I touch dead people.
Or at least, I used to in college when I worked at the hospital in the Transportation Department.
It all started like this:
“You have to respect the deceased,” Mark said, flashing a little tease of a grin at me as he showed me how to dress the recently departed patient in front of us. “Always page a nurse to assist you. You shouldn’t move the patient by yourself, ” I heard him say, but I couldn’t concentrate. I kept getting lost in his crystal blue eyes.
“Then you place the tag on the toe like this,” I heard his voice say. I momentarily looked up from my fantasy. Oh yeah, dead people training.
It was called a cart call. It required walking into the cold sterile morgue and getting what was called the cart, a metal rolling table topped with a hard black leather cover. Inside was a body bag, a strap used to tie the deceased’s mouth closed, and a tag that we placed on the big toe of the right foot.
I averaged about four cart calls a week. In any hospital, people die every day, and the process after they took their last breath often began with me.
One night, two days before Halloween, I received such a call. I was warned by many of my co-workers to beware the week of Halloween because it often resulted in lots of pranks in the morgue and that I should be very careful should I get called into the house of the dead. It was 10:45, and my shift ended at 11:00. All I wanted to do was continue flirting with Brandon, but my two-way radio chirped, “71, come in.” (That was me, 71.)
“71, over.” I’m not even going to try and pretend that I didn’t like talking like a truck driver.
“Please take the cart to East 332.”
I looked up at Brandon who was grinning as he heard the call. “Looks like you have work to do,” he said with a smirk and raised one eyebrow.
I rolled my eyes and blew a stray hair out of my face and headed downstairs to the basement where the morgue was.
It was eerily quiet. I could hear my steps on the linoleum tile as I walked. I pushed the big metal door open and saw the cart there waiting for me. I pulled the top off to make sure someone wasn’t lying in there waiting to scare me and sighed with relief at the usual supplies.
I rolled the cart into the elevator, pushed “3” and headed to the room where the dead awaited me. It was 11:00 pm by this time, and my shift was ending, but the rule was once you received a call, you had to complete it before clocking out, so I met with Mrs. No Longer With Us and got to work.
I paged the nurse’s station knowing that it was shift change and that I would have to wait for someone to come assist me. All of my hospital friends were heading to the bar next door, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to flirt with Brandon or Mark, so I was more than a little anxious to get out of there. I looked down at Mrs. NLWU and realized she probably weighed eighty pounds. I could easily do this alone, and I didn’t feel like waiting twenty minutes for the nurses to decide who would be stuck dealing with the dead lady, so I looked at her and shrugged my shoulders.
“It’s just you and me tonight,” I said to her.
I slipped on my latex gloves before I untied her hospital gown from behind her neck and pulled it off of her body. She wore nothing else, which made my job easier. I decided since she was so petite to go ahead and move her to the cart before placing her in the bag. I walked to the other side of the cart, opened the bag and got it ready for her. Then I walked to the opposite side of the bed, climbed up on it with her and placed my arms under her, my left arm supporting her neck, and my right arm supporting her just below her bottom under her upper thigh. I leaned her up and scooted her to the cart. When I started to lay her head down, she let out a long, loud, moan.
I dropped her. Her head knocked on the metal cart banging three times. “Donk, donk, donk.”
I screamed. Loud. Horror movie style.
I ran to the pager on her bed and tried to calm my trembling hands as I hit the button at least twenty times. “Can I help you?” The nurse said from the speaker.
“She’s not dead! She’s not dead! She’s not dead! She’s not dead! She’s not dead!” I screamed into the pager.
“I’ll be right down,” he said. I recognized his British accent. Peter. Thank God.
I ran out into the hallway to wait for him, leaving The Talker in the room naked and alone.
He walked toward me, smiling.
“Is this some kind of a joke, Peter, because it’s not even a little bit funny?”
“No, darling. It’s not a joke. Tell me what happened.”
“She moaned. She’s not dead.” I rapidly shook my head, emphasizing the “not dead” part.
He grabbed my hand to pull me back into the room.
“I am NOT going back in there.”
“Come on,” he said with his smile. “I’ll explain while we get her fixed up.”
I resisted a little more but then followed him back into her quiet, now terrifying room.
“When she moaned, were you moving her.”
“Uh, huh.” I replied.
“Did you move her torso up and then lower it?”
“Yes.” I still stayed a good distance from The Talker. I could see her though, mouth completely agape, begging me to come closer so she could suck out my soul with her gigantic mouth.
“Did it sound like this? Aaaaaahhhhhhhhh,” He mimicked her perfectly.
“Mandi, she just let the air out of her lungs. When you moved her, you forced it out. You literally heard her last breath, or at least half of it. She’s dead. Completely”
“Would you care for some help getting her ready?” He asked and ushered me back toward the cart.
“I’d love some,” I said with relief feeling about two hundred pounds lighter.
We strapped her soul sucking mouth closed, tagged her toe, put her in the bag, zipped it up, and then I nervously headed to the elevator, downstairs to the basement, and walked her into the morgue. I placed her in drawer where she would wait for the coroner to take her to a funeral home, and started to leave. I turned toward the door and heard, “Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh.”
I jumped at least thirty feet into the air. Then someone grabbed me from behind.
I screamed. Loud. Horror movie style.
Then I turned around and punched Mark in the stomach. Hard.
The Talker really was dead, may she rest in peace, but once I was in the elevator, Peter called Mark and suggested he strike while my iron was sizzling. I may or may not have taken a tequila shot immediately upon entering the bar, and I hate tequila.
Happy Halloween, everybody.