Chapter 2 – Flatline

“Move, move, move! Come on, out of the way!” yelled a sweaty-faced paramedic as he and his partner led the stretcher-trolley from the ambulance into the entrance corridor of the Emergency Room. The place was already overloaded with victims from the terrible accident on the Freeway, as well as numerous representatives from daily newspapers, radio and even television.

A white-coated doctor grabbed hold of the trolley in the corridor and directed it into an intensive care lobby.

“What’s the score?” the doctor asked the paramedic, as he was hurriedly joined by an intern and two nurses.

The paramedic was quick and specific. “We found him unconscious at the front of his car holding his wife’s dead body. He must’a got out the car to try and help her before he blacked out. There’s a bad gash above his left eye, a huge swelling on his forehead and I’ve counted three fractured ribs, with a possible pneumothorax. My guess is he’s also got a cerebral haemorrhage – his blood pressure dropped thirty percent on the way here and his pulse is falling off the scale.”

“O.K.” said the doctor. “This guy’s going to need surgery.” He then began to instruct his staff. “Hartman’s solution, 2 litres stat, 2 units zero negative blood and cross match for 10 units, ECG scan and X-ray his chest. We’ll have to open him up to release the pressure. Get him anaesthetised. I’ll call in Dr Phillips as surgeon.” Then, turning to the paramedics, he patted the sweaty faced man on his back “Thanks, Jean”.

“Yeah, sure”, replied the paramedic. Wiping his face with a paper towel he turned and began to walk with his colleague back to the ambulance.

Marcus had been wheeled into one of the Emergency Room’s operating theatres, where the nurses cut his blood-soaked clothes from his body, attached drips to his arms and cleaned the cut on his head with surgical sponges. The intern pulled a large white circular machine over Marcus’s head, in order to scan his brain. The image appeared immediately on a screen on the side of the machine. It was an outline of the skeletal structure of the head with various colour patches of red, green and yellow signifying the build up of heat in the different parts of the brain. On the top left of the forehead area there was virtually no colour, just blackness.
The doctor returned to the room, accompanied by a surgeon. Both were clad in green surgical clothing and their mouths were covered by masks.

“There’s massive haemorrhaging from the frontal lobe. We’ve got to get in there and release the pressure or he’ll die”, said the intern.

The anaesthetist had arrived in the room and attached a drip to Marcus’s forearm and injected 10 ml stat of Midazolan as a general anaesthetic.

The surgeon reached for a pair of scissors and an electric razor. He looked over to the anaesthetist and asked: “You ready? Is he under?”

The anaesthetist paused for a second, checking the various monitors he had attached to Marcus’s chest and head then replied,


“Okay, I’m going in.”

The surgeon quickly cut away Marcus’s hair at the top and slightly to the left of his forehead, and then shaved an area the size of a tennis ball. He took a scalpel and began to cut into Marcus’s scalp so as to clear away the skin. Then, turning to the intern, he said, “Pass me the drill. I need to cut a burrhole into the cranium to release the pressure.”

The champing sound of the drill as it started to bore into Marcus’s skull was interrupted by a loud warning Beeeeeeep” from the heart monitor at the edge of the bed.

“Flatline” shouted the anaesthetist. “We’re losing him!”

The surgeon quickly retracted the drill and stared at the anaesthetist.

“We can’t afford to resuscitate him till I’ve cleared the haemorrhage. His blood pressure’s too low; I’m gonna need a minute or so.”

“He won’t last”, the anaesthetist responded.

“Well he won’t have anything to come back to if I don’t sort this out. He’ll be as good as brain dead for the rest of his life.” He thought for the merest of split seconds and then said, “I’m calling this; now, we’re gonna sort the haemorrhage out first and then get him back. Someone prepare the suction pipe,” he instructed.

From the blackness and insensibility of unconsciousness, Marcus suddenly became consciously aware of everything around him. Somehow, some way, he could see everything yet his eyes were closed. What was more, he could feel movement – as if he were rising up out of his own body.

“Christ, what’s happening to me?” He thought.

A multitude of confused possibilities arose. “Am I dying? What’s going on?” He felt as though he was floating upwards, out of his body, up above the operating table and the surgeon’s head, and on towards the ceiling. In some way he couldn’t understand, Marcus was able to look down and he could see his own body, eyes firmly closed, lying on the hospital bed with the medical staff frantically working on him.

“What is this? Am I hallucinating?” He fought to control his movement but couldn’t stop the upward progress.

A quite ludicrous thought occurred to him. “I’m gonna be squashed against the ceiling. Help!” He tried to cry out in panic but there was no sound. It appeared that he had no control over his physical body – but how could he? His body was feet below on the operating table, yet his consciousness was up here. It made no sense at all. “There I am down on the operating table and yet somehow I’m here,” he thought to himself.

He went up further, and as he came up against the ceiling he couldn’t feel anything, there was no resistance at all and he began to float through the plasterboard.

Just before he passed through the ceiling, Marcus noticed a series of red letters, in fact a word, on the upper side of the cornice near the wall. He tried to read the word, but before he could decipher it he passed through the ceiling and then more rapidly up through the roof of the hospital and out into the night sky.

“My God, what the hell’s going on? How can this happen?”

Then suddenly “zwap!” – at what felt like enormous speed he was transported upwards into pure blackness.

The surgeon manoeuvred the drill, and for a few seconds reapplied the one centimetre spinning circular head to the shaved area at the top of Marcus’s forehead. He was working quickly and he couldn’t afford to make any mistakes.

“I’m in. Now drain,” he ordered. The intern immediately inserted a clear plastic pipe into the incision, and watched as it filled with dark, gelatinous blood draining from the clot.

The anaesthetist was getting panicky. “He’s been out fifteen seconds. We gotta resuscitate”, he said.

“I’m still draining”, said the intern. “This guy’s filled with blood up here. The pressure’s too much – if he stands any chance at all we gotta wait.”

Out of the blackness a faint light appeared in front of Marcus and as the light became brighter he realised that he was in fact moving; passing through what seemed to be a dark tunnel with a magnificent golden light at its far end. The tunnel didn’t seem to have any solidity, no sides, just pure blackness as he floated headfirst through it and on towards the light. His initial feelings of fear and panic now seemed to be disappearing and a sense of awe and tranquillity gradually took their place. He was quite aware of the fact and knew that he was being affected by some outside force that had taken away his fear. “The light; it’s so warm, so extraordinarily welcoming, as if it has a life-force of its own.” He strove to define it and then confirmed to himself, “It’s a light of love.” As Marcus neared it he could see blurred figures moving in the light; floating, and welcoming him with open arms. He felt fantastically euphoric, in fact the happiest he could ever remember being.

“This is unbelievable. Is it heaven? Have I arrived at the gates of heaven?”

“Are you done yet?” asked the surgeon, peering over the intern’s shoulder at the draining pipe.

“Nearly, we’re nearly there.” Replied the intern; moving the pipe gently with his fingers.

“Twenty five seconds” shouted the anaesthetist.

“Get me the defibrillator” ordered the surgeon, concern beginning to show on his creased brow.

Marcus felt bathed in love and peace as he reached the edges of the light, and then, quite suddenly, one of the forms began to resolve itself into someone he knew very well; it was Susan. She was barely distinguishable, her body glowing, transparent, and in some indefinable way a part of the light. Her very shape was made up of the golden light itself, but he knew for certain that it was her. Her arms were open for him, yet he could sense sadness in her expression. Marcus urged himself forward, willing his movement, wanting to hold her in his arms, wanting to hug her, but he was somehow restrained; his movement checked; stuck floating near the end of the tunnel some distance from her.

“Can it really be Susan?” he wondered. “Susan died in the accident, yet she seems alive. I can feel her presence. Am I dead too? What is this place? Susan, Susan, is that you? It’s me, it’s Marcus. I want to hold you. Why can’t I move closer to her? Why am I being held back? If this is heaven I want to go in, to be with her.”

She had heard him and she responded. “Yes. It’s me, my darling, I know you want to be with me.” She replied “But you can’t, it’s not your time yet, you still have things to do.” Marcus could somehow feel her love for him in a tangible way. It was flowing from her very form and into him. It filled him with the most unutterable joy. She was able to directly communicate her feelings in an almost tangibly physical sense by enveloping him in her love.

One of the nurses hurriedly wheeled the defibrillator to the side of the bed. This was the electrical machine used to send a high current into the human body. It would hopefully stimulate Marcus’s own biological pacemaker to restart his heart with a natural rhythm.
“Jelly” yelled the surgeon as he held up the two electrical pads for her. She quickly smeared conductive jelly onto Marcus’s lifeless chest and onto the two pads.

“I don’t understand, my darling. What do you mean, it’s not my time. Susan? I want to be with you; more than anything else.”

“Yes darling, and I want to be with you, but not now, It isn’t possible right now. I’ve gone, I’ve left this life and I’m here now. But you haven’t died yet. You are still alive and you must return to your body.”

Marcus could feel her sadness but also her understanding and, typical of his nature, he became frustrated at his immobility. He desperately wanted to hold her, sensing that this would be his last chance.

The surgeon shouted “All clear”. He placed the two hand-held pads on Marcus’s chest and pulled in the switches. Marcus’s chest heaved as 140,000 watts, enough to light a football stadium, surged through his body.

“Nothin'” said the anaesthetist staring at the heart monitor.

“Again” yelled the surgeon “all clear.” The tension in the operating theatre grew as Marcus’s chest heaved once more as the electrical current coursed through his body. The entire medical team stared at the heart monitor.

At the same moment, Marcus suddenly felt himself being drawn backwards down the tunnel. The distance between himself and Susan was growing. He felt surges of panic, knowing that he was losing her.

“Why must I go back? Who says I must? Let me speak to them”, Marcus urged in his usual brusque manner. Then suddenly feeling contrite he changed tack and begged “Please, Susan, please …” as he was drawn further backwards down the tunnel and away from her.

Susan replied in a loving way, almost laughing at her husband’s typical resistance to any authority other than his own, but equally understanding of his panic and sadness.

“Darling, although this is sad for us both, it’s also wonderful. Can’t you see? There is more. I know that I have died and yet here I am. Don’t you understand Marcus? There is more, more beyond death. We can meet again, and one day we can be together again.”

Faster and faster the distance between Marcus and Susan increased. Long after her form had disappeared into the light his arms stretched out in a futile attempt to reach her. His last recollection was of the other forms in the light approaching her, comforting her, and he could feel the compassion and love they were offering to both Susan and himself.

Suddenly there was a blip on the long green line on the heart monitor.

“We got something!” shouted a male nurse.

The blip repeated itself and became a series of blips as Marcus’s heart began to take up a beat.
“Thank Christ” murmured the surgeon under his breath as the tension in the operating theatre evaporated.

Immediately there was a tremendous surge and Marcus zoomed backwards in the darkness down the tunnel. The light and Susan disappeared into a pinprick and then nothing as he found himself floating back through the ceiling of the operating theatre towards his body below.

At that moment he again noticed the red writing on the cornice and read the one word, ‘Boscastle’, but with no recognition or understanding of its significance. He looked down at his body, slightly surprised by the glistening jelly on his chest and then lost consciousness as he sank back into himself, just as the frantic rescue operation came to an end.

The surgical team cleared away the various swabs and equipment whilst the surgeon sewed up the incision.

“That was a close one”, commented the anaesthetist, looking up from his stool at the doctor and surgeon.

“Yeah, close, but worth it. If we hadn’t released that pressure he’d have died anyway”, responded the surgeon, as he pulled through the final stitch of the small wound.

The anaesthetist then turned back to adjust the needles in Marcus’s forearm and noticed tears running down his face.

“Hey, this is weird.”
The surgeon, who was leaving the room, turned back and bent down to look closely at Marcus’s face.

“Yeah, I haven’t seen tears before. He is out, isn’t he?”

“Sure. Out like a light. There’s enough Midazolan in him to put an elephant to sleep.”

“Weird”, shrugged the surgeon agreeing with the anaesthetist, “maybe it’s a reaction to the theatre’s lights?” and without another comment he left the room.

Copyright Anton Bilton

Chapter 3 – Airline Pilots & Surgeons