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Friday, October 26, 2007What Do Dying People Feel?
Have you ever wondered what a dying person feels? It sounds morbid, but science and accounts from lucky survivors have made us an idea. Still, only the dead knows exactly what's the feeling.
By principle, a person is declared death when blood circulation (translated through heart activity) has stopped. This is the clinical death, but modern technology has permitted in many cases restoration of heart activity through cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), defibrillation, epinephrine shots and other methods. That's why perhaps it would be more biologically correct to say that the person has died when the brain is dead.
Still, the only way to kill instantly the brain is shooting a bullet into the head. Other deaths kill the brain more slowly, mainly by stopping its blood supply. Brain can function for a while without nutrients, but the brain cells (neurons) die in a matter of seconds when they lack oxygen. In fact, this is stroke: the death of some brain portions.
Most ways of dying kill the victim's brain indirectly, by stopping the heart (the so-called heart attack). The heart attack be spontaneous, caused by heart coronary disease (when the heart muscle is deprived of its circulation, and portions of it die). The main symptom is angina pectoris, the famous chest pain, a sensation of pain and squeezing radiating mainly to the left arm but also to all the surrounding areas, accompanied by massive sweating, nausea and palpitations.
The asphyxiated brain loses consciousness in a maximum of 10 seconds, and minutes later the brain dies.
Decapitation was believed to be rapid and pain free, but it takes about 7 seconds to the brain to loss consciousness. Eye and mimic movements still persist for 30 seconds after the chopping, and the question is" what could the head of the unlucky French queen Marie Antoinette, guillotined during the French revolution, have counted. Its famous smile was surely not of happiness.
Lethal injection is regarded as a humane alternative to the electric chair and attempts to kill stop the heart while putting asleep the brain through three active principles: an anesthetic (like sodium thiopental), a paralytic agent (like pancuronium bromide) and potassium chloride (ultrashort-acting sedative). The mix should be redundant: if one chemical does not kill the inmate, one of the other two will do it. Many believe that the potassium chloride injection causes burning pain, but the paralyzed convicted cannot show if off. If the dosage is not effective, or the veins are missed, the victim not only will feel burning sensation caused by the chloride, but it will take up to 9 minutes to die of asphyxiation due to the blocked breath muscles.
Hanging should be an unconsciousness asphyxiation, occurring in 10 seconds: the convicted should be left unconscious and paralyzed by the choke of having broken the neck from the first cervical vertebra, and death should come in a matter of seconds, maximum 2 minutes.
The reality is more chocking: over three quarters of the convicted die after a torture of many minutes, attempting to breath.
Judicial hangings, opposed to suicides, cause a significant damage to the spinal cord. When the fall is longer than predicted, the victim can be even decapitated. Sometimes, intense fear can induce a cardiac arrest to the convicted. Royalties were offended to be hanged, as the victim loses control of its sphincters (anal and urethral).
Drowning is in the end also an asphyxiation type. The panicked victim tries to hold its breath, but common rarely resist up to 90 seconds without seconds, and even diving champions cannot resist over 6 minutes. The human brain is highly intolerant to the accumulating carbon dioxide, and the urge for breathing cannot be stopped over a certain concentration of carbon dioxide (result of the cell respiration) in the blood irrigating the brain. Drowning survivors said described a "tearing and burning"when the water floods the lungs, followed by a tranquility feeling, as the brain can no longer sustain high activity. What's next is the same scenario: the lack of oxygen leads to consciousness loss, heart attack, and brain death.
Blood loss, called hemorrhagic shock in medicine produces in the end the same effect: no oxygen for the cells. That's why victims bleeding massively breath so heavily: the lungs are trying to send more oxygen to the oxygen hungry body.
A 70 kg (180 pounds) man has about 5.6 liters of blood (8 % of the body weight). 1.5 liters of blood loss makes the individual feel weak, as all the blood has gone from organs (including muscles) towards the lung and the heart, which try to compensate the oxygen deficit. The adrenalin released for increasing blood pressure in the arteries cause anxiety. Arginine vasopressin released for inducing water preservation in the kidney system (the organism loses a lot of water through blood) makes the individual feel thirsty.
If the blood loss is not stopped, and the body has already lost 2 liters of blood, these compensating mechanisms fail. The ion balance is gone, and the blood flow through capillaries is constricted. The cells can no longer function, and fluid and protein leakage out of the cells occurs. The prolonged vasoconstriction will also Even if the victim is delivered blood now, the prolonged vasoconstiction has caused irremediable damage. The unoxygenated brain falls into dizziness and confusion, followed by unconscious.
If the aortic or pulmonary artery dissection has taken place, pain similar to heart attack can occur.
Electrocution through a household device can paralyze the heart (heart attack), interfering with its own electric signal coordinating the contraction of the heart muscle. Much powerful shocks go beyond electrical impairment of the body, destroying tissues. Damage to the heart tissue means heart attack, but to the brain rapid unconsciousness, if not instant death. Those executed on the electric chair can even experience tissue burning and paralysis of the breathing muscles, of course, through asphyxiation.
When falling from a height, the heart does not stop, it is just made pieces. Usually the ribs broke in many pieces, which stab all the organs around. The thoracic shock, causing instant death, prevails amongst suicide jumpers. Survivors of high falling describe the feeling of time slowing down.
Burning the heretics was believed to be the worst death during the Medieval Ages. But a sufficiently big fire kills the victims before being touched by the flames, as the smoke gases, especially carbon monoxide, combine to the hemoglobin, blood's red pigment carrying oxygen to tissues. The hemoglobin can no longer carry on the oxygen to the tissues, and even if the victim is put now out of the fire, or saved by firemen, death installs as the brain cannot be oxygenated.
If the flames touch the skin of the conscious victim, they will induce tremendous pain, which slowly decreases with the destruction of the skin nerves, but persists, as inner tissues too have pain sensors.
Carbon monoxide is also the main culprit for sleep asphyxiation death cases caused by bad stoves (the gas is the result of incomplete burning of wood or any other fuel). This is perhaps the less painful death, also employed by suicidal using car smoke generated in a closed room.
Explosive decompression means a sudden (less than 0.1 seconds) air pressure drop, caused by violent explosion, like in the case of a contained system (inner airplane) exposed in a moment to outer atmosphere or explosions caused by gas accumulation.
No, people do not explode in such cases. The exposure to low pressure provokes swelling, but our skin is elastic and resistant to cope with a drop of one atm. (the required drop for killing a people is of about 8 atmospheres). Survivors of such events reported a chest pain, like receiving a blow (due to the swelling of the lungs), and even the feeling of air going out of the lungs. If oxygenation is impeded, the individual loses consciousness in 15 seconds and die of asphyxiation.