Imagine being placed in a morgue fridge even though you're still alive. That is exactly what happened to one poor woman during a particularly disturbing incident last week.
The road between Johannesburg and Carletonville, a gold-mining town in South Africa, is a dark and dangerous one. Accidents are not an uncommon occurrence and, on June 24, three people were declared dead at the scene of yet another car crash. A fourth was found alive but injured.
It was hours later than the staff at the government mortuary in Carletonville heard noises from one of the supposedly dead victims. She was breathing.
“You never expect to open a fridge and find someone in there alive,” one told a local newspaper, the New York Times reports.
“Can you imagine if we had begun the autopsy and killed her?”
You're probably wondering how on Earth this happened. Was the paramedic team incompetent?
Gerrit Bradnick, a Distress Alert operations manager, has assured reporters that all checks and protocols were followed through as appropriate.
“Equipment used to determine life showed no form of life on the woman,” he told Times Live, who broke the story.
“This did not happen because our paramedics are not properly trained. There is no proof of any negligence by our crew.”
This is not the first time a person has been declared dead, only to apparently "wake up" hours later. It happened to Himanshu Bharadwaj, Gonzalo Montoya Jiménez, and Walter Williams. It also happened to Janina Kolkiewicz, a 91-year-old Polish woman, who celebrated her lucky escape with a bowl of hot soup and pancakes.
Have a quick flick through the Google search results and you’ll find many more examples of this nightmarish phenomenon. So, what is going on?
In Jiménez's case, it could come down to a condition called catalepsy, which can affect epilepsy patients. The 29-year-old Spanish prisoner was on the verge of being cut up for autopsy (there were even guiding marks on his body) because of symptoms that included rigidity, unresponsiveness, and the slowing down of vital bodily functions, like breathing. (Interestingly, this very condition may help explain the origin of a particularly frightening folklore character.)
In other instances, medications may be to blame. This is what experts suspect happened to Paul Mutora when he was given an antidote to the insecticide he swallowed. It slowed his heart rate down to such an extent, it became difficult for the medical practitioners to detect a pulse rate.
Another possible explanation is extreme cold, which can slow down the process of tissue death and organ failure. This means that people who "die" from hyperthermia or drowning in icy cold water may be miraculously revived or “resurrected” hours after death.
While, for obvious reasons, these stories attract a lot of press attention, it is worth pointing out that such instances are extremely, extremely rare – especially with modern technology and healthcare practices.
As for the woman involved this time, the latest reports reveal she is still in a critical condition.