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In Beyond Death’s Door, Rawlings shares how his view of the afterlife forever changed on the day one of his heart patients “died” in his office. During a routine stress test on a treadmill, the man’s heart stopped and he collapsed. Immediately, Rawlings and his staff began emergency resuscitation measures.

The patient began “coming to.” But whenever I would reach for instruments or otherwise interrupt my compression of his chest, the patient would again lose consciousness, roll his eyes upward, arch his back in mild convulsion, stop breathing, and die once more.

Each time he regained heartbeat and respiration, the patient screamed, “I am in hell!” He was terrified and pleaded with me to help him.2

The man experienced clinical death—cessation of heartbeat and breathing—four times. Each time he was revived, he was anguished: “Don’t stop! Don’t you understand? I’m in hell! Each time you quit I go back to hell. . . . How do I stay out of hell?”

An unbeliever at the time, Rawlings replied, “I’m busy. Don’t bother me about your hell until I finish getting this pacemaker into place.” But he soon saw that his patient was immersed in extreme panic. Despite his own doubts about God and the reality of an afterlife, Rawlings told the man he should ask for God’s forgiveness and turn over his life. They prayed together—the dying man and the agnostic—on the clinic floor. Soon, the man’s condition stabilized, and he was transported to the hospital.

Now I was convinced there was something about this life after death business after all. All of my concepts needed revision. I needed to find out more. . . .

A couple of days later, I approached my patient with pad and pencil in hand for an interview. At his bedside I asked him to recall what he actually saw in hell. . . . What did hell look like?

He said, “What hell? I don’t recall any hell!” Apparently, the experiences were so frightening, so horrible, so painful that his conscious mind could not cope with them; and they were subsequently suppressed far into his subconscious.3

Rawlings surmises that this provides an example of why NDE literature contains relatively few hellish accounts—most people don’t even want to remember the horrors they’ve seen, much less examine and discuss them. (This story, however, has a hopeful postscript: Rawlings reports the man is “now a strong Christian.” Rawlings himself became a believer as a result of his patient’s brush with hell.)

Garlow, J. L., & Wall, K. (2009). Heaven and the afterlife: What happens the second we die?

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