We’re all familiar with the cycle of life. We are born, we live and grow for a while, and eventually, we die. Death is supposed to be the end, “the big sleep”, “the final resting place”, etc.; however, what if this is not the case? What if instead of resting in peace, a person wakes up?
No, this is not the latest horror movie plot. This is a very real and very rare phenomenon known as Lazarus Syndrome. It is named after Lazarus, a biblical figure who was resurrected four days after his death. Though the “deaths” do not last that long, this is what usually happens to the patients. As paraphrased from Wikipedia, circulation spontaneously returns after multiple failed attempts at resuscitation.
Doctors are not certain of the causes of Lazarus Syndrome. Nevertheless, there are several possible theories floating around. According to a scientific study, one of the more probable explanations is “positive end expiratory pressure caused by a dynamic hyperinflation of the lung”. In Layman’s terms, this is the pressure that builds up in the chest after CPR is given. After the pressure is relieved, the heart expands which “[triggers] the heart’s electrical impulses and [restarts] the heartbeat”. Other possibilities include a delayed reaction to drugs given during CPR and a response to dialysis in patients with hyperkalemia (elevated potassium in the blood).
There was a recent case in the United Kingdom involving a man named Michael Wilkinson. He was found unconscious by his mother and was rushed to the hospital. There, doctors tried to revive him, but ultimately pronounced him dead. However thirty minutes later, doctors found a pulse. Doctors think that his heart restarted due to the drugs he was given during the resuscitation attempts. Sadly, Michael died a few days later following an emergency operation.
The above case is an example of one that could be explained by the hypotheses; however, there are many which do not seem to have a cause at all. The patient just suddenly regains a pulse again. This raises a major question: how accurate is a declaration of death? Or better yet, is it possible for a declaration of death to be accurate? Maybe having a bell in one’s casket is not such a bad idea after all…
Wikipedia article on Lazarus Syndrome: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lazarus_syndrome
Scientific study on Lazarus Syndrome: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2121643/
Michael Wilkinson article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1192283/Lazarus-syndrome-man-pronounced-dead-comes-life-days.html