01 Feb I Think a Hospital Elevator Took Me to the Backrooms
I’m sure many of you have read about “noclipping” out of reality and into the Backrooms since the legend is in vogue right now. I’ve experienced something similar but I think it may fall into a category of its own and I wonder if anyone else has come across anything like it. A few weeks ago I entered a floor of a building that should not exist, a floor-between-floors so to speak and I think I’m pretty lucky to have made it out. So, here goes I guess.
I don’t work in a large hospital so it didn’t take me long to figure out the layout of the entire building. With my line of work it doesn’t take long to learn the entire building anyway; which elevators are fastest, where the secret stairwells are, and the funny feeling when someone is about to code. Saturdays are actually pretty calm as most major procedures are scheduled during the week so there are only really ever emergent cases to worry about on weekends. That’s how I came to have one of the normally very in demand elevators all to myself, a welcome relief not to have to wait.
Now I should note that some parts of the hospital structure are quite old and pushing 100 years and the elevators, while not as old, are certainly showing their age. They squeak, they groan, they rumble, they shake, they start and stop suddenly, and sometimes take you to floors you never hit the button for. But all of that is fine. You get used to the quirks and learn not to worry about the drawn-out metallic shrieks because they always do their job, at least they did until today.
I was riding one of the older elevators down a few floors to pick up a patient and watching the number slowly counting down. It looks like one of those 80s alarm clocks with the blue alphanumeric display plus a little triangle arrow pointing up or down. 5, 4, 3, and then a bit of a lurch followed by the usual metal-on-metal I hear a few dozen times a day in my rides up and down the building before it stopped suddenly. The display flickered back and forth between 3 and 2, flashed a few weird symbols, finally showing the letter K with both the up and down arrows lit at the same time. And it just sat there for I don’t know how long before the bell finally dinged. It wasn’t the cheerful ring of arriving in the lobby but a low, hollow sound like striking a key on a badly out of tune piano. The doors slid open slowly as if it took the motor a great effort and I saw the elevator was out of alignment with the floor by about half a foot so that I would have to step up and out into the hall. It was then I made the choice that I’m pretty sure saved my life. I reached over to the panel, grabbed the red STOP knob, and put the elevator on hold.
The first thing that you will notice if you ever have the misfortune to end up on Floor K is the smell. As I took the step up into this hallway I was hit with an overwhelming scent of bleach like walking into a wall of odor. The first breath felt like poison. The second thing you’ll notice is how bright it is. The fluorescent lights are blinding white, the walls are painted white, the linoleum is white and polished to a mirror finish. I took my first steps and heard them echo on endlessly down a hall that seemed to go forever in either direction. I took in a deep breath, almost choking on the sterile air, and set off away from the elevator door.
I don’t know how many of you have been in older hospitals but they tend to have double rooms; that is to say two patients to a room. All the doors were open onto patient rooms with two hospital beds each perfectly made up in immaculate white linen as if they had never been slept in, for all I know they hadn’t. As I continued down the hall I could hear, competing with my own deafening footsteps, what sounded like the intercom in the distance as if someone were trying to page a doctor to the OR. Every time I stopped to listen it seemed to fade into the background hum of the lights with the sound always just out of my perception. Garbled nonsense. It was about the 3rd time stopping to listen that I came across my first intersection so I stopped and looked at the wall where a small directory was hung indicating that there was apparently an ICU in the direction I had turned. It was about then I noticed the squeaking noise without thinking much of it.
I’ve always wondered why when I read stories like mine here that people don’t think of eventually needing to get back out, don’t leave a trail, or don’t just leave immediately from something so unsettling. It didn’t even enter my mind. Maybe it’s human curiosity or maybe places like this just have an irresistible draw that keeps pulling you deeper into their infinite depths. The rooms and the halls went on and on, right, straight, left, left, right, straight, I should have been thinking about where I was going but I didn’t. All the while that squeaking seemed to be getting closer and closer. I went faster and it went faster. I went slower and it went slower. Have you ever had one of those shopping carts at Walmart with the wheel that squeaks like its keeping a beat? It’s rhythmic like a metronome and absolutely infuriating to listen to.
I turned another corner and walked straight into the cadaver carrier. It looks like a 4-wheeled bare metal frame stretcher and the thing only sees use when a patient in the hospital dies so they can be taken to the basement morgue. The fact that it didn’t move much when I walked headlong into told me that it was also presently occupied. I could see the outline of a human form beneath the grey rubberized canvas of the drape placed over it. The mumbling on the intercom swelled and there was a sound of static as I stood blinking at the thing and suddenly whatever spell this place had over me was broken and I wanted nothing more than to get out.
This is where it would have been important to remember which way I had come from. I picked what I thought was the right direction and began walking quickly away from the cadaver. Right, left, was I just guessing now? On both sides of me the fluorescent lights in the patient rooms flickered with gentle hum clicks and I realized each thump of my footsteps was being matched by the squeak of a wheel. Squeak, squeak, squeak. I was beginning to feel lightheaded from the bleach odor and the intercom’s mumblings seemed to be growing more urgent. I put on a burst of speed and the squeaking seemed to stop. I took a deep bleachy sigh of relief and turned another corner and there the thing was parked outside of a room as if waiting for me. I stared at it as a feeling of terror came over me and I realized that the canvas over what would have been the cadaver’s chest was rising and falling, matching each breath I took.
I turned and bolted down another hall and the maddening squeak squeak started anew. The lights in the rooms flickered incessantly as I flew past the doorways. The sound of static louder as if someone had left the intercom’s mouthpiece too close to some equipment while they carried on a conversation nearby. Right, left, left, straight, right, I thought I was going to pass out from the chemical odor and exertion when I turned another corner and there it was again. Waiting beside another of the infinite empty rooms with its chest rising and falling rapidly in sync with my own beneath the shroud. A leg twitched at the end of the carrier causing the entire canvas to ripple all the way around. An arm flopped out from beneath the covering just in front of where I stood and dropped lifelessly down beside the frame. It was pallorous as if all its blood had been drained and long. So long. So impossibly that when it stopped swinging the knuckles on the hand nearly dragged onto the linoleum four feet below the top of the carrier. And you know those white bracelets they give you when you’re admitted to the hospital? It was still wearing one which I didn’t bother to read because I was already turning to sprint away.
Everything was a deafening roar. The mumbling, the static, the click-hum-flicker of a billion blinding white light fixtures. I bolted past another intersection and its directory. A Directory! I stopped and I could hear the squeak squeak squeak as I quickly scanned it; Operating room, family waiting, morgue, INCU, elevators. Elevators! I nearly let out a sob of relief as I tore down the hall the arrow indicated. The smell of bleach had become nauseating. I turned the last corner and saw my bank of elevators a ways off and, beyond them tiny in the distance of an infinite blinding hallway, was the cadaver carrier as if it had been waiting to prevent my leaving all this time; somehow always a little bit ahead of where I wanted to be. I put on a last burst of speed and the thing started rolling towards me with its furious squeaking dragging an arm along the floor as it came. I reached the elevator first and slid in like it was a booby trapped door in an ancient Egyptian tomb dropping the half foot back in again and jarring my tailbone in the process. I reached up, panting, and started pounding the buttons on the panel. Lobby. Lobby. Lobby. LOBBY! But the doors wouldn’t close.
The squeak squeak slowed outside and I watched in utter terror as the cadaver carrier pulled up like a city bus to a bus stop and the grotesque arm slid into view in front of me. I was sitting on the floor pounding the button and staring as the arm reached out between the doors to grasp at my feet and it was in that moment I could read the band around its wrist as I did on living patients all day long. There clear as day were my name, my date of birth, and an admission date some 50-odd years in the future. Why wouldn’t this thing move? “NO!” I yelled at whatever was trying to grab me when it suddenly occurred to me what the problem was.
The elevator was still on hold. IT WAS STILL ON HOLD! I reached up and smashed the STOP with all the strength I had left and there was a single low ding again like a sad final note from a damaged church bell. Just like that the arm pulled away like a fishing line jerked suddenly in, the smell of bleach evaporated in an instant, and the doors slid shut with a gentle clunk. The floor display flickered with odd symbols again then 2, 1, and the usual cheerful ding. I quickly got to my feet before the doors could open and tried to control my breathing. They slid open again to reveal the lobby lit brightly by the sun outside the front windows with staff and visitors milling about like nothing was amiss.
I’ve asked around since while trying not to sound crazy or prying. A few night nurses told me that they had been trying to get to the cafeteria when the doors opened onto a floor they didn’t recognize. They were half asleep and coffee deprived by their own admissions and didn’t try to get off but instead just hit the button for basement and continued on their way. An environmental services tech told me that after starting his shift with a nasty hangover he stepped off on the wrong floor and saw the cadaver carrier in a long empty hallway with an arm hanging out and managed stick his hand back through the elevator doors before they closed after being overcome with a feeling of panic. A doctor confessed to have seen his own name in the patient records while reviewing electronic charts towards the end of a 20 hour shift and listed as presently being a patient in the hospital on “Floor K”. Before he could click on himself the hospital lost power in a storm and the generators didn’t kick on in time to keep the computer powered up. He never could find the entry again.
So has anyone who works in a hospital or visited family there ever had an elevator stop on a floor that shouldn’t exist? A place that reeks of surgical asepsis with blinding overhead lights? A Floor-Between-Floors? Maybe it’s because life and death are always flirting so closely in a hospital, I don’t know. If you ever find your elevator stopping on Floor K whatever you do do not get out. Push the door close button and move on because there is something waiting for you down that endless maze of halls. If you do feel compelled to explore that strange place make sure you put your elevator on hold because I’m pretty sure that it won’t be coming back for you any time soon.