Marcus, his head and right hand swathed in bandages, slowly opened his eyes and tried to focus. He could just make out the bed in front of him, a TV on a table, a chair and various medical machines. His vision was blurred and he felt dizzy and unsteady. There was a nurse at his side, checking various syringes and drips. She sensed his gaze on her and looked at him, pressing a call button to summon the doctor.
“Good afternoon, Mr Carnegie. And how are you feeling today?” she asked pleasantly.
“Dizzy”, croaked Marcus.
“Oh don’t worry” she replied breezily, “that’ll clear fairly quickly. It’s just part of the anaesthetic. I’ve called Doctor Goldstein, who’ll be here in a second to explain everything to you. Would you like some water?”
Marcus slowly nodded his head, and it hurt. The nurse carefully placed a glass at his lips, supported his head with a crooked arm and gently helped him to drink.
“So, you’re back then”, said Dr Goldstein, who had walked into the room and approached Marcus’s bed opposite the nurse.
Dr Hemlo Goldstein was in his early forties, way over six feet in height, with dark, back-swept, wavy, almost shoulder-length hair; longer and more unkempt than one would expect from a doctor. His olive skin and facial features gave the impression that he came from a Jewish background, and his large, staring eyes were both compassionate and slightly wild. On his wrist he sported one of the cotton bracelets that Californian surfers wear, and in the button-hole of his white doctor’s coat was a fresh, small, neat Rose. He had the presence of a person who was almost too clever to look after himself, like some of the scientists on TV; geniuses, with outstanding intellects, but at the same time physically unkempt and probably almost incapable of running their own household.
“I feel awful, doctor”, replied Marcus.
“Don’t worry it’s quite normal, it’ll pass quickly. You have to remember that you’ve been out for nearly four days”, replied Hemlo.
He sat down on the edge of the bed and took Marcus’s left hand with his own and uncomfortable, looked away, from Marcus’s gaze.
“Do you remember anything about the accident Mr Carnegie?”
“No, er,” replied Marcus, struggling to remember “I can only remember the moments before when I was on the phone and… the seatbelt… and…. Susan.”
“I have something to tell you, Mr Carnegie. It’s about your wife, Susan. She’s …”
“Dead”, interrupted Marcus sadly. “I know … I know”. Tears involuntarily welled up in his eyes but there was no doubting his resignation. He knew only too well what had taken place.
Hemlo looked quizzically at Marcus and then up at the nurse. In his long experience it was very unusual for car accident victims to remember anything about their accidents, even if they’d been conscious for a short while after the accident. Amnesia was a natural response to severe shock and also to large amounts of pain killers and anaesthetics. Know? thought the doctor. How did he know? “Did you tell him?” he asked the nurse.
“No, Doctor Goldstein. I … I didn’t say a word”, replied the nurse, somewhat nervously.
“She didn’t say a thing”, said Marcus. “Susan told me.”
Hemlo stared at Marcus, then at the nurse. He nodded slightly in her direction. It wasn’t entirely unusual for patients with severe head injuries to become delusional. It would probably clear, given time.
Goldstein turned to Marcus again. “We nearly lost you, you know, Mr Carnegie. You had severe haemorrhaging in the frontal lobe – one of the worst cases we’ve seen, in fact – you bled very significantly into your brain. In fact, we’re not even sure how you managed to survive. You were clinically dead at one point during the operation and it took enormous effort to resuscitate you. But we got you back in the end. You must have a tremendously strong will to live.”
Marcus couldn’t deny this. He looked down at his battered body and registered a dozen different pains emanating from various parts of it. His mind immediately went back to the accident, to his own foolishness; his reckless disregard for anyone, inspired by his constant need to be in charge and doing what ‘he’ wanted. “Don’t I know it”, he replied. “It’s been the cause of what I am and what’s landed me here.
Goldstein was not sure how to take this self-critique, but continued.
“Ironically, despite the severe state of your condition on arrival, the nature of your wounds is such that you will be able to leave hospital in three or four days’ time and then you can convalesce at home. But I mean convalesce, Mr Carnegie, no working.”
Hemlo, like most of the rest of the hospital, knew very well who Marcus was; of his reputation, standing and background. How could they avoid doing so? Marcus Carnegie was virtually a household name to anyone who had an interest in business or who watched the business news on TV. Phrases like ‘the unstoppable force’, ‘the man that never sleeps’ and ‘the hardest-working man in business’ were the various punch lines used by the networks to describe Marcus’s management style. On hearing the doctor’s stern comments, Marcus lowered his eyes sadly. Hemlo was a good and practised physician and seeing Marcus’s mood, he immediately adopted a more compassionate and personal stance.
“What happened?” he asked kindly, referring to the accident. “Would it help to talk about it?”
Marcus took a sharp intake of breath. “Me, that’s what happened”, he replied. “Me; my whole lifestyle, my whole obsessive and bloody selfish lifestyle. I knew it before, if I hadn’t been too stupid to recognise the fact. And if I hadn’t been on the phone, who knows? Maybe I could have driven better, concentrated more, and maybe even have avoided the accident.”
He had only been conscious a few minutes but the clarity of his thinking and the instant realisation of what he had lost washed over him like a flood. “It was me. My way. Everything had to be done my way, and Susan was frightened. She told me to concentrate, and as usual I ignored her and did things the way ‘I’ wanted. As usual, I tended to my own business, and for what?” He shook slightly with an intense, internal rage that was exclusively directed at himself. “For Christ’s sake,” he said, with a voice that spoke of a deep internal anguish. “I’ve got more money than Croesus, yet I still want more, and that greed has taken from me something more precious than all the gold in Fort Knox. It’s my fault.”
It was extraordinary just what a transformation had taken place within him. Was it losing Susan or maybe seeing her again whilst his body lay dead on the operating table? He didn’t know. All he felt was a sense of remorse underpinning what he could now so clearly see was the futility and utter stupidity of the life he had been living for years. He looked up at Hemlo Goldstein, tears rolling down his face.”My whole life has been one selfish pursuit of power, and she stood by me, even though she was so often ignored and treated as number two to my business, and now she’s gone, and it’s because of me.”
There was intense agony in the man’s voice and Hemlo was alarmed by Marcus’s state. He nodded to the nurse, who pushed one of the syringes in a drip connected to Marcus’s arm. The mild increase in painkiller would help the distraught patient to relax.
Hemlo felt a great deal of personal sympathy for Marcus. True, he had not suffered the same catastrophic loss but his own wife had left him three years earlier, which had led to its own sense of bereavement. His own pursuit of his career and the long hours of research he was undertaking had dominated their marriage until she couldn’t handle his prolonged absences and lack of sharing any longer.
“I want you to rest now. We’ll talk more later. Just try to relax. I’ll come back tomorrow.” He told Marcus.
Hemlo laid Marcus’s hand back on the bed and walked towards the door with the nurse following behind. Just as he was about to leave the room, Marcus murmured “Boscastle”.
Hemlo Goldstein stopped rigid in his tracks and turned to face Marcus with a look of astonishment. “What did you say?”
“Boscastle”, repeated Marcus. Hemlo looked at the nurse and grabbed her shoulders. “Did you hear that, nurse? Did you hear what he said?”
The nurse was clearly shocked and unnerved by Hemlo’s tone. “Sure, sure I did. He said ‘Boscastle’, Dr Goldstein.”
“That’s right, that’s right. Now look, just write it down on something now, nurse, write it down exactly as you heard it. I want your personal testimony of what Mr Carnegie said.”
Hemlo then looked over at Marcus, grinning wildly, a sense of wonderment filling him as he walked over to Marcus’s side.
“What made you say that?”
“I saw it.” Marcus replied.
“Yes, yes, but where did you see it?”
“Up near the ceiling; on the cornice in the operating theatre.”
It wasn’t enough. Goldstein wanted more. “Right, and how did you manage to do that?”
Marcus stared at Hemlo, surprised at the strangeness of his interrogation. But then he thought for a moment. “He’s right”, Marcus thought to himself, “How could I have seen it?”
He looked at Hemlo quizzically. “I don’t know, I just did. I felt like I floated up through the ceiling to a tunnel with a magnificent light at its end where I saw Susan. I communicated with her,” replied Marcus. That’s how I knew she was…. how I knew I had lost her. “What does it mean? How can it have happened? And come to think of it who would put any sort of word right up there?”
Hemlo sat down slowly on Marcus’s bed, his hands in his lap, and stared trance-like at the wall. “Christ, it’s all true.”
Marcus tried to sit up, intrigued but still exhausted from the anaesthetic. “What are you saying?”
Hemlo looked back at Marcus and leaning forward he turned down the tap on the relaxant drip.
“Mr Carnegie” Hemlo began.
“Marcus. What I am going to tell you know might seem like nonsense, especially coming from a doctor, a man who is supposed to be ruled by the laws of science, as opposed to superstition and fantasy. But for many years now, in fact for nearly all of my professional life, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of an everlasting soul, an entity separate from the brain and body, a mind if you like, a consciousness that is eternal and that exists after death. I think it first hit me at college whilst I was studying philosophy. There were just so many works by great minds on this subject, so many brilliant people who dedicated their lives to trying to answer this question. If it was so blatantly obvious that there was no soul, then why did these intelligent people persist in their search for an answer? What drove them? When I coupled this question with the vast amount of people who believed in God, and the massive growth in the Spiritualist movement at the turn of the 19th century, it seemed to me that the quest for the human soul was intuitive, innate, if you like. People just felt that there was something else. But it didn’t seem to me to be simply a case of wishful thinking. It was as if that feeling came from within them. It wasn’t even something that needed to be proved in a lot of cases, they just knew, and their ‘knowing’ fascinated me.
“Well” he continued, “I read everything; every book on the subject I could find, and relating to just about every religion. And the more I read, the more priests, rabbis, gurus that I talked to, the more I began to recognise that there was a very simple central theme to all of these doctrines. It seems to me that the same universal wisdom is inherent in each of them; a central theme like the string on a pearl necklace – and it kept all the pearls, all the religious theories, together. Their moral doctrines were identical; the more so when one put them into the context of their cultural background.
Marcus winced with the pain in his head, but he remained attentive and interested. “What’s this got to do with me?” he wanted to know. “With Susan and that word Boscastle?”
Hemlo smiled. “I’ll tell you,” he said. “But I don’t want to overtax you. Maybe I should leave it until later?”
The look on Marcus’s face made it apparent that he didn’t want to wait.
“Ok,” said Hemlo, moving from the bed and pulling up an easy chair, so that he was seated, looking directly at his patient. “But I have to explain the background first.
When the time came for my doctorate, I wrote a thesis on the different levels of consciousness and the effect of various chemicals on the human conscious state. I ended up here as chief anaesthetist. And it was here, in this hospital, that things really started to hit me. People would recover from surgery, from an anaesthetic that had put them under, and they would recount events from that operation, things the surgeon had said, jokes between doctors, the music some surgeons played during surgery, actual parts of the surgery, incisions, colours, visual things. I knew these people couldn’t have witnessed what they were reporting in a normal, conscious sense. After all, I was with them, sitting next to them throughout the entire operation, monitoring everything about them. The people concerned were out, unconscious, eyes shut and not seeing anything. But somehow they were seeing things. Their reports were too graphic to be dismissed” He shifted in his seat. “And it went further. Some of them, those few who clinically died for a few seconds and who we almost lost on the operating table, so often came back changed. Some of them claimed to have been lifted from their body and taken up through the ceiling and off to a tunnel and a magnificent light where they were met by loved ones and sensed tremendous peace.”
“Like me” interjected Marcus, excited by the thought that his own, strange experience had not been unique.
“Yeah, just like you and when they came back – when they woke up from the operation – they seemed at peace with the world. The same thing was reported by each person who experienced it, irrespective of their religious or cultural background. It didn’t matter if you were an Islamic Fundamentalist, a Hindu or a hard-line Catholic, it seemed the experience was universal. Relatives and friends commented on the positive changes to their loved one’s personality, their enhanced sense of understanding, of compassion, calm and love.”
“Yeh” Marcus said, with a look of absolute understanding in his eyes. “Yeh. That’s a bit how I felt at the time. I experienced something so real out there. Something that gave me a sense of calm, of love, of belonging. It was something I’ve never felt before but it was so tangible I’m certain it has already changed my perspective. ” He lay back against his pillows. “But it’s still quite confusing. It’s going to take some time to sort it all out in my mind.”
Hemlo smiled at him, acknowledging the difficulty Marcus or anyone would have in accepting such an experience as a tangible reality.
“Well”, Hemlo continued, “these Near Death Experiences or NDE’s as they’re known, were frequent – they didn’t crop up once or twice a year, more like one in every twenty or so operations – and it blew me away. I couldn’t understand why more doctors, like me, weren’t intrigued or interested. Of course all surgeons are familiar with such reports from patients, but they put it down to hysteria, dreams, hallucinations, coincidence, they just push it under the carpet, and I realised why. They just don’t want to discuss it because it can’t be proved, and they risk ridicule if they take the matter any further.” He searched his mind for an example. “I guess it’s like airline pilots and their sightings of UFOs – every pilot sees strange objects in the sky at some time, but they just don’t discuss it openly for fear of losing their jobs. These doctors, these professionals, just don’t want to be the one that introduces unnecessary conflict into a stable medical and scientific environment.
“So, I took matters into my own hands and approached the Hospital Governor and explained my predicament. He was aware of my interest through a private research programme I had entered into outside hospital hours and decided to give me a chance. So we contrived this very simple experiment. I wrote a word, known only to me, on a piece of paper in a sealed envelope and posted it to the Governor. He was not to open it, but keep it locked away in a safe until someone other than me could recount that word. I then got a ladder and I wrote the word in red pen up on the inner edge of the cornice of the operating theatre, where it was impossible to see it from the ground but where it could be seen by someone with their head touching the ceiling. And you, Marcus, you’ve seen it, you’ve repeated it and Nurse” looking over at the nurse’s name tag “Nurse Williams here has witnessed it.”
“What does it mean?” asked Marcus, excited by what he had heard but unsure of the implications. “What is Boscastle?”
“It’s where I was born”, replied Hemlo. “It’s a small village on the coast in Cornwall in England. My parents were over from the States on holiday there and I arrived in the world two months early. My father nearly lost both my mother and me during the labour. She always claimed that in the darkest moment of her labour she saw a bright light that filled her with love and helped her on. I just thought it appropriate.”
Hemlo cradled his mouth and chin in his hand and silence descended as the two men digested in awe the significance of Marcus seeing the word; and both wondered what they might learn as a result of their discovery.
Marcus was filled with emotion, not only because of the acute sense of loss that burned and hurt him far more than his physical injuries. But also because, in truth, he had to admit to himself that for the last six months or so he’d felt that his life was losing its meaning. One deal after another, more successes, more power but weirdly, less fulfilment. Somehow the excitement only spawned a sort of empty disappointment and for some reason he was beginning to lose interest. Not that he had showed his altering attitude to the outside world. From the point of view of anyone looking in, it might even have seemed as if he was becoming more adventurous in his dealings, more daring, cleverer in his financial engineering and more ruthless in his break-ups.
Initially Marcus had put his developing change of heart down to a lack of fear. When he’d been starting out in business he’d been terrified, scared of failure, of the insecurity that came with being poor, but now he couldn’t kid himself any longer. Marcus knew very well that he was one of the richest men in America; he spread his risk on each deal and syndicated it out, so that no one deal, no matter how apparently important, could take him down. There was no financial insecurity any more. He’d conquered it. But in his heart he knew that it wasn’t this lack of fear or the absence of excitement that had brought about the changes. It was something else, something deeper.
For months he’d wished he could talk to someone about the emptiness he’d felt but who? He didn’t really have any friends because he hadn’t had the time for them. He’d avoided the cocktail and dinner party set, it was all too boring, too trivial. The only men he felt close to were his business colleagues; the lawyers, bankers; men who he dined with, but he couldn’t bring himself to open up to them. That would make him appear weak and undecided. They would lose confidence in him and he was still keen enough to avoid risking that.
Recently the feelings had grown stronger. The more he thought about it the worse it got and then it had hit him, quite literally.
Only two week’s previously, Susan’s parents had come to stay with them in New York. Her mother wanting to look at an antique fair in the Hemsley Palace and Marcus was left behind with Susan’s father. They’d dined together at home, being served by Marcus’s cook and butler and chatted about business, the latest deals as was their practise. But Susan’s father had been gruff, arguing against Marcus on nearly every subject, confrontational and ill at ease.
Marcus had sensed there was something wrong and mentioned it.
They’d never been emotionally close, more business acquaintances, a typically distanced son-in-law father-in-law relationship. But that night it changed. Susan’s father had erupted, shouting at Marcus, telling him openly how he felt, telling him how he’d kept it bottled up for years, letting him how sad he was at the way Marcus treated his daughter, the way he’d prevented her from rearing a family. When the women returned the two men had disguised their row but there was still an uneasy atmosphere before they all went off to bed.
Despite his best endeavours to suppress the event, the older man’s words had turned on the switch and Marcus had realised that this was what was wrong with him. He needed a family, he needed to feel love, to share it. He should take time out with Susan, to enjoy life, to taste it. He had to find opportunities through which they could share their love for each other, be intimate and have plans. Of course he could continue his work, but he needed to slow down a bit, do fewer deals, bigger, yes, but fewer of them. He should take some holidays and keep weekends as weekends.
Yes, he’d thought last week, I’ll start. I’ll start this coming weekend when we go out to Long Island, I’ll tell her father and then I’ll tell her. But look now at what had happened, look what he’d done. Chasing that last deal, Shoulter Media and DVD, on the phone, chasing it and here he was alone; and Susan dead.
He changed his mental direction, trying consciously to lift his spirits. If what Hemlo had said is true, then he really did see Susan. It was not a dream. He really did communicate with her and if he did then maybe he could communicate with her again, I could explain, he thought. I can’t put it right but at least I can tell Susan that I really did want to change. Marcus broke the silence and looked up at Hemlo.
“I’ve got to say sorry to her.”
Hemlo looked up from his hands and faced Marcus, “What do you mean? How?”
“I want do it again” replied Marcus. And Hemlo immediately understood what he meant, that Marcus wanted to try to find the tunnel, the light, and therefore his wife.
Hemlo stared at Marcus thoughtfully for a few seconds and then said “I think I can help you”.
Marcus looked back, intrigued and delighted.
“You know I mentioned earlier that I’m part of a private research programme?”
“Well, I’m a researcher at the Krandstett Institute for Life after Death Studies near New Haven, Connecticut. It’s a privately funded research centre dedicated to the quest for an empirical answer to the life-after-death question. We’ve been constantly experimenting with psychics and yogis, through out-of-body altered states of consciousness, astral travel, transcendental meditation, that kind of thing, and we’re near to a breakthrough.”
Hemlo noticed Marcus’s eyelids start to droop. The anaesthetic relaxant administered earlier by the nurse was taking effect, and however hard Marcus wanted to hear more, he couldn’t fight the overwhelming urge to sleep.
“He’s going, doctor”, said the nurse. “I think we’d better …”
“Talk tomorrow”, Hemlo finished.
Marcus drifted into sleep. Hemlo got up from his chair to leave the room, then stopped, turned and stared at Marcus before closing his own eyes and holding his hands together, as if in prayer. It didn’t matter what the Nurse might think. There are some moments when only one sort of response is good enough and he lifted his head upwards and said under his breath: “Thank you”.
Copyright Anton Bilton