Night Shift Nightmares

This is my final post in my series saying goodbye to the Alabama State Psychiatric Hospitals.  This post is one I wrote when I was working the Night shift on a psychiatric floor.  Sadly, psychiatric floors are becoming fewer and far between these days making the closure of the Alabama State Hospitals even sadder.   I wrote this a couple of years ago when everything was quiet and the lights were out in the hospital. 

I'm working the night shift tonight. I don't usually work the night shift, but I thought I'd do something different this week. At night, when most of the staff have fled the psychiatric floor and you are left alone with two nurses and a few patients, you hear things you would never notice during the day. They day is bedlam and all the noises blend together, but in the quiet every rattle becomes distinct. I was doing an intake with a patient in their room when I noticed a strange and unaccountable noise that sounded like a large metal object being drug over the door and wall. The noise was very loud and it almost made me drop my clipboard. I asked the patient what the noise was. They responded that the noise came and went and that noises like that have filled the room since they've been here. The patient had assumed it was all in their head. I assured them it was not and they were very relieved.

I had heard that noise before in that room. I had been doing a treatment plan with another patient and I had thought it was another patient dragging something on the wall, but tonight all the other patients were in the group room. Tonight, the halls are empty and the nurses are eating dinner. Of course, I know that several months ago we had a sentinel event. A sentinel even is an event that makes hospital reconsiders their policies and rewrite their rules. We had a patient kill themself in the very room I had been sitting and listening to odd noises in. There had been a thorough investigation into the incident and it was determined that the staff had done all they could for the poor woman, but she had been determined and creative. I am proud of where I work. We have some of the best staff and the best reputation in the area, but on psychiatric units, sometimes bad things happen.

Very few here believe in the supernatural. They are all people of medicine and think ghosts are the product of mental illness driven magical thinking. They enjoy the stories but they would never notice the odd noises. But sitting here alone in the dark, I have to wonder what is in that room? Does that unhappy woman linger in the shadows making her presence known only to the patients? Is her ghost still here struggling to find the happiness she couldn't find in life?


How sad! I would hate spending time in that room. Unlike your coworkers, I believe very much in these things. I don't like being places where negative events have occurred! I feel bad for the patient, who thought they were the only one hearing the noises. At least you made them feel better about that. It would be nice if they could be moved to another room!
Jessica Penot said…
Justine, it is sad. One of the hardest parts of working in mental health is dealing with situations like this. I've always worked with crisis management and suicide is always a possibility when you are working with people who are teetering on the edge. It is tragic. The ray of light is that most of the time we save people. Everyone on the floor I worked at, has a multitude of success stories and that is what keeps you going back to work. I felt bad for the patient too, but she didn't think it was a ghost so she wasn't scared. She just didn't like the noise. I wish we could have moved her to another room, but psychiatric beds are so scarce in Alabama now that just getting a bed is very difficult and there are rarely open beds for room shifts that aren't caused by medical necessity.
Katherine said…
It breaks my heart that no one could have help her. I hope that she's at peace. Its very sad to hear them closing of Alabama State Psychiatric Hospitals. Where are these patients going to get the help they need. It does make me wonder though did she hear the same noise?
Jessica Penot said…
That is a good question. I have no idea and it is possible something natural caused the noise. Maybe the place has bad plumbing. I'm not sure where people are going to go to get help. We'll probably see an increase in homelessness and incarceration like we did after the deinstitutionalization of the 1970s.
Julie Ferguson said…
Those psych hospitals are the creepiest. I have investigating one on my bucket list.

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