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When I Died and Came Back, I Left Something on the Other Side

I died on the 19th of August, 2011, near my house in Mesa, Arizona. I was fully engulfed by blackness. That's all there was. I was not in my body, I was not with my body, I was not part of my body, but for a while I was still somehow aware of it all.
Guido (right) in Guatemala. Photo by Noah Dailey-McIlrath

Guido is my 75-year-old family friend. He's been a lot of things in his life—a vigilante, a medicine man, a world-renowned visual artist. He would come over to my parents' house when I was a kid with a loaded pistol in the waistband of his shorts. He used to live in Guatemala but recently moved off his land to chill out in Arizona. I went to visit him, and he told me about the time he died.

—River Donaghey


I died on August 19, 2011, near my house in Arizona. I was fully engulfed by blackness. That's all there was. I was not in my body, I was not with my body, I was not part of my body, but for a while I was still somehow aware of it all. It was black and pleasant and nothing. I was dead. And that was it.

I had been working out at a park on Hobson Street and collapsed on my way home. I managed to stand and get myself to a picnic table. I put my head down to see if the wooziness would pass. And I woke up to the sound of sirens.

I thought, Somebody saw you fall and pass out and thinks you're a drunk. They must have called an ambulance or the fire department. I knew it was best to avoid all of that shit. I assumed that whatever was wrong with me, maybe a subdural hematoma, I could deal with at home. I stood up and set off.

I remember crossing Hobson, the street that separates the park from my block. I reached my street and thought, I got this covered just fine. I don't remember collapsing again.

My next memory was that I was an animal outside of my body. I was looking for a nesting place to leave my limp corpse, so I decided to drag it behind a billboard for safekeeping. Doing that brought some confusion in my mind, since there are no billboards on Hobson Street. Nevertheless, I remember tucking my old body away behind an imagined advertisement sign. I felt safe and relaxed as everything went black. It was comfortable and dark and sweet. It was almost as good as pleasuring a woman, and there's hardly anything better than that.


A long time later, from the depths of this blackness I realized that someone had unearthed my body from its hiding place. They were dragging it out from behind the sign. Then I went back into the blackness and didn't notice anything for a long time.

Suddenly I became aware that someone was puncturing my body. I recognized it as what felt like a sharpened stick, jabbed under my ribcage. It was an ugly feeling, particularly compared with the blackness.

I thought, Jesus Christ, these are some savage motherfuckers. Who the fuck would do something like this? But it got worse. Someone had begun wire-brushing my chest. I could feel the scrape of skin pulling off. There was another sharpened stick through my ribcage on the other side, and another in my thigh. I thought, What are these savage fuckers up to? Can't they leave my body where I left it?

I kept going back into the black, able to ignore the clawing and stabbing. But it finally became so frequent, all the sticking and brushing and agitating the body I believed I had safely hidden, I thought, I need to go back for a second and sort this thing out. Then I'll get back to the blackness .

Related: The Guardian Angel of Guatemala

I opened my eyes and recognized the man leaning over me as a first responder because of the insignia on his shirt. I've been a first responder in the past, so I knew what he was doing. He shouted, "Stay with me buddy, stay with me, your pulse is still only 13." He began a barrage of questioning. He wanted to know my address and my phone number. He told me if I close my eyes he'll have to hit me with the electricity again. I remembered my time as a first responder—I knew that the only way to stop his torture was to do what he said.


They went and got my girlfriend from my house down the street. I hoped that she would say, "He has a lot of medical experience. He knows what he's doing. Let him go home." I hoped they would all leave me alone so I could go back to the black place. But no, she told them to get my ass out of there, and we went to the hospital.

People who talk about seeing the light are full of shit. I think they're making it up. Maybe they didn't even really die. Me? I died. My kidneys were full of blood. My pants were full of shit and piss. My heart wasn't pumping. No blood was getting to my brain. They had been shooting atropine into me, those sharp sticks in my side, trying to hit my kidneys. The wire-brush sensation turned out to be the defibrillator, which they were using to force my heart to pump the atropine through my system and shuttle blood back up to my brain.

I know I was dead because, since I've come back, life hasn't been the same. I lost something in the death process. Not all of me came back from the blackness. The people around me can't tell, but I can. I'm not as aggressive or passionate as I used to be about anything, anymore. Something essential is gone. I don't know if I will find it again or if it's just lost forever.

It's a small thing, but it's enough for me to now carry an orange "Do Not Resuscitate" card in my wallet. I don't go out of the house without it. I know that the first thing that emergency responders do is establish an airway. The second thing they do is go through your wallet to find out who you are. I want to be sure as hell they find that DNR card. Next time, I want them to leave me in the blackness. Maybe I can get back that part of me I lost.

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