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Robert Kirby: OK, look alive as we explore tales of the waking dead

Robert Kirby

Lots of things about life are scary these days — disease, crime, the economy, politics. While I find the latter one more boring than frightening, it’s still something to fret about.

But when it comes to the inarguable science of the freak-o-meter, waking up dead has to rank at least a 9.5 out of 10.

Just such a thing happened to a 20-year-old Michigan woman who woke to find herself zipped up in a body bag at a funeral home.

She was dead, at least according to the paramedics who responded to her home, where she was found unconscious and not breathing. After 30 minutes of trying to get her to breathe and start her heart, they pronounced her dead.

I have watched paramedics work hundreds of times. If ever there’s a group of people who know dead when they see it, it’s probably them. Unless maybe it’s funeral home personnel.

So imagine the surprise when, hours later, a Detroit funeral home employee unzips the bag and finds the woman breathing and staring up at him. Hell, assuming she retained sufficient wits about her, imagine her relief.

Waking up dead is not unheard of. History is filled with examples of people demonstrating signs of life just before being dumped in a hole or thrown overboard.

But what about the dead themselves, the folks who wake up just in time to avoid being buried or cremated technically alive?

While I’ve never been close to being disposed of, I have awakened dead on many occasions, most notably every morning during high school and in the military.

Early on, it was Mom, who would come in and shake me until I protested.

“See? I knew you weren’t dead. Hurry up. Get ready for school.”

In the Army, it was a drill sergeant, who would flip on the lights, kick an empty garbage can the length of the barracks and start yanking bodies off top bunks.

“Git yo @$& $%^ out yo beds, rat @$&#, now fo’ I kill somebody!”

The patois of that utterance remains branded on my brain 50 years later. If I heard it even whispered today, I would jump to my feet in the middle of open-heart surgery.

But let’s consider the poor people whose job it is to find out if dead people are, in fact, dead. How do they feel when the dead unexpectedly awaken? I’ve had it happen to me, and it’s no fun either.

Once, while a cop, I found a dead transient in a ditch in the middle of the desert one afternoon. He had flies crawling in and out of his mouth.

I was standing over him when he jerked awake, spitting bugs, and demanding to know what I wanted. Thanks to him, so great was the shock to my system that when I finally do die, it will be two years before I should have.

Of course, we all are awaiting the moment when we do wake up dead.

Based on how most of us meet our ends, I have a fairly good idea that it won’t be nearly as scary as being alive.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.