Sebastian Junger is used to dodging bullets in war zones, so he never expected to almost die in his own driveway.
Junger was walking with his wife in the woods near his home when he suddenly felt so unwell he could barely move. By the time the paramedics arrived, Junger felt better and only reluctantly boarded the ambulance at his wife’s insistence.
At the hospital, doctors realized that Junger’s pancreatic artery had ruptured. It was so terrible that he needed a transfusion of about 10 pints of blood straight into his jugular.
Junger, author and journalist, draws a parallel between his own medical trauma and the death of his friend, photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who bled from a shrapnel wound while chronicling the war Libyan civilian.
The two men faced very different medical scenarios, but both needed blood transfusions to survive. Junger received this transfusion, while Hetherington did not. He died en route to the hospital.
Junger never thought much about donating blood until he needed someone else’s blood. Now he believes giving is an essential part of being a good citizen.
“Donate blood, vote, and serve as a juror, and you’ll feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself, which is one of the best feelings a person can have.” he told CNN.
As well as making him an advocate for blood donation, the experience also made the outspoken atheist question what happens after death.
Junger’s experience was terrifying – but it is also an experience shared by people around the world and from different cultures.
“I didn’t know exactly that I was dying. But I knew I was being dragged into a dark pit that was below – which seems like bad news – and I didn’t want to go there,” he said. “And that’s when my dead father appeared above me until I was like, ‘Get out of here, dad. I don’t want anything to do with you right now. I’m a non-religious skeptic, am I? And there was my deceased father who welcomed me, and I don’t know why.
The next day, a nurse in the intensive care unit told Junger that he nearly died. The realization was startling, and when she came back to her room, “I said, ‘I’m fine, but what you told me really freaked me out.'”
This nurse suggested that instead of thinking of his encounter with death as something frightening, he should “try to think of it as something sacred”.
It was a suggestion he took to heart. The experience “left me with the thought that I will continue to think for the rest of my life,” he said. “I’m not religious, but I understand the idea of something being sacred.”
Junger’s experience was so transformative that he is writing his next book on near-death experiences. It’s still in the research phase but the working title is “Pulse: What Keeps Us Alive and What Happens When We Die”.
“I’ve covered the front lines in war zones all my life. It was the ultimate front line for me,” he said.
Junger says hospice nurses often report that in a person’s final days and hours, they see the dead in their room and even talk to them. The dying patient often believes he is being escorted by his loved one.
This was the experience Junger seemed to have with his late father.
“It’s very, very common and I’m trying to figure it out. It was for me, incredibly traumatic, but almost kind of a spiritual awakening,” Junger said.
“It didn’t make me believe in God, but it made me think that there is perhaps something more to existence, to this universe and to this life, than pure rationalists do. allow. Maybe there’s something a little more that we just don’t understand, and it kind of lies ahead of us.