Jumping at Shadows: A Haunted Hospital Story

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    In this corner of the world, there is a saying of the chronically exhausted which speaks of the measure of a tired and addled mind: jumping at shadows. The term comes from moments when a worn down brain whines its protest at a lack of REM sleep by projecting shadowy apparitions which dart at the edge of peripheral vision, appearing to be anything from random deer to running people and, well, making you jump.

    Jumping at Shadows: A Haunted Hospital Story

    In this corner of the world, there is a saying of the chronically exhausted which speaks of the measure of a tired and addled mind: jumping at shadows. The term comes from moments when a worn down brain whines its protest at a lack of REM sleep by projecting shadowy apparitions which dart at the edge of peripheral vision, appearing to be anything from random deer to running people and, well, making you jump.

    Insert best Crypt Keeper laugh here ==>XXX and here ===>XXX.

    Come with me, if you dare, to a place where shadows aren't cast by your mind's eye.

    Enter at your own risk to the spirit stalked halls of my OR.

    Legends tell that these very floors were lain over the rotting bones of Lombart the Halitosis Riddled's victims, some scarcely....wait, what?

    .....what do you mean exaggerating?

    I can assure that--Well there's no need to be rude.

    And I most certainly did not insult your sheep.

    ::humph:: Fine then.

    Have it your way. Boring.

    So what shall we talk about?

    Shall I tell you of the spirit lovingly referred to as Jim who stands just inside the lip of darkness cast from the doorway of OR 5 and just....watches.

    Or the pattering bare feet glimpsed wandering beneath the curtain in the glass PACU isolation bay?

    Perhaps a story of the whimpering baby heard in admitting from time to time? The one that drifts from room to room throughout the night before settling in an abandoned ASU crib and stopping at 4:13 am.

    Even the dragging hiss of material with the light, disjointed slap of hands on the floor that echoes in the locker room when all is still may prove interesting.

    Then there is my personal favorite, the guardian spirit of lost pens who gathers them and rolls them to your feet outside the trauma bay.

    I could regale you with stories of deep, forlorn sighs over my shoulder, taps to my foot of all places, and, just once, a distinct, clear as a bell, tremulous and hopeful, "Mary?"

    But no. Those are stories for another day. On this day we speak of something far more....sinister.

    Our story begins as so many haunted stories begin: with the fizzing :SnIcK: of a can of Diet Sunkist being opened.

    The time? 2:12am. Ah yes, the joys of covering night shift split double style. Hence the orange soda. And the noticeably more chatty internal dialogue.

    Wrapped in a toga of bath blankets, the night tech, Lydia, lightly tapped her pencil to her teeth as she contemplated a seven letter word for "invade". Her light blonde brows were struggling vainly against the restraints of botox to form a thoughtful scowl. Eventually they surrendered, returning to their lax apathetic setting. Which was good. Wouldn't want her to herniate an eyebrow tendon.

    Across from me slumped Becca, the night charge nurse. Her bouffant lie in a rumpled heap on the break room table as she carded her fingers through her newly docked and dyed brunette hair. Well, dyed is probably the wrong term. More like freshly detailed racing stripes.

    I had to admit, even in her haphazard lean, she appeared remarkably faster much in the same way the subtle curving lines of a muscle car grant the illusion of motion.


    With a frown at my orange soda which, under the heat of my hand, had given in to the dark side and converted to luke-warm carbonated swamp water, I placed the can on the laminated table top and coaxed myself to my feet.

    "I'm going over the PACU to grab a cup of ice. Ya'll want something while I'm over there?"

    Becca lightly chirped in the negative while Lydia tapped out a Morse code of "No thanks, I heard you but I'm too busy being stuck on 15 down to answer. By the way, how is your cat?" on her incisors.

    With a soft sigh, I stretched and wandered off towards PACU, grateful for the bit of motion that reworked protesting joints. The halls were as they always are at this time of night when the world sleeps and for once the hospital coils as a mind in REM, both resting and active. The lighting was turned dim at night to preserve precious energy, shadows thrown on the walls and dogging at my heels as I walked. The temperature tingled and dipped, drawing a chill down my spine and rallying hair on end. I snapped my warm up coat and rubbed my hands, sucking a breath as the whispering sigh of air slithered along my neck. Were there more than one set of footsteps in the hall? I paused to listen.

    Nothing. Silence. From one of the empty OR suites, the clattering of a pencil falling to the linoleum floor.

    I reached for the metal trigger button on the wall, the chilled metal drawing me from my own mind and back into the hall proper. Lit. Silent. Normal.

    The doors to the PACU groaned open, whining heavily on their hinges as they momentarily gave way, blocking one empty PACU bay and nearly beckoning to enter at one's own risk. PACU itself, when brought to silence in the dead of the night, stands in receptive preparation: monitors on, leads neatly coiled, darkened. I walked past all the empty bays with scarcely a glance before rounding the corner of the nurse's station, and, for reasons that to this day remain a mystery, casting a weary eye to the large tele monitor which keeps vigil on the nurse's desk.

    As expected, each isolated labeled spot for each bay was empty, the monitor a slick black vaguely offering me my own distorted reflection.

    With little more than a haphazard glance, I ventured to the ice machine and quickly claimed a Styrofoam cup of ice pellets before turning back to retrace my steps out.

    Again the monitor caught my eye. Though it remained empty, a strange thought began to nibble at the back of my brain and the more I considered it, the more it brought a wry smirk to my face. I arrived back at the lounge without incident to find Becca absorbed in buttering the living bejeezus out of a bowl of noodles and Lydia studiously shredding what was once the crossword.

    "You know, I guess I never noticed that PACU is a little....quiet at night," I offered.

    A derisive snort answered me as Becca never broke stride with her butter knife. "Creepy is more like it."

    "Yeah," I replied before beginning to pour my Diet Sunkist over the ice. "About that--" The paper shredding stopped. "So when I was over there, I noticed that tele monitor--you know the one." Two heads bobbed in agreement. "And I had this thought....wouldn't it be creepier than nothing else if you looked at it, and there was nothing, then when you turned around there was a rhythm from one of the bays?"

    Becca suppressed a shudder. Lydia subtly made the Sign of the Cross.

    "Yeah, I suppose it would be, CP. Now knock it off."
    "What? Getting creeped out? Shall I zombie drag myself around the OR for the rest of the night?"
    "Quit it!"
    "Nibble on your ankle?"
    A sharp punt to my shin made me aspirate bit of my soda. Becca looked distinctly unapologetic. I suppose I deserved it.

    The next night wound up being a lather, rinse, repeat of the first. Strangely settled. Eerily empty. No surgeries. No traumas. Just the night crew. And Jim.

    I finished picking up a pen that had gotten caught in a tile crack outside the Trauma bay when I decided that the whole night could be vastly improved by the presence of orange soda. After all, one cannot thrive on sleep alone. Deciding to forego the walk to the lounge where I knew Becca was mid rant over some inanity of the day crew, I made my way down the hall towards PACU.

    As before, the temperature gained a biting edge that drew my warm up coat tight to my sides and made me rub a near numb hand over the back of my neck. From an empty OR, a Bair Hugger sharply whimpered in alarm.

    I paused, listening intently before, with a sigh, changing my course to lead me to the source of the sound. Nothing but my padding footfalls echoed behind me as I trailed ever closer before finally to the door of OR 5. From near the OR table scarcely outlined in the darkness, the pressure of a gaze pressed sharply on my sternum and beckoned my teeth to chatter. Pushing open the second door so as to grope for the light switch, I absolutely did not feel fingertips graze the back of my hand as I found the button. Absolutely not. That was just a wayward hair. A cold. Clammy. Wayward hair. A puff of moist, cool air on my cheek.

    The overheads twitched to life. The Bair hugger was unplugged without incident. The lights turned back off.

    "Try to behave, Jim." A sullen, pouting glare which followed my path back down the hall was my only answer.

    I decided, since I had deviated from my original flight pattern to PACU, to take the secondary entrance that would deposit me directly at the nurse's desk and the ice machine. As I entered the PACU, some tiny portion of my hindbrain began to get twitchy and attempt to tunnel to my eyes. If there is anything I have learned throughout my years, it is always listen to the power of gut instinct.

    I filled my cup of ice before pausing and beginning to survey the area. And that, my friends, is when I saw it.

    The rhythm on the monitor.

    For one moment my body attempted to throw up, spontaneously combust, grande mal and run screaming all while my adrenals began throwing a dance party with my stomach. What came of it was an arched eyebrow and a puzzled, "hmph".

    Now, there are most certainly things which cause me undo terror: Baker Square going out of business, the word "moist", and thunder, just to name a few. This...this was something entirely unexpected.

    I hedged forward, eyes still rooted to the monitor, wondering, marveling, questioning my own sanity, my own exhaustion, my own reasoning. How was this possible? There was no one in PACU, of that I was absolutely certain and confirmed with a brief sweeping glance through the bays.


    As if possessed of its own free will, my hand--the one not throttling the cup of ice-- darted out and poked the monitor. Nothing changed. Bewildered, both at my own reaction and the situation, I noted that the monitor was declaring that this perfectly healthy NSR was currently perfusing PACU bay 1.

    Well, what was there to do but investigate? Armed only with a Sharpie and a Styrofoam cup snow cone, I made my way cautiously into the center of PACU where all bays would become even more visible. Including the blind corner of PACU bay 1.

    Remember that whole seizure/combustion moment? Well, let's just say there was a repeat when I found myself staring at a gurney with a body shaped lump covered in blankets parked in the shadowed blind spot of the bay. It is at this point that I became ever so grateful for my inner cynic and his cousin, the prankster as they both reminded me of the unlikelihood of a forgotten, abandoned body.

    I paused and listened for the give away sounds of shuffling or giggling. When there came none, I drew close and delicately drew the bath blanket away.

    A SIM man.

    Right then. With an small grin at my own wicked thoughts, I quickly found his remote and made a few alterations. Turn about is faire play.

    Quickly covering the SIM man, I hurried away and to the Surgical Lounge, making sure to act flustered. With great gesturing and lots of drama, I explained what I had found on the monitor.

    Becca looked less than impressed. Lydia graced me with one of her famous eye rolls. But both followed me when I lead them through the back way to the PACU. They never questioned why I took that route. They just followed. Perfect.

    When confronted with the same monitor, both froze and eyed me as if I had placed it there somehow. To my never failing delight, Lydia even poked the monitor when one skeptical finger before both turned to leave, dismissing what was before them.

    Until an agonal respiration garnished with a wet cough echoed through the PACU.

    I have seen Lydia face down raging surgeons with nary a grimace. I have seen Becca tackle the most "interesting" traumas without a blink of an eye. I have never seen them both go sheet white pale before that moment. Oh sure, for one moment I wondered if perhaps this was taking it a bit far. But when they both scampered out into the middle of PACU, as I had done earlier, and came face to face with the "body", their half stifled yelps of alarm were simply too priceless.

    And too telling. They hadn't pranked me.

    When the body coughed again and Lydia looked as if Vasovagaling her way to the floor was a distinct possibility, I was quick to dart over and remove the bath blankets. After much fussing over the SIM man and a phone call to the house supervisor that clarified that he was in place to calibrate the new EKG monitor on that bay, things got kind of fuzzy. The last thing I remember seeing clearly were two pillows being swung at my head. Quiet yet intense primal screams may or may not have been involved.

    So yes. There you have it. Boring.

    Perhaps, in the future, I shall babble on about the Legend of the Monkey Smuggler's Buried Gold beneath OR 18.

    But that is a tale for another time....

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    About CheesePotato

    As much as I like to think I'm clever, I am nothing but a fool--a poor player that frets her hour upon the stage with the knowledge that eventually I shall be heard no more. So for each moment that is mine, I remain grateful.

    Joined: Jan '12; Posts: 241; Likes: 2,374
    OR circulating/scrub nurse; from US
    Specialty: Sleep medicine,Floor nursing, OR, Trauma

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  3. by   TheCommuter
    This was a wonderful ghost story, CP! Thank you for this!
  4. by   x_factor
    This is awesome, I love it! Great story-telling!
  5. by   itsnowornever
    Why are you a nurse? You should be the next major horror story writer! Please tell me you are at least a teacher also! Man if some of my teachers could hold my attention the way you just did!
  6. by   NottaSpringChik
    Delightful!! I couldn't quit reading, and I loved the ending!
  7. by   Daisy_08
    I want to read it......but im scared I wont be able to sleep.....haha
  8. by   Daisy_08
    Hahaha, I'll have a great sleep!
  9. by   limaRN
    Wonderful story!!! Absolutely loved it . We once had a call light that kept going off only at night in room 14 the last room in the ICU. It happened for months with many repairmen coming to the unit in an attempt to fix it. We would go in sometimes and ask if there was a person that needed anything just in case... It did eventually resolve when they replaced the entire call bell system after repeated complaints from the night shift
  10. by   clarix89
    You should definitely write a compilation of your stories as a night nurse! I'm sure it'll be the next best seller, especially since all nurses will make a grab for your book
  11. by   LisaLPN7
    I once worked in a hospital where the room right across from the nurses station was haunted. It was a double room, and bed A, right by the door, was very active. We switched beds in and out multiple times, but they would all raise and lower by themselves, both as the entire bed, or into high Fowlers. The call light (no matter how many times we switched it out) would go off several times a night. If there was a patient in either bed, nothing ever happened. Also, if it rained, the window in the room (beside bed B) would open on its own. It was on the second floor, so the window was very heavy and you had to slide it to the right to open it. I once closed it, while wind and rain were blowing in, only to have it re-open before I could get out of the room.

    I also saw a man one night while sitting in the nurses station charting with the CNA, who was working on the diet list for the next morning. The station was a corner of two halls. The man, dressed in a dark suit, walked into view and then was obscured (or should have been for an instant) by the wall of the corner, before turning left and going down the other hall. There was a window the length of that wall of the station, and the only option was for him to turn left. When we didn't see him again through the window, I jumped up and looked out. There was nobody there, nor in the only room he could have gone into.
  12. by   hecallsmeDuchess
    CP, you are so 'wikid' but this was gooooooooood!
  13. by   cstrazis
    Loved it! I was hoping you'd find a creepy crusty corpse under those blankets- but the SIM man was perfect!