Mortician Madness

All the Halloween fuss and bother of the last few days transported me back to a previous life in which I was a nurse.  In 1976 I was at a hospital much in need of repair to the fabric of the buildings.  So, what possible relevance can that simple fact have to the story, you’d be forgiven for asking?  Between the ground and lower ground floors was a narrow staircase, accessed through a windowless door and which had about 30 steps, bound on each side by solid walls.  At the bottom, there was another solid door before moving into what was essentially the basement.  The staircase was lit by one electric lightbulb.  It wasn’t a pleasant few moments descending into the bowels of the building.  On this lower level was housed the mortuary.

 With a mortuary comes a mortician.  The hospital mortician was an eccentric looking person who quite put the wind up me.  Now, I freely admit this might be caused by association because I am phobic about such matters.  This man sensed my discomfort and homed in on me whenever he could.  Late one night, I had to enter the hospital’s underbelly to visit another department housed down there.  I opened the door and began my descent, emotionally on ‘red alert’.  Horror seized me as a hand slipped over mine from behind and a voice whispered in my ear “Are you coming to see me”?  Moving silently and undetected, the mortician had slipped in through the door without my knowledge and crept up behind me.  Every cell in my body screamed in alarm as I swung around to find myself almost colliding with a cruelly laughing face.  I shot down the remaining stairs and ran to my destination.  I could still hear laughter following me.

Some weeks later, in the Sister’s office for early morning handover, I sat awaiting an update and my instructions for the day.  My heart literally jumped in my chest and I felt I’d been kicked in the stomach when HE walked in.  He never came to the wards unless to collect someone who’d moved on to higher things.   All the ward curtains would be drawn to shield patients from seeing the departure.  I thought it was probably worse imagining what was going on from behind closed curtains, than seeing the reality.  But, as a lowly student, who was I to question time-served procedures?  Everyone was present and correct and enjoying breakfast, so why was he here?  Apparently, he needed someone to help him for the day.  NO, not me, I repeatedly said to myself.  I was gripped by unadulterated terror at 7.45am on a Thursday morning.  As if reading my mind, HE swung around and pointed directly at me, saying: “I’ll take her”.   My protestations were loud and heartfelt.  He was amused, Sister wasn’t.  I couldn’t move.  I wouldn’t move.  I knew I looked foolish.  It didn’t matter.  I wasn’t going with him.  No punishment could be worse than assisting the grinning mortician.

After what seemed an age, the Ward Sister took pity on me but I knew I had some explaining to do.   Oh, I explained alright, about being stalked down the stairs and about the way he laughed every time he saw me.  I know it was just fun to him, or some perverse pleasure, but it was deeply damaging to me.  He couldn’t understand my fear and enjoyed pursuing me.  I was 20 and he in his 50s.

When I met a friend’s husband who was scared witless by a feather, I knew exactly how he must have felt . . .

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