The Cryonics Institute’s 90th Patient: By Ben Best
The 90th patient of the Cryonics Institute is a middle-aged management consultant who deanimated in the United Kingdom. He had worked in mechanical, electrical, architectural and nuclear applications. He is a well-built man who rarely had health problems until 2008 when he began to experience inflammatory symptoms that were later attributed to cancer. First he had hives, then difficulty breathing and finally a tumor obstruction of an artery leading to his head.
Hospital physicians decided that the patient's tumor could be shrunken most rapidly by subjecting him to radiation. But the radiation aggravated the swelling, and he experienced cardiac arrest from anaphylactic shock-like symptoms within 12 hours after the treatment had begun. Contrary to the request of his family, hospital staff administered seditives, which the family believed contributed to fatal respiratory depression. His family — his wife and daughter — were both in the hospital and in his presence when he took his last breaths early in May, 2008. The patient's wife was holding his hand when it suddenly went limp — and was looking him in the eyes when "the light suddenly went out".
The week following the patient's deanimation was a time of great grief and confusion for his wife and daughter. The patient had expressed a desire for cryonics, and his family wanted to honor his wishes. But they did not have immediate access to the money they would need to cryopreserve him — and hospital staff were pressuring them to move him out of the hospital and into a funeral home. The funeral homes they visited left them with a very negative impression. After a few days they contacted the Cryonics Institute and we advised them to move the patient to F. A. Albin & Sons — Funeral Directors for storage in dry ice. After the patient had spent a week in a hospital cooler he was finally moved to Albin's. The wife and daughter were extremely pleased with the professionalism of the premises and the sincerity of the staff at Albin's. The patient remained on dry ice at Albin's for several weeks while money was raised to pay for storage in liquid nitrogen at the Cryonics Institute.
On June 20th the patient was flown in dry ice from the UK to Michigan. The patient's wife and daughter arranged to fly to Michigan on the same day. Jim Walsh, CI's funeral director, drove the patient from the Detroit airport to the Cryonics Institute, arriving just before 4 p.m.
I asked Mr. Walsh to place a temperature probe in an incision under the scalp, but the patient was so frozen that it was difficult to cut. So the controller probe was placed in the patient's ear. The nasopharyngeal probe was also difficult to insert. There was no possibility of placing a temperature probe into the patient's body by ordinary means. We put the patient in CI's computer-controlled cooling box and waited for the wife and daughter to arrive. I began cooling manually, but after half-an-hour of waiting I started the cooling program on the computer — having no idea when or if the wife and daughter would arrive. (I had tried calling their cell phone, but had gotten a recorded message in the patient's voice.)
The patient's wife and daughter arrived just before 5 p.m. (nearly an hour later than expected), saying they had been stuck in traffic (not surprising considering it was Friday at rush hour). While keeping the nitrogen gas on in the cooling box we allowed the wife and daughter to look in on the patient. It was a tearful moment for both of them. But it was not quite the same as a family viewing the body of a loved-one in a casket at a funeral parlor. In this case there is the possibility of seeing their beloved again in the future, but probably not for a very long time under the best circumstances. They asked about the possibility of having their whole family in the same cryostat. I was reluctant to make such a commitment. I expressed the hope that neither of them would require cryopreservation any time soon. I would not want to reserve spaces, but it would not be difficult to rearrange patients if there was a strong desire for such rearrangement.
With their beloved husband/father cooling in the cooling box, the wife and daughter lingered at the CI facility for about an hour-and-a-half — looking at the cryostats, looking at the photos of other patients, and talking to me about the patient and about cryonics. The patient's wife would become tearful periodically, and she commented on what it must be like for me to be around grief-stricken people so much of the time. I started to say something about the irony of my enthusiasm for living and for life extension bringing me to working so closely with death, but I fumbled on my words. I am reminded of a sermon I once heard in which the minister said that the death of a loved-one removes people from their mundane preoccupations and forces them to confront deep metaphysical thoughts and feelings.
I started writing this case report and asked questions of the patient's wife and daughter as I composed. Eventually they decided to leave, saying that they would return with flowers on the following day.
|Last 5 hours|
I had decided that the patient could be cooled from dry ice temperature to liquid nitrogen temperature in four hours. The cooling proceeded in a linear fashion down to about −150ºC at which the actual temperature began to drop less rapidly than the linear drop of target temperature. By the time the patient's head temperature reached −180ºC the actual temperature was about 15ºC above the target temperature -- and the alarm sounded. The alarm could be a valuable warning if there is a failure in liquid nitrogen delivery, but in this case the alarm had been triggered by the thermal inertia of the patient which was slowing the rate of cooling. I reset the alarm so it would sound for a 25ºC deviation of actual temperature from target temperature.
It took over five-and-a-half hours for the patient to reach liquid nitrogen temperature, consuming about 200 gallons of liquid nitrogen. We removed the patient from the cooling box at 10 p.m., Andy Zawacki tied the patient in his sleeping bag securely to a backboard. CI's 90th patient became the first patient to occupy cryostat HSSV−6−10.