Health & Fitness

An inside look at death; one more reason to hug a toddler

Judy Bachrach says we are living in the “age of Lazarus” – a time when cardiopulmonary resuscitation has become so commonplace that we no longer consider it miraculous. The premise in her new book, “Glimpsing Heaven: The Stories and Science of Life After Death,” is that the “thousands and thousands” of people whose brain and heart functions ceased until they were revived through CPR or other means are revealing something important about death. So Bachrach, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, spent several years listening to their stories.

There’s Anthony Cicoria, struck by lightning while on an outdoor pay phone during a family reunion in New York. He saw his body lying on the ground; then, feeling himself transformed into a ball of pure energy, he moved into a nearby pavilion where he saw his children having their faces painted. Indeed, he learned after he was brought back to life, that is what his children were doing at that moment.

During surgery to relieve a brain aneurysm, Pam Reynolds Lowery, an Atlanta songwriter, was placed in what doctors call a barbiturate-induced coma; physiologically, she was dead – no heartbeat, no brain stem response, a flat EEG – for an hour. In addition, her eyes were taped shut and there were plugs in her ears. Yet when she awoke, she described an overhead view of the scene (accurately describing, for example, a toothbrush-looking instrument she had not been told about) and heard the operating room’s background music. (She thought playing “Hotel California,” with its death imagery, was a little insensitive.)

Other people Bachrach interviews recall such things as bright lights and a feeling of peace. Most shy away from references to God; nobody mentions anything like Satan. Several are disappointed that they were forced back to life.

This all raises the obvious question of how we define death. In interviews, doctors, psychiatrists and other researchers talk about “stages of death” and “after-death pulses.” But Bachrach doesn’t think these definitions diminish the significance of the afterlife experience.

“Delightful or distressing,” she concludes, “something extraordinary is going on after life. …Our minds will not vanish. We will be, for at least a while, maybe forever, curiously empowered in ways we never were while alive. We will be enveloped, at least for a time, by comprehension. This is our future.”

‘Could grandkids help cure hot flashes?’

So many things that you have to do to combat the onslaughts of aging are hard or unpleasant. (Crunches and colonoscopies come to mind.) So here’s a much nicer prescription: According to a study by researchers at Indiana University and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, cuddling young children may cut down on one of the most-hated effects of menopause – hot flashes.

Candy Sagon, writing on AARP’s blog, reports that the study, published in the journal Menopause, looked at women who were going through menopause, naturally or as the result of ovarian surgery, or who had gone through it and were still having hot flashes.

“The women who had the fewest hot flashes in the long run were those who had young kids at home,” lead author Tierney Lorenz told Sagon in an e-mail. “Young” was defined as younger than 13; no effect was seen in women with older kids.

The researchers theorize that the difference occurs because a mother’s brain generates oxytocin when she cuddles and plays with her children, and because this hormone affects body temperature, possibly offsetting the hot-flash-producing fluctuations in the body’s thermostat.

“We don’t know if being around young kids in general would help,” Lorenz wrote, “or if there is something special about one’s own kids or grandkids (well, of course, there is something special about your grandkids, they’re amazing).” But since there’s not much downside to hugging a baby, “it’s worth trying it out while …researchers nail down the mechanisms.”

Washington Post