What does it feel like to die.
October 11, 2007 11:35 PM   Subscribe

Oooh last minute update; there's actually much more.
posted by Jimbob at 11:38 PM on October 11, 2007

(Most of that stuff is subscription-only, though.)
posted by Tlogmer at 11:41 PM on October 11, 2007

Like enhanced interrogation, but just a little bit more so.
posted by oncogenesis at 11:45 PM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by Poolio at 11:45 PM on October 11, 2007

In the end, they're all the same: the anaesthetic from which none come round.
posted by pracowity at 11:50 PM on October 11, 2007


I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anasthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Philip Larkin
posted by lalochezia at 11:57 PM on October 11, 2007 [24 favorites]

Metafilter: the anaesthetic from only which some come round.
posted by localhuman at 11:58 PM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

second Larkin' ref in a week...
posted by From Bklyn at 12:14 AM on October 12, 2007

pracowity: that's not totally fair. Larkin did write some poems which weren't about growing old and dying.
posted by magic curl at 12:14 AM on October 12, 2007

I wonder of its possible to die from the shock and nausea that inevitably takes over me when I read about the process of dying.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:19 AM on October 12, 2007

I'm surprised that they didn't cover a very popular one -- gasping for air as you die of lung cancer over a period of 2-3 days.

I've personally seen it happen twice, and it looks pretty awful.
posted by ELF Radio at 12:33 AM on October 12, 2007

That's handy. Now I know I don't want to die in a fire.
posted by tellurian at 12:35 AM on October 12, 2007

ODing on heroin while falling from a plane. Count on it.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:36 AM on October 12, 2007

posted by trip and a half at 12:41 AM on October 12, 2007

Lethal injection was designed in Oklahoma in 1977 as a humane alternative to the electric chair.

Wow. They didn't teach us that in Oklahoma History class.
posted by Brittanie at 1:11 AM on October 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've always imagined the last seconds of actual life to be like that state where you're sleeping and can't wake yourself up from it. Is your mind conscious that this is happening and fight it, or do you just let it happen? And then we just cease to be.

According to the article, though, it's apparently not always so pleasant unless you're beheaded.
posted by SteveInMaine at 1:23 AM on October 12, 2007

I'd like to go via guillotine, but only if my head could roll to the feet of some free market truebeliever and stare into his eyes while I soundlessly mouth my last word: "LOLDEBTORZ!!1!"
posted by maryh at 1:38 AM on October 12, 2007

All right, HAL, I'll go in through the emergency airlock.

Without your scuba gear defibrillator platelets fire extinguisher gorget space helmet, Dave, you're going to find that rather difficult.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 1:43 AM on October 12, 2007

So what I'm reading is that rapid decompression is the least-cruel, least-painless way to kill someone? Cooool. SCOTUS, take note, get us some extra use out of NASA's cool vacuum chamber!
posted by disillusioned at 1:43 AM on October 12, 2007

Also: am I the only person who advocates the reintroduction of the guillotine as the most efficient and painless method of execution? Perhaps if it were augmented with a strong sedative beforehand?
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 1:44 AM on October 12, 2007

Every death I've witnessed has taken way too long. Even with a family member as the attending physician in charge of another family member it was long and uncomfortable.

Mostly they strike me as either napping or drowning.
posted by sourwookie at 1:54 AM on October 12, 2007

I think you're asking the wrong crowd, Jimbob.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:58 AM on October 12, 2007

I'd like to go via guillotine, but only if my head could roll to the feet of some free market truebeliever and stare into his eyes while I soundlessly mouth my last word: "LOLDEBTORZ!!1!"

The last laugh would be on them, though. They'd all agree that you really should have gone into debt, so you could mouth "LOLCREDITORZ!!1!" instead.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:01 AM on October 12, 2007 [3 favorites]

Reminds me of Connie Willis' Passage: a researcher studying the commonality of near-death experiences becomes her own test subject. Excellent and heartbreaking.
posted by zanni at 2:14 AM on October 12, 2007

I'm counting on the flood of endorphins to kill the panic. And whatever sensations I'd rather not be going through.

There was an AskMe awhile back about the "worst way to go" and I had to agree with a paramedic that... continual resuscitation would pretty much make any end that much more horrible.
posted by dreamsign at 2:30 AM on October 12, 2007

You're right, UbuRoivas, but it's my nature to go for cheap sarcasm. I don't think mere decapitation would steer me in a new direction.
posted by maryh at 2:41 AM on October 12, 2007

One of the New Scientist's ads for itself has a fish bobbing up and down in it. It was kind of surreal to read about drowning with that fish right there.
posted by strangeguitars at 3:15 AM on October 12, 2007

JimBob asks: What's it feel like to croak?
It depends on the cause: Was it stroke?
Was your check-out untimely?
Did you choke sans a Heimlich ...
Or was it a bronc that refused to be broke?
posted by rob511 at 3:43 AM on October 12, 2007

The best way to go is in your sleep. It's quite blissful.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:44 AM on October 12, 2007

I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming, like the people in his car.

posted by daveyt at 4:54 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Meh, they didn't cover the one I'm most interested in: Gunshot to the brain. It's very quick, obviously, but I was hoping for some speculation from a neurologist or something. If you were to shoot yourself muzzle-to-the-temple style, would you lose consciousness instantly? Is it the bloodloss or the "brain shock" that kills you?
posted by hjo3 at 5:40 AM on October 12, 2007

Good to know, lots of practical and useful information there, for oneself and others. Always wondered about some of those deaths, like heart attack.


Thanks for the post JimBob.
posted by nickyskye at 5:59 AM on October 12, 2007

I died a little bit when I realized Metafilter is just DemocraticUnderground "lite".
posted by tadellin at 6:10 AM on October 12, 2007

did anyone see House this week?
posted by spish at 6:13 AM on October 12, 2007

posted by jquinby at 7:13 AM on October 12, 2007

This barely touches on the feelings of dying at all, more the mechanical precursors.

I suppose DMT isn't for everyone...
posted by prostyle at 7:18 AM on October 12, 2007

I am just really troubled by the fact that they tested almost all of these on animals. I understand that we have to experiment in some cases to better our chances of treatment and survival but that still doesn't get the graphic images of electrocuting dogs out of my head.
I still, however, found the article very interesting.
posted by ForeverDcember at 7:25 AM on October 12, 2007

They electrocuted an elephant once. I've never gotten over seeing that.
posted by agregoli at 7:26 AM on October 12, 2007

Hm. My great-aunt had a heart attack a few years back, and was apparently technically dead for a very little bit. She said one minute she was sitting and talking to someone, and the next she seemed to be falling backwards, and then there was nothing until she woke up to all the firemen around her. She didn't mention any pain from it, but she was in more or less constant pain (and with constant pain medication) for other conditions and may not have noticed anything unusual.

She was very angry to have been resuscitated, and died and stayed dead 18 months ago.

Also found this tangentially related article about death and resuscitation while doublechecking what I remembered.
posted by dilettante at 7:33 AM on October 12, 2007

Lately I've been comforting myself with the idea that death would basically feel like an exaggerated version of standing up too fast. Your vision blacks out, your skin goes numb, consciousness flickers off and the story ends. For some reason I forgot about all of those horrible drawn out ways to expire other than sudden circulatory collapse. Thanks New Scientist!
posted by bunnytricks at 7:34 AM on October 12, 2007

to paraphrase: those who know, don't talk. Those who do not know, talk. In the end all will be well. If not, it is not the end
posted by Postroad at 7:38 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Without your scuba gear defibrillator platelets fire extinguisher gorget space helmet, Dave, you're going to find that rather difficult.

Maybe not as difficult as you think.

Every year or so I have a dream in which I die, and it's a strange, unpleasant sensation of just sort of...dissipating...like mist evaporating, is the best anology I can think of. I always wake up, relieved to be alive and wondering how it will compare to the real thing.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:15 AM on October 12, 2007

Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison'd in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling: 'tis too horrible!
The weariest and most loathed worldly life
That age, ache, penury and imprisonment
Can lay on nature is a paradise
To what we fear of death.

[Measure For Measure]
posted by milquetoast at 8:16 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

When my father was dying, there was a service arranged for by the hospice to come to the house twice a day to make sure that the morphine machine that continually pumped him full of... comfort, was primed and working properly.

Sadly, somebody screwed something up, and there was a day just two days before the end full of frantic phone calls and finger pointing as the too-many-cooks tried to explain why it wasn't their fault.

My father slipped away, griping self-righteously about how it wasn't right, what they did. "I'm dying, for crying out loud!"

It made me smile, to see him so much himself. Much better than hand-wringing and weepy goodbyes.

Good for you, Dad.
posted by nedpwolf at 8:31 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

hjo3: Don't count on it working. I knew a guy once who had a .38 slug in his head, and a large hole in his skull where it went in. He was pretty much a mess.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 8:37 AM on October 12, 2007

My prediction: It sucks.
posted by BobFrapples at 8:57 AM on October 12, 2007

Good for you, Dad.

When my grandmother was in hospice, one of the last things she said before slipping into unconsciousness was a sharp rebuke to a nurse that had given her an instruction.

"You're not the boss of me. I'm the boss of you!"

I always that that was awesome.
posted by jquinby at 9:14 AM on October 12, 2007 [3 favorites]

While researching the Hartford Circus Fire and the Our Lady of the Angels Fire, I discovered that that's at least one way I don't want to die. Even though most folks die of smoke inhalation/toxic fumes, many do die from the flames. Stay in the inferno too long, and your skin splits open and your body fat literally cooks like Crisco in a hot frying pan. Your skull splits open and the brain swells and spills out from the heat. The muscles contract, causing the victim to assume the pugilistic pose, which is why arson investigators often wrongly assume the person had been defending himself and warding off blows when he died.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:38 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm going to die in a 400mph rocketcar explosion when I'm 95. It's gonna be *great*. I'll stick it on YouTube for ya.
posted by LordSludge at 9:39 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

My grandfather slapped a nurse's ass and grinned a few hours before slipping into unconsciousness.

And then he came out of it!
posted by katillathehun at 10:00 AM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

What it's like to freeze to death.
posted by william_boot at 10:01 AM on October 12, 2007 [4 favorites]

From my one experience with a near-lethal drug reaction, I can say that it was more like "Huh?" as the edges of my vision contracted, puzzlement and a bit of awe as my heart went into tachycardia-- "whoah!"-- then that falling backwards bit as my vision went entirely. Hearing went last, and the sensation of being pulled on as someone tried to sit me up.

Woke up a couple of hours later in the hospital, like swimming up from underwater. Zero time lapse for me, it was like one second had passed.

I was always a bit secretly disappointed that there was no lights or angels for me, just null. But one can't be afraid of nothingness, no matter what Larkin says.
posted by jokeefe at 10:25 AM on October 12, 2007 [10 favorites]

Glad you're alive jokeefe.
posted by nickyskye at 11:08 AM on October 12, 2007

"What does it feel like to die?"

It's like reading The New Scientist. Only you're more conscious of what's going on.
posted by koeselitz at 11:12 AM on October 12, 2007 [3 favorites]

I remember my uncle's death as being particularly unpleasant. He had been down at the shopping mall, and there had apparently been some sort of riot. He had a large chunk of flesh missing from his arm, but he somehow found the strength to stumble home. We applied pressure to the wound (which had a surprisingly small amount of blood), and it seemed like he was going to be all right, but apparently there was some sort of infection, and he passed away while we were waiting for the paramedics to arrive.

The worst part came about five minutes later, when his eyes popped open and he lurched upwards towards my sister, his mouth agape with hunger. Fortunately, my father remembered his "remove the head or destroy the brain" training from when he was a schoolboy (man, the 1950s must have been a wild time to be alive), and he was able to cave Uncle Dave's skull in with one of my mother's antique candlesticks.

It was a rough couple of weeks after that, but we had plenty of canned food and ammunition. Not everyone on our block was so lucky. Every time I bring this up when lecturing friends about their lack of zombie preparedness, though, I get accused of "blaming the victims". Some people, it seems, are just determined to never learn.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:13 AM on October 12, 2007 [4 favorites]

jokeefe: That's really interesting. Wow.

jokeefe: "But one can't be afraid of nothingness, no matter what Larkin says."

What if you really, really like somethingness? I sure as hell do. Death is scary to me.
posted by koeselitz at 11:16 AM on October 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

did anyone see House this week?

Yeah, and I thought the manner of death was unrealistic. In order to die from electrocution by household AC current it has to be crossing across your heart for at least 10 seconds to induce arrhythmia. Neither House nor the patient who did it appeared to be grounded from any other body part when they stuck the knife in the socket with one hand, so there should have been no current at all going thru them.

I guess the show didn't want to give any suicidal viewers any ideas and depicted a method which would not work.
posted by JAHxman at 11:21 AM on October 12, 2007

Jokeefe, your description reminded me of a long-ago acquaintance/co-worker....She'd gone to bed one night and then became aware of a creeping headache which suddenly overtook her and made her breathing difficult. Her husband called 911, and she told me that while in the ambulance she had no *awareness* of anything, yet words reached her. She heard an EMT say "there's no pulse" at one point. So it appears that the sense of heaing is the most resiliant. (She did recover, and it turned out that she'd had a severe allergic reaction to an OTC sleeping pill she'd been taking for a few days.)
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:47 AM on October 12, 2007

Aww, cheers nickyskye.

I have to say that at no point was I frightened. Just the feeling of everything in my body shutting down, and not working.
posted by jokeefe at 12:03 PM on October 12, 2007

When you kill a mouse/rat via cervical dislocation, the brain deteriorates pretty quickly*: synaptic boutons degrade and it looks like there's massive global depolarization at about the time of death. Given that, I'm thinking a bright(ening?) flash of light and then... nothing.

*older EM micrography is pretty misleading, most people perfuse the brain with a fixative prior to sacrificing the animal to try to preserve the actual structures and subsequently taking electron microscope pictures.
posted by porpoise at 12:32 PM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Having ingested a fair amount of ketamine long ago, I can say with some confidence that I at least know what it's like to believe that I am dead, feel my spirit astrally project away from my body and make peace with the fact that I would never have that energy return to my body. It was scary at first -- and then surprisingly calming. More shocking was returning to my body about 10 minutes later and realizing that yes, I was still alive, and going to the bathroom was going to be tricky with the equivalent of "out-of-body sea legs."

I feel like I got the disassociation without the pain and shock of death.

That experience has helped me calm my fears about what will happen to my "spiritual form" greatly since then... not sure how well I will handle the real deal. Not that I get a choice.

I'm still voting for dying in my sleep after masturbating and having put the last bill in the mail earlier that day... preferably while I still have all of my faculties and am not in chronic pain.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:42 PM on October 12, 2007

I plan on dying in my sleep. With my boots on.

As a result, my sheets get dirty very quickly.
posted by quin at 1:15 PM on October 12, 2007

Super interesting, thanks.

I was hoping to get some awesome stories from my dad after he woke up from 20-30 minutes without a heartbeat, but it turns out that the oxygen deprivation messed up his memory too much. He was considered dead longer than anybody I've ever heard of (anybody who survived, that is), but he has no memory of it. Even once he woke up, it was several weeks before he could form short-term memories. Then again, considering the tubes and needles and induced hypothermia that he experienced for the 2 weeks following, it's probably kinder that he has no memory of the whole thing. I definitely wonder what he went through during that half an hour, though.
posted by vytae at 1:48 PM on October 12, 2007

Also, william_boot, that story about freezing to death is incredible. Wow.
posted by vytae at 2:05 PM on October 12, 2007

I cracked my skull in an accident once. I doubt I was dead at any point, but I was certainly "null" during a lot of it. I do not have real memories of the accident and rescue (just a couple "snapshot" memories, static and blurry).

There was no pain. There was no fear. There was nothing but nothing. Quite literally, there was no self to experience it. There being no self, there was no experience. Null and void.

Anyhoo, the experience sure relieved me of a lot of fears about dying and death.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:33 PM on October 12, 2007

Also, isn't heroin supposed to be a damn fine way of dying? One just rides on out on waves of euphoria. Why not execute prisoners that way, if one's gonna do executions?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:37 PM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Regarding the electric chair: John Wikswo, a biophysicist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, maintains that the thick, insulating bones of the skull would prevent sufficient current from reaching the brain, and prisoners could instead be dying from heating of the brain, or perhaps from suffocation due to paralysis of the breathing muscles - either way, an unpleasant way to go.

Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska,, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia were/are all willing to torture Americans. Admittedly, all of them now offer an alternative means of execution. Although on the whole it's not much better:

Regarding lethal injection: ...might include feelings of suffocation from paralysed lungs and the searing, burning pain of a potassium chloride injection. The effect of the paralytic, however, might mean that witnesses never see any outward signs of pain.

Good god. If you're going to be so third world as to have a death penalty, at least make it humane. Christ Jesus, for a nation that some want to think was founded on Christianity, it certainly isn't a very caring nation.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:59 PM on October 12, 2007

About every time I donate blood, my perception narrows down to just my immediate surroundings, and my fingers and toes and the tip of my nose feel like ice, and the world goes dark at the edges, and the next thing I know I'm squinting up at the bright light and someone is poking my shoulder and offering me a can of Coca Cola.

I figure dying feels something like that. Except it might hurt a bit more, and you don't get your can of pop right away.
posted by zennie at 8:06 PM on October 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Actually, I think this question is answered pretty thoroughly in the previous article.
posted by dreish at 8:25 PM on October 12, 2007

I've always wondered, if my head was severed suddenly, would I be able to accurately count to 8 before losing consciousness?
posted by baphomet at 11:38 PM on October 12, 2007

This article is essentially a shorter, more sensational version of How We Die by Sherwin Nuland. It's a good book, a sobering experience--not as depressing, disturbing or draining as you might imagine.
posted by Martin E. at 4:41 AM on October 13, 2007

This article is essentially a shorter, more sensational version of How We Die by Sherwin Nuland. It's a good book, a sobering experience--not as depressing, disturbing or draining as you might imagine.
posted by Martin E. at 4:41 AM on October 13, 2007

Woah. Reincarnation!
posted by five fresh fish at 9:15 AM on October 13, 2007

posted by bz at 11:18 AM on October 13, 2007

The Step

From where you are at any moment you
may step off into death.
Is it not a clinching thought?
I do not mean a stoical bravado
of making the great decision blade in hand
but the awareness, all so simple, that
right in the middle of the day
you may be called to an adjoining room.

--Fredrick Morgan
posted by exlotuseater at 8:51 PM on October 13, 2007

Well, I know what it's like to drown and pass out, but not really sure if that counts since I'm obviously still here.

My family and my cousins' family were out camping at Fisheating Creek. The adults were all sitting in loungechairs around the grill and drinking beer. I was around 7 or 8, and a bunch of us kids went floating out onto the river, me on an inflatable raft. I must of been about 25' from the shore and decided to just hop of the raft and wade back to land. Unfortunately, it must have been at least 15' to 20' deep there and I didn't yet know how to swim. I can still remember what I saw underwater -- the water was very clear, the big roots from the giant cypress tree fanning out, and the soft mud on the bottom. Very peaceful, no panic or distress. Then darkness.

The next thing I remember was waking up on the shore with my dad over me from doing CPR. The rest of they day he was so upset he was shaking and went through a couple packs of cigarettes to calm down. The only bad part I remember was all the other kids that could swim were mad at me that they weren't allowed to go more than a couple feet from shore for the rest of the trip. The three kids (including me) who couldn't swim weren't even allowed in the water. The Monday after we got home, Dad called the local Y and got us enrolled in the next swimming class.

Yet that didn't deter me from placing my young life in danger several more times growing up. Oddly enough, my two siblings never really felt the need to worry my parents until after they had grown up.

And the scene underwater is still something I can easily recall, and I still find it calming. Weird, huh?
posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 12:01 AM on October 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had the same type of experience in a near drowning incident at age 3.

I fell in our family's pool during a cocktail party my parents were throwing - and no one noticed I was down there for a few minutes. I remember the clarity of my perception of what was going on, and looking up through the surface of the water at the wavy shapes of the people around the pool.

Finally a hand came through the surface to try to grab me, but I couldn't reach it. I remember that hand very well.

At that point I apparently went limp, because the lady attached to the hand finally decided to sacrifice her dress and jump in after me, and I came to a few minutes later to my Mother's frantic efforts to revive me.

The extroardinary thing still after all these years is the clarity of the visual memory of the event - I don't think I remember anything else in my life with such clear mental imagery.
posted by JAHxman at 8:58 AM on October 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

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