R.H.D. Memorial Hospital.
Monday morning . . .
“The hospital,” Ricky says as we’re walking down a glossy hallway, “. . . it’s like a whole, self-contained city. It could be a country it’s so efficient. It has to be self-sustaining, with every possible event accounted for and figured into the design. And it’s always under construction. There are whole wings that used to be thriving, that are no longer accessible from the main hospital. They’re like ghost towns, now, hidden behind plastic and brick.
“. . . Walled off like they never existed,” he says eerily.
I’m dressed in my OR scrubs, again. This time I even have the slippers, the gloves, and a mask around my neck, just in case we enter a restricted clean area. Ricky thought that we should tour around the hospital looking at people who are in varying levels of sickness and suffering. You know, to see where the spooks congregate; what turns them on.
Ricky’s ideas, though zany and off-the-wall at times, usually make perfect sense.
The hospital was the ideal place to study the other side. Where better than a miniature city dedicated in handling the transition from the living to the darkness beyond?
Another reason this experiment was coming just at the right time was that my mind was stuck on this dead girl I kept seeing in my apartment. I wonder if she came with the apartment—someone else with problems like mine—or if she and I had some deeper connection.
Was she my own personal baggage, or remnants of the past somehow stuck in this county-funded living situation? I hope I haven’t been dragging her along for years and years. I wonder if I saw her before my life was erased. It’s hard enough for a family member to get to know an amnesia sufferer, so I can only imagine how difficult it could be for a ghost!
And I had another question that needed answering: Where did she figure in with the spooks and the Gatherers? I had considered giving Ms. Josephine a visit, but she had been quite specific about finishing the book before I returned to see her.
The first stop on our tour was to the chapel, where—no surprise—we didn’t see any spook activity. Just a quiet old guy praying for somebody he knew he’d probably never talk to, again.
As we were walking we discussed the possible scenarios that could be playing out. The first possibility is that the dead girl is from the same place as the spooks.
“That’s the most likely,” Ricky says as we follow signs to the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) and the NICU (Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit). “The dead chick, the spooks . . . they all seem connected. Elements of the same otherworldly fabric.”
As we enter the PICU I see doctors and nurses tending to sick and broken children, and I feel like a jerk just for being healthy around them. This whole hospital environment gives me the creeps, so I can only imagine how utterly frightening it must be to a 6-year-old.
Here, among these children, there are no spooks.
No dead people staring at me.
I ask Ricky if we’re going to the burn unit. I don’t know if I have a strong enough stomach for that, but he assures me that we can’t. The reason for this is that R.H.D. Memorial is only a class III trauma center. Usually, only hospitals with a class II trauma center rating or better will have full burn units.
Right now, he says, we’re on our way to Radiation-Oncology.
The cancer unit, I said.
“That’s right,” he replies, “. . . where the lead-lined rooms with x-ray cannons melt away your hair, and teeth, and immune system . . . and sometimes treat cancer.” He whispers, “I don’t think you’ll see any spooks there, either. Too much hope.”
Ricky has this theory that the different levels of people’s faith may be a predictor of spook activity. In the cancer ward, people who believe in chemotherapy, those kinds of people are full of desperate hope and unrealistic optimism.
I’m still on the fence on this theory.
But, sure enough, as we walk through the shorter hallways that make up the Radiation-Oncology center, there’s not a spook in sight. Not a ghost to be found. At least, not on my frequency. As we walk, I consider my second theory.
The girl, I say, she’s a ghost from my forgotten past. Somebody I once knew, haunting me for reasons only the cosmos can fathom. The more I see her, the closer I can get to those answers, or to her telling me them.
“So, in this theory,” he says as if we’re doing physics equations, “. . . the ghost of this girl is unrelated to the spooks?” His voice is rather skeptical.
I nod, Yes.
“So . . . if we subscribe to this theory, we assume that, one or the other—the dead chick, or the spooks—might not actually exist? I mean, one of them could be an illusion of your demented mind?”
I hadn’t thought about it that way, but he could be right. It’s quite possible that I could be hallucinating the girl, and seeing the spooks. Or the reverse. And really, it’s a tempting line of thinking, but it also raises too many other questions.
Ms. Josephine said that she knew of the spooks, and of the screamers—that’s what I’m calling the things that keep, well . . . screaming their asses off at me. But she—the guru psychic—said she knew of them. She hadn’t seen them, but she knew enough to warn me about them.
“The logical step, now, is to determine which group of invisible, supernatural entities have more credibility,” he said as he stopped at a water fountain and leaned over for a sip of water. I heard gulping sounds as I considered his words.
“Spooks,” he continued as he came up for air, “. . . more frequently seen, ergo, more credibility.”
Todd Steele would probably agree with Ricky on this one. And, reluctantly, so do I.
“So you could still have a brain tumor,” he said optimistically, knowing that I had so wanted this explanation to sum up all of the things I was seeing.
Thanks, I tell him. But he’s right. There would seem to be overwhelming evidence of some mental pathology on my part. At least, from an impartial third-party perspective. My theory of brain tumors and decaying grey matter is a recurring theme. And I had hoped for an answer like this. Something rational.
Me, I’d rather have a reasonable answer that kills me, than something uber-natural that I can’t wrap my mind around. Call me old-fashioned. Or new-fashioned, I’m not exactly sure which.
But then I remind him about all the progress we’ve made with the Book of Sighs, lately. And we agree that, though a convenient fit, the old nutbag-crazy boat just won’t float. As unhappy as it makes me admit this, I don’t think I’m loco.
At least, not yet.
This whole ordeal may eventually push me right over the edge of sanity.
As we walk past an open room I stop in my tracks holding my arm up. But it’s a false alarm. What I thought was a spook turned out to be a Pastor’s jacket, thrown over a chair while he counsels a sick woman. How’s that for irony.
I remark to Ricky about how quiet this hospital is, and I’m not just talking about spook activity. For a house of death, its halls and rooms seem calm and tranquil.
He explains that this particular facility is more or less a local hospital that services the communities of Farmer’s Branch, and Carrollton—suburbs of Dallas County.
“People who are really messed-up, they get CareFlighted to Parkland, where just the Emergency Department is nearly as big as this entire hospital.”
He says that if you scrape your knee, you go to R.H.D. If you have an ax sticking out of your head, you mosey on over to Parkland. And with something as minor as an ax wound, you’ll have to wait in line for a couple of hours.
As we make our way through the SNU (Skilled Nursing Unit), Ricky explains, “This is where the hospital makes the lion’s share of its money. People here can’t live in nursing homes because they’re too reliant on medical attention. Really, they cannot leave the hospital at all.”
While he gives me the ins and outs of the SNU, I wonder. I wonder what it would be like to constantly watch people die. If I was a doctor, I don’t think that I could deal with the knowledge that hundreds of people’s lives were hanging on my decisions. If I have a bad day at work, and I make some rash decisions . . . people die. If I stay up late one night—watching House or ER, or whatever it is doctors watch—and I neglect one, tiny, little thing . . . people die. Doctors can’t have a bad day.
The doctors and nurses and specialists that wield this power, I wonder if they think about it that much? Or does it eventually lose its gravity. Are they so used to seeing death that they get emotionally vaccinated against it? Numb and indifferent. Desensitized to the passing of life that unfolds in front of them on a daily basis.
The absence of culpability.
The transition of life from color to black-n-white.
Death Lite. Same great death, half the emotional calories!
Ricky says we should head on over to the ED (Emergency Department), referred to commonly as the ER. “Let’s cut to the chase!”
And then we hear, “Dr. Blue to CCU. Dr. Blue to CCU,” beam over the intercom in a pleasant female voice.
“Somebody’s coding,” Ricky said quietly. “Dr. Blue is the signal for the Code team to gather.”
On our way we come to a large elevator—big enough for a college football team—I feel this little ping in my chest and then the elevator light blinks several times as the massive steel doors slide apart. Two nurses back quickly out of the elevator, clearing a path for the gurney, and they behave as if like they don’t have a lot of time.
As they grabbed onto the hand rails that surrounded the rolling death bed, two spooks scurried out into the hall jumping up and down like they’re on crystal-meth. And they’re looking up trying to catch a peek at whoever is on the bed.
They’re here, I tell Ricky under my breath.
The rest of the nurses and several doctors—the Code team—race out of the elevator with the gurney, and my jaw drops nearly to the floor as three or four more spooks run out, trailing behind the bluing, choked body of Dr. Robert “Call me Bob” Smith.
My caseworker, he’s dying.
There’s a nurse actually kneeling on the gurney doing chest compressions. Another man—the respiratory tech—is intubating Dr. Smith. He’s breathing for him using an endotracheal tube, and a bag-valve mask, being his only source of air.
A tall woman is starting an IV while she jogs along.
And all of this is being directed by a doctor who is following ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) protocols. Ricky says that’s very important when it comes time for lawsuits and stuff.
“That’s Doctor Smith!” Ricky blurts.
And I have no words.
“Didn’t you say the spooks were sizing him up at your meeting the other day?”
I nod slowly, deciding that Ricky and I don’t need to entertain any of my other scenarios. The possibility that I’m imagining all of this is all but gone.
This is happening.
Ricky nudges me as the doctors, nurses, my suffocating caseworker, and a whole gaggle of spooks run down the hallway towards the CCU (Cardiac Care Unit). He elbows me and says, “Hey, Jack . . . if you ever see those spooks fitting me for my death suit, you had better fucking tell me. And I mean, that very second!”
Staring down the hallway watching all the excitement unfold, I tell Ricky, “We need to see this thing play out.” I look at him very seriously, “. . . all the way out.”
And though neither of us say it, we were both thinking about the Gatherers.