An ultrasound ghost story for Halloween and Medical Ultrasound Awareness Month #MUAM

Published: 31 October 2018 Ultrasound

The hospital was old, dating back to the war. The Napoleonic War.

It should have been replaced under a private finance initiative the previous year but the contractor had gone spectacularly into administration with still no date for completion, perhaps another year or so. 

Deep within the bowels of the venerable old building was the ultrasound department. The rooms which comprised it were cramped and, being former store rooms, lacked natural light and air conditioning, but they were what about 10 sonographers would call ‘home’.

One of those sonographers was Emily, who was due to retire later that day.

Emily was very experienced; she also taught within the department as a member of the team at the local university. She was highly regarded by her students, being knowledgeable, patient and, above all, a good teacher and sonographer.

If ever a student struggled with their clinical learning, Emily was there for them and she had helped many on their way to future success. Emily was reflecting on her life and was wondering to herself just where the years had gone. She had had a long and successful career and seen ultrasound develop from the early but remarkable in its day Diasonograph, through to the quite splendid modern equipment with resolution good enough to see the individual finger bones of a 20 week fetus.

She smiled to herself when she remembered the struggles with fixed scanning arms and how it was an achievement just to clearly identify the fetal head, never mind measuring it accurately with reference to the A-scan. As she turned off the ultrasound machine at the end of the day and cleaned and disinfected the probes, she knew it would be for the last time. No post retirement working for her; the test results she had recently been given were not good.

Emily retired as planned and sadly passed peacefully away, surrounded by her family, six months later.

And so it was a year or so later, with the new hospital opening put back yet again and in the same ultrasound suite within the labyrinth at the heart of the hospital where Emily used to work, that Julia settled down in front of the ultrasound machine and started to scan (of course after introducing herself and explaining the procedure). 

It was Julia’s final assessment. She had struggled with various aspects of the course, especially getting a good Doppler signal. If she failed again, it might not be possible for her to continue and she would be devastated. 

The patient was a pleasant male of about 60 who Julia had earlier confirmed wanted to be called John. But he was overweight. The scan was to see if there was a proximal leg DVT, so Doppler was going to be important.

Julia struggled. She could just see the common femoral vein compressed but the colour Doppler signal was poor. She was starting to become quite stressed and the fact that there was an assessor watching her just made things worse.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the control lights on the machine momentarily flicker. She hoped there would not be a power cut; that would really be too much.

Then she noticed that the room had suddenly gone icy cold and asked John if he was warm enough. She wished she had brought her cardigan with her. The assessment continued but Julia, try as she might, just could not get a good colour Doppler image. 

Then, when she was just about to admit defeat and ask for help, she felt an irresistible pressure like a hand upon her's pushing one end of the transducer downwards.

She suddenly remembered what she had been taught about ‘heel and toe’ and her problems were over. Julia passed the assessment and went on to be a valued member of the department.

She never thought about where the pressure on the probe may have come from and, if she had, she would never have guessed, because Julia didn’t believe in ghosts.