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The toilets at my primary school were said to be haunted by the ghost of Bloody Mary. If you went in there at night she might appear to you in the mirror, dripping gore. Even at eight years old, most of us didn’t exactly believe it, but there was enough half-belief to add a certain frisson to going to the loo by yourself on a dark evening.
Half of the older pubs in the UK, three-quarters of the stately homes, and nearly all churchyards have their own ghost, or at least the rumour of one. They range from unconvincing to the comic to the genuinely sinister, but overall they’re two a penny. However, there’s one place where you might expect to find ghosts but very seldom do: hospitals.
Old sanatoriums, okay. Disused psychiatric institutions, definitely. Even a few decommissioned general hospitals. But never once, in many years of night-shift gossip, have I come across a ghost in a working hospital.
Maybe it’s because death is too real, and too present, in hospitals to be mythologised. Through frequent exposure to the physical manifestations of mortality, death loses – none of its sorrow, little of its fear, but a good deal of its mystery. We know where the real dead are: they are on the wards receiving confirmation that life is extinct or awaiting the last offices, or lying in chilly dignity in the mortuary, or cradled for the last time in a parent’s arms.
We meet our first corpse when we are barely out of our teens. From the start of our adult lives, we are expected to know the various appearances of death, to recognise its approach, to fight it, usually, as an enemy, but also to accept and to acknowledge it when nothing more can be done. To understand it? No, or at least only in the most reductive material terms, but to live alongside it.
The central corridor of St Elsewhere’s is almost half a mile long. At night some parts of it gleam whitely in the unceasing glare of strip-lights, but in other regions the lights are turned off to save energy. For the first few steps into the dark zones, until the motion sensor notices you, you are walking into pitch darkness. Around the unlit corners, in the shadows, anything could be lurking.
The funny thing is, it doesn’t feel like that. The hospital at night isn’t frightening. It doesn’t even have that melancholy anonymity found in late-night service stations or airports. Even in the dark, the hospital is a real place where real things happen. There is too much actual, intense human experience going on around us to leave room for phantoms.
By the Secret Doctor. Read the blog and follow @TheSecretDr on Twitter and on Facebook
Do you have a ghost story from your time as a doctor? Use the comments section below or email [email protected]
I think you are incorrect, lots of nurses share ghost stories on night shift. Here is one that I was told the morning after the occurrence.
The night before, on a gynae ward this nurse had passed by the bed of one of my patients, with the curtains around. She heard a male voice having a somewhat heated discussion with the patient. She went to the nurses' station to ask if a doctor was on the ward. It was 10 o clock at night and that was the most likely reason for a man being on the ward. On being told that there was not, she went to the lady and found her in floods of tears. On enquiring what had happened, the nurse was informed that "My husband's just been to see me, he told me that I'm a dirty old crone and that he's not taking me with him!" The nurse was horrified and after settling the very upset lady she returned to the nurses station. She looked in the patients notes to find out about the husband as she was in half a mind to tell him how distraught his wife was. She found that her husband had died two years ago, which disturbed the nurse sufficiently having heard his voice that she remained behind to tell me about it!
What about the white lady at St Thomas’s ?
As a student at Guy's we were told the old Evelina in Southwark, before the move to the nice shiny St Thomas' site, had quite a few ghosts of nurses and children that always walked with their ankles and feet below the floor.
This seems common to many hospital ghost stories and was always explained by the floor levels having been changed over the years but the visitations still use the original floors!
What height do they walk at now most of the site is a garden?
I just logged in to talk about a couple of ghost stories and my phone and computer died together despite having full batteries!
1. We have an on call room that a spirit comes in and sits on the bed
2. Same place - security guard came to investigate and saw a woman in a white nightdress jump off the roof
3. I live in a converted mental asylum and saw a woman in Victorian dress throw a baby out of the window. I've also seen a sister in full 50's matron headrest float past the window, heard old records playing and seen a hospital food tray floating in mid air.
I have never seen anything but in a room where we look after women who have lost their baby frequently on the night shift the emergency buzzer would go off. No one in there when the obs emergency team arrive...
Two ghosts in maternity at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Gateshead when I was training. One in the old ‘isolation’ ward previously used for infectious cases but by the 1990s no longer in use. I used the bed in there to snatch some shuteye if there was a sick patient in labour ward needing hourly review. The on call rooms were too far away. Midwives were horrified and described the ghost of woman who died of septic shock. I scoffed, but changed my tune when a freezing chill swept over me and the door slammed.
The ‘Grey Lady’ haunted a day unit apparently and midwives dreaded going in after dark to retrieve notes. I never saw her
I you want ghosts talk to the nurses. Many will tell you about the footsteps/door banging heard just before a death on their ward at night, or of the strange shadows and the no-go areas they will not venture in to. Its only the doctors who don't see the ghosts
I did a few locum nights at a hospital in Warrington many years ago. The first night, the room I was given to sleep in was part of a disused ward). I was told it was used for locums, rather than the doctors' mess. . I was woken in the night by noises and footsteps - nothing there. This happened all night. When asked to work there again, I said I would only do so if I could sleep in the doctors mess, and why. The HR department wasn't surprised - they said this was not the first time they had been told this and respected my request.
There have been 2 exorcisms on wards during my undergraduate and postgraduate career. The 1st was in Aberdeen and the 2nd was in Newcastle upon Tyne, the latter one being when I was working as an SHO on a general surgical ward. The story of the 2nd case was relayed to me by nursing staff several of whom had felt very uncomfortable and had felt negative feelings in a side room that had recently been vacated by a patient who was a medium. Some of the nurses were resting during their night shift on the bed in this side room and one nurse was woken by a strong pressure downwards on her chest whilst on the bed. On one occasion one nurse saw a ghostly fearful looking creature / person in the corner of the room.
Several years previously, unrelated to the above, I was made aware that there was known to be a ghost in the old part of the same hospital in Newcastle (but not in the same part as where the surgical ward was which was relatively newly built). This was of a nurse who walked below the level of the current floor. The nurse was said to have administered a fatal dose of morphine accidentally to a child.
Working at Manchester Royal Infirmary in the late 1980s, it was said to be not uncommon to hear the Sister on ward S6 doing her late night rounds. The story went that during the war S6 was destroyed in a bombing raid and she choose to stay at her post and was killed, S6 was never rebuilt but she was often heard from S4 below. I thought I heard her once, as did several of my colleagues at the same time...When I heard the news later it turned out there had been a minor earthquake at the time.
The butterfly suite on my labour ward is used for obstetric bereavements. The call buzzer will go off on night shifts when noone is in there. Most recently on midwife was restocking in there at about 6am. She had her back to the door and the sink. Suddenly the water came on full blast. Back in the handover room she looked grey....I rationalised perhaps she'd moved past the tap sensor. Then I remembered it's a big standard handle tap.
My hospital's been exorcised! A ghost of a roman centurion was seen swishing down a subterranean corridor down by the mortuary. (Subterranean for us, but road level for the roman road!). On a surgical oncall night years ago, my junior returned to the assessment unit looking pretty freaked out. He said "i think I've seen a ghost"....turns out, he was coming out of a urology ward and encountered a girl of about 5-6 in a red coat by herself. He asked if she was ok but was flustered, he turned back to the urology ward entrance to see if anyone was there to help but was only seconds....when he turned back, she was gone. Not anywhere to be seen down either direction of the long corridor!
Talk to the nurses on your next night shift. I’ve never been to a ward yet that didn’t have its own ghost story. Having said that I’ve spent years walking around by myself through the corridors at night and never seen anything. Hope, it stays that way - I’m working tonight!
The nurses in an intensive care unit where I used to work told me one night they had seen a nurse bending over a bed, each thought it was the other but it wasn't either of them , she was gone when they looked again and they were convinced they'd seen a ghost
As a doctor I have come across numerous ghost stories in hospitals, the admin area of the hospital I work in apparently has one and people didn't like to be there after dark.