The account that Rhoda Fryer told me in the 1970s helped to expand my growing understanding. Rhoda was a no-nonsense colleague of mine at Marlborough High School in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe). She was a respected and dedicated teacher as well as a faithful member of her church – and is still helping to set up and run women's fellowship groups. Rhoda and I had not been in communication for almost 40 years and I found myself wishing I could freshen up my information about her NDE when preparing material for this book.
Out of the blue, I received an email – Rhoda was visiting Australia from Zimbabwe and would like to catch up with a phone call! After our conversation, she kindly wrote out what had happened to her in more detail than I had known previously – and the salient points follow.
Rhoda believes she died during childbirth on the operating table on 27 July 1961 at St Joseph’s hospital in Mowbray, Cape Town, South Africa, with nuns in attendance. Her spirit had floated out of her body, while her doctor and surgeon were scrubbing up in a separate room down the corridor. Here is her account, written out for me in 2014:
I looked down and saw my body on the operating table with the nuns busy around me. One was monitoring my heart, another the baby’s heart, and they were concerned that they were not hearing heartbeats.
Then her consciousness somehow allowed her to see and hear the surgeon and doctor in the scrub room down the corridor.
I saw the surgeon and my doctor scrubbing up and imagine my surprise when I heard them discussing fishing they had done together that day. I was outraged! Time was critical and they seemed to be quite unconcerned!
The surgeon and doctor moved into the theatre and the next thing was an incision made vertically on my abdomen. The baby was removed and I heard it cry. One of the nuns said, ‘It’s a girl’. I looked at the clock; it was 8pm.
They worked on the womb, and then the surgeon took out a machine and ‘zipped’ up the incision. It was a new and innovative device and the surgeon was inviting comments from the doctor and nuns. It seemed they were more interested in this machine than my welfare.
I heard someone saying, ‘Mrs Fryer, you can wake up now. Your baby is a 10 pound girl’. I regained consciousness in the bed in the ward.
The next morning I woke to find both surgeon and doctor standing by my bed. I sat up and demanded to know why they had been discussing their fishing trip when I was in a critical state!
They were dumbfounded. ‘You couldn’t possibly have heard us. We were in another room down the passage. We were fully aware of the urgency and did not delay’, they said.
‘I saw you’, I said. ‘You were laughing and joking; meanwhile, I was dying!’
The doctors told me afterwards that my heart had stopped, but that they wanted to remove the baby before they got it going again. I insisted that I had seen and heard them.
Having some knowledge of medical procedures, Rhoda had taken great interest in what the surgeons were doing and had felt no fear, but rather a strange sense of wellbeing. She surmised years later that her spirit had left her body in an out-of-body-experience (OBE), which is usually the first stage in an NDE. She deduced this only years later because at the time she knew nothing about NDEs and OBEs.
What struck me in particular about Rhoda's account was that the surgeon and doctor knew that Rhoda, her body and brain lying on the operating table, could not possibly have heard what they were talking about in that separate room down the corridor! She also described how the one had removed his wristwatch and placed it on a glass shelf above where they were cleaning their hands. Rhoda told me later that this tiny observation of hers had convinced them that she had been watching them as well as listening.
Initially, my scientific mind suggested to me that a dying brain might be generating hallucinations, there being so much about brain function still unknown. However, Rhoda's case could not have been that of a dying brain alone, because her brain clearly remained on the operating table while her consciousness somehow had access to the scrub room down the passage.
The doctor and the surgeon at Rhoda's bedside had been dumbfounded when she told them details of their conversation in the scrub room. Because of their close proximity to the dying, those in the medical profession can be startled by NDEs, especially by examples of observations made by a comatose patient.
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