Chronicle of a death foretold: Esbjörn Svensson’s premonitory reflections on death and the meaning of life

Pianist Esbjörn Svensson died suddenly, at the peak of his career, in a diving accident on June 14, 2008, 44 years of age. Here he makes a striking account of a previous close encounter with death and his personal reflections (audiofile in Swedish, Summer 2003).

It was as if I could see straight inside her. And she had made up her mind. I knew it. It was an unmistakable feeling. I then understood that I had to speak to her. If she is going to jump, I will have to stop her. And somehow, distract her attention. Slowly, I begin to move towards her. She stays very strategically placed, exactly at the exit of the tunel as the train approaches the platform. And a bit too close to the edge. I come closer to her. Very, very carefully. Slowly. I understand that it is incredibly sensitive. I do not think very much. I feel I would just like to distract her. I come closer, maybe 10 meters away from her. I hear that the train approaches. And I hear that she hears. She makes herself ready. I come even closer. Very slowly… Now I am just 3 meters from her. Then comes the train… and the woman jumps, straight in front of it. The train buzzes. People scream. Everything stops. And I stood 3 meters from her… But I turn around and run away… It’s too much. I don’t see what happens. There, in front of my eyes, a person has taken her life, straight out into something else. Something which we don’t know anything about. And I can’t just look anymore. I run. The police is coming. People all around is in desperation. But I walk away…”

“Why do we exist? What are we doing here? And what makes some of us live with the spark of life inside us, while others lose it totally, and jump out? Jump over the border, away from life. Away from reality and, hopefully, pain. To something else totally unknown. These are for me big, incomprehensible questions. And in that moment the woman jumped, it became clear for me that there is no answer. There is no logic controlling our lives. There are no package solutions. Each and everyone of us must find the answer on our own. It doesn’t matter if one does so with the help of music, love, Jesus or drugs. There must be something that pushes us forward. And that makes us want to continue breathing…

About death and the meaning of life: “What guarantee do we have that the future will come? That we will be able to experience it? We generally live in our Western society separated from death. We don’t think about it. Talk seldom about it. Suppress it preferably. But suddenly, it hits us. Close
or at a distance. But almost always with astonishing power. Everything stays put. And we suddenly experience our fragility, our loneliness, our total powerlessness in front of death. It pushes us to a corner. Force us to resignate to it. Death has all the power. And we float in a complete uncertainty about the future. We know nothing. We have no guarantees. Life can finish anytime.”

“What shall we do with this terrible knowledge? How shall we act in this meaningless battle against an opponent over whom we can never win? Many take refuge in religion. Where one can find some form of guarantee in the belief of that what religion offers. If we believe in religion, whichever that may be, we get at least a belief of what is to come after death. We can also pretend that we are immortal, and do in principle whatever we want, for money, and for the life that we expect to live, then when we can afford everything that we need to live a good life. But irrespectively of belief, money or social status, we can never be sure. Suddenly, it just stands there, beside us. A quick look over the shoulder, and we instinctively know who it is.”

“What we go through, what happens to us, that’s our life. My experience is that death can teach us to see what is important… That life is now.”

Intriguing clinical meta analysis of a unique dataset in traumatic brain injury from the “Asterix” comic books

Researchers from Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany, have published an intriguing study on traumatic brain injury using a dataset taken from the Asterix comic series. The report appeared in Acta Neurochir (2011) 153:13511355.

We learn that the goal of the study was to “analyze the epidemiology and specific risk factors of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the Asterix illustrated comic books. Among the illustrated literature, TBI is a predominating injury pattern.” One of the major strengths of the study is that clinical data were “correlated to information regarding the trauma mechanism, the sociocultural background of victims and offenders, and the circumstances of the traumata, to identify specific risk factors.”

Through painstaking analysis of all 34 Asterix comic books, the researchers identified 700 hundred cases of TBI in the study. “The majority of persons involved were adult and male. The major cause of trauma was assault (98.8%).” Among the most intriguing results, they found that “although over half of head-injury victims had a severe initial impairment of consciousness, no case of death or permanent neurological deficit was found.”

Epidemiological results indicated that “the largest group of head-injured characters was constituted by Romans (63.9%), while Gauls caused nearly 90% of the TBIs. A helmet had been worn by 70.5% of victims but had been lost in the vast majority of cases (87.7%). In 83% of cases, TBIs were caused under the influence of a doping agent called “the magic potion (p ≤ 0.05)”.

There is no shortage of curious information in the paper. Among other jewels, the authors found that, among victims of head injuries, 4 out of 700 were extraterrestrials. The generally favorable outcome was surprising, given the severity of the injuries (see figure below). One possible explanation given by the authors lies in the follow-up. In their own words, “in many cases, follow-up was only a few minutes. Here, a secondary deterioration after a “lucid interval” and development of intracranial hemorrhage might have been overlooked. However, most figures returned at later time points without any deficit.”

Clearly, more work needs to be done to follow-up this very interesting research. The authors declared no conflict of interest. The funding source was not acknowledged in the paper, however. 😉