Nurses and Believing in the Paranormal

Hipaa ghostI came across a Nursing website recently that had in the Discussion Forums – Should Nurses Believe In Ghosts? One of the responses to the question asserted disbelief in the fact that the question was being posed to nurses who should be ‘scientifically literate’.  I don’t quite know what to make of that response.  If one is scientifically literate does that completely diminish their ability to believe in anything that hasn’t been proven or can’t be seen?  Wow!

Nursing is filled with magical thinking, superstition, intuition and having the ability to sense impending crises.  That may be what makes up a great nurse, someone who is not only book smart and can think quickly and rationally, but also can read the situation, sense the changes in the patient before they show up on the monitors as numbers, and notice a different look in the eyes of their patient, long before all the scientific equipment catches up.

Any nurse will say that if someone mentions the “Q” word – for example, “It sure is quiet tonight…” things will certainly start going awry very quickly.  Don’t say the “Q” word around a nurse, because they will say that they have just been jinxed and a nice, peaceful shift will become overwhelmingly chaotic. Every nurse, every floor has had their fair share of difficult patients.  These are patients that for multiple reasons may be hospitalized for long periods of time because of complications and unforeseen circumstances. There is always a collective sigh of relief from the nurses the day a  difficult patient is discharged to home.  No one will mention their name (kind of like no one mentions Valdemort’s name on Harry Potter, except Harry), because that difficult patient will most assuredly be readmitted shortly thereafter.

Check these sites out for more nursing superstitions

Most nurses who have been practicing for any length of time, will have a strange story or two to tell regarding unusual happenings, sightings of ghosts, noises in the night or whispers in the darkened halls.  There are some nurses that say there is no such thing as ghosts,  but they probably haven’t ever worked nights. Most of the characters in “From Cornflakes to Eternity” are based on stories told by nurses I have worked with over the years. The names have been changed to protect their privacy (does HIPAA apply to ghosts – probably not).  The Lady in Red, the Girl in the Pink Boots, Jose and Allie are all based on actual sightings and stories.    Here are some websites with additional ghost stories from nurses.

I believe to be a nurse, a good nurse, requires a great deal of knowledge, a boatload of experience, intuitive skills and yes, some magical thinking. And if a nurse believes in ghosts, it doesn’t make them less scientifically literate, it just makes them more interesting. “From Cornflakes to Eternity” can be purchased on Amazon.

15 replies »

  1. I’m an experienced psychiatric nurse with a BA in philosophy. I can tell you with confidence and authority that your paranormal beliefs are perfectly normal, and others would do better to stop pestering you. Reasonable people disagree on most topics, paranormal stuff included. Many people think all religion is quite unfounded and irrational; billions see quite otherwise. I’ve long been baffled myself by all the “Q word” and full moon superstition in nursing, which strikes me as bizarrely irrational in this day and age, yet I seem to be in a minority on this point and I try not to bother anyone about it. I find buying lottery tickets not particularly rational, basically giving money away as an investment plan, yet I don’t hassle people about it. I must admit I don’t consider ghosts especially credible myself, have my own view on God that seems to please no one, and notice lots of irrational thinking basically everywhere humans lurk. I follow research on human cognition, which clearly shows that what we typically consider “rational” is not remotely human. It’s a myth. For example, most folks judge rationalitiy by the simple rule: “If your beliefs match mine, you’re rational,” not a remotely rational criterion itself, yet nearly universal. We humans make lots of guesses and take mental short cuts all the time, and it often produces poor logic but it generally works for us rather well. In fact, people forced by rare impairments to rely on traditional logic and “rationality” alone are severely impaired functionally. I often offer people with psychiatric illnesses the honest comfort that they are clearly not “crazy,” that all humans make lots of mental mistakes every day, and that we disagree on most beliefs in any case with no end in sight. If you’re hurting someone or yourself somehow, that’s a problem. If not, why should anyone bother you about whatever beliefs you have? They’d do far better to attend to their own improvement, but alas, it remains quite popular to instead fluff one’s ego by dumping on others. Too bad, as it causes enless conflict and suffering, and nothing useful.
    Strong piece, by the way!

    • Wow!!!! Thank-you so much for the comment. It makes me think we do and believe in a great deal of stuff that is slightly irrational, but I wonder if it all has to do with feeling you have some control over your environment and existence, especially when it comes to religion and superstitions. For example, if I pray to this being (I keep thinking about the pig’s head in “Lord of the Flies” for some reason) or I don’t say a certain word, and things turn out the way I wanted them to, then I have control. And if that makes people feel better, why not? I say, whatever works, I’m all for it. However, I do think there is a bigger picture that our minds don’t allow us to see. And I wonder if many of these people with psychiatric illnesses, have the ability to sneak a peek into the bigger picture (think about some of the greatest scientist and inventors who were labeled ‘crazy’ because of their ideas). What are your thoughts?

      • You’re welcome! I have an interest in that stuff. clearly. You offer some good ideas. Thomas Edison estimated that we know less than 1/100th of what there it is to know. Not much different now, really. Lots of known facts are going to turn out to be laughably obsolete, soon enough. Einstein’s Special Relativity was madness, then fact, even though it still offers a serious assault on common sense! One last thought. A way to assess intelligence: the smarter folks tend to have lots of doubts, because they understand the limits of our knowledge to date. Dumber folks have much more certainty, because they don’t know enough or think clearly enough to realize their own limits. Thanks for your enthusiasm and interest – Greg

  2. Any nurse that does not believe in ghosts or spirits, even angels; has never worked night shift in an older hospital that has seen their share of death and dying! Or they are oblivious to their surroundings and the events that occur in a shift.

    • Suz, thanks for the comment. I sense you have worked your share of night shifts as well. I wonder what it must be like to work in some of the really old hospitals, for instance the hospitals over in England or in Europe. I suspect there are some really interesting stories to be told. I have heard a couple of stories about angels, but I would love to hear more. Do you have any?

  3. I am not a nurse, but I have spent my 15 years in long term care, taking care of MANY of my residents that feel like family, I have seen ALOT and I have my own “superstitions”, I still quickly walk away from ANYONE-nurse, aide, therapist, dietarty, management-that says the “Q” word with a lovely “You brought it upon yourself” with the utterance. I don’t believe the “crazies” are the crazy ones. I think it is the others that try to keep them contained to the ideal of the box inwhich society feels they all need to be stuck in. What’s so wrong with sitting with someone and actually LISTENING to THEIR life experiences?! Not a damn thing. I will continue to follow my own drummer through my career and life. Anyone that tells me different can piss off. Lovely article!! 🙂

    • Thank-you for the great comment. Too true these days, that we all have to think the same way (or at least everyone wants us to). I like to say random things just to see if anyone is noticing. Most of the time they don’t, but it cracks me up anyway. I think there is so much more going on around us, we just have closed out minds and think only about stupid, meaningless stuff like what celebrities are wearing and true pigments of clothing items. How senseless is that?

  4. How fascinating! I just finished reading “American Ghost,” by Hannah Nordhaus and was so intrigued by her rational and interesting book and then I see your post. Jung would say this is Synchronicity.

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