In 1970 after fracturing a vertebrae, I experienced a fat embolism that sent me into convulsions and stopped my heart. I only know about the event because medical staff told me the next day as they put my dislocated shoulder back in place, did a brain scan and put me on a no fat diet. To my conscious knowledge, I had no near death experience, or NDE. But if I had had an NDE, would I, a freshman at the University of Arkansas at the time, have had the courage to tell the story to family and friends, much less the whole world?
Eben Alexander was living a good life as a husband, father, and respected neurosurgeon for which he was smart enough to be grateful. Then one day he began to experience flu-like symptoms, a headache and back pain. His wife returned home and discovered he was having a grand mal seizure and called 911. At the hospital doctors discover Alexander had E. coli meningitis. Despite the fact he was treated quickly and aggressively, Alexander remained comatose for six days surrounded by medical staff and praying family. With little anticipated hope for recovery, it is miraculous that he opened his eyes on day 7 and eventually had full recovery. Even more remarkable to me is that Alexander returned to consciousness with his own personal tale of a near-death experience, or NDE, which included a blue-eyed woman who came to him on butterfly wing and chose to tell it in Proof of Heaven: a Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife.
The NDE is not new in popular culture. Before picking up Dr. Alexander’s book at Target, I had read 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo, and To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again by Dr. Mary C. Neal. Mark Galli says in his December 2012 article Incredible Journey: What to Make of Visits to Heaven that he tends to believe NDE accounts (one of which he mentions is Alexander’s) due to his experience with historical research and its reliance on personal testimony by reliable witnesses.
Unlike the med students portrayed in the 1990 film, Flatliners, the only proof of heaven needed for the Christian is found in scripture. Didn’t Jesus promise one of the thieves crucified with him that, “Today you will be with me in paradise?” (Luke 23:43 NIV) Where the skeptics often appear, for Alexander and others with NDEs that speak of heaven, is in the scientific realm. Many scientists, including Alexander before his NDE, look upon the NDE as the hallucinations of a dying brain.
Arkansans have the privilege of hearing Dr. Alexander live on November 13, 2013, as part of the Clinton School Speaker series. The crowd drawn in this neck of the Bible belt woods by the neurosurgeon turned NDE author is large. At the parking deck of the Statehouse Convention Center I get one of only a few remaining spaces on the upper deck. I join the throngs at the Ballroom of the Statehouse Convention Center and find one of few remaining seats. As the best selling scientist shares a capsule version of the story I have already read, one word comes to mind. Risk.
RISK! is a live show and podcast hosted by storyteller Kevin Allison who regularly brings on folks to tell “stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public.” Possibly the riskiest story I’ve seen told is that of this neurosurgeon turned NDE author unafraid to tell his story even though he knew the full extent of scientific skepticism!
Got a risky story to tell? Get a “prescription for courage” to tell it from Dr. Eben Alexander!