The scenario is frequently played for laughs in sitcoms and movies, but mistakenly being declared dead is a lot less funny in reality -- even if Balki is involved. You'd think that proving your own status as a living person would be a quick matter of showing up at the records building and not biting anybody in the brain. But no, it seems like trying to convince the world that you're still alive is almost worse than just rolling over, taking one for the team, and politely dying.
In 1937, 18-year-old Frenchman Angelo Hays suffered a serious head injury in a motorcycle accident, because that's what motorcycles are for: pullin' chicks and bashin' brains. When doctors examined Hays, he wasn't breathing, he didn't have a pulse, and he owned a motorcycle -- all signs that pointed to "dead." Hays was given a quickie funeral and buried. Mourners all agreed that "at least he went out awesome."
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The choir sang "Bat Out of Hell" at the gravesite.
Hays' case was immediately looked into by paranoid insurance investigators: An insurance policy worth 200,000 francs had been taken out on Hays' life shortly before his accident, so they suspected that he may have been the victim of a nefarious murder plot. The investigators decided to exhume Hays' body a mere two days after his burial to check for foul play ... and found him still alive. Just, you know, chillin' in the grave.
Luckily for your own impending nightmares, Hays wasn't awake and clawing at the lid or anything: The accident hadn't actually killed him, but instead left him in a very deep coma. Since his head injury greatly slowed down his metabolic activities, he required very little oxygen, and the loose soil in the ground allowed just enough to seep into the coffin to keep him alive.
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Worms crawled on his lips to hydrate him.
Hays went on to make a full recovery and live a long life. His story actually made him a bit of a celebrity in France, and he invented a contraption called a security coffin that came equipped with an oxygen supply, blankets, and alarm bells, just on the off chance that someone might find themselves buried alive (again). Most importantly, the security coffin also contained bottles of wine, because this is France we're talking about here. Seriously -- if there's ever an appropriate time for a drink, it's the day you wake up buried in your own coffin.
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In 1975, Lal Bihari, a farmer in India, wanted to apply for a bank loan, so he tapped the infinite well of saint-like patience we all have in reserve just in case we have to deal with bureaucracy and visited a government office to obtain proof of identity. Bihari received a very unpleasant surprise when he was shown some official records that listed him as dead.
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Marking the first time a government office actually found a guy's file.
This one wasn't a simple clerical error -- not in the incredibly corrupt den of thieves that was 1970s India. No, it turns out that Bihari's uncle had bribed a government official to legally declare his nephew dead so that he could inherit their family's ancestral land. Jesus, that sounds like the setup to a Steven Seagal movie (and you just know Seagal would spray-tan himself and put a racist dot on his forehead for his role in Legally Dead).
Bihari did manage to get himself legally declared alive again ... 19 goddamned years later. Government corruption is easy; it's getting the government to do something by the book that's hard. Bihari used every trick imaginable: He filed lawsuits, got himself arrested, and even ran for political office at one point, all for the sole purpose of getting his living ass out there on the public record. Bihari even tried to roll with it once and had his wife apply for widow's benefits. The government turned her down. "Hey, your husband is dead, but he ain't that dead."
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It didn't stop them from trying to grab his organs, though.
Bihari finally got the ruling reversed and officially rejoined the land of the living in 1994. He went on to form the Association of Dead People, which aims to help folks who were wrongly proclaimed dead by a corrupt government and is in no way an ominous front for the wights who secretly run India.
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It's a difficult job staying alive in America, seeing as how the Social Security Administration mistakenly declares an estimated 14,000 people dead every year. It's a hard enough trick resurrecting yourself at all (just ask Jesus -- dude managed it once and people still won't shut up about it), so spare a thought for Army veteran Jerry Miller, who has been among the ranks of the undead numerous times, according to the government.
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"We lost so many that we just declared all soldiers dead to save time."
Miller was a retired drill sergeant who lived in Florida on a government pension and Social Security payments. In July 2010, he was shocked to receive a letter addressed to his estate where the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs expressed their sympathies about his recent passing, which of course meant that his veteran's benefits would be cut off.
To get them restored, Miller was forced to prove that he was indeed still alive, which presumably meant going into the DVA, dousing his head in holy water, and cutting himself with silver. That should have been the end of it, but the department proceeded to send his family three more letters over the next few years, each expressing sympathy for their loss and cutting his payments.
But at least his kids got days off for four separate "dad's funeral"s.
Unfortunately, having to repeatedly prove he wasn't Das Wampyr was more than an inconvenience, since Miller's health problems meant that he kept falling behind on his bills and was in danger of losing his house. The icing on the incompetence cake: The DVA also requested that Miller pay back the $94,000 in checks that his corpse had been cashing over the years. Ugh, these lazy zombies are ruining our economy.
Miller has never received a reasonable explanation for his bureaucratic Highlanderism, but we wouldn't be surprised if there's another Jerry Miller out there somewhere who's been lying dead in his house the past three years while $94,000 worth of checks pile up in his mailbox.
In September 2007, a Venezuelan man named Carlos Camejo was involved in a serious car accident and declared dead at the scene by paramedics. Camejo was taken to a nearby morgue so medical examiners could perform an autopsy on him. After making the first incision on his face, the examiners suspected something was wrong, as Camejo started bleeding everywhere, which people without a pulse don't usually do. Moments later, Camejo woke up in unbearable pain, presumably while visibly shaken doctors tried to stake him in the heart.
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They still made him beer bong some holy water just in case.
Camejo had merely been knocked unconscious by his accident, and there's nothing that can interrupt a good deep sleep quite as effectively as someone attempting to cut your face off. His wife had already been informed of his death, so she turned up to claim his body, only to find him alive and waiting for her outside the morgue. Usually this scenario is followed by either hidden cameramen jumping out of the bushes or an apocalypse.
This wasn't just a case of incompetent paramedics failing to properly take a pulse. It all comes down to the true meaning of life again: paperwork. His rescuers actually knew Camejo was alive, but they accidentally filled out the wrong form and sent him to the morgue. The forms, by all accounts, are very similar. Apparently we are, all of us, just one mis-shuffle of the papers away from oblivion.
Only illiterate societies are safe.
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On December 15, 1997, the Cuevas' family home went up in flames. Their youngest child, Delimar Vera Cuevas, was sleeping in her bedroom crib at the time, and the family was later informed that she never made it out. She was only 10 days old. Put down the tissues, because this story has a happy ending.
Insurance paid for a new cradle! (Plus, the child lived.)
Six years later, Delimar's mother, Luzaida Cuevas, was attending a children's birthday party and saw a young girl who bore a striking resemblance to her other two children. Knowing that Delimar's body had never been found, Luzaida played on an insane hunch and told the little girl that she had gum in her hair. Luzaida then plucked a few of the hairs for a DNA test. That's a pretty big gamble, lady. Which is more likely: That you found your own deceased daughter at a party, or that you're the crazy woman who steals children's hair? Amazingly, Luzaida's hunch checked out and the tests proved that the little girl was indeed Delimar Vera Cuevas.
The house fire had been orchestrated by a woman named Carolyn Correa, who thought everybody acquired children like David Bowie's character in Labyrinth. So how did she maintain the charade for six years? Well, chalk that one up to some good old-fashioned lazy police work. Right from the outset, Delimar's mother had suspicions that something was wrong. When she tried to rescue Delimar during the fire, she discovered that her crib was empty and the bedroom window was mysteriously open. Generally speaking, 10-day-old babies do not "jump for it." But despite the fact that no body was found at the scene, the police still assumed that Delimar had perished in the blaze. They found bone fragments, but they turned out not to be human.
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Then they said Delimar was completely incinerated, even though experts agreed that the fire was nowhere near hot enough to do that. "Maybe she took off to ride the rails for a while," Officer No-Paperwork tried again.
Thankfully, Delimar went back to her birth family. She even got the obligatory Lifetime movie about her story and was invited to attend the film's premiere. So like we said: It's a sort of happy ending. Sure, there was a kidnapping, but at least nobody died in an inferno, and Tori Spelling didn't play anybody in the film adaptation.
Related Reading: While we're on the subject of defying death, here's a man who piloted his plane while standing on the wing. And if you don't think THAT'S harrowing read about this dead woman who woke up right before they harvested her organs. Of course, no paragraph about miraculous survival would be complete without the man who punched out a leopard from the inside.