By: Ivy Patdu
This story happened to Lei, a physician friend of mine in a well-known hospital in Manila. She specialize in ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) and part of her responsibilities was to have 24-hour duties attending to patients in the wards and the emergency room. We know the hospital as a place where the sick gets healing and treatment. It is, however, not uncommon that doctors could not always save their patients and the hospital inevitably becomes witness to a fairly large number of dying people. inevitably, hospital staff and physicians have their own ghost stories to tell. Lei, my doctor friend, refused to believe their eerie stories.
Lei was on 24-hour duty one night. The senior physicians ordered her to go up to the operating room complex, made up of 30 or so smaller operating rooms. It occupied a whole floor. It was an hour before midnight and the nurse on duty had already gone home. There were ongoing operations in the left wing and so Lei had to go to the opposite side. She was alone in the deathly silent right wing. Soon, her imagination took hold of her and she began recalling the ghost stories about the operating rooms in the right wing.
One in the particular haunted her that very moment. Supposedly, the nurse on duty was about to head home when she remembered that she forgot her cell phone. She heard it ring and she hurried towards it. As she reached for her phone, it stopped ringing. She noted that no number had registered , but she dismissed it as maybe an international call or a blocked number. She was about to leave, her cell phone safely kept in her pocket, when she noticed a light in one of the operating rooms. All emergency operations at night were done in the left wing and so she thought that someone must have left the light on. She was surprised to see a thin old lady there, lying on her side, naked on the operating table, her back to the nurse. Was there going to be an operation and she was not informed?
The nurse walked towards the patient. There was no one else around, which was not standard protocol in emergency operations. She noticed that the patient’s white hair had blood clots and that her skin was brown and dry. “Lola , excuse me, are you here for an operation?” She tentatively asked. The old lady did not turn but the nurse saw her breathing softly . As the nurse reached out to tap the patient, the old woman suddenly turned. The nurse shrieked, her shrill cry echoing through the empty halls of the operating room. She closed her eyes but the image of the woman was imprinted in her mind.
The old lady had a blank face-a brown sphere with the nose barely visible. She did not have eyes, nostrils of a mouth. She was just an old naked body with blood clots in her hair and an empty face. The nurse closed her eyes and screamed until she felt someone shaking her shoulders. When she opened her eyes, she saw that it was the roving guard that was shaking her. Trembling, she pointed to the old woman but there was no one on the operating table. As Lei recalled this urban legend, her heart pounded louder and faster. She didn’t believe in ghosts , she reminded herself, but she swore that if an operating room light was on, she wouldn’t dare check on it. And so she went on her way, did her job, checked the equipment, and almost ran back down to the wards.
Only when she got to the wards did she breathe a sigh of relief she didn’t know she was holding. How could she scare herself like that? she berated herself. She needed a cigarette, she decided.
Smoking, even though she knew it was a health hazard, had been her only vice, believing it to relieve her of the stressful hospital life. It wasn’t allowed in the hospital but she knew of several hidden spots where she could light up. She reported to her seniors regarding the equipment and told them she was taking a break. She asked an intern to accompany her-not that she was afraid, but because she wanted some company. The two of them went to her secret spot by the administration offices, which was at the end of a short hallway hear the wards. At night, no one passes there. The lights were off, however, and they had to make do with whatever illumination that came from the wards.
They took out their cigarettes and Lei took out her lighter. Only after several tries did it light, and the ensuing flame cast weird shadows around them. When they had smoked a couple of puffs, Lei told the intern about the story of the operating room and they both had a good laugh.
It was then that they noticed a man walking towards them. They weren’t sure if he had come from one of the offices, and they were afraid that he might be part of the hospitals administrations. Lei and the intern quickly put out their cigarettes. When he came near, they saw that he was middle-aged and was wearing ordinary clothes. He was smiling.
Lei then thought that he might be a snatcher, as there had been reports of one running around. She refused to think that it might be a ghost. She felt her throat go dry and her heart beat in a different rhythm.
But the man seemed normal, especially when he asked if he could borrow a lighter to light his cigarette. His voice seemed a bit hoarse, but it was friendly.
Lei lent him his lighter and he lighted up.
“Thank you,” the old man said softly as he gave back her lighter. Since Lei and the intern had already put out their cigarettes, they decided to go back to the wards. They saw the man continuing to smoke as they walked away. “He’s scary, ” Lei whispered to the intern. The intern joked that Lei had gone pale when the man approached them.
They were inside the wards when Lei’s cell phone began ringing. She took the call, which turned out to be the junior physician in the emergency room. A patient complaining of breathing difficulties had just been wheeled in. The junior physician had reviewed the charts and the patients was assessed to need an emergency tracheostomy, This procedure was an operation where they had to quickly cut a hole in the patient’s neck and insert a tube to secure the airway to make the patient able to breathe. This was usually done when the patient has a throat or airway obstruction.
Lei got her operating instruments and ran to the emergency room, with the intern trailing behind her. When she reached the ER five minutes later, Lei was distraught to learn that the patient had already expired, his relatives grieving around him. She took the junior physician aside and gave him orders regarding the death certificate, which he would fill up. She learned that the patient had been diagnosed a few months ago with cancer of the throat but he never followed up on treatment. She was about to console the relatives when another commotion occurred.
The intern that had been trailing behind Lei suddenly fainted and nurses were rushing to her side. The intern was revived within seconds and Lei was already beside her. “Are you okay?” she asked the intern.
The intern weakly answered her, almost in a whisper, “Look at the patient, doctor.”
Lei saw that the patient that had just died was the same middle-aged man who had borrowed a lighter from her a few minutes ago. Except now he had the ashen face of death. After that night, Lei quit smoking. For some reason, her lighter was also missing and she concluded that she must have misplaced it or it fell when she was running towards the emergency room. In any case, she didn’t need it anymore. After all, smoking is really bad for you.