Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Halloween is nigh, so I was thinking. Have you ever had a ghostly encounter? I think I have and I'm going to tell you about it.

Once upon a time, I was a young nurse working night duty on a surgical unit at the local hospital. The unit was a T-shaped wing in the "old" part of the hospital which had been built in the 1930s. Everything about it was "old," the decor, the terrazzo flooring, the call lights. Those worked by depressing a button on the end of a cord until it clicked and stayed in. To turn it off, you clicked again and released it so that it popped out.

On the annex part of the "T," which led to the "new" part of the hospital, there was a small, no amenities room. By that I mean, no bathroom, no closet, and just big enough for one bed, the bedside tables and a chair. It was usually a kind of "overflow" room for late night admissions, but for several weeks it had been a "dying room" for a woman with a terminal illness. She was in a great deal of pain, and her call light would come on often during the night. "Pain management" was an oxymoron then--perhaps it still is--but at that time pain medication was ordered at rigid, tightly controlled intervals and never given early, which was the reason her call light came on so often. She was locked into the Job-like suffering of "How long?"

One night, when I came on duty, I was advised that the woman had died during the day, that the room had been cleaned, repainted and was ready for another admission. As the night progressed, I happened to look down the annex hallway just when a room light over a door came on. It was the "dying room." I walked down the hall and went inside. No one was there. I wasn't afraid. No goosebumps or raised hair or anything like that. Nothing on my mind but addressing the problem at hand. I picked up the call light, clicked the button to release it and thus turn it off, and left the room.

It wasn't until I was halfway back down the hallway that I realized that the call light button had been pushed "in" -- which is the only way it could be turned on. The button was IN. A well-used, antiquated call light could get to the point where the button would pop "out" and thus not stay on without the patient having to hold it, but they never popped "in." I knew there was no one else in the room. I knew no one had been in the room because I saw the light come on, and I went immediately to check on it. There was only one way in or out and no one could have left without me seeing them.

So I was puzzled. VERY puzzled, and I thought well, maybe there's a short. Maybe the button had gotten pushed in when the room was cleaned and never released because a short made it go off so no one realized it. In any event, I didn't have time to worry about it. I had a whole unit with rooms full of post-surgical people I could actually see.

But twice more during the night, the light came on. Twice more I went into the room, found the button pushed"in," and I turned it off. I must say, by the third time, the goosebumps were there.

How did the light thing happen? I didn't know then and I don't know now. I only know that it did.


Liz Flaherty said...

A friend and I shared a small apartment in my single days. We had a cat, Wretch. One day while Nancy, my roommate, was home from work, the toilet flushed itself. Neither Nance nor the cat would go into the bathroom until nature absolutely required it, and then only with the lights all on. Thank goodness the litter box was in the hallway! Not quite as woo-woo as the call light, but fun to remember 40-some years later.

Cheryl said...

At least it flushed--which is always a plus in shared housing.