In her dream, a young pediatric nurse answered the phone at the nurses’ station and was told to go to the lobby where a gravely ill patient was being admitted. She went down to find a little boy in blue, pink, and white pajamas. When she looked at the boy, she realized she had cared for him, and she knew he would die from cancer the next day. The boy came gratefully into her arms.
At the hospital, she told her supervisor about her dream. Then the phone rang, and her dream began to unfold. The child was in the hospital lobby, dressed in the blue, pink, and white pajamas. He came into her arms, and by the next day, he was dead.
This nurse had a psychic (extrasensory or psi) experience: precognition in a dream. Such experiences have interested people, especially those who care for the sick and dying, in all cultures throughout history. Psychic events are a topic of vast interest to clinicians and of equally vast silence among them.
Psi phenomena challenge some basic assumptions we make about science. Nurses who talk about these events often risk ridicule: sometimes, science can be just as dogmatic as religion. But ignoring evidence can be just as serious as inventing it. Psychologist Lawrence LeShan said that the refusal of medicine to deal with psychic events is itself a subject worthy of study. (See Science and the unseen in pdf format by clicking the download now button.)
Peace and comfort
What relevance does this have to nursing? When accepted into our belief systems, psi events change our worldview and our understanding of our mind, which contrary to three centuries of medical belief, may be more than just a product of our brains. Virtually all Eastern philosophies understand psi events as the initial stages of awareness of other levels of reality, including what happens to the mind during sleep and the transition to death.
Nurses witness—and should be able to talk about—psi phenomena that occur as patients come close to death. Nurses also should be willing listeners when patients want to discuss psi phenomena. These phenomena include experiences with take-away apparitions, in which someone who is already dead comes to accompany the dying patient through the transitional state between life and death, what Tibetan tradition calls the bardos. Studies in India and the United States suggest that patients who experience take-away apparitions also experience a sense of peace and comfort with dying.
Feeling is believing
While a visiting nurse, Amelia Cabral and a colleague cared for an elderly woman who was dying from breast cancer. The patient lived with her daughter, who was a widow.
Many times, the daughter called to say her mother’s time was near. But when the nurses arrived at the house, the patient would say it wasn’t time yet because her deceased husband hadn’t called. Then, late one night, the patient phoned Amelia to say that her husband had called.
When the nurses met at the patient’s home, they felt a warm, comforting breeze. The patient asked if they could see her husband. They couldn’t. The patient then thanked the nurses for caring about her, said good-bye to her daughter, closed her eyes, and died. At that moment, the breeze quickened, and a gauzy “sense” rose from her. The patient’s daughter and both nurses had the same experience. The nurses said they don’t know what they saw or sensed that night, but it has remained vivid their minds.
How common are these events? Polls conducted in 1984, 1988, and 1989 by the University of Chicago’s National Opinions Research Center suggest that nearly half of Americans report after-death communication from the deceased. These apparitional experiences of continuing contact are reassuring to the bereaved, just as take-away apparitions are reassuring to the dying. Repeated studies also suggest a positive correlation between mental health and extrasensory experiences.
Psychic experiences among patients have a long history. So nurses need to be able to speak to each other about these experiences and listen to patients who describe them. If you’re receptive, you’ll hear some remarkable stories.
Dossey L. Reinventing Medicine: Beyond Mind-Body to a New Era of Healing. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco; 2000.
Feather SR. The Gift: ESP, the Extraordinary Experiences of Ordinary People. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press; 2005.
Mayer EL. Extraordinary Knowing: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable Powers of the Human Mind. New York, NY: Bantam Books; 2007.
Radin D. Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality. New York, NY: Paraview Pocket Books; 2006.
Beth Wechsler is a licensed independent clinical social worker in private practice in Mashpee, Massachusetts. The author of Psychic Moment—Coming to Our Senses, Beth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.