Pam Reynolds near death experience is considered by many to be proof of the reality of the survival of consciousness after death, and of a life after death. This is a near death experience report which has gained enormous international popularity since its first publication by Dr. Michael Sabom in his book “Light & Death” in 2008. So what is her story?
Pam Reynolds was 35 years old in 1991 when she was diagnosed with a giant aneurysm of the basilar artery. A personal disaster. Having such an aneurysm is like walking around with a bomb in your head - it may rupture and bleed at any moment, destroying the adjacent brainstem and causing death. Removing such a giant aneurysm is tricky, and this was at a location which was also difficult to approach. An eminent neurosurgeon called Dr. Spetzler, successfully operatively removed the aneurysm during 1991 using a technique called "hypothermic cardiac arrest". This made it possible to remove the aneurysm without excessive blood loss, as well as protecting the adjacent brain tissue from damage. Hypothermic cardiac arrest employs extreme lowering of body temperature combined with temporary stopping of the heart (cardiac arrest), and is a technique which has been successfully employed since the 1950's (see: Dobell 1997, Hirotani 2000, Matalanis 2003, Pretre 2003). [NOTE: G.M. Woerlee has personal experience with this technique having worked with Dr. Charles Drew during 1979-1980 at which time this technique was employed for open heart surgery in the Westminster Hospital in London using the Drew apparatus described by Dobell in his 1997 article]. Hypothermic cardiac arrest meant Pam Reynolds would be so-called “clinically dead” for part of the operation.
While apparently unconscious under general anesthesia, Pam Reynolds underwent a remarkable out of body experience as well as a profound near death experience. During her out of body experience she made several observations of events occurring around her body, words spoken in the operating theater, and saw some of the instruments used during the operation. All these observations were subsequently verified to be true. Three years later during 1994 she came into contact with Dr. Michael Sabom, an Atlanta cardiologist, who published her story during 2008 in a book called “Light & Death”.
A simply enormous amount of energy has been expended by many people claiming this was the definitive proof of the reality of extracorporeal consciousness, a soul, and some sort of continued existence of consciousness and personality after death. Actually, the reasonably accurate account of the Pam Reynolds story in chapter 5 of “Light & Death” written by Dr. Sabom, reveals it was actually the malfunctioning of her body that generated Pam Reynolds truly amazing near death experience (Woerlee 2004, Woerlee 2005). A careful, albeit lengthy analysis reveals the truth of this statement. So I have divided this web page into various sections to make reading and understanding easier.
This turned out to be a rather more extensive website than originally planned, so here is an index of links to sections of this website.
Why was Pam Reynolds referred by her physicians to Dr. Spetzler, an eminent neurosurgeon who was working at the Barrow Neurological Institute during 1991? The answer is easily found. Such basilar artery aneurysms are rare, technically difficult to operate, and associated with a high mortality. Dr. Spetzler was one of the few world experts in this type of operation. Dr. Spetzler and his associates had published a series of 7 successful operations performed upon giant basilar artery aneurysms using “hypothermic cardiac arrest” during 1988 (Spetzler 1988), and by 1998 Dr. Spetzler and his team had performed at least 62 such procedures (Lawton 1998). So when Dr. Spetzler performed the operation upon Pam Reynolds during 1991, he had performed at least 7 such operations before.
Prior to any type of operation, a surgeon must obtain informed consent from the patient. This is especially important when undertaking a potentially life-threatening procedure, as in the situation of Pam Reynolds. The surgeon must inform thew patient about the nature and purpose of the operation, the expected benefits, and the expected risks. This is standard now, and was also standard, legally obligatory medical practice in Arizona during 1991. So Pam Reynolds would have known quite a lot about her future operation prior to her arrival in the operating theater.
So not only must Pam Reynolds have known quite a lot about the operation prior to undergoing it, but there is another major problem confronting those claiming this is truly proof of the reality of a separable immaterial mind. This problem is the difference in time between undergoing the operation, and reporting it to Sabom.
When I first read her operative report at her mother's home in November 1994,1 was incredulous. Who, in their right mind, would eliminate all of a person's vital signs, chill her body to 60 degrees, drain her blood, and still expect her to live? I really could not believe it! So I phoned the Barrow Neurological Institute and had them fax me their copy of Spetzler's report along with the operative summaries of the neuroanesthesiologist and cardiac surgeon. (pages 47-48 in “Light & Death”)
There are a few more points related to this time interval. As Sabom stated, he did receive the anesthetic and surgical records from the Barrow Institute. This informed him about the procedure, type of anesthesia, etc. Now what is surprising, is the fact that if her story was so inexplicable, and so amazing, that no one bothered to publish a case report in a popular or scientific journal. Spetzler certainly never published an account of Pam Reynolds experience under his name in any scientific journal. Was this because of fear of ridicule about publishing a “mere hallucination”, or anxiety about acknowledging a case of anesthetic awareness? Public acknowledgement of Spetzlers’s involvement, and his personal involvement in this account, only appears to be present after the publication of this story by Sabom in 1996, after which there was a good deal of public interest in her account. Very curiously, all popular writers on this matter totally ignore these facts.
But this is not all. Pam Reynolds could have had confirmation about the veracity of her observations at some time during this three-year interval. And this is indeed what occurred. Pam Reynolds mentioned hearing four veridical sounds.
So how did Pam Reynolds get confirmation? The anesthetic and surgical information would have confirmed the use of the drill and the saw. It would also have confirmed the necessity to use another artery for the cardiopulmonary bypass. Pam Reynolds would have seen the wound for bypass tubing on the side other than that planned and explained beforehand. But the words of the cardiothoracic surgeon would not be part of the medical record. Neither would the fact that the music of “Hotel California” was played while her surgical wounds were being closed been noted anywhere in the medical records of her case. Pam Reynolds could have confirmed these veridical aspects of her experience shortly after the event by talking about her experience to her physicians, the anesthesiologist, or the anesthetic and operating theater nurses present at the time. And indeed, her physicians at the time confirmed all these details at the time, as was revealed in her last interview. Furthermore, their reactions indicated they were possibly worried about medicolegal consequences resulting from what they believed to be a period of anesthetic awareness. See this extract from Pam Reynolds last interview.
Interviewer: Did you discuss your experience to others other than your doctor?
Pamela Reynolds: Yes, everyone. It was pretty funny also. I thought I had hallucinations and when I talked with my family and my husband, we were joking. That made everyone laugh with the exception of nurses, the doctor, the anesthesiologist and neurophysiologists… They did not seem to find it funny and they hardly dared to look at me. In fact, they knew that I was not hallucinating and that this had occurred. They had never heard of such things before. I thought maybe it was my imagination and I had a dream, but they told me that this was not the case and what I saw really happened.
Interviewer: This is surprising, they were convinced you were not hallucinating! In most cases where people report such things to their doctor, the doctor will think they are hallucinating…
Pamela Reynolds: They kept telling me that it was not a hallucination… And I sometimes still do not believe them. Many people ask me what does it mean. They are searching for religious answers to try to make sense of this experience. I have no answer to give them, and I do not know what it all means. All I know is that it happened. For the meaning, it would have to go to another person. Not me, I’m a musician.
Reading these passages, you realize immediately from the sentence: “They did not seem to find it funny and they hardly dared to look at me… ” that her physicians simply suspected anesthetic awareness and were worried about possible medicolegal action. So took the best possible course of action in situations where medicolegal actions might be instituted—they were empathic and honest, and informed her that her veridical observations were real events made during a period of awareness. Notice that Pam Reynolds reported that her physicians did not talk about wondrous paranormal explanations. They just stated her veridical observations were real.
The conclusion is obvious. Pam Reynolds learned of the reality of her veridical observations shortly after surgery. This raises another curious point. She would have told Sabom about how she came to know of the reality of her observations—yet Sabom ignores this totally in his account of her NDE report—as do all other subsequent accounts of her experience. Very curious indeed.
Nonetheless, I will ignore the above facts in the following study of her case, and assume for the sake of argument that it all happened more or less as described in Chapter 3 of “Light & Death”. So let us proceed on a voyage of elucidation using the instrument of a timeline. Despite several deficiencies, chapter 3 of “Light & Death” is a reasonably accurate account, and contains enough information with which to explain this quite astonishing story. Furthermore, being the first report of this story, it also has the advantage of being free of the inaccuracies, contaminations, and outright fantasies now circulating as a result of the telling and retelling of this story. If you carefully examine the account of her experience in “Light & Death” (Sabom 1998, pages 37-51) you can construct just such a timeline.
Arrival in the operating theater
Pam Reynolds was awake when brought into the operating theater. So she would have seen the layout of the theater, the covered instrument trolleys, the anesthetic and neurophysiology monitors, many of the personnel, as well as many other details. We know this from her account in the book of Dr. Sabom
Pam had been awake when brought into the operating room at 7:15 that August morning in 1991. She remembers the IVs, "so many of them," (page 38 in “Light & Death”)
Induction of general anesthesia
This is where the account of Dr. Sabom gets a bit shaky, as it is evident he is unfamiliar with the requirements for safely inducing general anesthesia in someone with a giant basilar artery aneurysm. Placing an endotracheal tube in the trachea causes an enormous rise in blood pressure (Sparr 2008), which could cause her aneurysm to rupture like an overdistended balloon, with fatal or other disastrous consequences. This is why anesthesiologists always administer a high dose of a powerful morphine-like drug such as fentanyl or sufentanil in addition to rendering people unconscious prior to inserting an endotracheal tube. Skill does not reduce the rise in blood pressure due to this procedure - only high doses of morphine-like drugs. Yet we read in the book of Dr Sabom:
Pam had been awake when brought into the operating room at 7:15 that August morning in 1991. She remembers the IVs, &ldqu;so many of them,” followed by “a loss of time” as the intravenous pentothal worked its calming magic on her. According to Spetzler’s surgical report, her body was lifted onto the operating table and her arms and legs securely tied down. Her eyes were lubricated to prevent drying and then taped shut. An endotracheal tube was skillfully guided through her mouth into her windpipe, and general anesthesia was begun. (page 38 in “Light & Death”)
Wow! An endotracheal tube was inserted before beginning general anesthesia!!! Propose this “anesthetic” procedure to anyone experienced with neuroanesthesia and they will begin to laugh hysterically and uncontrollably. After recovering, and changing their soiled underwear, they will ask if you are mentally entirely in order, and proceed to tell you that this is an absolutely sure-fire way to get a giant aneurysm to burst and bleed. This is one of the inconsistencies in the otherwise quite reasonable report of Sabom, and is almost certainly a product of unfamiliarity with anesthesiology. The 1988 article of Dr Spetzler and his colleagues provides an reasonably accurate discussion of the anesthetic procedure and drugs used - thiopental, vecuronium, nitrous oxide, isoflurane, and sufentanil (see page 870 in Spetzler 1988). These drugs were still in common use up till the year 2000 [NOTE: personal practice experience as an anesthesiologist during this time period].
Was Pam Reynolds under "burst suppression" during all her operation?
A good deal of confusion results from reading the first part of an 1988 article written by Dr. Spetzler, the neurosurgeon, who operated Pam Reynolds. Page 870 of this article states:
Barbiturate-induced EEG burst suppression for cerebral protection is maintained intraoperatively. (see page 870 Spetzler 1988)
"Burst suppression" is a condition of the brain during which the electroencephalogram is flat for periods of time varying from several seconds to longer periods. Consciousness is definitely absent during burst suppression. This condition is often induced by higher doses of several drugs, among which, a continuous infusion of the drug Thiopental, as was employed during the Pam Reynolds operation during 1991. The reason for doing this with thiopental during such operations was to induce a situation of lowered metabolism that protected the brain from damage during periods when blood vessels supplying parts of the brain are clamped shut.
Anesthesia awareness, and conscious experiences such as anesthesia awareness, OBE's, and NDE's are impossible during periods of burst suppression. So did Pam Reynolds receive a thiopental infusion to induce burst suppression during the whole period of her operation? An answer to this question reveals whether her reported conscious experiences were possible.
During 1998, Dr. Spetzler and his colleagues reviewed the results of 54 operations performed at the Barrow Institute to treat brain aneurysms under hypothermic cardiac arrest during the period 1986 to 1998. Among these, were 28 patients with large and giant, basilar artery aneurysms operated by Dr. Spetzler in the period 1990 to 1995. Here we read in this article that:
The feasibility and usefulness of treating large and giant aneurysms of the basilar artery with circulatory arrest, deep hypothermia, and barbiturate cerebral protection have been demonstrated (3,8,10,12,14,15,27,29,35,37-39,42-45,48). During the 9 years since our initial report (see reference 42 in Spetzler 1988), the technique itself has not changed but the indications for its use and the health care environment in which it is used have changed dramatically. (see page 173 in Lawton 1998)
Pam Reynolds was one of these 28 patients, and was managed in exactly that same way as all the other 27 patients. This is normal, and expected. Nothing is more lethal in medicine than chopping and changing treatment protocols. To do so means deviating from tried and successful treatment protocols. So does this tell us whether Pam Reynolds was under burst suppression during her operation? Yet it does get us further with answering this question. The answer is found in the 1988 article by Dr. Spetzler. Here we read:
Our experience with profound hypothermia and circulatory arrest indicates that prearrest, precooling administration of barbiturates (thiopental) in quantities sufficient to maintain burst suppression of EEG activity has not been deleterious and probably has improved cerebral protection. The average thiopental dose in this series was 21 mg/kg. After an initial loading dose of 3 mg/kg, patients received between 0.1 and 0.2 mg/kg/min (mean 0.17 mg/kg/min) to maintain EEG burst suppression throughout the operative procedure. (Spetzler 1988)
This passage answers the question of whether Pam Reynolds was subjected to burst suppressive doses of thiopental during the whole period of her operation. We know from the book written by Michael Sabom, “Light & Death”, that she was brought conscious into the operating theater at 07:15 hrs in the morning, and left while under anesthesia at 14:10 hrs in the afternoon. This is a period of 6 hours and 55 minutes. This is the first important fact. The second necessary piece of information is provided by photographs of Pam Reynolds. These reveal a woman with a body weight of about 60-65 kg. Using this information and the dosage schemes of Dr. Spetzler, we can do the following simple calculation.
So if the thiopental induced burst suppression was not administered during the whole of the operation, during which period of the operation was thiopental burst suppression employed? Other writings of Dr. Spetzler over several years prior to, and after the operation performed on Pam Reynolds during 1991, provide the answer. And this answer is given by articles written by those people working there during the same procedures.
During the period just before CPB, thiopental or propofol is titrated in small (50-100 mg) doses to achieve burst-suppression pattern on the raw EEG signal. A continuous infusion is established to maintain the EEG pattern during normothermia. Once cooling begins, the infusion is left constant at the normothermic rate. Alpha-stat PaCO2 management is used. During circulatory arrest, the drug infusion used for EEG burst-suppression is interrupted and then restarted at the same rate during rewarming. (see page 498 in Young 2000)
Thiopental induced burst suppression is started shortly before cooling the body begins, and blood vessels supplying parts of the brain with blood are clamped after achieving the desired level of hypothermia (Han 2003, Lawton 1998, Spetzler 1988, Young 2002). The implication of this is evident. It means that Pam Reynolds could have undergone periods of anesthetic awareness which would explain her veridical experiences.
Auditory stimuli applied to her ears
Sabom describes the auditory clicking sounds administered to Pam Reynolds to monitor whether the nerves going to her brainstem were not damaged during the operation…
Standard EEG electrodes taped to her head would record cerebral cortical brain activity. The auditory nerve center located in the brain stem would be tested repeatedly using 100-decibel clicks emitted from small, molded speakers inserted into her ears. In response to these clicks, sharp spikes on the electrogram (i.e., evoked potentials) would assure the surgical team that the brain stem was intact. (Page 39 in “Light & Death”)
But this was a very inaccurate description of these stimulus parameters. Page 869 of the 1988 article written by Spetzler and his co-workers tells us more about the auditory stimulus parameters used on Pam Reynolds, but leaves a number of questions unanswered (see page 869 in Spetzler 1988). Raudzens, the head of the neurophysiology department provided more information on these auditory stimulation parameters, because he was involved in their development and successful deployment (Raudzens 1982). These same stimulus parameters were still in use in the Barrow Neurosurgical Clinic more than a decade after Pam Reynolds operation during 1991 (Han 2003). The stimulus parameters used during Pam Reynolds operation were:
These stimulus parameters and administration technique reveal that Pam Reynolds could hear external sounds by air conduction, as well as sounds by means of bone conduction.
The brain monitoring
The functioning of Pam Reynolds brain was performed with the latest technology available in 1991, and consisted of the following three monitoring modalities (see page 868 in Spetzler (1988)).
Even so, and unknown to her physicians, Pam Reynolds underwent a typical awareness experience during her operation. Why were Pam Reynolds periods of awareness not signaled by the EEG monitoring at the time she was able to observe what was happening in the operating room, or during her out of body experience? After all, both the awareness and the out of body experience are conscious experiences, and can only occur in a conscious brain. The embarrassing and humbling truth is that these monitors of consciousness are not 100% reliable. Measurements such as these are affected differently by the various different drugs used during anesthesia, as well as by changes in body temperature. This is why some people are conscious, even though modern apparatus measuring the MLAEP or BIS say they are unconscious (Avidan 2008, Bruhn 2006, Nilsen 2022). This is why professional associations of anesthesiologists in nearly all countries, (including the USA), while acknowledging the utility of these measures of consciousness, always recommend they not be relied upon 100%, and that anesthesiologists must also use experience and common sense to guage the level of consciousness (ASA 2006).
Why did Pam Reynolds not report hearing the clicking sounds?
Nowhere in the accounts of the Pam Reynolds experience is there any mention of her hearing the clicking sounds of the BAEP stimuli in the ears to which they were applied. Yet there is mention that the BAEP was used to determine whether the nerves transporting auditory stimuli to the brainstem were functioning normally, as revealed by the BAEP signals. This clearly indicated that the BAEP electrodes were recording signals from her brainstem. This indicates she ignored these clicking sounds, much as we ignore engine noise in an automobile or airplane.
Veridical perceptions of the drill and saw
The neurosurgeon began the operation. A scalp incision was made, and the skin covering her skull retracted. A pneumatic bone saw was used to remove a piece of bone from her skull in order to give access to the brain and the aneurysm within. This was when Pam Reynolds had her first veridical perception of sound, after which she underwent an out-of-body experience where she saw the surgeon and the pneumatic saw. She reported this to Dr Sabom as awakening to the sound of a "natural D" and leaving her body.
The next thing I recall was the sound: It was a natural D. As I listened to the sound, I felt it was pulling me out of the top of my head. The further out of my body I got, the more clear the tone became. I had the impression it was like a road, a frequency that you go on .… I remember seeing several things in the operating room when I was looking down. It was the most aware that I think that I have ever been in my entire life.… I was metaphorically sitting on Dr. Spetzler's [the neurosurgeon] shoulder. It was not like normal vision. It was brighter and more focused and clearer than normal vision. . . . There was so much in the operating room that I didn't recognize, and so many people. (page 41 in “Light & Death”)
Then Pam Reynolds reported her second veridical sound perception.
I heard the saw crank up. I didn't see them use it on my head, but I think I heard it being used on something. It was humming at a relatively high pitch and then all of a sudden it went Brrnrrrrrr! like that… (page 41 in “Light & Death”)
These are two very distinct sounds, whose origin lies in the structure of the saw and the way a neurosurgeon removes a piece of skull to get at the brain within. A brief glace at the drawing of the saw attachment of the Midas Rex Instrument reveals that this cannot be used to open a skull. This is a type of fret-saw that must be introduced into a starting hole in the skull. The saw is introduced through the starting hole, the L-shaped foot is held against the inner surface of the skull, and the saw is then used to cut apiece of skull. This is how the Midas Rex saw and drill are used.
How could Pam Reynolds have heard these sounds when her ears were blocked with sound emitting earphones, and supposedly unconscious under anesthesia? The answer is that she was awakened by the vibrations and sound of the drill — very similar to awakening from sleep. This was a classic anesthetic awareness experience while under the influence of high doses of opiates (read about types of anesthetic awareness here). I explained all of this in an extensive article published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies (Woerlee 2011).
The reader should note that Pam Reynolds body temperature and heartbeat were normal throughout this period, and she received artificial respiration with a machine. So if she was awake, she would have heard these sounds. At the same time as Dr. Spetzler was busy opening her skull, Dr. Murray the cardiothoracic surgeon was busy opening Pam's right groin to insert cardiac bypass tubing into the blood vessels there. A very standard procedure at that time. At this time Pam Reynolds heard Dr. Murray speaking:
Someone said something about my veins and arteries being very small. I believe it was a female voice and that it was Dr. Murray, but I'm not sure. She was the cardiologist. I remember thinking that I should have told her about that … (page 42 in “Light & Death”)
She was not on cardiac bypass at the time of her out of body experience, because the cardiothoracic surgeon was having trouble introducing the cardiac bypass machine tubing into the blood vessels of her right groin &mdashe; they were too small for the size of the tubing and the blood flow needed for cardiac bypass. So the cardiothoracic surgeon eventually used the blood vessels in her left groin. This means that at this time she had a normal body temperature, and the normal responses of a paralyzed person who was supposedly under general anesthesia. And I say “supposedly under general anesthesia”, because what she described was a typical period of conscious awareness under general anesthesia. This is something familiar to all anesthesiologists — a person ostensibly unconscious under general anesthesia may well be awake and aware (see: ASA 2006, Avidian 2008, Bruhn 2006, and the website on Awareness under anesthesia to read about awareness,and the various types of awareness during anesthesia). She felt no pain, but was clearly able to able to hear and describe what happened to her.
Hearing “Hotel California” — Proof of ANESTHETIC AWARENESS
Sabom and Pam Reynolds described the return of her conscious mind to her body in the words:
The cardiac surgeon quickly placed the two defibrillator paddles on Pam's chest and shocked her heart with 50 joules of electricity. No response. The defibrillator was then charged with 100 joules and reapplied. After this second jolt of electricity, the familiar beep-beep-beep of normal sinus rhythm brought forth sighs of relief from the cardiac surgical team, who were preparing to cut open her chest to revive her heart. [this occurred at 12.00 hrs, at which time her body temperature was 27 degrees Celsius]
And Pam began her "return" from her near-death experience:
My grandmother didn't take me back through the tunnel, or even send me back or ask me to go. She just looked up at me. I expected to go with her, but it was communicated to me that she just didn't think she would do that. My uncle said he would do it. He's the one who took me back through the end of the tunnel. Everything was fine. I did want to go. But then I got to the end of it and saw the thing, my body. I didn't want to get into it.. . . It looked terrible, like a train wreck. It looked like what it was: dead. I believe it was covered. It scared me and I didn't want to look at it. It was communicated to me that it was like jumping into a swimming pool. No problem, just jump right into the swimming pool. I didn't want to, but I guess I was late or something because he [the uncle] pushed me. I felt a definite repelling and at the same time a pulling from the body. The body was pulling and the tunnel was pushing.… It was like diving into a pool of ice water.… It hurt!
With additional warming and reinfusion of blood, the cardiopulmonary bypass machine was turned off at 12:32 P.M., when Pam's temperature had reached a life-sustaining but still subnormal 89.6 degrees [32 degrees Celsius]. Her body was then deinstrumented and her surgical wounds closed. The music in the background began playing rock as Spetzler's younger assistants took over the closing surgical duties. The songs did not escape Pam's notice:
When I came back, they were playing “Hotel California” and the line was "You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave." I mentioned [later] to Dr. Brown that that was incredibly insensitive and he told me that I needed to sleep more. [laughter] When I regained consciousness, I was still on the respirator. (Sabom 1998, pages 46-47 in "Light & Death")
Was it possible for Pam Reynolds to have been awake, feel being defibrillated with a 100 Joule shock at 27 degrees Celsius, and subsequently hear the music of “Hotel California” at a body temperature of 32 degrees Celsius? Most people are unconscious at 27 degrees Celsius, but a few people do retain consciousness at temperatures as low as 23 degrees Celsius (Fay-1941, Roser-2011). This means it was possible for Pam Reynolds to have been awake during her defibrillation, and while hearing the music of “Hotel California”! This brings us back to her account in “Light & Death”.
Pam Reynolds did not report departing from her body between the return to her body, and hearing the music. So her report on pages 46-47 of the book “Light & Death” clearly indicate her conscious mind was within her body when she heard this music. This means she was conscious within her body at this time. She felt no pain from the surgical manipulations, and she could hear what was happening about her. She heard the music of “Hotel California” played and sung by "The Eagles" which had reached the line, "You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave." A curious coincidence, and very appropriate, because she was still paralyzed by a muscle paralyzing drug at the time. So she still could not move, breathe, or talk - even had she tried to do so. She was indeed locked inside her body - she could not leave. Furthermore, she could not talk because of the muscle paralysis, and the tube passed through her windpipe and attached to the respirator. This is a CLASSIC case of UNINTENTIONAL ANESTHETIC AWARENESS (click here to read the explanation of how this is possible, see also: ASA 2006, Avidian 2008, Bruhn 2006). And then she lost consciousness again until she awoke later in the intensive care. But how was it possible for her to have heard this music? There are two possibilities.
Further proof of this evident anesthetic awareness is revealed by the interview she gave shortly before she passed away during 2010. In this interview we read the following (see: the text of the Pam Reynolds last interview):
Pamela Reynolds: Yes, everyone. It was pretty funny also. I thought I had hallucinations and when I talked with my family and my husband, we were joking. That made everyone laugh with the exception of nurses, the doctor, the anesthesiologist and neurophysiologists … They did not seem to find it funny and they hardly dared to look at me. In fact, they knew that I was not hallucinating and that this had occurred. They had never heard of such things before. I thought maybe it was my imagination and I had a dream, but they told me that this was not the case and what I saw really happened.
Pamela Reynolds: They kept telling me that it was not a hallucination … And I sometimes still do not believe them. Many people ask me what does it mean. They are searching for religious answers to try to make sense of this experience. I have no answer to give them, and I do not know what it all means. All I know is that it happened. For the meaning, it would have to go to another person. Not me, I'm a musician.
Her physicians and the nurses acted appropriately for the situation of unexpected anesthetic awareness. They took her story seriously, and admitted the reality of her observations. They may even have shown photos of ther instruments, or the actual instruments, to make it clear what she heard. She remembered all these things, and combined them into a story she reported to Michael Sabom during 1994. This is another way she could have learned of the appearances of the instruments.
Popular belief has it that the experiences of Pam Reynolds all occurred during her period of hypothermic cardiac arrest. But when one looks carefully at the timeline of her experience, one can only conclude that the experiences of Pam Reynolds did not occur during her period of hypothermic cardiac arrest. Moreover, nearly all people are simply unconscious below a body temperature of 26 degrees Celsius (Davis 2006), and while unconscious a person can have no conscious experiences such as a near-death experience, out-of-body experience, or any other type of dream, hallucination, or conscious experience for that matter. This means that Pam Reynolds near-death experience of the vortex, meeting relatives etc, occurred during a period of awareness either before, or after she was unconscious due to cooling of her body.
Pam Reynolds had a near-death experience during which she fell into a dark vortex to enter a transcendental world where she was met by her deceased relatives in some transcendental universe. Her initial experience of falling into a dark vortex was very likely due to rapid onset of profound muscle relaxation as she descended into unconsciousness during the period of rapid cooling of her body. This is a sensation very similar to the falling sensation people sometimes experience in the period just between awake and falling asleep. Her subsequent near-death experience was one with elements typically reported by persons expecting to undergo a potentially lethal event (Click here to read what Bruce Greyson wrote about expectation and type of NDE).
This is why she had a near-death experience with affective and transcendental components, where she entered a transcendental world to meet other deceased persons who acted as guides or mentors in this world. Typically, as a person born and raised in the USA, she saw her deceased close family members, encountered a barrier, and returned to her body. So her experience is exactly what you would expect from a person with her background in the USA (Click here to read how socio-cultual factors determine the nature of relatives seen during an NDE).
Experiences like this do not have to last a long time. They sometimes only last seconds, even though the person themselves feel as if they last a long time. This is a typical difference between subjective experience and objective observation. And in this part of Pam Reynolds experience, we have no features enabling the duration of the experience to be determined.
These things explain most aspects of the wondrous near death experience of Pam Reynolds. All this means that the experience of Pam Reynolds was not a product of an immaterial soul, or immaterial mind, which can exist for eternity separately from her body. Instead, her experience was a product of anesthetic drugs, abnormal interpretations of bodily sensations, together with a perception of personal imminent death all causing her body to function in such a way that she underwent a series of truly wondrous experiences. And they were wondrous experiences, even though they were products of abnormal body function. They possibly confirmed her vision of the world, possibly even gave her a new vision of the world, possibly even gave her a reason for existence. To her, and to others, these experience were significant. This is also true, for they are powerful and wonderful demonstrations of the functioning of the human body - demonstrations of the true nature of our being.