Return from the dead: read a fictional short story about a true-life medical condition
DEAR Aunty Jo,
This last fortnight has been such an emotional rollercoaster ride that I have decided to write this letter as we can hardly believe it. Really, it’s too much to relay to the Captain of your ship.
As you know now, Mum passed away Monday two weeks ago while visiting her doctor.
She had been saying for some months she felt it was time to move on and I had taken to passing off her feelings as just old-age thoughts. Mum had been so well for so long that it seemed strange that she should even think she was about to die. Initially, I looked for signs and asked her doctor if there was anything I had not been told about but the doctor only supported my idea that, the older you get, it is natural to think that any day you could die.
At 68-years-old Mum was still well enough to live here at home. She moved into rooms downstairs without any fuss after Dad passed away last year saying she wanted her space and it was her time now; after all, if I wanted her, she was only a walk down the stairs away. Nothing had changed with her daily routines or her pace except her new blood pressure medicines. The specialists assured us this was not the cause of Mum’s sudden death but merely that her heart had given out with age.
We tried to contact you almost straight away even though we knew you were away on the last part of your around-the-world cruise. It wasn’t till Wednesday morning that we were able to speak to the Captain and have the message passed on. At that point the family had decided to have the funeral last Friday knowing that you most likely would not be able to make it.
Allison said she would go in to dress Mum for the burial Wednesday afternoon and there was to be a private viewing after this. I wasn’t sure about the choice of coffin. Both Allison and Tom insisted we should look at environmentally friendly choices in cardboard.
I initially laughed out loud at the very thought that was conjured up in my mind. When Tom produced a booklet on some styles and designs, I have to say, I was surprised at how they looked just like regular wooden coffins in the photos. I wasn’t into the weird designs but we laughed at the thought of Mum being buried in a present style box that looked like an oversized box of chocolates complete with painted bow design on top. Allison told me that Barbara Cartland had been buried in a cardboard coffin and I had said jokingly, ‘What? Was it made out of her books? She hardly wrote anything that I know that wasn’t worth burying!’
Anyway I gave into my older brother and sister’s choice. After all, it was lined inside with a blue padding and looked presentable enough. I figured Mum wasn’t ever fussy about spending unnecessary money on things.
So Wednesday, after a long day at work, I drove to the funeral home and met up with the rest of the family for the viewing. Uncle Ted and Aunty Jean, on Dad’s side, were also there as they had remained close to Mum after Dad had died. I don’t know how well you know Uncle Ted, but it was no surprise to us kids when, after the viewing, Uncle Ted suddenly produced an Esky from somewhere and announced, ‘Time for a drink! In honour of your mother and a good woman let’s all have a drink to celebrate her good life.’
As he was saying this, he produced shot glasses out of his pockets. He handed us a glass each and then pulled from the Esky several cocktail shakers sitting in ice. With a shake and flick he poured us each a dark amber coloured drink.
‘Ted what on earth is this?’ asked Aunty Jean, as she cautiously sniffed the glass.
‘It’s called a Closed Casket and how appropriate I thought for today. You know how Ann liked a nip of rum every now and then and I think now is an ‘every now and then’ type moment. She would see the funny side to it – you know Closed Casket – get it?’ Uncle Ted poured himself a second oblivious to us all standing there hesitantly holding the cold drink and wondering if here and now was the time for such frivolity. We did drink it though and I was surprised how nice it tasted but then felt guilty with feeling pleasure at such a time. Uncle Ted had begun pouring us all another drink when suddenly the lid of the casket flew off landing with a dull thud to the floor.
Startled, we all turned to see Mum struggling to try and sit up. I bet I wasn’t the only one who wondered what we had just drunk. Aunty Jean screamed so loud the funeral home attendant came in and was just as bewildered as we were to what was going on. By this time Aunty Jean had slumped to the floor dropping her glass which snapped us out of what seemed like a slow moving dream. We didn’t know where to go first – to Aunty Jean or to Mum but it seems we all hung back in shock more than anything until Mum snapped at us to get her out of this box. She proceeded to continue to yell even as the funeral home attendant assisted her into a chair before saying he was going to call for a doctor.
It was later explained to us by the doctor on Wednesday night at the hospital, that Mum appeared to have experienced what is known as Lazarus Syndrome – something bought on by the attempted resuscitation after she had passed away at the doctor’s surgery. Lazarus Syndrome is a rare condition where the heart rate and breathing drop below measurable levels before returning to normal. It is understood that a spontaneous return of circulation happens after attempts to resuscitate fail with times varying with each case.
In all the kerfuffle we didn’t even think to try and contact you to tell you what had happened.
The doctor said he was going to keep Mum in overnight much to her disgust. It seems she was also expressing disgust with the choice of casket or was it just that ‘we had tried to bury her alive’ as that also seemed to be a part of her angry words whenever we tried to speak to her.
Mum was only home a little over a day when, in the early hours of Friday morning, I awoke to her yelling from below. I went downstairs to find her doubled over on the floor and appearing to be unconscious. She was clutching at her chest with one hand and I wondered if she had had a heart attack and ran back upstairs to ring for the ambulance. I then rang Allison and Tom and they all seemed to arrive at the same time. I’d left the front door open so that I could stay with Mum and had her head resting on a pillow and a blanket over her as they all filed in downstairs one after the other.
The ambulance officers told us they were sorry to say that Mum had passed away and they offered to contact the doctor for confirmation and the necessary procedures that needed to be followed up on.
Allison looked at me, then at Tom, and we all looked back at Mum lying in a peaceful form on the floor now.
‘Are you sure? I asked, explaining what had just happened over the week.
‘Yes without a pulse after all this time we are sure, sir. The doctor will confirm it all with you.’
So off Mum went back to the same funeral home but this time we chose a wooden casket and lined it with pink so that it didn’t resemble the last one in any way. Then around the time when her first funeral had been set for on the Friday morning, Mum again awakens from this phenomenon which I can’t say I have heard of till now. Can you believe it, Aunty Jo? I was beginning to think Mum had more than one life like a cat! Again she shocked the staff at the funeral home by walking out telling them that they were all in the plot to get rid of her.
I got the call from the home and found Mum walking along the side of the road. In the car I tried to explain to Mum what the doctor had tried to tell us but Mum would have no part of it. She said she was only getting a lift with me so she could go home and ring the police and report us all for what she thought was a plot to bury her alive. Mum seemed to have become quite confused and suddenly very old with all the dying and rising up again that had been going on.
Mum stopped eating over the weekend and spent most of the time in bed either asleep or staring at the ceiling. I was really worried that she seemed to have lost it and wasn’t sure if she knew what was going on. She hadn’t talked to any of us since we had got home Friday afternoon. Uncle Ted tried to offer her a nip of rum telling it would be all right but she just lay on the bed staring at the ceiling and didn’t respond to his attempts at humour like she used too. In fact, if her eyes weren’t open, I would almost say she had passed away again.
And then she did. Aunty Jean while sponging her down noticed that she had no pulse and called the ambulance and then the doctor. This time the doctor had Mum put into a private room in the hospital while we waited for what we thought would just be a repeat of the last times. We took it in turns to stay with Mum but after the third day the doctor declared Mum had indeed passed on this time and wrote up a Final Decease certificate there and then. The funeral home had already been put on notice but this time, given how things had ended up, it somehow was decided that Mum should be cremated immediately putting an end to it. I’m not sure what was being put an end to and didn’t want Mum being burnt alive and said as much. The doctor assured us that there had never been a case yet where a person had come back to life after being dead three days.
So it is with much sadness I write to tell you about Mum’s passing again but relief I guess that she is finally at rest. I know you will receive this letter when you get home – hardly a welcoming home letter but we just wanted you to know how difficult it has been this last fortnight. Can you believe it – this has happened to about 38 people around the world over the last thirty years? None of us had heard about the others but the doctor assures us it is a recognised medical syndrome and not some witchery or trickery or dare I say ‘spirit’ thing. I don’t believe in ghosts even though I know Mum did and always said she would come back to haunt me to see if I was looking after myself.
Well Aunty Jo, I hope you had a lovely cruise and I still plan to fly down and see you at Christmas if that’s alright. But for now I’ll end off here as I’d best go and check out the house again;
I keep getting the smell of smoke or something burning when I sit around too long, so take care,
Love from Anthony.