I would like to take you back to February, and my days in the hospital (and- later - the rehab center). Even though I was focused on the fate of my finger, I knew immediately that "Something ain't right", as my Dad would say.
Hospitals are intriguing institutions, serving the mass of humanity, the good, the bad, the ugly...the really ugly...I'm not referring to physical appearance but the quality of the soul. I ended up in a prominent hospital in New Brunswick, NJ. In my youth, it was a general county hospital. It changed names, found endowment money, and began to spread its tentacles across the City. It devoured neighborhoods, absorbed existing structures, slithered underground, until it's become an entity onto itself.
I ended up in their A&E initially, a place that hasn't really been updated since the days of being a small, local operation. Rooms were divided in quads - 4 beds per room - with a door. You were assigned a bed, the door closed, and you were trapped with 3 other folks needing assistance. In my room, there was a woman who had obviously undergone chemotherapy. She rested quietly, uncomplaining, awaiting a doctor. It was clear that she was in distress, but merely smiled at her husband, and held his hand.
Eventually, we were both moved to the Transitional Care Unit, or TCU. It was a ground floor, windowless, dormitory style space, with 15 beds in a large "U". Each bed was separated by curtains only. With just florescent lights on 24/7, one could not determine if it was night or day. It was a rabbit warren of people, which I immediately dubbed "tent city".
For instance, take the woman behind the curtain to my left. It was apparent that she was having some kind of digestive issues (mostly because she was shouting to the nursing staff that she had digestive issues). Despite that, she demanded that she be brought supper. The staff advised her to look at the menu and call her order into the kitchen.
"Why do I have to do that? Don't you have PEOPLE who perform these tasks?"
When advised that she did not have a wait staff, she angrily grabbed the phone and called the kitchen. She identified herself and started to order toast, an english muffin, oatmeal, three eggs...then she stopped, apparently listening to a response.
Suddenly, she erupted. "What do you MEAN I've exceeded my carbs limit? How is that possible? I'm not eating the other swill on this menu. It will kill me. DO YOU WANT TO KILL ME?!"
The nurses came running, and finally sorted out her food fiasco.
Bored while waiting for her meal, she next turned her attention to me. "You over there! You! Your overhead light is too bright. Can you turn it off?"
As I wasn't allowed out of bed, I responded, "No, not really."
"It's too bright for me."
"Turn it off!"
"Not gonna happen."
"Then I'll come over and turn it off myself!"
"Stay on your own side of that curtain or I'll call security." At that point, I rang for the nurse and explained my situation. She quietly went to speak with my neighbor. I couldn't hear her side of the conversation, but the patient screamed, "I DEMAND she turn off that light! This is inhumane! I shall report you all!!"
I have no idea to whom she was going to report because I was suddenly assigned a real room. It was a shared space, but I was given the largest section with a window. My roommate was a tiny creature, whose husband was also in hospital just down the hall. It became obvious that this woman (whom I shall call "J") had issues...major issues. In fact, there were only 16 beds on the floor, each assigned to a "special" patient...and me. It didn't take long before it dawned on me. This was the ward of the were-bunnies. I was among those called the "sun downers". They slept or were quiet during sunlight, but the rising of the moon signaled the start of the howling hours.
Perhaps I should define the term "were-bunnies". It was coined by a friend I had in another hospital. They are the patients that may look and sound dangerous, but are actually harmless. By that definition, "J" was no were-bunny. Although merely the size of a pixie with a glandular problem, when denied visits to her husband she would scream, kick, punch, and fight like a rabid ocelot. She would constantly need changing, during which times she tried to make her escape. Eventually she was tied to the bed and alarmed. Nothing stopped her, and security was called on a regular bases. When her daughter came to visit from overseas, she focused on the fact that the hospital lost "J's" glasses and dentures - valid, I agree - but had to be told that both were lost during two of her mother's battles, and she was the one who places these items in the soiled laundry which got carted away.
Thus was the live entertainment in our ward, but the room had larger issues. When possible that first night, I settled in for a solid old-fashion snooze. At around 3 am, I was awoken by an aging gentlemen in hospital gown leaning over my bed. Initially, I thought it was one of the loonies on walk-about, (it had happened a few years prior in a rehab center), but I was wrong. As I looked up into the gent's blank eyes, he slowly dissolved. Ducky. I had a haunted room.
As the sun rose the next morning, I watched my coat - hanging on the back of the open bathroom door - swing wildly back and forth. I advised one of my nurses that the room had 3 patients in lieu of 2.
"What do you mean?"
"The room is haunted."
"How do you know?"
"Crap keeps happening."
"Like what?" she asked innocently. At that moment, the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom started running like a house a-fire, spewing paper towels all over the floor.
The nurse peeked around the corner, then scurried back to huddle by my bed.
"Ah...there's no one in there.."
"Yes. I know."
At that moment, yet another nurse came in. She took one look at the first nurse's face and said, "What's the matter?"
"The paper towel dispenser is running."
"It's motion activated. There's nobody in there."
The second nurse lowered her voice. "That's been happening all over the ward."
Like I said...just ducky. I had a haunted ward.
Until the end of my stay, evidence mounted. Lights and TV went on and off without human intervention, my phone would unplug itself, and then turn itself on. The last little bit of fun came when a new patient was moved in down the hall. He told the staff he was a wizard and would defeat all the demons walking our hall. Wizard is one thing; nutsy fagan wizard with an agenda is quiet another. I was relocated to a rehab center the next evening.
Now, you would think that would be the end of my tale - but no. Once at the rehab, the nursing aid (a great, big, gentle giant of a Russian) was trying to adjust the bed for me. Suddenly, it started to groan and vibrate and buck like the mattress from "The Exorcist".
"What is this?" Alex kept repeating, "You bring ghost with you from hospital maybe?"
He turned whiter. "No. Don't kid. You think ghost?"
"Hell if I know."
The bed kept it up despite maintenance, engineering, and a boat load of other guys trying to make it stop. It wasn't until Gary came to visit, with a full bottle of sage spray, that I was finally able to...er hum...rest in peace.
Finally, here are the photos from our crawl at Princeton Cemetery:
Enjoy your memorial Day!