This story is by Lorraine Hurley and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I felt like I had been dreaming on and off all night and visiting some dark places. When I opened my eyes and had the feeling of really being conscious though, the frightful image of where I was didn’t go away. My first thought was genuinely…am I dead?
I was in a morgue. I wasn’t on a table thankfully but sitting with my back up against the wall of steel fridge doors. This single observation gave me some hope that I wasn’t being prepped for burial anytime soon but was still extremely unnerving. I felt around me…. the floor, the fridge doors, my clothes. I was in a patient gown. This is not a good sign, I thought.
Stripped of my watch and phone and with the room illuminated only by the emergency lighting, I headed for the main double door. As I pushed against it and fumbled with the handle. It didn’t give but remained closed. I realised you needed a swipe card to get in or out and a thought occurred to me…. how often does someone want out of here that isn’t hospital staff? The many reasons why I was in this place started to fill my head and then were taken over by how to escape. I tried everything but there was really only one way in or out. The room was, as expected I suppose, clinically constrained. No windows, minimal gaps in the walls save for small vents for the air-conditioning to float in. Sterile.
I sat. Silent for a long time, it seemed. I struggled with the idea of screaming knowing I was surrounded by dead people. The thought of someone replying sent the hair on my forearm straight up as if affected by static electricity. No no…. just sit and wait. Someone will come. Surely.
So, there I was, sitting quietly aware of the silence and why it was quiet, and I became frightened. My self- talk was my company and my mantras were about keeping my head level. As long as it was silent, I felt I would be ok until someone came through the door to release me. This thought alone calmed me slightly until it happened. I heard her. It was a definite groan. It wasn’t powerful but rather slight and I guess feeble. One of the gurneys that had a sheet covering what I could see was a tiny female figure, perhaps a small woman, seemed to be the source. I dare not move. It reminded me of when someone is falling asleep and they jerk themselves awake slightly before finally dropping off. This was terrifying and I felt my heart race. As I scanned the length of the body, a huge gasp for air erupted under the sheet and the body sat upright as if emerging from too long under water. I couldn’t help it this time…. I screamed! Then she did… or roared maybe. Then, as the sheet fell away from her, I saw her under the dim light. She was a little woman, the paleness of her skin made her look older, but she was just a week shy of 62 I would learn. We screamed together, she looked at me. We screamed again.
It was the most surreal moment of both our lives. She asked rapid questions. “Where are we? Why are we here?”, before I could even form a word myself. I informed her that I had woken sitting against the fridge. She did not like it when I said I thought she was dead as I pointed to all the other bodies under sheets in the room. As her senses started to reboot, she grabbed at the sheet and covered herself, now aware that a young man was looking at her naked body and also probably because it was only 4 degrees Celsius. I too was now more aware of the cold. I folded my arms and dug my chin into my chest.
She looked at me and said calmly, “I was going in for heart surgery. I can’t explain it, but I saw myself. You know, like I was floating over my own body”. She paused for a second as if watching a replay in her mind. “I watched as they tried. They were trying for a while. You know, to bring me back”. She looked down at her body then tried to move off the gurney. I instinctively jumped up to help her down and as I made contact with her cold, cold hands, I realised the truth. She was not dead. She thanked me and sat on the floor next to where I had been.
I chatted with her for a while, explaining the situation I had found myself in, and she concluded I had probably been sleep walking. I had a history of doing it, so my rational brain was ok with the idea. We then agreed to the fact that if you were behind those steel drawers, you were probably “on ice” and therefore part of a mysterious death. If you were on a gurney, you were either just recently autopsied or about to be. We thought she was the latter.
“Lydia” she said making the handshake gesture. I shook her hand. It was truly very tiny. I didn’t have to guess her height and weight as it was right there in her file. We grabbed it from the filing cabinet to pass the time. 5’1 and barely over 6 and a half stone.
She began to tell me about her life as the colour started to come back into her cheeks. I grabbed her a jacket left on the back of a chair from the mortician presumably. She was a grandmother apparently, from two kids of her own. She was also married. Her husband, who she claimed would not know how to “do a darn thing” in the house without her, would be mourning her now. The thought made us both sad. I got up again and tried the door and screamed out this time for help. Weirdly having Lydia alive in here with me gave me the courage to make noise and lots of it. No one came though. I didn’t realise it, but it was somewhere between 3am and 6am and this is the time when activity down in the morgue is unlikely. Unless of course some unfortunate car crash victim arrives. Apparently, this is the most dangerous time to drive. No poor bastards tonight thankfully, I thought.
Lydia and I chatted for what seemed like hours. She had been a nurse in her career so her medical knowledge served her well in concluding that she had auto revived herself. The Lazarus effect as it’s known. When the doctors are performing CPR, they are pumping air in and sometimes this can expand in the heart and trigger the heart to revive itself after the doctors have stopped. It can happen 10 minutes later or in Lydia’s case, about two hours later. We covered all the big topics…. Politics, religion, family and education until we both grew quiet again. Our silence matched those around us as Lydia started to fall asleep against me. Drained from her experience, she slept while reassuringly snoring just a little.
At precisely 6.01am Monday 13th April 2015, the mortuary attendant arrived by swiping in the double door and shrieked as his eyes were met by the sight of Lydia sleeping on the floor of the morgue. With pink in her cheeks, covered by a sheet then a jacket, he could see she was very much alive. He woke her up gently while paging for assistance from the upstairs ward. It didn’t take him and the other staff long to figure out what had happened, and they applauded her. “What a miracle!” said one attendant followed by “I never thought I would see this on my watch” from the resident Doctor on ward. This banter continued as they helped Lydia into a wheelchair and covered her in one of those life preserving metallic blankets that is supposed to prevent hypothermia. “Wait wait!” she exclaimed. “Where is Daniel? He was asleep right here last night”. The hospital staff looked at each other blankly then the head mortician looked at Lydia and said that a young man of maybe 28 years old fitting her description of him was known to frequent the morgue sometimes. It may have been him.
“Well where did he go?” asked Lydia. His company gave me strength last night, she thought to herself. She was thankful for his conversation and his shoulder to rest on.
“I’m sorry to tell you. He died about 10 years ago ma’am. Car crash. He is known to all of us as Patient 1313”.