On two separate occasions, retired cook Lyudmila Steblitskaya has returned from the dead, once minutes before she was to be cut open for an autopsy.
'I started calling everyone, saying things like 'Er, sorry. Can you please stop digging the grave. Ah, is it done? OK... well, there won't be a funeral, my mother is alive'. Picture: The Siberian Times
This New Year the 61 year old grandmother is again in hospital for heart surgery, hoping there will be no more dramas. Recently she and daughter Anastasia Steblitskaya, 29, spoke in detail for the first time about the incredible and shocking experience of how Lyudmila woke on a Monday morning after a weekend in a morgue.
It was on 4 November 2011 that Anastasia called the hospital to check on her mother's condition. She had been in Tomsk Regional Clinical Hospital for some days, and had been poorly.
'Who are you to Lyudmila Steblitskaya?' - I was asked.
'I am her daughter, Nastya,' I replied. 'Accept our condolences. She died 17.40 pm'.
Anastasia said: 'My world just went blank. I knew she was ill but I was shattered. I don't remember my father, and my elder brother had tragically left us, so mum was the only relative on the planet, the only close blood. And now she was gone'.
In a blur, she called other members of the family, including Lyudmila's sister, to inform them of the sad news.
'Still in a daze, I got to the hospital about an hour later, and went to ask about the formalities I needed to go through before I was able to take my mother's body.
'She's already gone to the morgue,' they told me.
'I was asked to call the morgue, and there people said it was too late, it was Friday evening, and I could only get back to pick up the body on Monday. I decided to make Monday the funeral day. Then the money issue arose. I needed to pay about 60,000 roubles ($1,950) for things like the coffin, the hearse, the flowers, the clothes to bury mum in, and the food to feed the guests'.
Anastasia is seen recollecting what happened to her mother Lyudmila. Picture: NTV Russia
Making the arrangements somehow stopped her from feeling the full force of her grief. She tried to keep the terrible news from her daughter Nelli, now nine, but she overheard a phone call and understood what had happened.
'Mama was crying and crying, and I kept asking her why,' said Nelli. 'She kept saying that it was because of work problems - but then I overheard a phone chat, and heard mum saying that my babushka died.
'I was asking to help cook for the commemoration dinner. I remember peeling potatoes, and my tears dropping on my hands, on the knife, everywhere. But I kept helping. I love babushka so much, and Mama, too, and I wanted to support Mama'.
Anastasia said: 'About 50 people called me back, confirming that they would come to the funeral, and the gathering afterwards. On Monday, early in the morning, the grave-digger called to confirm that he was about to finish her grave. I had hardly slept since Friday. I cried so much, getting everything organised for my Mama's last party.
'In the morning, I went first to the chemist's shop, and bought a bottle of calming medicine, and drank it almost completely, before going to the morgue, which was in the hospital. It was 9 am, and there was already a queue of people by the morgue door. I was standing there with a bag clothes for my mother, waiting my turn. Then the woman opened the morgue doors, and told me 'Please wait a bit longer'.
'Some 20 minutes later, she came out again, and said 'Sorry, we have not performed the autopsy on her yet. If you want to take her without the autopsy, you've got to do to the doctor, and get the relevant documents. I went to track down the doctor - he was too busy to speak. I said sorry, but I needed the documents, the funeral is about to start, so I needed the body.
'Ok, ok!' - he said, and went back into his office but could not find the documents.
'He then asked me to wait. Then some new woman came along the corridor, and asked me if I was Lyudmila Steblitskaya's daughter. I confirmed I was, and said that I needed to pick up her body, rather urgently now. She looked really perplexed, and said: 'But Lyudmila Steblitskaya is alive. I've just seen her'.
Tomsk TV station filmed the grave where Lyudmila was supposed to be buried
'I felt like I was going mad, my hands started to shake. She said something like 'follow me', though I'm not at all sure now about what people were saying, and what was happening during those minutes. I was just so, so shocked. Nothing prepares you for being told that your mother is alive after you've been assured she is dead.
'My mother died on Friday,' I stuttered. 'People have gathered for her funerals. The grave is ready...'
'Well I don't think so, I've seen her alive some minutes ago. Come, we need you to identify her.'
Anastasia found herself being taken into a small room with a bed.
'In the bed was my mother. Alive. She breathed, and moved. She smiled at me, and called my name.'
Anastasia is at a loss for what she did next, except that it was from the deep shock at seeing her dead mother alive.
'I cant still explain it, but I rushed out of the room, threw the bag with her clothes on the floor, and screamed. It must be the shock, I don't know why I did that. I guess it was the image of her grave in my mind, and the coffin, and then her, smiling, which just sent me into a kind of madness.'
The hospital official just as aghast.
'The woman rushed out after me, saying 'I just can't believe it, I can't believe it. But then she then almost shouted at me: 'Don't freeze! Call the graveyard, tell them to stop digging your mother's grave!'
Anastasia said: 'My head was so fuzzy that I didn't even think about getting back into the room, and hugging mum. Or asking her about what happened.
'Instead I started calling everyone, saying things like 'Er, sorry. Can you please stop digging the grave. Ah, is it done? OK... well, there won't be a funeral, my mother is alive.'
Nelli said: 'I was sleeping at our relatives' flat, the night before the funeral, when Mama called in the morning.
'They woke me up with screams - 'She's alive, she's alive!'
'I jumped with joy so high, I felt like I was flying. 'Mum, you're such a magician,' I told her. 'You went to the morgue and brought grandmother back to life.'
Outside their house in Siberia: Anastasia, left, her mother Lyudmila and Nelli, Anastasiya's daughter. Picture: The Siberian Times
Anastasia said: 'Actually, the feeling of joy only crept in weeks after I took Mama back home. I think the grief I felt, mine and my daughter's tears, the condolences from so many people, all got so deeply into me, that it took me all that time to celebrate her return to life. On the day, we put all the flowers on my brother's grave, and other graves nearby.
'Later many people were crying and laughing at the same time, when they saw my mother. She was, too. I do sometimes watch stupid programmes on TV - but I've never seen a moment when you come to pick the body up, and the person is actually alive.
'It took me a long time to pay back what I borrowed for her funeral. But finally the feeling of shock is fading and the joy of having more time with her gets stronger. Even if her health is still far from perfect, it means so much to have her with us'.
Lyudmila herself remembers nothing of her remarkable escape, which the hospital also declined to speak about pending an investigation.
'I am still in the dark about what happened between the moment when I felt bad, and obviously left consciousness, until the moment I woke up and saw my daughter,' she said. For her time stood still.
'I've been told I was in the morgue from Friday until Monday, and I have a vague recollection of real cold. When I came round my skin was peeling badly, round all my body. There is no other explanation, but that I was left for some time in the freezing conditions of the morgue.
The doctors seemed equally shocked at what had happened, and unable to explain.
'But the main thing is I am happy to be alive. It is a miracle that I'm still here. People came to see me, the news flew very fast to my friends, and they came to ask how I'd managed to survive it.
'My granddaughter Nelli was amazing. She got such a shock as the rest of us - but she said we must all stop crying and celebrate that I am alive'.
'It took me a long time to pay back what I borrowed for Mum's funeral. But finally the feeling of shock is fading and the joy of having more time with her gets stronger. Even if her health is still far from perfect, it means so much to have her with us'. Picture: The Siberian Times
Since then, in October 2012, Lyudmila - who has long had heart problems - had another 'apparent death' during a hospital stay but this time doctors brought her back to life after several hours.
'She needs more surgery and we're expecting she will be in hospital over New Year', said Anastasia.
On the morgue incident, chief doctor of Tomsk Regional Clinical Hospital Maksim Zayukov, is on record as saying: 'As of now I cannot explain why this mistake happened. 'This sad procedure has always worked in our hospital like clockwork: the moment of death is always registered by the intensive care doctor. Proper checks are always conducted. This all happens before the family are informed about the death'.
A hospital spokeswoman said: 'The checks were carried out and she was dead - or so it seemed. The papers could not have been signed unless this is what the doctors establish. We are still trying to understand what went wrong in Lyudmila's case'.
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