Edinburgh. Thursday 18th March 1999

I woke up on the pavement with a start! Confused.

Why is someone shoving an oxygen mask onto my face?
What happened?
What about…?

A car crash?

A paramedic…
“No mate. It’s ok. You’re ok.
You just died.
And now you’re ok!”

What happened on that bright, fresh, early spring day in 1999 that caused me to die on an Edinburgh pavement?

I was a normally healthy, mid-thirties, average type of guy. On three occasions that early spring I had come out in an unexplained rash from head to toe. They call it “giant urticaria”. It’s like an allergic reaction. The fourth occasion was to have almost tragic consequences.

I was in Edinburgh with my wife, Elizabeth. We had just had lunch in the West End of the city, with two business acquaintances. Having completed our discussions, Elizabeth and I parted from the others and headed towards Princes Street, the main artery at the centre of town, to do a bit of window browsing.

And then it began… as it had done on the previous occasions, with a tingling heat sensation on the back of my head, spreading to my ears. From my hands, spreading up my arms. From my belly spreading to my chest, waistline and the rest of my body.

The feeling was uncomfortable and worrying. What was causing it?

Something told me this was not good! Time to get back to the car to drive home.
There was a rising urgency, and as our pace quickened, things just got worse and worse, and I began to feel the urgency turning to panic.

By the time we reached the car, the rash had become a puffiness and my face had begun to swell. I just wanted to get home, strip off (I was feeling uncomfortably warm), lie down (I was now feeling drowsy), have a glass of water and rest.

As I leaned on the car, trying to find the strength and co-ordination to open the passenger door, I could see the nerve-endings in my eyeballs, twinkling, popping, and bubbling, as I went snow-blind. I was really struggling now. The nauseating taste in my mouth told me I was going to pass out. Fortunately, I managed to collapse into the passenger seat whilst Elizabeth started the car. We drove quickly, heading towards the Forth Bridge and home to Fife. A journey that would take approximately 45 minutes, traffic permitting.

As we drove, my condition worsened. I started to feel so tired, unable to hold my head up.

At the moment my body slumped forward, my tongue swelled to fill my mouth, my mind went into overdrive, and my head began to spin. I was about to pass out.

But I wasn’t passing out.

I was passing away.

I could sense Elizabeth frantically calling our doctors. I can’t say that I heard her, but I sensed it. Like in a dream. She was trying to calm me down as much as possible while she tried to work out what to do. Then she called 999, but I only learned that later.

Because, meantime… I was descending…
…. Down, down, down…
…. through a tunnel….

The White Tunnel.

I wasn’t fighting it.
I was actually resigned to it.
A bit like getting to the top of a rollercoaster ride, waiting for the inevitable swoop downwards.

As I floated down the White Tunnel, I was shrouded in an eerie silence – a unique soundlessness. Like in a glider, floating high above the ground, drifting down, soundless. And peaceful.

I felt myself stop breathing, that final in-breath being followed by no automatic exhale… just a distant tightness… and I knew for a split second that this was it.

This must be how it ends.

When they say your life flashes before you, that’s not quite true. It’s not the story of your life, like a quick-fire trailer for the film you’ve just lived, or a series of highlights displayed in the order in which they occurred, like an edition of “This is your life!”

It’s your values that flash before you. And it was my values that flashed before me… in my final instant.

And along with that the regrets of what I hadn’t done with my life.
What about the things I hadn’t seen, done, achieved yet?
What about all the things left undone?

And there’s something else too…

I reached ‘It’… The moment of clarity.

… and saw It, felt It, sensed It.

I woke up on the pavement several minutes later, surrounded by paramedics, with my body constrained on a stretcher, and the oxygen mask being forced to my face. I was put in an ambulance and taken to Edinburgh Western General Hospital. Lucky for me, we had been a matter of only three minutes from the hospital as we drove west out of the city.

What happened? A car crash?

“No mate. It’s ok. You’re ok.
You just died.
And now you’re ok!”

For more …
see my third book, Reflections from the White Tunnel.
also… see the video interview in the “Meet Phil” section.