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Courtesy of Amazon.com

In 1994, a car crash that should have killed Tricia Barker instead set her on a spiritual journey that has led to her teaching as a vocation and the recent publication of her first book.

Imagine the almost literal hell of spending an entire Texas summer in a full-body cast. That’s just a minor plot point in Angels in the OR: What Dying Taught Me About Healing, Survival, and Transformation.

“I wrote Angels in the OR for a variety of reasons,” said Barker, an English professor at TCC’s Trinity River campus since its opening in 2009. “Since I’ve studied writing for many years, I hope to reach audiences who are interested in spirituality and near-death experiences, but I also want the type of reader who I was before my near-death experience.”

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And the type of reader she was before her NDE personified the grunge movement of the 1990s. Barker writes that she was a suicidal “depressed, agnostic college student,” content to sit back and ironically enjoy other people’s crazy stories until her debilitating injury gave her a higher purpose. 

In April of 1994, Barker was slammed into by an SUV and, as a result, claims to have met God. The simple decision to stop at a 7-Eleven for coffee on her way to run the Austin Capitol 10K changed her life forever. On that Sunday morning, her 1988 Honda hatchback crumbled like a beer can when it was smashed into by the SUV going 65 mph.

“The wreck seemed to happen instantly,” she writes. “I barely even had time to move my foot to the brake before the impact of the collision.”

Hours after the crash, it became clear to the doctors that she broke her spine in several places and would need an incredibly risky surgery that had a “17 percent chance of death,” according to the liability waiver. It was on the operating table where she lost enough blood to briefly die.

“I floated in the blackness of sleep,” she writes, “in the nothingness that I imagined death would be like, before my spirit body popped out of my physical form, slightly above and to the right of the operating table.”

This surreal state is where she met the 9-foot beings that she would later call angels, who became the ambassadors of her spiritual journey. They explained to her that she was loved and had a grand purpose. 

Barker’s tone throughout the book mirrors her spiritual and personal growth as she recounts her NDE, physical healing, and life-altering spiritual journey, going from lost college student to career teacher passionate about spreading love and truth. At the beginning of her story, her tone is not so much dark as just depressing, and it becomes more hopeful as she grows into her call to teach. Her tone in the book shifts from depressed to comically hopeful with a hint of snide as she describes in vivid detail the two-and-a-half-minutes she was dead, the physical torment her body went through, and her lengthy recovery.

The best way to attempt to describe Barker’s journey is somewhat parallel to the Biblical allegory of Jonah, who, in trying to escape his divine calling, found himself in the belly of a giant fish. Before the incident, Barker’s life as a twentysomething was a hot mess much like you’d imagine the innards of a giant fish to be.

“Love is all that matters is what I clearly heard on the other side,” she writes.

There is still a healthy amount of realism and cynicism that keeps her grounded.

“Surely,” she writes,“this intelligent light, a force that loved me this much, had to know how I hated growing up poor and wanted a career more lucrative than the teaching profession.” 

Barker had always thought of teaching as a safety net more than a career. 

“Now,” she writes, “teaching was the only plan, thanks to my one-on-one talk with God.”

Since she was stubborn, she writes, “perhaps this was the only way I would’ve awakened.” 

She spent the summer recovering at her mom’s house. As she progressed, her neighbors would watch from their porch as she began her physical therapy, hobbling outside determined to make it to the end of the block. That determination helped her walk again and earn her teaching certification. 

In the beginning of her teaching career, she took several high school- and middle school-level jobs, including teaching English in South Korea, until settling into her current position at the Trinity River Campus, where she continues to attempt to inspire young writers (myself included) and teach that love is all that matters in the end. 

Barker may or may not have achieved her happily ever after, but, in addition to teaching, she continues to devote her life to suicide prevention and, above all else, loving others. She is also an activist in the NDE community through social media.

Angels in the OR isn’t the kind of New Age, self-help, hippie story that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy after. However, her story is a captivating read, one that was featured on an episode of The Dr. Oz Show in February. Her writing serves as a reminder that there’s a light that shines in the darkness.

Angels in the OR

by Tricia Barker

Post Hill Press

200 pps.

$10-17

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