Has anyone ever survived being buried alive?

"Man risen from the dead" was the headline recently Herald, Zimbabwe's largest daily newspaper. With the announcement, the paper caused a little international media hype.

According to this, Brigthon Dama Zanthe, allegedly deceased after a serious illness, was lying in the open coffin during the funeral service. Suddenly his legs moved. While a number of mourners fled in fright, others called an ambulance. The 34-year-old was cared for in the hospital - and returned home two days later. "I feel okay now," he told the newspaper after his return to the living.

The excitement that such events trigger is on the one hand related to the everyday, sometimes morbid pleasure in the extraordinary. But there is probably also the deep-seated fear behind it that it could hit you yourself. A fear that preoccupied our ancestors intensively and which is also nourished in Germany by rare but sensational cases of the so-called Lazarus phenomenon.

For example, in 2009 an emergency doctor found an 89-year-old in Nordhorn cold and lifeless in her apartment and pronounced it dead. He wanted to do the actual post-mortem examination at the funeral home later. When the undertaker wanted to take care of the allegedly deceased, however, he noticed signs of life. Since no life-support measures could be initiated due to an advance directive, the woman actually died - but only a few days later.

In 2002, a doctor thought a 72-year-old woman in a nursing home in Mettmann was dead - but the time, tragically, blessed the terminally ill woman in the undertaker's cold room. This was only noticed because there was supposed to be a cremation for which a second examination is required. During this it turned out that the woman could not have been dead that morning. And in 1997 paramedics in Hamburg thought a 52-year-old woman was dead after attempting suicide with pills. Again it was a funeral home that found that the woman was still alive. And survived.

All of these cases were apparently the result of massive errors on the part of the doctors or paramedics. To avoid making a mistake, doctors must not rely on uncertain signs such as pale skin, low body heat, respiratory and cardiovascular arrest, lack of pupillary reaction or slack muscles (muscle atony).

Rather, safe signs must be observed at the inquest. These include death spots that begin to form about half an hour after death, rigor mortis that occur after two to six hours, and finally putrefaction. Under certain circumstances, the determination of brain death can be added. In this way, it is possible to avoid mistakenly mistaking patients who are in a comatose state - and who are temporarily unable to breathe, heartbeat and reflexes - to be dead. Only then can the official death certificate be filled out.

For emergency doctors, in addition to resuscitation, they should perform an EKG to check the heart's activity. If this does not take place for a longer period of time - the German Medical Association recommends a duration of 30 minutes - attempts to re-occupy the patient are terminated and death is certified. After this time, death spots should soon appear as a sure sign of death.

Undertaker humor: "They scream when they are burned"

Under normal circumstances, a deceased person may be buried in Germany no earlier than 48 hours after the death was determined. If the person concerned is actually only seemingly dead, it is very likely that he will either die due to a lack of resuscitation measures before the funeral or that signs of life appear that are noticeable to the undertaker at the latest. And in these cases, too, the resurrected usually die a little later.

It can therefore be ruled out that a person in Germany appears to be dead for two full days and then regains consciousness in the coffin. It is also macabre humor and no experience report when the "Undertaker Weblog" reads: "The man from the local crematorium always answers the question about apparent deaths like this:" That is not a problem! We always notice that when someone is apparently dead, because they scream when they burn. "

As far as the Brigthon Dama Zanthe case in Zimbabwe is concerned, it can be presumed that the inquest - if there was any - was only sloppily carried out.

It was a long way until we no longer have to be afraid of apparent death and awakening in the coffin - or at least at our funeral. Because in earlier centuries it may have happened more often that people were actually buried alive - be it in the earth or by fire.