Last night I was watching Barbara Walter’s program about people who had died, been resuscitated, and were telling of their experiences that occurred while they were dead. Many medical people have such stories to relate. I have long wanted to record, or even publish, the one that has stayed in my mind for many years, but as things go, I failed to record it at the time, and now all I have are my memories. Now, instead of regretting I did not formally document the series of incidents at the time, it occurred to me that I could tell the story to my Waynedale readers. All of the things I am about to tell you are true. Although I can’t remember the dates, I believe it was early in the ’80’s.‑All names are accurate. The patient I am about to write about, Mr. Gerald Holder is now dead, but he lived for several years after this incident.
After I left EMS, I went to work in CCU at a Louisville hospital.‑I felt like I needed to work in a CCU because my father died at Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne.‑I needed to walk over the hot coals now, as a nurse, in order to resolve feelings that would not go away. I entered nursing school a year after his death.
I will begin my story, and I hope you will continue on with me, as I cannot write this story in one column. But today I will begin and tell you of a happening that defies any reasonable explanation. It has both haunted and inspired me. I know what happens after death. At least, I know what happened to Gerald Holder after death. The account he gave me has no explanation other than to accept the truth of his experience. Our editor, Bob Stark, and John Barleycorn, both knew of this at the time it happened. They were helpful in supplying possible donor information, along with the Fort Wayne newspaper showing a‑picture of Dr. Giradet boarding a private plane at Baer Field with his Igloo which contained the heart.
My story begins as I went into the CCU as usual for my second shift job. In one of the rooms I noted an unconscious patient, hooked up to a ventilator with at least a dozen I.V.s infusing into him. He was also hooked to a balloon pump, which is a machine about the size of half a refrigerator.‑ It has a large catheter which is inserted into the groin, is fed up through a blood vessel, and assists in the pumping of the failing heart. It is used as a stop-gap measure giving the heart time to rest and to regain strength to pump again on its own. Most times by the time a patient needs the balloon pump, the family is making funeral arrangements.
As luck would have it I got assigned Mr. Holder. I remember walking into the room with the nurse who had had him on day shift, going over everything with her that needed to be continued. The crash cart was in the room at his bedside because he had to be defibbed over and over. His heart would stop, and I would reach over and charge the paddles and place them on his chest and blast. I did this so many times that I would simply put a check on the chart rather than document in words. Mr. Holder was bound to die. He was #1 on the transplant list in our area of the country.‑The only way he could live was if he received a heart. Chances were slim. I was incredibly busy as I adjusted the many IV’s and settings on the balloon pump and the respirator. He was dying over and over. I was so busy and felt so overwhelmed that at one point I remember turning my back to Mr. Holder, looking out the window at the setting sun, and praying a simple prayer to my dad. “Dad, I could sure use some help here.”‑Then I turned back to my task of trying to keep Mr. Holder alive. I had pads over Mr. Holder’s eyes, so his eyes didn’t dry out. He was kept unconscious with drugs so that he could not move a muscle. I was with him for eight hours and spoke not a word to him, aloud, as he had no ability to communicate. In my mind however, I talked to him continuously. Not for his sake, but for mine, I guess. I kept saying, “Hold on Mr. Holder. A heart is coming.”‑Throughout the eight hours I talked to him in my mind about all sorts of things. I told him (mentally) that his wife and girls were right outside and that they loved him. I told him to hang on because there were so many people counting on him. Just stuff like that. At the end of my shift, with great relief I reported to the night RN, George Roth, and left with a great feeling of relief that Mr. Holder was still alive. However, a heart had not yet been located. What I did not know at the time, but would find out later, was that a heart was to come from Fort Wayne. It was the beginning of the greatest mysteries of my life, and one which told me unequivocally that life does proceed after death, and that I would always be in awe of the events that were reported to me by Mr. Holder approximately two weeks after he got his heart from Fort Wayne. Mr. Holder was now in another unit where they do the surgical recoveries. I was relieved that one of the most taxing evenings of my life was over, and that things had moved on. I thought of Mr. Holder at times the next two weeks, and then decided to go over to the unit where he was being kept in reverse isolation, to see how he was doing. Keep in mind that Mr. Holder had never seen me, nor had he heard my voice. When I entered his room I was in complete isolation garb, including cap, mask, gown, and gloves.‑He looked my way as I went into the room. I said, “Mr. Holder, you don’t remember me, but I am the nurse who took care of you the night before you received your heart.”‑He raised straight out of the bed, began crying, held his arms out for me, pleading to me to let him hold me. He asked his girls to run and get their mother. “This is the angel that I told you about,” he sobbed.‑”I knew that if I ever in my life should come across you, I would know you.” When his wife came back with his daughters, a story unfolded that defied belief. At that time I found out what Mr. Holder experienced in the eight hours I was with him. I am still in awe when I think of what happened, and the impossible role I played in it. One of the hardest things for me was to be repeatedly called, “the angel” because I can assure you that I am the farthest thing from an angel you can get. I was also concerned about how his wife would feel with his making such a fuss over me. It was because of this awkwardness on my part that I kept the account at bay for so long. How in the world do you tell people a story and explain that you were an angel who saved the life of a dying man?‑It still feels awkward for me, but, putting that aside, I will next tell you of Mr. Holder’s experience with the angel, and the events that took place while he was in “the in-between place.”
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