A Harvard neurosurgeon describes what he says was a near-death experience in his latest book -- and there are skeptics.
Eben Alexander's quick trip to heaven started with a headache.
It was November 2008 and a rare bacterial meningitis was fast on its way to shutting down the University of Virginia neurosurgeon's neocortex -- the part of the brain that deals with sensory perception and conscious thought.
"For seven days, I lay in a deep coma," he recalled. Yet at the same time, Alexander "journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe, a dimension I'd never dreamed existed."
There he found "big, puffy, pink-white" clouds against a "deep, black-blue sky" and "flocks of transparent, shimmering beings... quite simply different from anything I have known on this planet."
It turns out Alexander was not alone.
His traveling partner in the afterlife was a young woman with high cheekbones, deep blue eyes and "golden brown tresses" who, amid "millions" of butterflies, spoke to him "without using any words."
"You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever," she told the doctor, a father of two with movie star looks. "You have nothing to fear. There is nothing you can do wrong."
Alexander recounts his story, and seeks to explain it, in "Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife," to be published in the United States on October 23.
His New York publisher failed to respond to interview requests, but an excerpt from "Proof of Heaven" in Newsweek magazine has stirred the enduring debate about life after death.
Inevitably, skeptics wonder if Alexander, who teaches at Harvard Medical School, is going out on a paranormal limb.
"It sounds like he had nothing more than an intense lucid dream," wrote one reader on Newsweek's website. "A personal anecdote is not evidence or proof, as moving as it may be," added another.
The sarcastic New York blog Gawker challenged its readers to spot the difference, if any, between Alexander's portrayal of paradise with published accounts of LSD trips.
But others stood firmly by Alexander, who has previously spoken of his near-death experience on science TV programs and in a lengthy interview last year with Skeptico.com, a science and spirituality blog.
"If there is evidence and proof of an afterlife, this is probably as good as it gets," Catholic Online, a Web-based Roman Catholic news service, wrote approvingly.