Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thomas Memorial Hospital, South Charleston

From The Charleston Daily Mail, 23 January 1955

Thomas Memorial Hospital officially opened on Monday, December 9, 1946 after a shortage of hospital space in the area led to the need for a new facility. At opening, the facility was still short-staffed, especially in regards to nurses, preventing the initial opening of the 2nd Floor North Wing. D.B. Benedict was elected president of the Board of Trustees, and A.L. Bailey, administrator for the hospital. The chief of staff was Dr. J. Ross Hunter, and Mrs. Mary B. Whitten was named superintendent of nurses.

Thomas Memorial was named in honor of Herbert J. Thomas, Jr. Thomas was a Marine killed in action in the Pacific Theater. He was the first West Virginian to be named a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient (a title he received posthumously) for throwing himself atop a grenade in order to save his fellow soldiers. Thomas was a native of South Charleston, and is buried in nearby Sunset Memorial Park.

Today, Thomas Memorial has expanded exponentially from the original 35 beds made public in December 1946. It is a not-for-profit facility, which boasts many firsts, including the first hospital in WV to provide a nursery for premature babies, and the first in the state to allow fathers in the delivery room.

This family-friendly facility may also have a ghost. Nurses often report that the death of a patient is marked by a mysterious blue orb of light seen bouncing down the hall, and either into, or out of, the patient's room. And, as in many hospitals, there are also reports of call buttons being pressed in empty rooms, especially those where a patient has just died, and even the occasional report of an apparition of a recently deceased patient.

I may have also had my OWN experience at Thomas Memorial's former maternity ward. On August 11th, I was barely 29 weeks gestation, and went into my doctor's office for a routine visit. On a whim, I mentioned a minor symptom I had been having, so a pelvic exam was ordered. To my surprise (and chagrin) I was dilated a full centimeter, and sent immediately over to Thomas for overnight observation.

I was having some minor contractions, and given medication for them, but the big thing was...a trans-vaginal ultrasound showed that I had an EXTREMELY incompetent cervix. At that point in pregnancy, a normal cervix should have been about 4-6 centimeters thick; mine was 1.6cm. This was on a Tuesday.

Herbert J. Thomas
Another ultrasound was ordered for Friday, and I was admitted to the hospital to stay until then. In the meantime, the contractions continued...and worsened...with a vengeance. At one point, I was having contractions every two minutes for a period of over 8 hours. The oral medication and the shots they were giving me weren't doing anything to stop them, and the ward was on alert that I could be giving birth that day, and would possibly have to be transferred to CAMC, which has a better equipped nursery for extreme preemies.

As a last resort, they brought out what they called the "Big Guns." They hooked me up to the magnesium by IV.

The magnesium and I did NOT get along, lol. It makes most people extremely ill, and I had all those symptoms (plus a catheter since you're too weak to stand up and go to the bathroom on this medication), but I also started having a lot of trouble with breathing. I was only on the mag for about 24 hours before they decided that it wasn't doing enough good to keep me on it, risking serious damage to my heart and lungs.

The mag was definitely one of the lowest points in what would become a three week hospital stay. Physically, I was in bad shape. I had a constant blood pressure cuff on, the IV, the two fetal monitors, the finger heart monitor, the catheter, and the TED hose and SCD pump on my legs. I was hooked up at every imaginable point, which made the vomiting quite uncomfortable. Plus, I was having trouble breathing, was flushed, and my blood pressure was extremely low, making me pretty dizzy.

My mental state wasn't any better. Even the Zoloft couldn't completely erase the depression and anxiety I was feeling. The guilt was the worst part...its hard to deal with the idea that there could have been something I could have done differently to prevent all this...and its hard to realize that even though I had never planned on having children, my body is just not made to even have babies. I was also terrified...I was terrified that I'd deliver early and that my baby would be unhealthy, or suffer a lot of problems throughout life.

I was really struggling with the thoughts of just giving up versus doing everything I could to give my baby the best chance possible. As I lay in my hospital bed weeping silently, I heard the door to my private room click open. Thinking it was a nurse coming to check up on me, I wiped my tears away, and looked up. No nurse had walked in, but that doesn't mean that I was alone.

Movement behind the privacy curtain drew my attention. After a few minutes, I figured I was seeing and hearing things, and began to turn away. That's when I saw Maw Maw. She was standing slightly behind the curtain, almost peeking out from behind it. Her smiling image slowly faded, but instantly, I felt better. I felt I had the strength to get through whatever was thrown at me, but also felt for the first time that me and the baby were really going to be okay.

Maw Maw wasn't the only person who came to visit me in the hospital. In another completely different room, I had a nightly visitor. Every night I was in that room, I would wake up at least twice during the night, or simply just look over while awake and see a shadowy image of a man standing beside my bed, just watching me. This image never scared me, and I came to expect it. The bathroom in this room also would never stay shut. I'd shut it each night because the light wouldn't go off in there, and every time I woke up, the door would be wide open. Sometimes I could hear it opening, but never was able to catch it with my eyes.

And it might have been the drugs, but I SWEAR...Cat, my cat who had died in February, came to visit as well!  I was in a semi-private room at the time, when I looked over at the partially ajar door and just happened to see a cat-sized shadow slip into the room and disappear. Later that evening, I was watching TV when I felt the sensation of a cat jumping up onto the bed and curling up behind my knees, just like Cat always did when he was alive. 
Lastly, I think I had a ghostly nurse. I was in the hospital for 21 days, and got to know ALL the nurses on the OB ward. However, one night, an elderly woman came in around midnight. She introduced herself as my nurse and told me she'd be taking care of me that night. I remember thinking that it was odd that I had never seen her before, and also, I thought to myself that she was REALLY kinda old to be working still as a nurse.

What was also weird was that she really didn't do anything. She didn't take my vitals, or bring me my medicine...my regular night nurse did all that. All this woman did was come in, introduce herself, and talk to me. She asked me some questions about the baby, and just really tried to ease my anxiety about being in the hospital, reassuring me that the baby was going to be just fine. She came in that one time that night, and I never saw her again.

On a hilarious note...I told my dad about this and he immediately asked..."Was she dressed in an old-time uniform?" I told him no, she was dressed in just basic scrubs, but asked him why he asked that. When my dad was in Thomas for a few days for surgery, he awoke at 2 am one morning to see a nurse wearing the standard uniform for nurses popular in the 1950s/1960s. Thinking he had died, or at the very least, was seeing a ghost, he was VERY relieved to find out that this woman, who had to be in her 70's at least, was some type of semi-retired nursing administrator who insisted on wearing what she considered a "proper" nursing uniform, lol.

It can be easily argued that what I experienced was simply my imagination.  It could have been the drugs; it could have been the anxiety; it could have been the strange sleep schedule combined with hypnagogia.  But I'm not the only person who has experienced weird stuff at this hospital.  Are all of these reported incidents the products of overworked, over-imaginative hospital staff...or the last goodbyes to them by the patients they so lovingly cared for in their final hours?

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