5 1/2 Minutes CPR or 2080 Hours: Flatlined is Flatlined

–Come Back on Your Own

We ran through the woods, over the whoopti-do’s on the trails with joyous screams of laughter… The kind that makes you smile from the edges of your mouth, clear up to your eyes. We’re all-around 10-12 years old… zooming around the trees and bushes. I’d run down a whoopti-do, catching speed and then run up another and I’d launch through the air to the next one. It was a little weird though, I couldn’t make out the faces of the other kids I was playing with, but it didn’t seem to bother me. Don’t even know how many of us were there, but we were having so much fun.

The next thing I know, the doctors are asking me, “Does this hurt? Now, does this hurt? What day is it? Do you know where you are? Do you know your name?

Me: No, No, Friday, I’m in a hospital, Paul. – “Uh, hey doc, how’d it go- is my shoulder all fixed up?”

Doc: “Well, not sure, we had a complication…”


You see, I was forty years old and went in for routine shoulder surgery to remove an impingement in my AC joint (shoulder) so I could make this particular rock-climbing move with an inverted hand jam.

Turns out, I’d flatlined five minutes into the surgery, and for the next five and a half minutes of CPR on the operating table, thirteen people worked feverishly to try to bring me back. They were about to give up and call my TOD (time of death) And I came back, … from playing in the woods with my friends, though I didn’t know who they were. One thing’s for sure, we were happy. And I wasn’t afraid. And ever since then, I’m still not afraid, of death. It was weird. I died. I kind of felt like I should freak out, you know, at least a little. I mean, I did just die. But I couldn’t. I didn’t.

We’re hanging out in the recovery room together. She’s in a bit of shock. We’re kinda just taking it all in.

The rest of that day, Friday, was rest and tests, tests, and more tests for me. By all observations, my doctors said I was perfectly fine. Barely a trace of heart trauma enzymes registered. And, I felt fine, emotionally, and physically. I should’ve had damage to my sternum, ribs, and heart. Alizah, my better half, came back to the hospital after getting the good news/bad news call from the doctors- your husband is alive, but he died. We’re hanging out in the recovery room together. She’s in a bit of shock. We’re kinda just taking it all in. The anesthesiologist comes into check on me. Everything’s fine in the convo, and then he just bursts into tears, sobbing replaces his ability to talk. I say, “I’m okay. I’m still here and I feel fine.” He gathers himself, gives us the deepest I’m sorry (and relieved) look, and then leaves us to be together. It was pretty surreal.

I felt really bad for Alizah. She got all the emotional trauma out of this. Me, as far as I know, I’m just still happy to be on this earth, and especially, that I’m still with her. That night, she slept in the terribly uncomfortable reclining chair next to my hospital bed. My only discomfort, well other than terrible heart-wise hospital food, my low back was super sore. Apparently, they’re not very gentle with you when they move you around during CPR. Go figure. The part of me that should have hurt, felt perfectly fine, my chest, my heart.

It’s Saturday now, and the second chair of Swedish heart surgery comes to check on me. She’s completely baffled and says it’s more like nothing happened to me. But she also says, I can’t be released until Sunday for some regulatory reason for people with a heart issue. My day included testing… testing and testing again, a repeat of yesterday, well, until I went to fall asleep that night.

I’d insisted to Alizah that she go home and get some good sleep and that I would see her tomorrow. Laying in the bed in the room alone, one massive feeling and awareness landed on me. Consumed me. Not fearfully, but more like in the state of complete and inescapable awe. I could’ve never seen her (Alizah) again on this earth. I could’ve never been with those I loved on this earth, again.

I don’t know how many hours I sat in that space, and then, I blurted out these words, “That would’ve f**king sucked!” Sometime thereafter, I finally slept.

Death wasn’t the terrible thing. It was not being amongst people you love, that love you. That’s what death meant. On the other side, there was joyous laughter and play, a place that triggered no fear whatsoever. But there, I would be apart from those I love on this earth.

The faceless angel that Crystal, from our favorite Sushi place, gave us after our yellow lab George died. I’d never talked with about the children I’d played with.

Monday comes and I’m back to work. People walked into my office, “why are you here at work today, shouldn’t you be taking time off?” I responded that I was fine and that this was a far better alternative than the alternative. And I only told a couple of my close circle peeps about the woods. I made my follow-up doctor’s appointments. Wednesday came, and I was seen by the Chief of Cardiac Surgery at a Swedish hospital. After the full battery of tests and stuff again, I apparently had the healthy heart of a 30-year-old in a 40-year-old body. At the end of our appointment he said, “if you wanted to have another surgery tomorrow to finish it up, I’d say go ahead. But, I’m guessing you’ll pass on that (with a smile).”

A few days later, I had my follow-up with my shoulder surgeon. I wanted to thank him for bringing me back. Dr. Charles Petersen, back then he looked kinda like how Clint-Eastwood-looks-today. And he sounded like him too. Here’s what he said to me after I said thanks for bringing me back Doc.…

“Oh hell (or well), we didn’t bring you back… you came back on your own. We were trying to figure out how we were going to tell your wife.” I’m sure I gave him a rather puzzled look because, he said it again, “You came back on your own.” And all in a Clint Eastwood-like voice and cadence!

After a pause of, oh shit, surprise, I said, “anybody ever tell you that you sound like Clint Eastwood?” He responded with a sideways wry smile. And I followed up with, “well thanks anyway.”

Then he said, “you can thank me for not letting the EMTs put you into a coma.” Again, my face must’ve had that WTF look. He continued, “It got pretty tense and heated when they barged in and wanted to put you into an induced coma. You were awake, and I was prepared to get into a fight. That EMT was a big musclebound numbskull. That had me a little nervous. But having you possibly die twice was not going to happen.” We laughed a little together and I thanked him for that.


Paul Haury
Paul Haury
Belonging Coach & Evangelist for Heart-Based Leadership in Workplace Culture & Happiness. I’m a coach, a mentor, an optimist that nerds-out on all things in the social-behavioral and neurosciences for what motivates us in how we can be better, and, get us to with whom and where we belong. The paths that get us there follow roads of vulnerable togetherness, kind and honest challenges in personal accountability, and a deep curious appreciation for being wholly human in full potential. It’s here, where we land on the good side of our fears and aspirations, and make our dreams happen. We’ll never do anything as well, as when we’re doing what we’re doing with and for those we love. I help people create their own unique spaces to go farther and higher in their individual brilliance than they ever could alone.

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  1. Paul, Wow! Powerful story, Strong Ink Indeed!! Thank you for sharing . Something like that happened to me when I around ten. My cousin threw me in a lake and I drowned. All I can remember was a peaceful feeling then I was awake…..

    • Oh, I’d love to hear more on that if ya want to get a zoom on sometime. And, thanks for the kind words Larry. Yeah, I thought the surgery was done and I just had woken up from a good dream in recovery. Uh… not.