What is it like to survive death?

A close up photo of Virali Modi sitting on her wheelchair. She is looking away from the camera and smiling.
I was 14 at the time, located in Pennsylvania, USA. I had come back from a trip to India. I went during the monsoon season, July 2006. I came home in the middle of August. Two weeks later I suffered a severe headache. It wasn’t a normal temple headache. It was more like the headache formed a halo on my head. It started from the forehead all the way around in a circle. I went to the doctor and he gave me some Tylenol and told me to rest.

I went home and I fell asleep. I woke up after maybe 3 hours with a very high fever that reached 102 degrees F. My parents made an appointment again and the doctor said that it might just be because of the weather. He advised me to take Motrin every 4-6 hours for the fever. I went home and started getting the shakes. I would be feeling extremely hot for an hour or two, and extremely cold the next couple of hours.

My parents rushed me to the emergency room where they did an MRI, CT Scan, blood and urine work which all came back negative. As a final resort, they did a spinal tap. The doctor who was performing the procedure was a resident, there was no senior doctor present. He poked the needle in between my vertebrae approximately 4-5 times, when he gave up and called his senior. His senior doctor withdrew some Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF) and sent it off for testing.

My mom told the doctor that I had all the symptoms of malaria since I had visited India during the rainy season. The doctor agreed, but since there was no proof of malaria in my bloodstream, it would have been unlawful for them to provide me anti-malarials. The CSF test turned out negative. I was sent home with Tylenol.

Once I reached home, I slept for 4-5 hours. When I awoke, I was burning in a fever and hallucinating. I kept yelling at my parents to stay away from me because I thought they were going to hit me on the head with a remote control. I fell asleep after 5 minutes of hallucinating. After waking up, I was totally normal and got up to go to the bathroom. As soon as I stood up, I started to walk as if I was drunk. I was uncoordinated. I got to the bathroom but could not urinate.

I was rushed to the emergency room yet again, where they inserted a tube into my bladder to remove the urine. I was transferred via ambulance to a bigger hospital. I was sent to get an MRI which showed something in my neck. During that time, I was having very small seizures for which I was not treated.

I was taken in for another lumbar puncture, which resulted in me having a major seizure, respiratory and cardiac arrest. I was declared dead on the spot. They paged Code Blue, which called all the ICU doctors in the testing room to perform a CPR. My mom was in my room speaking to a social worker when my nurse came running to her and screamed, “If you want to see your daughter for the last time, you better come with me!” My mom, dad, aunty and uncle ran like anything, they threw their phones away and literally pushed people to get to the testing room. There, I was laying topless on the examination table where they were giving an electric shock to my heart.

After 3 electric shocks, and 7 minutes without oxygen, they revitalized my heart but could not get my breathing back. I was unconscious and had a breathing tube stuck down my throat, IVs in both of my hands, heart monitors hooked up, and a blood pressure cuff on. I was transferred into the ICU. I came into consciousness that night and recognized everyone. I shook my head if I knew someone or not.

The next day, I was taken again for another LP, which resulted in me going into a coma for 23 days. The doctors said that there were uncountable white blood cells in my CSF, which meant a viral infection.

On the third day of my coma, my body temperature went below 90 degrees, it was sudden without reason. The nurses piled heated blankets on me and surrounded me with heated lamps. I was left like that for about an hour. The doctor called it serious and said if my body temperature didn’t go above 90 degrees, I could die. After one hour, they removed the lamps and blankets, my body temperature rose immediately.

A couple of days later, I lost a lot of blood resulting in my hemoglobin going down below 5. They didn’t know where the blood loss was from. They gave me 3 units of blood and again called it fatal. Finally, after the blood transfusion, my hemoglobin came up to a safe level.

On September 21, 2006. The doctors decided to take me off of life support and told my parents to call all of my family. My mom begged them and told them to keep me on life support until September 29 because it’s my birthday. The doctors said that if there was no improvement after the 29th, they would pull the plug from my breathing machine which would lead to death.

On September 29, 2006, my mom catered for 60+ people, decorated my room in the ICU and called all my family. At 3:05 pm, the exact time I was born, everyone was singing Happy Birthday and my dad held my hand and cut the cake. I opened my eyes and was staring up at the ceiling. I couldn’t recognize anyone. My family screamed for the doctor. He came in and gave me a quick check up and screamed and jumped himself. He hugged my mom with teary eyes and said, “Mom, you saved us from committing an unforgivable sin! God bless your spirit. Your daughter will survive!” I went into a coma again after 10-20 minutes.

On October 5th, 2006, I was sent into the operating room to transfer the breathing tube from my mouth, to my directly through my neck and vocal cords. After the anesthesia wore off, I came out of my coma, but was paralyzed neck down.