Books: Hideaway

I don’t consider Hideaway one of Dean Koontz’s better books. I can see from the customer reviews at amazon.com that a lot of readers do. But I also see that I’m far from alone in thinking that it starts out very well, then somewhere in the middle becomes just one more good-guy-defeats-psychotic-bad-guy-in-the-nick-of-time novel. The plot stopped feeling suspenseful, and the characters just weren’t well enough developed. (The gore factor is also high, which detracts from my enjoyment of the story.)

The questions it raises about resuscitation science, however, are quite intriguing, and I wish this aspect of the story had been developed more, rather than seeing just how extreme a portrayal of a truly evil villain could be depicted. (If you want to imagine getting inside the head of someone who truly delights in evil and death, this could be the book for you.) There is some discussion of the ethical questions involved in this branch of medicine, but that occupies only a few pages fairly early in the book.

Resuscitation science, in case you’re not familiar with the term, has to do with medical treatment of patients who are, by traditional measures, already dead. It’s common enough these days for a patient to be revived after the heart stops, but that is typically immediately after it stops, such as when it happens on the operating table. The longer the interval between the heart stopping and then starting again, the less likely that resuscitation will be successful, and the greater the chances of permanent brain damage even if it is.

In Hideaway, a man is resuscitated after having been dead over an hour, and it is a complete success, largely due to his having drowned in icy water. A similar case in real life is described in this article about resuscitation science. (Another case also described is that of a woman whose heart was deliberately stopped in order to safety treat a brain aneurysm.)

The article also answers another question that I had been wondering about while reading the book. If the patient is dead, what makes the body try to do anything? In the book, once the dead man’s body has been warmed up from forty-six degrees to eighty-three degrees, he gasps once, his heart muscle spasms once, and his arm and fingers twitch.

I figured the answer must be that many cells of the body can still be alive even after the heart has stopped beating and brain activity has ceased. And according to the article, my guess was correct. Even without instructions from the body’s command center, each cell will continue to try to go on with its normal activities.

This makes it harder to clearly define life and death. As the title of the article asks, “Is there a third state of being?” And who gets to decide whether or not to attempt resuscitation of a clinically dead person?

The ethical questions involved in medical treatment are difficult enough for patients who are still alive. But when the patient is dead, and resuscitation could result in a patient who is alive but severely brain-damaged, who gets to decide if the risk is worth taking? Often the patients are young and healthy (they are the most likely to be successfully resuscitated) and have given no thought to advance medical directives.

For those of us who believe in life after death, what state is a dead person snatched back from when resuscitated? I have often wondered what it was like for Lazarus when Jesus raised him from the dead. One assumes that Jesus would not have brought him back if he would resent a return to life. But one may not have such confidence in the medical profession.

For the villain of Hideaway, being returned to life was cruel. He had chosen death, and had no desire at all to be alive again. Moreover, considering the evil that he committed before his death, bringing him back only enabled him to commit more evil. It may be a doctor’s duty to save life even of the most wicked patient. But is it right to resuscitate such a patient if he has already died?

Another interesting question – of a far more speculative nature – is whether resuscitation can result in previously unknown psychic abilities. In the novel, the good guy and the bad guy, both of whom have experienced resuscitation, find themselves inexplicably linked, though the connection is intermittent and is something neither of them can control.

I saw part of a show my husband was watching recently that had a similar plot device, though in that case I think the resuscitated person was linked to the spirit of a recently deceased person. In that case at least the timing of one’s death and the other’s return to life coincided, which made the link make some kind of sense. In Koontz’s novel, the link was only the doctor who did the resuscitation.

In general, I tend to be skeptical about claims of psychic ability. That’s not because I think such abilities impossible, but because evidence seems to show that most claims are bogus, made by people trying to get either money or power from the supposed demonstration of their powers.

The article I linked to above tells how the woman who was clinically dead remembers conversation in the operating room while she had no brain activity. The doctors cannot explain it – but their records show that her memory matches what was actually said. The idea of a link being formed to another person’s mind seems more the stuff of novels. But that experiences related to resuscitation could enable some kind of ongoing psychic ability – that seems within the realm of possibility to me.

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