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Dying mans nightmare

During my nursing career patients often shared their dreams. This dream was shared by a man who died three weeks after he had it. It was so clear it has stuck with me for over thirty years and led me to taking a personal interest in my own dreams and the dreams of other people.

I was called to the mans bedside by his wife as he was shouting out about his dream in a desperate state. No one could settle him down.

I saw a highly aggitated man who was yelling out his dream in a desperate manner to anyone he thought might listen so I decided to just listen to his story and take him seriously.

The man told me his dream in vivid and intense detail impressing on me that he had fought off the red crabs who kept biting at his toes all night.

In the dream the man was being fought into a black hole by red crabs that were constantly biting his toes. He shared his dream with gestures and actions showing me how he fought off the crabs and how he had won this battle on this night. He was keen to impress on me that they came every night and he was getting weaker. That night he thought he was going to loose his battle so he was desperate to tell someone about his plight.

His wife looked at me as if to say "Don't you reckon he is going mad?"

To be honest he looked quite frantic and mad - but he was suffering from advanced peripheral vascular disease and his toes were dying. I knew from his medical diagnosis he was toxic. So his not making sense made perfect sense to me when I considered his medical condition.

I guess it was my own reaction that surprised me. I turned to his wife while her husband was continuing to ramble on and on about the crabs and told her quite plainly - "Your husband has just told you he nearly died last night. The red crabs are the disease attacking his toes that are now dying. The dream is telling us that he is being pushed into a black hole by the red craps that represent his periperal vascular disease and that hole is his grave. He has told you he can't fight them off much longer so he has just told you he is going to die."

When I spoke to the wife I had absolutly no doubt about what I had said and no doubt at all about the meaning of the dream. It was so crystal clear and consistent with how a delerious person might experience dying toes from inside himself.

Why the dream has stuck with me so long is that I took a professional risk when I did this. I knew he was delerious from a medical point of view but he was a person inside a very sick body and he communicated his reality as best he could. He needed an interpreter and I voluntarily stepped into that role.

As a nurse I took my role as a patient advocate very seriously and implemented a medical response to the man's dream to try and make his dying time more comfortable.

Every morning I would ask him how the crabs were during the night and guaged the level of success of our intervention by the response the man gave.

By this time the man was not conversing with reality the way we all usually do but the crabs and dreams enabled me to communicate with him very clearly I found. I was able through his dreams to enter into his experiecne of reality and become part of it. My decision to do this definatly eased the mans distress and his wife was able to put plans in place in advance of his death.

After I had spoken to the wife about what the dream meant I suggested to her she specak with her husbands doctor and ask him questons about her husbands condition. She did so and he confirmed to the wife in a medical way that her husband was at the end stage of his disease.

There were several other patients I was able to do this with. Not many in the many thousands I cared for but at critical times I found their dreams helped me provide appropriate and humane care for people at the end of their life in particular.

I can recall most of these dreams with out using notes because they made a lasting impression on me. It was a real privaledge to share the dreams of these dying people in particular. So many were incredibly clear and precise.

I especially loved the lady who told me she had a dream self who slept beside herself in a coffin all night. They often talked to each other and I had to laugh when she told me this.

I asked her at the time "Thats a funny thing to tell me - arn't you concerned I might think your mad." She just smiled and said "No - I think you will understand and I have to talk to someone - my family doesn't understand."

People are so very precious - this lady died of liver cancer some 12 months after she shared this dream and toward the end of her life she talked about her dreams to everyone. We got to meet her long dead husband this way and she even told us the day, the time and the person who would find her dead. Her husband told her what was going to happen. It happened exactly as she said it would and we all talked about it for some months afterward.

The whole medical team was aware of this but there was nothing about it recorded in her medical notes.