THE ISLAND OF Haiti is rich with legends of the dead being brought back from the grave, but these were thought to be nothing more than myths until a remarkable story started to unfold. In May 1962, a man turned up at an American-run hospital in Haiti sick with fever, spitting up blood and suffering terrible body aches. His condition deteriorated and he was declared dead several hours later. The doctors noted that he had very low blood pressure, hypothermia, respiratory failure and numerous digestive problems. His sister identified the body and made arrangements for his burial.
In 1981, the sister was approached by a man at her village market who introduced himself using the boyhood name of her dead brother. She was stunned. This was a name that only she and a few family members knew. The man said that he’d been made into a zombie and forced to work on a plantation until his zombie master died.
The media went crazy over the story and Dr Lamarck Douyon, director of the Psychiatric Institute in Port-au-Prince, made up his mind to test whether this zombie tale could possibly be true.
Extensive psychiatric tests proved that the man really was the brother. This led Douyon to conclude that there had to be something real about zombie mythology – something must have made the man appear dead when he actually was not.
So he contacted the-then Harvard ethnobotanist Edmund Wade Davis – currently the explorer in residence at National Geographic – to investigate what it was that these zombie masters were actually doing.
Having carried out numerous interviews with the masters, Davis discovered that they were developing complex poisons from local ingredients, which the victim inhaled or absorbed through their skin. This brought them to the brink of death; actually feeding the poisons to victims would have meant they were dead rather than just looking it, so they would have been of no use to their masters.
These poor souls were then buried alive and later dug up. The zombie masters told Davis that they then had to beat the zombie to drive off its old spirit, tie it to a crucifix, feed it a paste made from hallucinogenic cucumbers and then baptise it with a zombie name. Davis realised that after this ordeal, victims were so mentally damaged that they would do whatever they were told. And while they were not the undead, they might as well have been.
When patients rise from the dead
Funeral home workers in the Colombian city of Cali got the shock of their lives when an apparently dead 45-year-old woman being prepared for burial started breathing again. Noelia Serna had been admitted to hospital after suffering a heart attack and was declared dead. After coming back to life in the funeral home, she was duly transferred back to hospital.
This apparent miracle, back in 2010, is an example of the Lazarus syndrome, where a patient’s circulation returns some time after attempts at resuscitation have failed. But far from being animated corpses like the zombies we often imagine, these patients are very much alive.
At least 25 incidences have been reported since 1982, and why it happens is far from clear. One suggested mechanism is a delay in adrenaline administered by medical staff reaching the heart.
In a report on one incidence of the Lazarus effect in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, doctors in Pittsburgh say it makes the timing of organ harvesting for transplants more ‘problematic’.