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A Late Night Emergency

December 2006

About 25 years ago, I worked as an orderly on the overnight shift in a South Carolina hospital to put myself through school. The building we were in at the time was one of those WPA jobs from the Roosevelt era, and even though it was small and somewhat outmoded, it had been the only place for emergency services in our county for more than 40 years. But at the time this incident I'm writing about happened, a new, state-of-the-art hospital had just been finished a few miles down the highway, and while we weren't completely out of the picture, a lot of our services, including the emergency room, had been shifted to that site.

Like I say, I was working my way through school at the time, and my shift generally ran weeknights from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. There wasn't a whole lot to do after midnight, so sometimes after the shift supervisor had run out of creative ideas for make-work, and assuming our remaining patients were quiet and settled in for the night, she'd let me "relax" with my schoolwork in the employee lounge during the quiet of the wee hours.

The lounge was right next to the second floor nurses station.

One night I was in there catching up on some reading when I heard a loud crash from downstairs, almost like an I.V. rack had fallen over or something. I didn't think there was supposed to be anyone down there on the first floor. I poked my head around the door frame to see if anyone was in the nurses station, but it was empty, and I guess I kind of assumed someone had gone downstairs for something and made a mess. I figured sooner or later they were going to holler for me to come help clean it up anyway, so I left my books and went downstairs.

When I got down there, there weren't any lights on other than a few lit exit signs and whatnot. But I thought I heard something down at the far end of the old emergency services wing, a suite of rooms that were now being used for storage, or else kept empty.

I walked down the hall calling hello to what I assumed was my shift supervisor or one of the other two night-duty nurses who sometimes worked that shift. I didn't get an answer, but I noticed through the frosted glass in one of the doors that a light was on in this one certain room. I opened it, and I got the shock of my life when I saw a young black girl huddled in the corner, shivering like she was freezing, and bleeding all over the floor! She only looked in my direction for half a second before scrunching up her arms around her shoulders and staring back down at the floor, but I never will forget how scared she looked, and how weak and pale. I was too shocked to remember later exactly what I said to her, but I must have blurted out something about getting help and telling her to stay put.

I hustled upstairs as fast as I could. I figured somebody had dropped off an accident victim without realizing Emergency Services had moved to a different facility five minutes away. I've never felt my own heart beat as hard and as fast as it did right then. I was only 20, and I guess I had led a sheltered life, because I had never seen anything remotely like this. Here someone was bleeding to death, and without swift attention from a medical expert (which I most definitely was not), it looked to me like she was probably going to die!

I finally found Flossie, one of the night nurses, told her what was going on, and asked her to come with me downstairs. We went down there, turned on all the lights in the old wing, and went to the room where I thought I'd seen the girl. She wasn't there! And there wasn't a drop of blood anywhere on that floor! Okay, I figured I'd panicked and made a mistake about which room. Flossie and I moved down to the next room, the one right next to the one where I thought I'd seen the girl. The door wouldn't open at first - something heavy was blocking it. Turned out it was a stack of file boxes left there during the big house cleaning when they were phasing out our emergency room. But it was pretty clear that no one but me and Flossie had been in that room for a week or two, if not longer.

Flossie and I searched the rest of the rooms up and down that hall, and we never did find that girl, or anything else. After about ten minutes of this, Flossie gave me a short but blistering scolding (seasoned with her one pet expletive) and went back upstairs to whatever it was she normally did around there.
To this day, I'm not sure I can explain what happened. I don't live in the same state anymore, but that building is still there, only now some of my old buddies tell me it's been remodeled into apartments. I wonder if the people living there have any late-night emergencies like the one I encountered 25 years ago.

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