The Dream of the Hospital

Joseph Mansfield

February 1990


This dream occurred sometime in the years 1962 to 1966.At the time it was the most vivid dream I had ever had.Today it remains as sharp in my memory as the day after it occurred.

The dream had two scenes.The first was an overview of the physical plant of a hospital.The second was of a patient being taken to surgery.Though there was no verbal content, I understood these facts about the hospital:

1.†† The hospital was strictly for major surgery.It was renowned and drew patients from the whole world.It accepted only cases which required spectacular surgical skills.

2.†† The hospital was a Catholic hospital, and every surgeon was also a priest.


The first scene, the overview: The central building complex was solely for patients and operating theatres.All other activities were at a distance, in other buildings.At the center of the main complex stood a cruciform chapel of cathedral proportions, its altar to the east.Sixty or so yards to the south was the building housing patient rooms.An equal distance to the north was the surgery building.Glassed in cloisters connected these buildings so that the cloisters gave directly into the transepts of the chapel.

The second scene, before surgery: Half a dozen surgeons were involved in the case.Together with the entire operating room party, all gowned for work, they greeted the patient in his room.They loaded him on a gurney.They then moved, in procession, up the cloister, entering the south transept.At the crossing the patient was turned to face the altar.The surgeons stood three on either side, with the other members of the party behind the surgeons, all facing the patient.When all were in place, the surgeons held up their hands, as priests do, and invoked Godís presence and movement in the surgery.The procession then formed again and the party moved down the north transept toward the operating theatre.

The scene of the surgeons praying was the focal point of the dream.At the time it moved me to tears, as it always has since in recall and does now as I write.It was understood, though not explicit, that a similar scene would occur after surgery, as the surgeons escorted the patient back to his room, stopping before the altar to give thanks.

For many years I thought this dream must be a directive to me.I never had any notion, though, of anything specific it was directing me to.In time I came just to remember the dream and think about it.The dream was at once simple and plain, yet filled with majesty.And it had a single, mystical element that has continued ever since to haunt my recollection: Each surgeon wore a steel helmet.