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When You See Strange Ghosts

I was young, probably the youngest student in the group. Out of the intake of 20 or so girls and two older guys, I had only just turned 17. I had to wait until my birthday before I could start training at the old hospital, as a Student Nurse.

All the trainees were eager to start the real work of nursing patients on the wards, after six weeks of lectures in the hospital’s Nursing school.

The first ward I was assigned to was the Women’s Medical Ward, on the upper floor of a building pre-dating the 20th century. The ward’s open-plan design appeared unchanged since the days of Florence Nightingale. Its chequered linoleum floor was cold and uninviting.

An australian general hospital from 1970s and a student nurse in training on the steps of the nurses quarters

From the central desk inside the ward, the staff had an uninterrupted view of the patients but there was precious little privacy. With iron-framed beds the colour of milk gone sour, so faded was their paint with the passage of time, patients were hosptialized in this ward for a range of medical illnesses ranging from heart disease to pneumonia, epilepsy to arthritis, as well as terminal conditions.

Tending these patients as a slight 17-year-old was heavy work and there was an immensity of jobs to be completed, each day. While the more senior nurses would dispense medications, dress wounds or undertake more complicated treatments, Junior Nurses like me, carried out hygiene tasks for around 20 or so ladies per student nurse. This consisted of bed-making, toileting, feeding, sponge bathing, showering and managing intravenous therapies. The patient’s fluids, temperature, blood pressure and respiration were monitored.

Especially embarrassing for the patient, was our daily questioning at 2pm as to the state of their bowels – a vital statistical indicator for Nurses of a patient’s general health. If answered in the affirmative, an ‘O’ for opened, would be inserted in the medical chart, which hung on the end of the bed for the world to see. Nowadays these are kept in the Nurses station away from prying eyes.

Woe would betide any patient whose bowel had remain closed for several days, as the Sister in Charge would order the Junior Nurses to administer the dreaded Soap and Water Enema. This comprised a bar of sunlight soap grated into a litre or two of water which was then shall we say, ‘delivered,’ somewhat unceremoniously, via a rubber tube and funnel, ‘where the sun don’t shine! This treatment would speedily initiate the desired bowel evacuation.

A student nurse’s evening shifts were similar to daytime shifts, without the bathing, bed and dreaded enema duties. Each Nurse took a dinner break between 6 and 7.30 pm and walked the long, dark path down the hill to the hospital canteen. I always appreciated break-time as a chance to rest my weary legs.

Back in the ward, patients were offered a final cup of tea, or cordial, after dinner, before teeth were brushed, or mouth toilets given to patients who could not brush on their own. Lights were turned off at 9pm.

Such were the days.

Located on the floor beneath Women’s Medical was an antiquated abandoned Children’s Ward, that was then used for storage of unwanted hospital equipment. To say the deserted ward was creepy, was an understatement. It was dark and musty, even in the daytime. The variety of obsolete medical apparatus strewn haphazardly about could easily be mistaken for the set of a Hollywood horror movie.

One night, on my walk back from dinner break, myself and a fellow student nurse were feeling a little adventurous. We dared each other to walk through the spooky, former Children’s Ward before climbing the stairs to Women’s Medical.

Within two minutes of being inside the dank musty children’s ward walls, our temerity and impulsive sense of adventure was swiftly snuffed out. The unnerving darkness, eerie noises and the apparent shadows sent our teenage imaginations running wild. We bolted up the stairs panting heavily. After a few nervous giggles, we resumed our duties on the ward preparing for lights out.

About 30 minutes later, while collecting blankets from the storage cupboard, I heard shouts from the ward, “Hey, stop!” and something indeterminate. I flew into the ward. An elderly patient who’d been semi-lucid for days, thanks to a brain tumour that affected her sight, was sitting upright in bed, shouting, “Stop him.”

“Stop who?” I asked.

“That little boy. The naked one. He just ran through here. ”

“He ran into the hallway,” advised the lady occupying the bed opposite. Confused, I tried to calm both ladies, assuring them I’d sort it all out, and they should settle down to rest.

With the ladies settled, I resumed my duties. But as I approached the isolation room, which happened to be beside the stairs to the infamous lower level, my imagination took a hold of my senses. The isolation door, which was always closed, stood ajar and I could hear a creaking sound as it moved slightly back and forth.

With my earlier experience fresh in my mind, I stopped mid-stride. My chest was pounding. Was it the wind or was the little boy hidden inside? I didn’t really want to look.

Reprimanding myself for being silly, I dismissed the thought and walked on. When I reached the safety of the Nurses’ station, I couldn’t help but check over my shoulder. There was nothing there. Was the boyish figure simply a patient’s imagination?

If so, why had two ladies claimed to have seen him?

Had we unwittingly disturbed a spirit of a deceased child that haunted the former children’s ward? Surely it was just shadows playing tricks, as the night rolled in? But what of the women with the brain tumour, whose sight was poor? She had seen something. Her petrified face was still present in my mind’s eye.

What was the secret?

Charles Bonnet syndrome refers to the visual hallucinations caused by the brain’s adjustment to significant vision loss. It occurs most often among the elderly who are more likely than any other age group to have eye conditions that affect sight, such as age-related macular degeneration.

http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Note: Charles Bonnet hallucinations can take the same form each time, or differ. It can be a pattern, figure, animal or imaginary figure. Many people who suffer from Charles Bonnet syndrome do not speak about it with their doctor out of fear of being associated with mental illness.

Happy Halloween! (Even though I do not celebrate it).

Do you have a ‘true,’ ghost story to tell?

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55 thoughts on “When You See Strange Ghosts”

      1. I’ve never actually seen a ghost, but have had very strange experiences that could have been caused by ghosts, throughout my life. I’ve written about them in blog posts, under Ghost Stories. They are all true that happened. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m actually kind of awed at the non-ghosty parts: that’s pretty awesome, as in awe-inspiring, responsibility for a 17 year old. It seems like today 17 year olds would never be tested, or trusted, like you were?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was so young in my mind and body at 17, E.W. But the 1980 s were a different era. Kids still would sometimes commence work at 14 years – boys in the trades and girls in the commercial typing pools and some with responsibilities way beyond their years. With the framing of today’s education system where nurses undertake tertiary study for three years, then are shepherded by another staff member for a period before working independently on the ward, it does seem incredible looking back to what was expected of us. There were a lot that dropped out and could not cope. My body didn’t cope with some of the duties. I was barely 98 pounds at the time and quite short. We had no electric hoisting equipment and would lift patients up and out of bed – I recall having to move a patient with another patient in that ward that was 380 pounds (27 stone) with another nurse who was essentially dead weight – ie she could not lift herself. Perhaps that is where I damaged my back? While I worked under a hospital-based training scheme – it meant you learnt so much in such a short time, as you were thrown in the deep end. But it also meant that young student nurses did the heavy lifting in all senses of the word. I am glad that they now have electric hoists and other helpful equipment to make the job far less stressful. But you have touched on an interesting point. Do children of today mature later because they are given responsibility later in life than in years gone by?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m not a medical professional, but I would think it’d be nothing short of a miracle for you not to have sustained injuries in such conditions…

          And, yes, that is a great question: I would say yes. I once read a fantastic opinion piece by a mother of a young girl who felt that the way that (some, I know, not all) children are brought up today, shielded from responsibility and consequences yields adults who have unreasonable expectations of what “real life” is really like…

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  1. Wow that was quiet the tale! I can only imagine how it was to work there as a young adult. My grandmother used to tell me stories like this one, from her days as a young nurse in training. Great read! Even though I would not like to have the experience of working there myself. I do admire nurses, and Doctors for that matter, as I could never do that type of work myself.

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    1. Haha. This true ghost story was unsettling at the time, but I can laugh about it now. I am glad you read it in the day. The addendum at the end explains it in a way that makes it much less scary and plausible.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Having two patients report the same thing was the strangest part of the experience, Donna. I have yet to explain that, although the second lady could have just been trying to be supportive and didn’t really see anything? Maybe she liked a bit of drama. I don’t really remember her as a personality so much as the lady with the brain tumour.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It wasn’t a pleasant place for sure. I have to tell you Janis that one end of the Women’s Medical ward contained elderly ladies that were on the verge of, or had, dementia. To manage a ward full of these patients adequately and allow them some time in the daylight, we had a procedure. After they were showered, they were taken to the verandah which had glass louvres open to the air and a series of comfy armchairs. The newly bathed ladies would be seated in the chairs fo an hour or so til lunch. In order to prevent then from wandering, we would be instructed to tie a bed sheet across their waist and around the rear of the chair! Horrifying practice that would be illegal today.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ghosts? My mother was the most down to earth woman but when in the war she was stationed at Naworth Castle she had some inexplicable experiences.

    Going up to the castle her group had joked about ghosts and rattling chains. On arrrival they were put into dormitories on two different floors of a tower. During the night mother and friends heard chains rattling above…they thought their colleagues were playing a joke and settled down to sleep. At breakfast they upbraided their colleages who said… but we heard it from below and thought it was you! They all moved out to huts in the grounds the next day.

    Following all that mother and a friend took a walk in the grounds and passed alongside a stream into a cherry orchard in bloom..suddenly they were aware of the silence of the birds and of a sudden chill in the air. Mother said – having gone through bombardments, etc. – she had never felt such evil and dread and she and her friend took tail.
    The cook at the castle told them that the cherry orchard had been the site of a massacre in the 1745 rebellion, of which the castle still borne scars of attempts to put it to the fire.

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    1. Now that, Helen, is a real ghost story! These are the inexplicable stories that may never be totally explained. As science researches DNA memory further, I wonder if some causal factor for incidents like this where the past disrupts the future at sights of intense torment, might be found. If animals can pass fear and caution on epigenetically to their offspring, why can’t our intuition pick up clues from the past at places like Haworth Castle and the haunted cherry orchard? It is not like cherry orchards would be a place one would normally feel frightened and even your Mum being a practical person that you said she was, picked up some evil vibes there- incredibly from the 18th century. When I travelled Tasmania, I saw incredible beauty but also had an unsettled feeling about many places, bar a couple that I absolutely loved. Tasmania was an island where the worst of the UK’s convict prisoners and second offenders were sent. It is also the island where the settlers massacred the aboriginal population in an orchestrated attempt to wipe out an entire native population. Even in modern times, the Port Arthur Shooting Massacre was the highest number of people killed in a mass shooting. Lots of bad history on this now peaceful island. Years after our visit there, my husband confessed that he didn’t want to go back there. He told me he had felt an underlying discomfort and unease when there, just as I did. At the time of our Tassie visit, we never told each other.
      Weird, hey?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Loved this story. As a fellow young nursing student and nurse I can relate to a few strange happenings.
    On the first ward I worked on, a ‘charge sister’ had died on duty many years prior, but patients would ask who the nurse was on night duty wearing the old fashioned, larger than normal cap. It was presumed it was the ‘charge nurse’ revsiting her ward.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There’s nothing creepy or ghoulish about spirits or “ghosts”; those who have crossed over into the next life. Many of them may be individuals trapped between the spheres without realizing they are actually dead. Why is unknown, but they most often succumbed to a tragic fate. Others may be those who return briefly to deliver some kind of message that we should heed. I have a few “ghost” stories and I’m never frightened by them.

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  5. Just before I published one of them, “Give Me the Baby”, I printed it and gave it to my mother to read. Afterwards she rolled up the sheets, came into the room where I was working on my computer and smacked me on the head with it! “Don’t ever scare your mother like that again!” she admonished. But she liked it nonetheless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tis rather a spooky story about the hospital boy ghost, Tanja, but I do feel the lady had some kind of Charles Bonnet syndrome and perhaps the second lady was highly attuned to suggestions?

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  6. Never, never go sneaking around the scary abandoned place.

    And of course I have ghost stories. Shoot me an email and I’ll try to find some.

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