By all indications, the patient on the operating table was dead. His heart had been stopped, his body drained of blood and he was no longer capable of breathing on his own. He was, in fact, in suspended animation - through a surgical procedure that replaces the blood with a cool fluid and stops all bodily functions. Meanwhile, surgeons had just one hour to repair a tear in the main artery leading to his heart. This is a difficult operation, not to mention dangerous. And, as the hospital's chief anaesthetist, it was my job to make sure that the patient remained deeply unconscious throughout. He did, and thankfully he survived. In the recovery room later, I was there by his side as he woke up - with a smile on his face. "I was watching you guys in the operating room," he told me. "I was out of my body, floating around by the ceiling. I saw you just standing at the head of the table, I saw the surgeon sewing the patch on my artery, I saw that nurse . . ." Everything he said was uncannily accurate. But could he really have witnessed it all? No, of course not - how could he see anything when his heart wasn't beating, his head was packed in ice and his brain had stopped functioning? He wasn't the first patient of mine to have reported strange events. Over the course of my 25-year career, I'd heard people claim to have seen deceased friends during a cardiac arrest, or lights at the end of tunnels or people made of light. I'd always thought such stories were nonsense, so I said I'd return to talk to him later. But I never did. By the next day, he'd been moved to another department, so he was no longer technically in my charge. And time, after all, is money. That's how materialistic I was. Within a few days, that patient had become just another anecdote. In many ways, my wife, Arpana, and I had a charmed life. She ran her own dental practice and I was making a very good living not only as an anaesthetist, but also as the co-founder of a private pain clinic. Soon we'd traded our small house for a larger one and then a mansion. Our cars went from average Fords and Toyotas to 'supercars', including a Porsche and a Hummer. I was even planning on buying a Ferrari: my goal was bigger everything - house, cars, art collection, bank accounts. Naturally, I'd made sure my three children had the finest possible education. And I had my eldest son Raghav's life all mapped out: he was going to follow in my footsteps and become a doctor. The only problem was that he wasn't that interested in medicine, and his grades reflected that. I had no sympathy: I shouted at him a lot, punishing him with my anger. Like my father and grandfather before me, my theory of child-raising was: "A bent nail must be straightened with a hammer." Otherwise, I felt my life was near-perfect. Then, in 2008, at the age of 51, I found out I had prostate cancer. I was furious with God: what had I done to deserve this? Still, I booked an operation with one of the best prostate surgeons in the country and assumed that all would be well. ""I can almost guarantee no complications," the surgeon told me - but something went drastically wrong, and I was left with incredibly painful scar tissue and other debilitating side-effects. There were five more operations over the next two years to try to repair the damage, but none of them really worked. Then one evening, just two weeks after my fifth operation, I suddenly felt faint. My temperature was 105f. I knew instantly what was happening: despite two courses of strong antibiotics, an infection was spreading rapidly in my abdomen. And if I didn't get help fast, I'd soon be dead from septic shock. My wife, tears streaming down her face, managed to bundle me into her BMW and drive me to hospital, where I was quickly loaded on to a trolley. I remember emerging from a fog to see a surgeon looming above me. He held his hands like a praying mantis, a sign that they were scrubbed for surgery and ready to be gloved. Next time I surfaced, I was in the operating theatre. I managed to tell the anaesthetist what I did for a living and ask him what he was about to give me. Propofol and fentanyl, he said. In other words, the usual - exactly what I would have selected. "Are you ready?" asked the surgeon. He waved his gloved hand at the anaesthetist, and I was asleep before I could answer. Was it over? Was the surgery already over? I felt myself zooming straight up, as if in a lift. It was the same feeling you get in the pit of the stomach when you're rocketing to the 20th floor of a skyscraper. Slowly, my consciousness began to return: I could see the ceiling approaching, its glossy surface slowly getting closer.
I felt myself zooming straight up, as if in a lift. It was the same feeling you get in the pit of the stomach when you're rocketing to the 20th floor of a skyscraper.Then I looked down and saw my own abdomen, now with several incisions. I heard the anaesthetist make an off-colour joke. I won't repeat it, but everyone in the operating theatre laughed, including me. But where was I? For a few moments, I froze with fright, worried that whatever was holding me up on the ceiling would suddenly let me drop. Eventually, though, I relaxed, watching in rapt amazement as the surgeons and nurses worked on my body. "Is that really me, or is this really me?" I wondered. "How can I be in both places at once?" Suddenly, I became aware of a shift in my perspective as my field of vision expanded. I was still in the operating theatre, but at the same time I could see my mother and sister sitting on a sofa in our family home, thousands of miles away in New Delhi - where I'd grown up. The scene was vivid and detailed. My sister was wearing blue jeans and a red sweater and my mother a green sari and a green sweater. "What should we make for dinner? my sister asked. "It's cold outside," said my mother. "We should make hot soup. Lentil sounds good." I was so focused on them that the sudden sound of instruments clanking in the operating theatre gave me a start. Turning my head to the left, I found I could still see and hear the scene below me. "This guy's a mess. He's lucky to be here. Give me more swabs," said the surgeon to a nurse. I was now seriously frightened. What was going on? Would my untethered consciousness ever get back into my body - or was I destined to roam through eternity as a spirit? Was I dead? I felt like an astronaut who'd left his spacesuit, only to find that a suit was unnecessary to begin with. With rising panic, I looked back and forth at the two scenes - until both started to fade like a fast-setting sun. Everything went dark. I was relieved: I'm returning to my body, I thought. Then came a jolt of pure fear. To my right, I heard screams of pain and anguish. I was drawn in, as if on a moving pavement, to the edge of a flaming canyon. Smoke filled my nostrils, and with it the sickening odour of burning flesh. I knew then that I was on the lip of hell. I tried to turn away, but each time I took a step back, an unseen force moved me forward. A voice spoke to me telepathically. "You have led a materialistic and selfish life," it said. I knew that was true, and felt ashamed. Over the years, I'd lost empathy for my patients. Standing on the rim of hell, I remembered a woman who'd come to my clinic for treatment of chronic arthritis. She was in considerable pain, but that wasn't the reason why she was weeping. "I need to talk to you, doctor, she said to me. "My husband's dying of lung cancer, and I don't know what to do." "I'd love to talk to you," I said, writing out a prescription for pain-killers and sleeping pills. "But I have several patients waiting." I was like a robot. I'd trained myself to blunt my emotions. Worse, I had trained myself to think only of myself. As the smoke billowed and the burning souls screamed around me, I thought of my possessions and how meaningless they were. Why did I have all these things? Why did I need a home so big that, when we were in different parts of the house, we had to communicate through our iPhones? I felt steeped in shame. But I knew my chance to change was gone: at any moment now, I'd be pulled into the pit of fire to burn for eternity. There seemed no way out, but I prayed for one anyway. "My God, give me another chance. Please give me another chance." Almost at that instant, I did get my second chance - in the form of the last person I ever expected to see. It was my father. I recognised him immediately, though he looked at least 30 years younger than when he'd died.
Smoke filled my nostrils, and with it the sickening odour of burning flesh. I knew then that I was on the lip of hell.He took my hand in his and led me away from the edge of hell, as if I were still a little boy. Then, putting his arm around me, my father tried to comfort me - and it was the first time I could remember him touching me affectionately. To be honest, I almost shrank back - even at the age of 53, I was still afraid that my father was going to beat me, just as he had so many times in my childhood. But, just then, I had a vivid flashback of the day he found out I'd bunked off school and gave me a savage beating with a cricket bat. Suddenly, I was seeing it all from his perspective. His own dreams of bettering himself had come to nothing, so he'd beat me because he couldn't bear to see me wasting my life. What I'd discovered in my father's mind wasn't hatred, but fear. He'd been frightened that I wouldn't take advantage of my chances and go on to university. His tyranny, I finally understood, had been born of love. And now this. My father, my cruel and despotic father, was spiritually rescuing me from hell! I looked into his eyes, and my hard heart melted with love. No words came from his mouth, but for the first time I learned from him that his own father had abused him, just as he'd abused me. "Anger," my father told me, "isn't usually about an event. It's passed on from father to son. If you know that, you can stop it; you can choose not to be angry. Simple love is the most important thing in the universe." I asked myself, would I ever return to the land of the living? If I did, I would have to focus on love; I would have to break the cycle of anger in my family. The scenery was changing: I noticed now that we'd walked straight into a tunnel. Incredibly, it was soon teeming with people I knew were my ancestors, reaching out hands of welcome. I recognised my grandfather, who gave me a look of sheer joy. "Love is the most important thing there is," he told me. Then both he and my father simply faded away. I was now halfway through the tunnel. And that's when I had a life review - in which I re-experienced in detail all the good things that had ever happened in my childhood - from being given sweets by my sisters to the warm feeling of being swathed in my mother's love.
I asked myself, would I ever return to the land of the living?Again, a telepathic message came from nowhere: "The simple moments are the most important. All moments are memory and lessons. They all build the person you are." I was nearing the end of the tunnel now, where a light shone more brightly than a thousand suns. I could feel it pulling me weightlessly towards it, but I felt no fear. Before I could reach the light, however, two angelic forms emerged into the tunnel. Exuding powerful energy as they hovered above me, they introduced themselves as my guardians - the archangels Michael and Raphael. Now, I'm a Hindu. So it was only later that I learned that St Raphael is the angel of healers, and St Michael is the protector of people and the angel who opens doors. Both archangels had a human shape, yet they shimmered with light and had a thick translucence. Michael had a blue hue and long hair; Raphael was greenish and wore a cap. In a moment, I was lifted by them and guided towards the blazing light before us. As we approached, I found myself high above a green meadow, peppered with rose bushes. Just the sweet smell of the grass and roses made me almost delirious with pleasure. We travelled on to a higher plane and then a higher one still, until I was surrounded by a landscape of clear light. Raphael explained that at the highest level, you are surrounded by a powerful energy that consists of pure love and intelligence - the underlying fabric of everything in the universe. Enlightenment comes, added Michael, when a person realises that love is everywhere and is the only thing that matters. Yet most people don't realise this until they leave the earth. With that, they took me by the arms and we moved rapidly upwards towards a being of light, a silver-blue form that showed no sign of being male or female. When it engulfed me with its blue light, I felt as if I were being wrapped in a blanket of pure love. "I am one with the universe," I thought. The being started communicating telepathically. "You need to look at your life one more time," it said. "It's important to reflect on changes that you need to make." It went on to tell me that I was destined to become a healer of souls - helping people with problems such as addiction, depression and chronic pain. I would no longer be an anaesthetist; instead I'd become a practitioner of spiritual medicine, of "consciousness-based healing". I don't know how long I stayed with the being. But my exit, when it happened, was sudden and rapid as I fell into a white fog. For the first time, my eyes began to hurt, so I closed them.
Two angels lifted me up and guided me to the light.And when I opened them . . . I was in the recovery room. My heart was beating hard and my lungs pumping double time. "How do you feel?" It was the anaesthetist, still in his scrubs. "That was a rough one," he said, referring to my surgery. I must have looked stunned, because when I didn't respond, the anaesthetist leaned closer. "Are you all right?" he asked. "I saw you during my surgery," I said. "I left my body and watched you from the ceiling." "Interesting," he said, his voice a study in disinterest. "No, really. I watched as you administered the anaesthetic and even heard you tell a joke." I repeated his risque joke, word for word, and he blushed. "I must not have given you enough anaesthesia," he said, looking hard at my file in order to avoid meeting my gaze. I wasn't about to be fobbed off. As one professional to another, I was determined to tell him exactly what I'd seen. So I described going to India, where I'd seen my mother and sister, and travelling to the edge of hell. I'd just started on the next part when he glanced at his watch and flipped the file shut. "Very interesting," he said. "I'll come back later to hear about it." I never saw him again. When the surgeon came in to check on me, I started recounting my out-of-body experience all over again, and this time got all the way to the tunnel entrance. At that point, he reached for his phone - which wasn't ringing. Then he excused himself by saying he had an "important call". POSTSCRIPT After recovering, Dr Parti resigned from his job as chief anaesthetist at Bakersfield Heart Hospital in California - much to the bewilderment of his colleagues - got rid of all his expensive cars and sold his mansion, moving into a house half the size. His wife supported all his decisions, keeping the family afloat while he established a new practice to heal people though meditation and other alternative methods. Realising he'd placed his ego above his eldest boy's happiness, Dr Parti encouraged his son - then in his third year at medical school - to find a career he preferred. His son is now happily training to be a computer programmer and enjoys a close relationship with the father he once feared. Adapted from Dying To Wake Up by Dr Rajiv Parti (Hay House, £10.99). © Rajiv Parti 2016. To buy a copy for £8.79 (valid to November 26, 2016), call 0844 571 0640 or visit mailbookshop.co.uk. P&P is free on orders over £15