Have you ever woken up thinking that you were still in a dream? One South African man must have felt like he was in a nightmare when he awoke to find himself in a morgue fridge — nearly a day after his family thought he had died, a health official said Monday.
Health department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the man awoke Sunday afternoon, 21 hours after his family called in an undertaker who sent him to the morgue after an asthma attack.
Morgue owner Ayanda Maqolo said he sent his driver to collect the body shortly after the family reported the death.
"When he got there, the driver examined the body, checked his pulse, looked for a heartbeat, but there was nothing," Maqolo told the Associated Press.
But a day after staff put the body into a locked refrigerated compartment, morgue workers heard someone shouting for help. They thought it was a ghost, the morgue owner said.
"I couldn't believe it!" Maqolo said. "I was also scared. But they are my employees and I had to show them I wasn't scared, so I called the police."
After police arrived, the group entered the morgue together.
"I was glad they had their firearms, in case something wanted to fight with us," Maqolo said.
He said the man was pale when they pulled him out.
"He asked, 'How did I get here?'" Maqolo said.
The health department said the man was then taken to a nearby hospital for observation and later discharged by doctors who deemed him stable. The man is in his 60s and does not want to be publicly identified.
Kupelo, the health department spokesman, urged South Africans to call on health officials to confirm that their relatives are really dead. ABC News explains the seriousness of the situation:
"As amusing as the story is, Kupelo says the underlying issue is very serious. The government has gone public with this case to warn people that only trained health officials should declare people dead.
'This is why we're saying as a health department that people should call health services to have their relatives declared and certified dead and not these private mortuaries,' he said. 'Those guys are aren't trained paramedics. They're about business.'"
The man's family was informed that he was alive during a family meeting convened to make funeral arrangements. They're very happy to have him home, Maqolo said.
But Maqolo said he is still trying to recover from the traumatic experience.
"I couldn't sleep last night, I had nightmares," he said. "But today I'm much better."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.