Janis Amatuzio's father who sparked her interest in medicine. He was
a doctor, too, and when Janis was young he sometimes took her with
him when he visited patients. She got to see what a kind and loving
person he was with these families. That's what made her want to be
Janis learned two important lessons from watching her father. One
was that bad news from their doctor often hit people like a freight
train hitting a dump truck. The second one was that listening to people
in a kindly way could help calm and reassure them.
She also knew that someday she wanted to be just like her dad.
Dose of Reality
had high expectations when she entered medicine, but her experience
with her very first patient quickly shattered those expectations.
She was optimistic as she began interviewing her first hospital patient.
This man's primary complaint was of a persistent cough. Janis expected
to discover the cause and to treat it. Then she had to face the unthinkable-telling
her first patient that he was going to die.
This was a cruel and completely unexpected twist, and it devastated
her. She did not want to accept the diagnosis, but the x-rays told
her the truth. She could see that cancer cells had invaded the man's
lung. Janis had been ready to treat and heal, not give up. She certainly
was not ready to bring the worst possible news to this man.
Her patient, however, surprised her when he said he already knew.
He'd had an intuitive feeling that something was seriously wrong.
When Janis broke down and cried while talking to him, he comforted
her. He told her he was ready. He said he already had all the love
he would ever need, including hers.
The loss of this patient was hard for Janis to accept, but she learned
a lot from the experience. The shattering of her idealized expectations
helped her face reality. She learned that in spite of her efforts
and good intentions, she could not heal everyone.
was another type of experience waiting for Janis to discover. The
stories that many patients and family members told her revealed the
existence of another dimension of life. Here are two:
Janis heard that one of her patients had had a visit from his brother
and his friend. This visit had really cheered him up in spite of the
fact that he was very sick. It wasn't, however, until after her patient's
death that Janis learned something startling. The man's brother and
friend had both died in a car crash more than forty years before.
Another patient shared that he had had a previous near death experience.
After he had recovered he told his doctor everything the hospital
staff did to try and revive him. He could not have known this unless
he had watched the scene from somewhere outside his own body.
The experience was so real to him that it completely erased his fear
of death. He said that he remembered the purpose of his life. He understood
how it all worked, and realized that his life was perfect.
The experience taught him that love is all that really matters. He
saw that he should try to learn something new each day, to make the
world a better place.
Janis says she recalls his story often, especially when she feels
tempted to dismiss these kinds of experiences.
for the Dead
Janis decided to specialize in forensic pathology. As a pathologist
she saw her roll as someone who speaks for the dead. When people die
from unknown causes or under suspicious circumstances their families
want to know what happened. The victims, however, are obviously not
able to tell them. They need someone to speak on their behalf. Often
it is the pathologist who fills that role.
A daycare operator felt devastated when a young child in her care
died in his crib. It was especially traumatic for this woman because
the child belonged to her best friend. Through the autopsy examination
Janis was able reassure the daycare operator. The child had died of
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The operator neither caused nor could
have prevented the death.
A young husband died suddenly of an apparent heart attack while sitting
in his living room watching television. The widow's overriding concern
was whether or not he had suffered-she was not home when her husband
died. The autopsy revealed that in all likelihood the heart attack
caused an immediate loss of consciousness. Janis reassured her that
her husband died peacefully.
Sometimes these stories include an unexpected twist. Sometimes they
reveal something out of the ordinary.
A police investigation concluded that a man had murdered his wife
and then committed suicide. The man's father, however, was unable
to accept that his son could commit such an act. The police chaplain
patiently met with this man many times over a period of several years.
The father wanted to go over the police report and talk about the
deaths. One day the man told the chaplain that this would be his last
visit. His son had appeared to him in a dream and told him that he
needed to let it go. His son said that the police report was correct.
He'd made a mistake and was deeply sorry for the pain he'd caused.
He reassured his father that he was okay now. A few weeks later the
father died in his sleep, finally at peace about his son.
In another case a man's doctor admitted him to the hospital with congestive
heart failure. His doctor knew the man was in serious condition, but
did not expect him to die at that time. He did die, however, after
undergoing a procedure to withdraw fluid from his chest. His daughter,
a nurse, knew the procedure was risky. After her father died, however,
she had a lingering feeling that it shouldn't have happened.
Through the autopsy Janis determined that the death was an accident.
Because of unexpected scar tissue in his chest the biopsy needle had
punctured the man's lung. The puncture caused the lung to bleed. This
additional fluid built up in his chest and crowded his heart.
The man's heart then could no longer pump blood effectively and this
caused his death. Janis determined that no one could have known the
presence of the scar tissue. The death was the result of conditions
that were unfortunate, but unpredictable.
This result was good news both for the family. The daughter was especially
grateful to Janis for sharing this information. She had feared that
her father's death was her fault for not calling the nurse sooner.
Then the daughter shared a story of what happened in the moments before
her father died. He suddenly became completely alert, sat bolt upright
in bed, and exclaimed, "Oh, Lorraine!" Then he collapsed
and died. Lorraine was his beloved wife who had died some time before.
She had come to take him home and he saw her. Janis heard this beautiful
story because she took the time to listen.
These stories and others show how important death investigations and
autopsies are in discovering important pieces of a puzzle. The people
who conduct these investigations really do speak for the dead because
no one else can. In addition, these stories reveal the added blessings
that occur when people take time to listen.
events occur that appear connected yet could not have had any possible
prior arrangement. Janis has found that when these events happen around
death they often have a calming and reassuring effect on people.
the death of her husband, a woman was visiting with her daughter and
five-year-old granddaughter. After playing at the lake's shore for
a while, the little girl asked her grandmother if "Papa"
could be a butterfly now. Grandma thought that was an interesting
Later that evening, Grandma was relaxing in her front room. Suddenly
a large Monarch butterfly flew in and landed on the palm of her hand.
The two stared at each other for a while. Grandma then gently cupped
the butterfly with both hands, took it outside, and set it on a flowering
The butterfly remained there all night and all the next morning. She
remembered that monarchs were her husband's favorite. That realization
filled her with a gentle, reassuring peace. Her husband had found
a way to let her know that he was all right.
Brown died the kind of death we might all want to die. She never lost
her sense of gratitude for life, nor the twinkle in her eye. She died
peacefully at home in the company of her family, who loved her very
much. In the moments after she died, her son David stepped outside
for some air.
His thoughts were of his mother, wondering where she was and if she
was okay. Suddenly-at 2:20 in the afternoon-an owl swooped down and
flew right in front of his face. It came so close he had to take a
It was very strange for an owl to be that active in the daytime. David
suspected it was really his mother's way letting him know that all
was well. It made him feel much better.
David shared this story with Janis later that evening. Janis herself
went outside that night just before sunset, with the story of Mrs.
Brown fresh in her mind. Suddenly she heard the sound of a flock of
geese flying overhead. Then, after they had passed, the birds turned
and circled back. As they flew once again over Janis, they formed
a perfect J. Then they did it again! She was sure that this was another
sign from Mrs. Brown.
events that put us in touch with the other side are subtle, even to
the people who experience them. Often one may explain them in more
ordinary terms. It takes being willing to see them from a different
perspective to appreciate the difference.
of us have heard of the scriptural reference to the Book of Life,
but how many of us know someone who has actually read it? Janis heard
a story about someone who did.
A physician colleague, John, was caring for a friend of his who also
happened to be a doctor. This man, Tom, had liver cancer. Tom went
to the University of Minnesota Medical Center for chemotherapy treatments.
During one of these treatments he had a severe reaction to the drugs.
John, who had just come to visit, immediately called the nurse. He
gave her orders for some emergency medication to reverse the reaction.
John was not a member of the hospital staff, but the nurse felt compelled
to obey. The intervention was successful.
A few weeks later, however, Tom found himself again in the ICU. This
time he was in the hospital where both he and John practiced. He was
pretty sick. That night John found he could not sleep very well.
Early in the morning he decided to go visit his friend. As he walked
into the ICU Tom woke up and said he was feeling "better than
fine." He told John he'd read an amazing book that night-the
Book of Life. He said that he'd read it from cover to cover and had
found his own name in it.
As John listened to his friend's story he sensed that Tom was getting
ready to die. John asked him if he wanted to move into a private room.
Tom replied peacefully, "Yes, I'm ready to go home." John
made the arrangements and called the family in. Tom told his family
the story of the book. He died a few hours later.
John took a lot of criticism from other members of the medical staff
for ending Tom's intensive therapy. Some months later, however, one
of the nurses asked to speak with him. She had been a close friend
of Tom's and had been upset when he died so suddenly.
She had gone to a spiritual counselor for some advice. The counselor
gave her a message from Tom for "someone named John." The
message: John had been right with his sense that Tom was ready to
die. It was the right decision to move him out of the ICU.
The nurse had known nothing of John's intuitive impulse to interpret
Tom's story. She did, however, want to know if the message meant anything
to John. Indeed, it did.
This revelation would not have occurred, though, if John had not been
alert. He chose to see Tom's story of the Book of Life as more than
a dream. He saw it as a metaphorical message that Tom was ready to
go. John saw that perspective because he listened to his heart.
year old hospital patient claimed to have had a visit from her father
and brother during the night. The nurse on duty dismissed it as a
hallucination, but Janis thought it might be real. She went to visit
the woman. Yes, she told her, the story was true.
Even though they had been deceased for a long time her father and
brother had appeared in her room. She wanted to go "home"
with them, but her father said it wasn't time. He told her that he
loved her and that he would come to get her when it was time.
This experience allowed the patient to sleep well all night for the
first time since she'd come to the hospital. More than that, it changed
her life. She felt deeply loved by God and said she'd never be the
same again. The nurse and Janis both heard the same story, but Janis
chose to see it differently. Both she and the patient received a blessing
as a result.
giving a lecture at a critical care symposium, a nurse stayed behind
to listen to the next speaker, Janis. After hearing Janis share some
of her stories, the nurse asked if she could tell her one of her own.
As a CCU nurse, her quick action had saved the life of an elderly
patient. The woman's heart rhythm had become erratic and would have
killed her had this nurse not intervened.
Later in the day the nurse visited the patient to see how she was.
The patient told her that while she had been unconscious she had had
a wonderful "dream." She saw her late husband above her
bed. He reached out for her, took her into his arms and they began
She was enjoying herself immensely when something suddenly jolted
her back to "reality." The nurse was hitting her on the
chest in order to shake her heart back to normal rhythm.
The patient apparently thought of her experience as nothing more than
a dream. The nurse, however, after hearing Janis's talk, realized
the patient probably had a near death experience.
There are many more stories, too many to tell all of them here. Suffice
it to say that Janis Amatuzio has had a remarkable and satisfying
career. For all their diversity of plots, post-death appearances,
and surprise endings, these stories share a common thread.
Janis got the opportunity to hear the stories because at some point
she took the time to listen. That's all it took. When people sensed
an open ear, they became emboldened to share events that others might
In giving those families the gift of her listening, Janis fulfilled
the dream she had accepted long ago. She had become like her dad,
a physician who practiced from the heart.
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