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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/413

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THE PHENOMENA OF DEATH.

gy. In the anæsthesia induced by chloroform, a condition is produced closely resembling that immediately preceding death (caused by the carbonic-acid poisoning), in which visions are constantly presented to the mind, the character of which depends upon the natural temperament of the individual. Thus it often occurs that a patient, when under the influence of chloroform, has beatific visions similar to those of the dying. It is my fortune to have at present a patient who invariably, when under the influence of chloroform, asserts that she sees angels hovering round her bed. The impression is so strong that she becomes much annoyed if the reality of these visions is disputed. The asphyxia produced by burning charcoal is ofttimes accompanied by disturbed fancies, similar to those preceding death, and the natural inference is that they are the resultant in both cases of one and the same cause. During the last moments of life, the mind gradually loses cognizance of external surroundings, and is rapt in self-contemplation. Though still in a semi-conscious condition, the weeping of friends and the voices of attendants fall upon dull ears. The eyelids are closed, the pupils slightly contracted, and rolled upward and inward. The dying man has forgotten the present, for he is living in the past. One by one the events of a whole life appear, its joys and sorrows, perchance long since forgotten, rise before him in startling distinctness, and then disappear in the swiftly moving panorama. The familiar faces of the friends of his youth are thrown upon the mental retina, their cheery voices reverberate in his ears, and the thought of meeting these friends in the near future is perhaps his last conscious impression. As this drowsiness creeps over the system, these images, molded from the past, become as realities to the disordered imagination. The germs from which originate these strange combinations have probably been lying dormant for years in the registering ganglia of the brain.

Dreams never surprise us, no matter how strange the scenery presented, or how great the violation of truth and reality: so it is in this last great vision of life. What wonder that a dream so vivid should be carried into action? The brain, with a convulsive effort, sends the message through the system, the muscles spring into activity, and the dying man, with outstretched arms, calls the attention of the awestricken bystanders to these fantasies of his own brain. Thus some pass away as though falling asleep; others with a sigh, groan, or gasp; and some with a convulsive struggle.

These death-bed visions are comparatively of frequent occurrence, and are generally accepted as realities. The theory which we promulgate, though not new, will naturally excite prejudice; but it is better to know the truth than to cherish a belief, however pleasing it be, founded on error.