Are You Really Dead When They Say You Are?


The Evolution of Death

The Evolution of Death

What is the one certainty of life? Death, right? But it is the least discussed of topics. People call you morbid, negative, depressed if you talk about it.

To me, since we’ve all got to face it some day, what’s the harm in touching on it once in a while?

I recently came across an article that talks about the moment of death, and what fascinated me was that the scientific community is still uncertain about the exact moment of death:

 “Most of us would agree that King Tut and the other mummified ancient Egyptians are dead, and that you and I are alive. Somewhere in between these two states lies the moment of death. But where is that? The old standby — and not such a bad standard — is the stopping of the heart. But the stopping of a heart is anything but irreversible. We’ve seen hearts start up again on their own inside the body, outside the body, even in someone else’s body. Christian Barnard was the first to show us that a heart could stop in one body and be fired up in another.

As I went on to read it, I was intrigued by the concept of life residing in various parts of the human body, not just in the brain or heart: (Warning: this gets a little gory)

“What’s alive and what’s dead breaks down when we get above the cellular level,” Sorenson says. “Pathologists don’t feel comfortable that a brain is dead until the cell walls break down. True cell death is a daylong process.”

…Cell death is far removed from brain death. As shown, brain death can be declared when only a few brain cells have actually died. Cells in the remainder of the body are alive and kicking. Brain-dead patients being sustained as beating-heart cadavers are still supplying most of their body’s cells with blood and thus oxygen, so total cell death is nowhere in sight. Cell death begins in earnest when the heart stops beating and the lungs cease to breathe. No longer being pumped through the body, the blood will drain from the blood vessels at the top of the body and collect in the lower part. The upper body will become pale, the lower body turning much darker, looking bruised. This is livor mortis.

Even at this point, however, most cells are still not dead. After the heart stops, brain cells will die in a few minutes. Muscle cells can hold on for several hours, and skin and bone cells can stay alive for days. Cells switch from aerobic (with oxygen) respiration to anaerobic (without oxygen) when the blood stops circulating. A by-product of anaerobic respiration is lactic acid, which is what makes your arm muscles hurt during arm wrestling or your legs hurt during a hard run. When you are alive, your blood flow clears out the acid, but in a dead person the body stiffens. This is rigor mortis. Rigor mortis usually begins about three hours after the heart stops and lasts thirty-six hours. Eventually all of the cells die. After rigor mortis come initial decay, putrefaction, black putrefaction, and butyric fermentation. Somewhere in these processes — taking as long as a year, depending on the conditions and the weather — is a moment of death. Where that is may be impossible to determine.

To get a better picture of what I’m talking about, read the article– because it talks not just about the moment of death, but the question of selfhood, and how important human beings really are, are we the ultimate in evolution?

Do you ever wonder about death? Do we think more about death as we grow older? What is death, really? What is the moment of death? Are you really dead when they say you are?

Of death and such


Lalwant Singh, in all his glory

Lalwant Singh, in all his glory

Those who have read my blog before, know I had a betta fish, Lalwant Singh.

Lalwant Singh died last week. At night he came to me for his food, nipped at my finger and all was well. Morning, he was curled up on a leaf, all dead. I guess I can take consolation in the fact that he did not suffer.

But then, what do I know of suffering, and how do I know whether a short suffering is any less hard to bear than a prolonged one? Does a small fish suffer? Does it suffer as much as a human? Is the suffering of the human more evident to me because a human is bigger than a small fish, and the fact that I am a human myself? Each time a fish dies I go through similar hand-wringing and attempts at philosophical acceptance.

I’ve tried not to think of Lalwant Singh the last few days, been sucked into A to Z Challenge, which I’m co-hosting this year, and for which I’m writing fiction like this one.

But even in the fiction, I can’t stop wondering about death, about what one feels when one dies, about suffering in death, about the act of dying. And all this because of a fish.

Writers are crazy. No, let me amend that, I’m crazy. Always have been.

I’ve washed the aquarium clean, run the water again, and am waiting for the water to settle down, so I can bring home a ‘replacement’.

Dead is dead, I know. But then, there is also life, for both fish and human, and the embracing of it– with a complete and acute awareness that death is, and always will be, if not the only, but definitely the most inevitable consequence.

 

RIP Kartar Singh


Kartar Singh woke up this morning, did  his usual happy dance, broke his fast of the last 3 days, and made me very happy.

Then in the afternoon, I found him tail up, his head stuck in the pebbles, dead.

I know Kartar Singh was only a betta fish, but I feel his loss.

Time to resort to the lesson I learned the hard way : Sadness at death is proportional to the level of attachment.

Another one, a corollary, one I had forgotten: Never name a fish.

RIP, Kartar Singh. I’ll miss you.

In which I Wonder about Dead Bodies, Lessons


I spent all of today hauling dead bodies.

Ok, not hauling, but picking up.

Right, maybe I’m being a tad over-dramatic? Because the dead in this case are fish.

Tiny, and aptly named mosquito rasboras, the pink-red-black adults grow no more than 3/4 inch.

Quite a few have died since last night, though  the others don’t look sick.

As I picked up each floating, spiraling body from my 4ft aquarium, I wondered how life and death are relative…and if a life is a life, any life.

If a fish’s life is not as important as that of a human, is it merely because in the grand scheme of creation, the death of a human makes a bigger difference than that of a fish? Or any other tiny creature?

I hear that life on our planet would survive very well indeed if humans as a species turned extinct. If, on the other hand, all the bees on our planet dies out, or all the insects, life on our blue ball might be in peril.

So, death.

If my pet dog dies, I’ll be very sad. If a stray dies, not so much. If someone I love/ care for dies, I’ll be devastated. If a stranger on the other side of the world dies, it would be a blip on my screen. If it is a celebrity, I would be sadder. If the stranger is infamous, like Osama, I would be curious, but not really very sad.

So, my reaction to death varies with who/ what dies.

If I loved all the tiny rasboras in my aquarium personally, each death would kill a part of me. Seeing that they are one of many, and I have no particular bond with each of them, I just calmly get up, fish out the dead fish, and flush it.

Sadness at death is proportional to the level of attachment. Lesson learned from the dying/dead fish.

For the time being, the most immediate problem is figuring out what exactly is wrong with my aquarium.

But somewhere, I must squirrel away the lesson at the back of my head. I have lost loved ones before, and will (sadly, but inevitably) lose more. Or I might realise that it is my turn to be lost.

That would be good time to unwrap the lesson, and put it to use. Nothing can make the death of my rasboras worthwhile, but I’ll settle for a lesson.

Such is life. And death.

Death, Lessons, Fish, Life

Death, Lessons, Fish, Life

Writing about waiting like shoals of bluefish


Looking Up and Down

Looking Up and Down

And then they all lay down and prepared to die. There is only death, they were told, the one true thing, the one sure end to us all. Let us learn to embrace it, to find in it the solace it provides, to close our eyes a little and feel the trembling darkness, hear its sighs and splashes. Even in this blue paradise, where light has no beginning nor end, let us lie like shoals of bluefish, quiet in the darkness, waiting for the end.

Writing, fish, life, death


Platies, Mystery Disease

Platies, Mystery Disease

I’ve been writing something or the other the past few days, and today spent a few hours with some super writing-friends writing some more. That’s good and should make me happy.

But, all is not well in my aquarium, and I didn’t know this would keep into my writing. That it is so important for me.

I have had fish-related posts before, but now that I have flushed down three fish since last evening, I’m beginning to wonder if burying them instead is a better idea. Would it give the whole thing some ‘dignity’? Does death ever have dignity, even if it is that of little fish who make no difference to anyone (other than me, maybe, cos I’m sitting here stressing over it) ?

Meanwhile all the other fish in the aquarium are swimming around, life goes on for them. Well, unless the mystery disease gets them too.

Writing, angels, death…hah


When I got my aquarium, I had determined I would buy small fish by the dozens. Small, pretty much indistinguishable from each other. Never big fish, nothing ever that will be missed straightaway.

I stuck to my guns to more than a year, and then gave in.

I just had to have some angels, and the day before I got two pairs of them, all silver and pearl and snow, swimming around like quaint little fairies. Since they’re usually picky eaters, I was not unduly worried when only one of them made for the multi-colred flakes when I fed them at night.

I had an excellent writing session while sitting across the room watching them play about yesterday.Today morning, I fished out two of them, lying still and white on their sides in the corner of the aquarium. No disease, no nothing. Just dead. Perhaps it was the stress of water change, wrong temperature, I’ll never know. A third seems to be gulping too much. I’m resigned–if it survives tonight, it’ll be a miracle.

So I’ll be left with one lone white angel (if that).

Maybe that is all I deserve. One angel per person sounds about right. Not.