Seven days before he was to leave for medical school, Private Ritchie developed a bad chest cold. It turned into influenza, and he was hospitalized. Over the next few days he seemed to recover. But the night before he was scheduled to leave for Richmond, his temperature soared to a life-threatening 106.5 degrees Fahrenheit. His surroundings became a dizzy blur. He heard the click and whir of the X-ray machine-- and then silence.
The young soldier woke up on a strange bed in a small, dimly lit unfamiliar room. His head was clear. In a panic that he might miss the train to Richmond, Private Ritchie jumped out of bed. "My uniform wasn't on the chair," he remembered later. "I looked beneath it. Behind it. No duffel bag either... Under the bed maybe? I turned around, then froze."
Ritchie was shocked to see that a young man was lying in the be that he had just vacated. "The thing was impossible," he recalled. "I myself had just gotten out of that bed. For a moment I wrestled with the mystery of it. It was too strange to think about- and anyway, I didn't have time." Private Ritchie shivered and ran from the room. The only thing he could think about was getting to Richmond. Out in the hall a sergeant walked toward him carrying an instrument tray. "Excuse me, Sergeant," Ritchie said. " You haven't seen the ward boy for this unit, have you?" The sergeant did not answer or even slow down. At the minute Ritchie yelled, "Look out!" but the man walked right past him. The next minute he was behind him, walking away without even looking back at Ritchie. Before he had time to wonder if he was delirious or dreaming, Ritchie found himself outside the hospital. It was dark and he was moving fast, as though flying through the air. He still wore only his army hospital pajamas but had no sensation of cold. After willing himself to slow down, Ritchie landed on a street corner in a town by a large river. People walked by without seeing him. He leaned up against a thick guy wire bracing a telephone pole, but his body passed right through it. "In some unimaginable way, " George Ritchie wrote later, "I had lost my firmness of flesh, the body that other people saw."
Oddly, given the bizarre circumstances, the young man's most pressing concern was that he was not going to be able to study medicine in his present disembodied form. He knew he had to get back to his physical body as fast as he could. The return to the hospital was quick, even faster than his voyage away from it had been. Running from ward toward and room to room, Ritchie searched the faces of sleeping soldiers. It was not easy to distinguish them in the dim light, so he decided to look for his identifying onyx and gold fraternity ring on their hands instead. After what seemed an eternity, Private Ritchie found a left hand with the correct ring on the third finger, but the body was covered with a sheet. For the first time he thought, "This is what we human beings call 'death', this splitting up of one's self." At the same time, he wondered how he could be dead and still be awake, thinking and experiencing.
Suddenly, the room was filled with an intense illuminations, and Ritchie saw that a man made of light had appeared. From inside himself he heard the words, "You are in the presence of the Son of God." Simultaneously, his whole life, "every event and thought and conversation, as palpable as a series of pictures," he said later, passed before him in review.
At the age of twenty, George Ritchie died in an army hospital. Nine minutes later, he returned to life. What happened to him during those nine minutes was so compelling it changed his life forever. This is one of the most starling and hopeful descriptions of the realm beyond ever written. See: Video with Dr. Ritchie.
Then Private Ritchie woke up in his own body, to the astonishment of the physician who had just signed his death certificate. An orderly who had been preparing the body for the morgue noticed feeble signs of life in the corpse and called the doctor, who hastily injected adrenaline directly into the heart. Although Ritchie had not taken a breath for nine full minutes, he showed no symptoms of brain damage. The commanding officer at the hospital called the Ritchie case "the most amazing circumstance" of his career and signed an affidavit that George Ritchie had indeed made a miraculous return from virtual death on the night of December 20, 1943.
Posted today Dec 16th 2014