Dreams of My Patient.

“Wow. I had a dream she got suspended. That’s what I was dreaming when I woke up. How weird that I was dreaming about her being suspended when I woke up this morning. I dreamed that you called me to tell me. It was this morning around the time she was being suspended.”

I left a rambling message on a Foster Parent’s phone the other day. She’d called to tell me her 6-year-old foster daughter had been suspended from Kindergarten…..again. (At least this time she hadn’t climbed to the top of the monkey bars to get away from the Vice Principal!) I had actually woken up from a dream earlier that morning in which this child had been suspended. It freaked me out when I realized this. It was a weird coincidence. More than that, it was a dream about a patient. I hate that, even when it’s about a favorite patient.

I used to have dreams on occasion about my students when I taught school. I had one little boy who was of average intelligence, but he was a ditz. I had him as a first grader and then again as a fourth grader. He is a story all by himself. He said and did so many funny things, like asking me how the computer knew his name when taking a reading test on my computer.

For some reason one night I had several dreams in which he starred. I have a policy….no dreaming about students or patients. Kind of hard to enforce, but in spite of being a bit obsessed with work most of my life, I do tend to have student/patient free dreams, at least those I remember. This one morning, I awoke after a night full of dreams about this little boy getting into trouble again and again. I basically felt I’d yelled at him all night. The next day at school, I told him when he started to talk and be a bit disruptive that I just couldn’t take it that day. I had yelled at him all night in my dreams. I just couldn’t do it anymore. He looked at me like I was crazy.

Of course I was! However, I will take a brief paragraph to illustrate that what I said to him was pretty much as weird as some of the things he said to me. He used to sit near my desk and was quite the little eavesdropper. Another boy told me that his dad was coming that day to talk to me at 2PM. I said that I had kids at that time and couldn’t possibly see him. This other little boy, my favorite little ditz, said,”Ms. Holladay, you babysit, too???” The other kids just laughed, and so did I. He took a while to figure out what he’d said and why it was funny.

So, in my defense, we tended to have some odd conversations anyway!

I realized when I told him not to get in trouble that day because he’d been in trouble all night in my dreams that the child in my dreams was not him. That representation may have come close in some ways, but that’s all it was. I think it’s important in all our relationships to remember that the person in our head is not the same person as the one sitting across from us. The two may be close, but they are not the same. Even though I have to try to enter into my patient’s worlds, I will never have complete understanding of them. I may empathize with them and feel their pain, their anger, their frustration, but I’ll never completely see the truth of who they are.

I wonder sometimes if we are even capable of seeing the truth about ourselves. It’s important to try to cross that disconnect and have a more truthful view of ourselves if we are ever to grow. However, just like we can’t see ourselves completely in a mirror, we can’t see all of ourselves fully, either.

It’s important for me to recognize this truth about my relationship with myself and my relationships with my patients. It’s important to recognize this about other relationships as well. I may try to enter into the world of my autistic, MR new patient who often echoes what I am saying rather than answering anything I ask her or talking on her own. Even if I work hard, I will only be able to have an inkling of her world. I may love my dogs more than anything, but that doesn’t mean that I know what their life is really like. (What are they really saying and doing while I’m at work anyway???) I may try to understand a friend or family member, and while I might have great empathy at times, I will never completely know what is going on with them.

It’s important to make that effort to understand. But, it’s also important to know that complete understanding may not be something we humans are capable at this stage in the game.

Reminds me of a phrase from one of my favorite prayers, and on his feast day as well. From the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

“…O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love…”


~ by Janice Holladay on October 5, 2011.

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