Brain-Dead Like the Boatman on the River Styx


He had just gotten home from work and wanted to take the stress off his mind. He got the scooter out of the garage and called out to his wife. They were going for a ride around town like they always did for the last 10 yrs. But tonight wasn't going to be like any other night for the last 4 yrs.

Barely had 15 minutes passed when he felt an itch in his throat and he started coughing. He felt a large chunk of mucus coming out of his throat into his mouth. Just that it wasn't mucus this time. It was bright red fresh blood. The coughing didn't stop. Instead it became worse and was now accompanied by labored breathing as if he was having asthma for the first time.

They left the scooter along the road and took a tricycle to the hospital. When they reached the emergency room, his breathing was wheezing, and his consciousness was slowly fading away. He didn't have anything to drink but he was like a drunk who had one drink too many.

Excluding jumping from a plane, seeing a ghost or becoming a hold-up victim in Avenida, difficulty of breathing is one of the most, if not the most, terrifying feelings one could ever experience. Upon recovery, almost all severely dyspneic patients think that their time was up. And with the persistently diminishing entry of oxygen into the lungs, there will be a persistently diminishing delivery of oxygen into the brain.

So while Hollywood and Viva Films may portray death as a violent gasping for air, you would actually slowly go into a far from peaceful slumber before snuffing the living daylights out of you.

The lungs are actually composed of a reticular network of successively shrinking airways that starts from the throat like a standard water pipe and ends with sac-like protrusions smaller than your hair. The air we breathe passes through these pipes filled with mucus and lined by miles and miles of blood vessels.

Like the close proximity of the distributor and carburetor makes the Volkswagen prone to engine fires, this close proximity of the airways and blood vessels makes the lungs prone to drowning in its own blood. Since only a very thin membrane separates the air from the blood, the slightest injury to this membrane will make the two mix inside the very small airways.

With minor bleeding, the lungs are able to compensate with no symptoms other than a slight discomfort and an itch at the throat. As the bleeding continues, more airways become obstructed and the oxygen deficiency is enough to trigger the "oxygen hunger" reflex, the same reflex that takes over when we try to outdo each other holding our breath.

With massive bleeding, the dearth of oxygen is enough to starve the brain of its much needed catalytic required to convert the glucose into energy. So the brain slowly goes into "screensaver" mode, ready to light up like a tap on the mouse once the oxygen goes back to normal in a few minutes.

If more than six minutes elapse without the needed tap on the mouse, that computer inside our skull will slowly turn itself off. Permanently. It doesn't turn off all at once like an ordinary computer. The brain cells will turn off one by one. So if the oxygen returns at all, the cells hat have died will remain dead. And the ones still living will carry on with the job. Unfortunately, we need all the cells to think normally. To live a normal life.

So some of us die afterwards. Some of us live with a few disabilities. A facial twitch, a paralyzed leg, a slurred speech. Some of us, though, will live on half-alive, half-dead, hovering between this world and the world beyond like the boatman ferrying souls on the river Styx.