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Resource type: Article

“I had these strange dreams.”

What kinds of memories or dreams do people have?

It is very common for patients to have strange memories, dreams or hallucinations. They can seem very real...so real, that no matter how strange they are, patients are often unsure whether they happened or not. They can often be remembered in detail for some time afterwards.

The dreams that people have can sometimes be very frightening, but sometimes pleasant or funny. Here are some examples of other people's dreams.We hope they helps you know that what you're not "going mad".

Frightening memories or dreams

  •  I was on a conveyor belt, going into a crematorium, to be cremated…and as I was going along this conveyor belt, I tripped a switch. My foot kept tripping the switch to stop it, to stop me being cremated. You know, if I shut my eyes and think about that dream, I can be there, in that moment. I can feel the rollers, I can see the conveyor belt, the trip wires, the safety switches. I wonder if other people can tell you the minute details of their dreams, like I can, you know?
  • “There were…pigs fighting against bears and dogs…pigs running up and down and a machine cutting a pig in two.  Another, they set pigs on each other and they had to fight…the one that was stronger ate the one that wasn’t.”
  • "...I was in a dark cellar...a cellar, a dungeon or a drain...and being grabbed at and fighting, cursing, swearing, biting, scratching because I wouldn't go. It was very, very frightening."
  • "I was convinced that Jack the Ripper was trying to kill me...that he'd killed two of the nurses and had hidden their bodies down the side of my stairs."

Paranoid memories or dreams (feeling that someone is out to cause you harm)

It's very common for patients to feel convinced that others are out to harm them or that they are being held against their will. The "conspiracy" sometimes involves staff in the Intensive Care Unit and patients' family members.

  • “I constructed this reality where my wife had signed over my organs. I wasn’t given anything to eat or drink… I thought I was being starved to death. I couldn’t figure out what they were doing, unless they were simply keeping me alive and offering my body parts to other people.”
  • "I kept thinking that they (the nurses) were trying to kill me..that they were giving me injections to stop me breathing.I thought they were punishing me, because I was in pain...but they were just turning me over in bed. Every time I saw that particular nurse, I shrank back from him."
  • "I’d joined this private army in Hampshire, and my family had been sent to recapture me.I was actually being held in here (in Intensive Care) against my will...except that this was a military hospital. Where all that comes from, I have no clue!" 

Funny memories or dreams

  • "I was making a film with George Clooney...it was in Leith, and I was floating around on this pallet, in just a blanket..."
  • "When I first sort of came to, I thought that I’d given birth to two calves and two goats (laughs)."
  • "…my sister, my wife, my wife’s friend, and my Mum smuggled me out of a hospital in Torremolinos, dressed as old women. I haven’t even been to Torremolinos. I’ve been to other parts of Spain and Greece, but never there. So they were dressed as old women, and they had Australian or New Zealand accents. Where that came from, I don’t know! 

 Pleasant memories or dreams

  • "I still miss the surreal dreams. I miss the jazz studio in my flat upstairs...the raw excitement of running my Chinese textiles/vinyl records franchise on the New York Subway (Line 38), especially with the noodle bar so handy in the next carriage. So many people I hadn't seen for ages turned up there..."
  • "Oh, I had a lovely journey around the world!I went to Japan and watched a Japanese opera.I was all over the place in my bed..like a bloody magic carpet! (laughs)."

Memories or dreams with a spiritual meaning

Several patients have told us about dreams in which they had conversations with family members and friends who have been dead for some time. Some people find this very comforting while others find this upsetting. 

  •  "it was when I died…I think it was…you know where your soul leaves your body. Well… (sounds tearful) I wasn't here, on this planet…I wasn't here…I was out of my body.I was away, definitely, but I came back."
  • "I had this vision. I saw this big white place, I was sitting in a chair outside a church…and it was beautiful and it was a lovely sunny day and it was Heaven.  I believe it was Heaven and I saw my sister, after ten years dead, she was waving me away, “We don’t want you in here yet”" 
  • "...there was this white light. It was so bright, and I was floating above them. A voice said, “If you go to your left, you’ll survive this, but you’ll take a long time to recover. If you move towards the right, you’ll have a life of misery…drugs, violence”. It was crazy! And then I moved to the left…and I remember everything about that dream. I can only think that I was at my lowest, dying, a few hours away from passing away…I moved over to the left, and it got a bit dimmer, like a tiny wee light, like a train going through a tunnel. The light got brighter and brighter and I moved off. I’ve no idea when I came out of a coma after that, but that dream might have been, you know, an afterlife dream. I can picture everything, even 8 months later."