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.