Dream of a Healing House

Many years ago I wrote an article that focused connections between on feminist thought and nursing.  The article opened with a “dream of a healing house” that continues draw commentary and response from folks all over the world.  So I recently requested permission to “re-print” the dream here.  The dream was inspired by the actual experience of being in a dreadful hospital with a first-rate reputation for medical intervention, advocating for my partner at the time, Charlene Eldridge (Charlene died of complications from lupus in 1993).  Together we conjured up this dream wishing that her experience could have been much closer to what we dreamed might happen.  Today, I might change just a few of the details about what might happen in the dream, but sadly, the realities that I still witness in hospitals is all too close to the stark reality of waking up from this dream.  Still, the “dream” has in fact inspired major changes in a few scattered locations throughout the world and still inspires possibilities that I keep hoping might come to pass – even in small doses!  I hope it will inspire you to move in this direction, whether you are a nurse, other provider, an advocate for someone else, or even a patient asking for a different kind of experience in your healing process!

Dream of a Healing House

I dreamed that I entered a place called a Healing House.  I had to go to this house because my body was not functioning properly, and the people there could help me.  I felt weak, uncertain, and scared.  When I entered this place, where I had never been before, I did not know what to expect. The place was quiet, and there was a welcoming sense that began to calm my fears.  The people there expected me and showed me quickly to a room where I was to live for the next several days.


My room was not large, but it was ample enough to accommodate a comfortable bed, a sofa, and a couple of chairs and small tables.  There were carefully tended flowers blooming in the planter outside the window.  A woman came in and introduced herself as my nurse.  We sat on the sofa together to review what had brought me here and how I thought they could assist me.  She wanted to know about the four people who would be there for me and when each would be arriving for their introduction to my healing process.  She told me that she or another of my nurses would spend time with them, and together we would all make decisions about what to do next.


One of the first things she did was to help me relax physically and mentally.  I laid on the bed as she stroked my body, coaxing me through visual images of strength, healing, and peace.  She taught me ways I could bring this sense of peace over myself when I needed to during my stay.  She suggested music that I could turn on whenever I needed it to help center on this sense of calm and peace.  She discussed with me how I could take care of details with my family and job.  She showed me how to use the things I would need while I was there, how to write notes in my record that would be important for everyone caring for me, and how to let someone know when I needed help.  When she left, we had accomplished so much, and I felt so different, that it seemed like we had been together for hours. I looked at the clock – she had been there for only 50 minutes.


Over the next few hours, several other healers came into my room to get acquainted, each one introducing her- or himself and making sure that we both understood what to expect next and why they were there.  Each person who came to see me wrote their name and a note about our time together on my record so that I could read it again later.  Each person was concerned about being prepared for the first healing gathering that was planned for early the next day, when my four advocates would also be present.  We would all talk about what I needed and share ideas about how to work together, who could best do what, and what it is that I wanted to have happen here.  I was to leave the Healing House, they said, as soon as I could – I may never be cured of my disease but I would carry a healing spirit with me that would help me to no longer be afraid, and knowledge about how to live in a healthier way.  They said, “We want you to leave here having had one of the best experiences of your life.”


Suddenly, I woke up from the dream.  I heard “Doctor Smith, Doctor Donald Smith, please call the operator.  Doctor Donald Smith, please call the operator.”  Crash, bang, clang.  I realized I was not in a Healing House.  I was lying in a hospital.  The laundry cart had just fallen over on the tile floor outside my stark, cold, almost bare room.  The nurses’ call button was out of reach.  I was cold, alone, and hardly knew anyone by name, except the physician who had admitted me.  I felt as if nobody cared who I was.  I knew nothing about what they were planning to do to me.  Nobody knew who to call if something went wrong.  I would have to pay for a phone if I were to have one.  I had no money.


“Code 7, code 7, 8-4-0 immediately, 8-4-0 immediately.” (p 71-72)

Re-printed by permission by the National League for Nursing.  Originally published in Chinn, P. L. (1989). Nursing patterns of knowing and feminist thought. Nursing and Health Care, 10(2), 71-75.


About Peggy L Chinn

feminist, nurse activist, writer, founding editor of ANS Advances in Nursing Science, quilter, grandmother nurturing the future of the amazing children in my life.
This entry was posted in Feminism, Health Care, Making change, Nursing, Reflections and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Dream of a Healing House

  1. bethpow06 says:

    Strolling through your blog I found your dream. When oh when oh when?

  2. Kimberly says:

    Peggy, I read your original while in my MSN in Education program. I have carried a copy of it around with me since. It had profound influence on me, as it resonated with what I had always believed nursing could be. I would read it to my F2F students but could not share it with my online students. Today one of my students posted in the discussion forum the comment attributed to Florence Nightingale regarding the abolition of all hospitals. It reminded me of your Dream and so I went online to try to find it. I was so glad to find it in an online format that I could share. I have posted it in all three of my current classes and will continue to post it as I go along.
    I am also transitioning into case management to broadened my scope of care. And as I reread the Dream, it dawned on me that nursing case management would have a very large role in the Healing House.
    I hope that I can be a part of this transformation in nursing care delivery.
    Thanks for sharing your dream.

    • peggychinn says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. And how wonderful that you have been sharing this dream all this time! Thank you so much for being in touch, and continue to share your experiences here .. I know other readers will be so inspired by your work! Peggy

  3. Peggy – thanks for sharing this essay, and please share the poem, too! Here are the notes I wrote down as I read “Dream of a Healing House”: spent time, healing, caring, educating, patient-centered. To me all of these things embody/define nursing. I believe we can do all of these things today and every day. The noise part has been an issue forever. We talk and talk and talk (no pun intended) about it, yet it doesn’t really change.

  4. Peggy~ Since I am an ER nurse this article resonated forcefully with me…Since returning to College for my MSN after 20 years of nursing (I graduate this semester!!) and taking many classes with your collegue Carey Clark, I have finally dusted off the holistic nurse that was buried inside of me and boy have I missed her!! I am racing through my graduate eduation with the end goal of NP in order to realize a dream of developing a women’s health care center that is just as your “dream” shows….thanks for another jolt in the journey to keep me motivated!

    • peggychinn says:

      How wonderful to hear from you! Please keep us updated on your journey — if you are interested in posting on the NurseManifest blog, just let me or Carey know and we will get you set up! Thanks so much for sharing your hopes and dreams!!! Peggy

  5. leegaluska says:

    Peggy, I just reread this article today and shared it with my undergraduate daughter who is studying oppression of women in cultures around the world. She and I had talked before about the difficulty of oppressed people seeing that they are oppressed and that the world could be any different. I shared the poem with the prison metaphor at the end of the article and she found it very illuminating and applicable to her studies. Thanks for sharing this with us.
    I also just want to comment on your thoughts about making small changes. I often become discouraged when I think of taking on the whole system which is self-organized to best meet the needs of a minority power elite. But I am trying to keep positive about the small changes I can influence every day in my work. I have to believe in building leadership capacity in every nurse so that with all of us making small changes we will reach a tipping point in the complex adaptive system, sending things off on a different trajectory. I believe in the possibilities! Lee

    • peggychinn says:

      Thank you so much for this feedback, Lee! And please pass along my appreciation to your daughter! And OMG — I had actually totally forgotten about the poem at the end – I have so focused on the dream part of this article, and the feminist ideas in the “body” that it has been years since I actually looked back at the poem! I have not written much poetry in my life and in no way consider myself a poet (as an aside — my son is actually a poet/lyricist!). So I don’t actually have a “collection” or anything like that, and I have not looked at this piece literally for years! Thanks for reminding me it is even there! I guess I will have to think about getting permission to post this part on my blog too!

  6. Peggy, thank you for sharing this dream. I believe that dream is one that is more and more being realized by women from around the globe.

  7. Marlaine Smith says:

    Peggy…this is one of my favorites! I refer to it and quote it frequently. You provide the concrete, vivid details of what it might be like to be in a caring-healing healthcare environment. You lay out the blueprint of it might be like…what it should be like. Thank you for this!

  8. Thanks Peggy,

    I love this piece which reflects upon the impact of environment; both physical and emotional. Likewise, in Midwifery women need a calm peaceful environment and a midwifery guardian in order for their bodies to easily do the work of pregnancy, labor, birth and breastfeeding. When the environment is wrong (just as you describe) then women’s bodies do not work well; thus inductions, augmentations, caesareans, and bottle feeding.

    • peggychinn says:

      Thanks so much for this, Kathleen! It is especially timely given that today I heard of a wonderful Andrews Midwife Center in Texas (Baylor University) that is being forced to close because the physicians will no longer support it. This has happened all too often in the United States … I will post more on this on the NurseManifest Blog (see the link on the menu at the top of this page!). We all have so much to do to care for one another … and I am glad you are “out there” doing all you do! Peggy

  9. Pingback: Dream of a Healing House & Feminist thought in nursing | NurseManifest Blog

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