It was 11:30 p.m. on a rainy Friday night. I had just given in to my scheduler’s pleas and agreed to cover a night shift in Pediatrics. The secretary looked up from her computer as I approached the nursing station. Then:
“You’re late,” sneered the charge nurse. Before I could answer, she shoved a packet of papers in my face.
My load was heavy. I had four patients all to myself, total care. One of them was a three-day-old, full-term infant male, born with gastroschisis and only one minimally functioning kidney, left to die in a room. I was only to provide supportive care: keep him comfortable until he passed. There was no family involved. The other three patients were fresh post-ops from earlier that day, all in the same room.
I was kicking myself for coming in. It was going to be a long night, but I needed the money. The poor gastroschisis baby was screaming a blood-curdling cry in his crib. To soothe him, I injected his prescribed morphine through his IV. He began to calm down and fall asleep. At least for now, he was out of his misery and quiet. I made sure his vital signs were normal and quickly went to assess my post-op patients across the hall.
Before I knew it, it was four o’clock in the morning and time to take the last vital signs for the shift. I was in the middle of changing an abdominal dressing when I heard the screeching cry again. The baby was awake and in pain; it had been three hours since his last pain med. Meanwhile, my other patient’s IV was beeping “occlusion.” How I hated that sound. Silently, I wished for some help.
Suddenly the baby’s crying ceased. I looked across the way to his room and saw someone hunched over his crib. Thankfully, one of the nurses stopped in to help. I finished the dressing change, cleared the occlusion and went to check on the baby.
“Hello?” I said into the room, but no one responded. The baby was smiling, staring at the ceiling. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I left the room and walked out to the nurses’ station, where the charge nurse was busy making the morning assignment.
“Did you medicate my baby with the gastroschisis?” I asked with a slight quiver in my voice.
“What?” she said, looking up from her papers with a frown.
“I saw someone in the room with the baby…was that you?” I urged.
“No, you must be seeing things!” she said, continuing on with her work.
Confused, I proceeded with closing my charts for the shift—until a mother of one of my patients approached me, disheveled and wide-eyed.
“There is a little girl walking around—did you see her?” she whispered.
“Um, no. Everyone seems to be asleep,” I assured her.
“I saw a little girl. She was skipping through the corridor by herself. I’m afraid she’ll get hurt!” she insisted. “She was wearing a little dress that went to her knees and some lacey socks with Mary Janes.”
“Okay, I’ll check into it.”
As she turned to leave, I asked the charge nurse if we had any little girl patients on the unit.
“No!” she scowled. “That mother is crazy!”
I decided to walk through the corridor myself to check.
Suddenly there was a squeaking noise, accompanied by footsteps! I sucked in my breath and jumped back, startled to see one of the cleaning ladies pushing her cart.
“Ay, dios mio!” she said as she grabbed her chest. She was equally startled.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” I breathed a sigh of relief. “I was looking for a little girl. Have you seen her?”
“Oh, si! Es la niÃ±a! The little girl!” she said with wide eyes. She didn’t speak much English.
“So, there is a little girl. Is she a patient?”
“Ay no, she no es real!” she stated. “Fantasma…es un ghost! La niÃ±a, she died five years ago. Cis…Cis febros…?” she shook her head, trying to say the word in English.
“Cystic fibrosis?” I said hesitantly.
“Uh-huh! Si, she was so beautiful, so happy, but no mama. The nurses were her mama! They give her dress, beautiful socks and shoes. She died here in that room. Pero, she no want to pass.”
“Pass?” I said, confused.
“Si, con El seÃ±or!” she stated as she did the sign of the cross, kissed her right hand and looked up to the ceiling. “She love the nurses!”
Suddenly, I heard my baby screeching again. He was awake and in pain.
“She like the baby.” The cleaning lady smiled as she looked down the hallway.
Worried, I ran to the baby’s room. My hands were shaking as I stood outside his door, listening. Silence. Slowly, I peered into the room. Hovering above the baby was a translucent figure. The early light peered through the window shade, illuminating the outline of a little girl wearing lacey socks and Mary Jane shoes.
The baby stared up at her, followed her with his eyes and smiled.