TORONTO, May 30, 2023 – Fred Rutman, a Toronto based author, has captured the world’s attention with his remarkable memoir, “The Summer I Died Twenty Times (published by Black Rose Writing).” Rutman’s unique sense of humour, chronicles his astonishing experience of dying and coming back to life over 50 times. The memoir has been nominated for the prestigious Governor General’s literature award, the Canadian Jewish Book award and the Writer’s Trust award. This inspirational and courageous book is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback formats, with distribution expanding soon to major Canadian and American retailers.
As a boy, Rutman attended Winnipeg’s only Hebrew school at the time. “I went to Talmud Torah until grade six,” says Rutman in his memoir. He would later achieve his MBA from the University of Winnipeg and his CACE from the University of Manitoba through their continuing education program.
Unfortunately his memories of Hebrew school aren’t very positive. Many of his teachers insisted all he needed to do was apply himself and he’d be fine. However, back in the 50’s and 60’s schools knew little about issues like ADHD and other disabilities that without treatment could almost assure failing grades.
In an excerpt from his book, he discusses his issues with the education system: “It also didn’t help that I was an overweight redhead. Those teachers though – literally screamed at me for wasting paper and not trying hard enough. Ah, a kid with special needs, parochial school and teachers trained in the military. A formula for soul crushing if I’ve ever seen one.”
His dad worked for London Life and his mother was responsible for the payroll at the Seven Oaks School Division. “My mom suffered from depression all her life and my dad had the worst case of rheumatoid arthritis I’ve ever seen,” Rutman recalled.
Rutman didn’t receive a diagnosis for his challenges until he was in his mid-30s. In the book he reveals what the doctors discovered, “I was tested and found to have a severe right brain hemisphere dysfunction. Or in layperson’s terms, a good chunk of the right side of my brain wasn’t working.”
So how does someone with a severe brain injury graduate high school and go onto to become a marketing and economics instructor? During our interview, Rutman acknowledged, “Well, I wasn’t a candidate to be valedictorian, that’s for sure. Lots of people with brain trauma/learning disabilities grind their way through. It’s not something I consciously compensated for, as I didn’t know I had these issues until I finally got diagnosed. The body is smart and tries to compensate within its limits.”
What awaits us on the other side?
The one question I was hoping Rutman could answer was what awaits us on the other side? I’ve always been fascinated by life after death and I surmised I’d finally found an expert. He articulated that he didn’t head towards the warm light, he didn’t see dead relatives or friends. He certainly didn’t have a life review or meet anyone that the bible describes as Jesus, God, Budda or any supernatural omnipresent being responsible for everything and everyone.
He indicated he’d left his body but still felt attached to it by a cord. As his soul hovered over his lifeless body he describes an unexplainable force that kept pushing his soul back inside his body. It was the most pain he’d ever felt. According to Fred, every time he dies he feels the same type of torture.
In another excerpt from his book he describes this heart condition: “I had a stroke at birth, which caused all sorts of brain trauma that no one caught. I have a heart condition called a severe full AV block. Why, they don’t know. What they do know is it prevents your heart’s electrical signals from telling the atria and ventricle to beat in sync. That is to say, my heart stops. Now I am 100% fully dependent on a pacemaker to keep me alive..I’ve had four pacemakers in 11 years. Why so many you ask? Because three of the four pacemakers, which rarely break or malfunction, have failed multiple times. Collectively, my heart has stopped 50 plus times.”
Perhaps what’s most perplexing about Fred’s story is how someone can die at least 50 times and somewhere along the way a doctor wasn’t able to stop the recurring deaths from continuing to happen.
“They failed me by misdiagnosing me over and over again, which led to my dying over and over again, plus all the head trauma,” said Rutman. “They kept trying to prove I was having a heart attack. I want to emphasize that my goal is not to diss anyone. It’s just what happened. I don’t want to piss of all the doctors who may be needed to save my life.”
The summer he died 20 times
Another incredible excerpt from Fred’s book is when he talks about the first time his heart stopped. “My first memory about what I now call Fred’s 2009 Summer of Death Tour (I think I might make T-shirts like bands do for concerts) is the first time I died. In reality, I didn’t know I had died until many weeks later, after about the 17th of 20 times it happened. At first, I didn’t realize how bad it was and didn’t take it overly seriously. Later, I clued in and realized something terribly wrong was happening to me. Even when I clued in, there was no ‘Eureka’ moment where all was revealed. As my brain continues to heal, more and more facts are revealed. There I was, marking Economics term papers in my home office. Many people would consider having to take Economics as some sort of a death sentence in itself. Grading some of those term papers often felt like that as well. Next thing I know, I was having the most brilliant fireworks display in my mind, with each explosion throwing multiple competing confusing thoughts and images at me for what seemed like 20 minutes. I actually felt the impacts of each explosion. And when I say felt, I mean felt like some unseen force was battering my body and beating the snot out of me. Upon reflection, fireworks is a much too pretty a description of how awful this was, as I later learned I was truly fighting to come back to life. I had never experienced anything so intense. It wouldn’t be the last time, either. I eventually dubbed the beginning of these events as brainquakes.”
The book was released in March but it took Fred many years to write. At first he had trouble remembering moments from his life because of the PTSD and Concussion syndrome, but a therapist asked him to consider journaling and initially the book was a mechanism for Rutman to remember. Over time,he found the process was quite helpful and during Covid he had the opportunity to work on it in a more consistent manner.
Today, Rutman lectures about his book and medical history at colleges and Jewish organizations throughout North America. In a month he’ll be back in the hospital having another pacemaker replaced.
by Myles Shane
photography by Naomi Hiltz