through that again. I tried to lift my arm up and tell them I was still awake. But if you’ve ever been under anesthesia, you’re like solid brick after that. I think I panicked, or my body panicked.

“The last thing I heard was ‘Code Blue!’ and right after that I knew I wasn’t connected to [my body] anymore. I was somewhere else. The weird thing about this is that I’ve read a lot of books about the afterlife after this. Journey of Soulstells you that people who have traveled this path before won’t necessarily see people, because they’ve traveled it so many times that they’re comfortable.

“I know a lot of people talk about how they see a bright light. I saw that, but what I remember the most was going down a tunnel or a path that was bluish-grey. I was going toward this bright light. It seemed like when I almost got to it, I started coming back away from it. You could see it getting smaller and smaller.

“I didn’t hear anything, but I was so aware of where I was. It was a heightened sense of knowing. I remember thinking to myself, so this is what it’s like to be dead. It’s not bad. It was the opposite; it was good. I knew I was dead, but I was still thinking, so how can I still be thinking? But I knew I wasn’t connected to my shell anymore.

“What I experienced was an extreme amount of love and energy, like being wrapped up in a more safety blanket. I’m not a true believer in God, because I would have to meet that person or whatever it is, but from what I experienced, I do believe there’s a higher power, like maybe a higher energy source. That feeling you get is maybe God. Something more powerful was there with me.

“I don’t know how long I was gone; I would say a few minutes, because when I came to, I was in the ICU and I was blown up like a balloon. I had never had that issue before. I looked like the Michelin Man. I was told it was from lack of oxygen and that my short-term memory for a long time wasn’t great. I couldn’t remember from minute to minute what I was doing. Something happened, but [the doctors] wouldn’t confirm it completely, but I know I died, because of what happened. If that’s not dying, I don’t know what it was. I knew I was dead, but I could still think.

“Before I had that surgery, I was still in my 30s. I was going out with my friends all the time and drinking a lot, because I was in pain a lot, and if I drank I didn’t have pain. I wasn’t going down the best path: I wasn’t an alcoholic, but I would go out once a week and party to the extreme. And after the surgery I did a 360. I got rid of all the bad people that were in my life, and turned my life completely around. It made me realize that life was too short, and anything can happen to you. Then I had my son in 2007. It was a life-changing experience.”

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John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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