Proof of Heaven: Dr. Eben Alexander 3/3

Today, I’m concluding a three-part series on the non-fiction book, Proof of Heaven, written by Dr. Eben Alexander as he discusses his Near Death Experience (NDE) after he contracted a rare, often deadly form of E-coli meningitis. Here are Part I and Part II.

Toward the end of the book, Dr. Alexander lists the current medical theories offered as explanations for NDE’s and why he now completely discounts them and now has a firm belief that there is a loving God and Heaven.

1. Primitive brainstem program to ease terminal pain. Discounted due to the vibrant nature of his experience.

2. A distorted recall of memories from the limbic system. Again discounted for the same reason as above.

3. Endogenous glutamate blockade with excitotoxicity– mimicking the hallucinatory anesthetic, ketamine. I mean, really, this is how smart and scientific he viewed this process. As he explains in his book, he’d seen people under the effects of ketamine and the hallucinations are nonsensical whereas his were not. I would agree with that regarding ketamine as we use it for conscious sedation in the ED.

4. DMT dump which is a naturally occurring serotonin that causes vivid hallucinations. Dr. Alexander confesses to experiencing some hallucinations with drug use in his teens and argues against this theory because you’d have to have a relatively intact, functioning brain for which he did not while in his coma.

5. Functioning areas of cortical regions but he discounts this considering the severity of his meningitis.

There are four more that he lists in the book. What Dr. Alexander did do that I found interesting was write down his experience with as much detail as he could before he read about other NDE experiences so as not to taint his own perception or tarnish his data. Then he thoroughly researched what others had scientifically proposed and steps through why they are not relevant.

Overall, I found this to be a very fascinating book. It does at some points read like a textbook but I think we in the medical community need to pay attention to the spiritual aspects of our patients as part of their illness/injury process and I think learning from people who have had these experiences can help us to that.

Proof of Heaven: Dr. Eben Alexander 2/3

In today’s post, I’m continuing my discussion on Near Death Experiences or NDE’s by highlighting Dr. Eben Alexander’s book Proof of Heaven. Here is Part I

Each medical specialty has a definite stereotype. I’ve found that most labor and delivery nurses have had cheerleading background. I. Kid. You. Not. For a while, I asked every L&D nurse I knew if they did cheerleading in highschool and ALL said yes.

I found that a very important job requirement for labor nurses because heaven knows if you didn’t have that affinity, you would get TIRED of coaching women through labor shift after shift. I mean, I was rolling my own eyeballs at myself at what a pain I was when I delivered my own children.

Neurosurgeons are the same way. They are very cerebral. Smart. But not always personable. I’ve only met one or two that could interact socially in a pleasant way– like the ham it up, crack-a-few jokes kind.

That is not to say they are not friendly . . . just so above (not in a snooty way) the average person intellectually. I mean, think about how intelligent you have to be to operate on the smartest, fastest biological computer ever created.

That’s the sense that I got about Dr. Alexander. Driven. Uber-smart. I’m sure he has a Mensa card for sure. He bought into all the normally offered medical explanations for NDE.

I think God has a funny sense of humor. I imagine Him thinking– how can I get Eben’s attention? This man who loves the brain and its chemistry and lives and dies to fix it. What would be the one disease I could give him to convince him of My presence?

How about . . . meningitis. And not just your average, run-of-the-mill easily curable kind. But one that is so rare that most people die of it. So rare that you have a risk of 1:10 million chance of contracting the disease. Whereas you have a 30% chance of being in a serious car accident in the next year.

And that’s what happened. Dr. Alexander contracted a rare form of E-coli meningitis. Generally only seen in adults if you’ve had neurosurgery or traumatic brain injury (I’m guessing skull fracture that would disrupt the normal protective nature of the bones.)

Dr. Alexander’s meningitis did not respond to antibiotics. He was comatose for seven days. The family was at the point where they were considering withdrawing life support.

And while he was in that coma– he had a NDE that changed his whole outlook on life and caused him to discount every previous medical theory he’d bought into from a very analytical, scientific point of view. That’s what we’ll talk about next post.


Proof Of Heaven: Dr. Eben Alexander 1/3

I first heard about Eben’s story when it was highlighted on Biography Channels I Survived . . . Beyond and Back.When his non-fiction book, Proof of Heaven, released– I knew it was going to be a must read for me considering his background as a medical doctor and (before his NDE) an a-religious person. He did attend church but had no personal connection with his faith.

Most of you know that I am a pediatric ER nurse– still showing up for work twice a week until I start to earn James Patterson type money on my books. I’m confident that will happen in 2013 for sure, right?

The tough thing about working in pediatrics is when a child dies. There’s something inherently wrong with the world order when that happens. I’ve been with patients before they die.

Near Death Experiences, or NDE’s, do fascinate me. I am a religious person. I believe in heaven and hell. That’s why I Survived . . . Beyond and Back intrigued me so because it told stories of people who had died and come back. Most went to heaven. Some went to hell. And a few just had strange experiences– like aliens rolling dice on a poker table kind of weird.

As a medical person, I can attest that we don’t handle the spiritual stuff very well. I think part of that is that religious persons like myself don’t feel like they can openly discuss these issues with patients without possibly coming under fire from upper management for proselytizing . . . so generally this is left in the hands of chaplains to deal with.

Except, there aren’t always chaplains available.

Patients who are dying have very valid questions. Is there heaven? Is there hell? What did my life on earth mean?

If you think back to the advent of resuscitative medicine, it’s only been around for a good 40-50 years. Instructing the masses in CPR. Advanced life support measures like ventilators. Algorithms to manage emergency scenarios.

In the past, there likely weren’t hordes of people surviving death. But now, with medical technology, we are more and more pulling people from “the drain” as we sometimes term it. In light of that, there are many more people surviving medical calamities that would have killed them but now they are opening up and talking about their NDE’s.

One such person is a neurosurgeon by the name of Eben Alexander. A very smart, astute physician who was firmly in the camp of believing that NDE’s had a medical explanation . . . until he died himself.

And had an NDE.

We’ll pick up his story next post.

Why McDreamy is the Worst Neurosurgeon Ever

First and foremost, let me say that I am a Grey’s Anatomy fan– not for the medical accuracy for sure– but it is a guilty pleasure of mine. So, considering the known medical inaccuracies I’ve seen, I don’t have to be a neurosurgeon to guess that they are likely a little loose with the surgical details.

But this one I could not ignore.

Neurosurgeons place VP (ventriculostomy-peritoneal) shunts. What is that?

A VP shunt is a tube that is placed in a person’s brain, specifically the ventricle, to drain off excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Placing a VP shunt is primary treatment for a condition called hydrocephalus where there is excess accumulation of CSF in the brain. Too much CSF will lead to increased intracranail pressure– which can be deadly.

A VP shunt helps keep the brain at an even pressure by draining extra fluid into the perotoneal cavity (or your gut.)

Here is a primer on traumatic brain injury. This post covers some important principles of managing traumatic brain injury. For quick review, the skull contains three components: your brain, blood, and CSF.

Back to Grey’s.

Derek (aka McDreamy) and his surgeon wife adopt a baby named Zoila. One of the principle reasons for the adoption was that the child (approx 2 y/o) had a VP shunt and Dr. McDreamy would be an expert at managing her condition.


So, when the child begins to have vomiting and fever– he makes the statement, “Well, she just has the flu.”

The first thought in a neurosurgeon’s mind, until ruled otherwise, is that something is wrong with the shunt in her head!

This concept is drilled into emergency medical personnel– particularly pediatrics, that if a person with a VP shunt presents with headache, vomiting, and fever– it is an emergency. First assumption is something is wrong with the shunt and if not treated, the person could have elevated intracranial pressure (which is bad) and die (which is super bad!)

Classic symptoms for increased pressure in the brain is headache and vomiting. These could mean that the shunt is obstructed and no longer draining CSF. Fever could indicate the shunt is infected– which essentially means the patient has a brain infection (meningitis)– another really bad thing.

So for super surgeon, McDreamy, to blow this off as a viral illness is a big no-no. Off to the ER little Zoila should have gone.