Tag Archives: hospital

Dark Humor in the ICU (“Celestial Transfer”)

Informant Context:

Stella is a traveling ICU (intensive care unit) nurse who currently work in Atlanta, Georgia.

Transcript:

STELLA: I feel like people in the ICU especially have like, really dark humor. Um… like, dark kind of like—twisted humor? And I think like, you kind of like, have to be that way. Like, it’s like, it’s kind of the saying of like, “If you’re not laughing you’re crying?” Like, the things that we see are so tragic that like, we kind of just have to like, make light of them? And it’s not ’cause like, we’re like, making fun of people is just like… “Wow, the situation is like, so bad… like, this is just ridiculous that I’m watching this” kind of thing. Um…

INTERVIEWER: Can you give an example of… maybe a joke that you’ve heard or something people frequently make fun of in the ICU?

STELLA: Um… like, I don’t… like [laughs]… if a… like, it’s like—this is like, so bad. I don’t—like, I kinda don’t, like, feel super comfortable like, saying… like, like—so I’ve heard people say like, um… you know, like—oh, like, so-and-so made like, a “celestial transfer”. And so, it’s kind of like—kind of like a jokey way of saying like… if the patient died… and it’s like, instead of transferring them to the floor or like, discharging them from the hospital they were like, transferred to the sky. You know what I mean?

INTERVIEWER: Right, right. 

STELLA: Like, to heaven. And so it’s like, “Oh… like, you know, so-and-so… you know, had a ‘celestial transfer’”, and everyone’s like, “Oh, yeah”. Um… but yeah… I mean, I don’t know. I feel like it’s… it’s not something that anyone outside of that profession would understand nor think is funny [laughs]. 

Informant Commentary

Stella displayed some apprehension, even guilt, when sharing this particular joke. She feared that those outside her folk group would characterize the humor of medical professionals in the ICU as “heartless”, in her words. For her, the meaning of the humor lies in replacing pain with levity. She went on to describe this folk practice as an absolute necessity to cope with the constant displays of suffering which surround this folk group.

Analysis:

Certain experiences and responsibilities breed jokes which are not considered humorous or even relevant to people without the same experiences and responsibilities. In the case of this specific joke, the experiences and responsibilities shared by those within the folk group are ones closely associated with death, particularly death within a hospital setting. This is why the joke directly references hospital terminology (“transfer”). In addition, references to the word “celestial”, or the movement of a patient from the “terrestrial” to the “celestial” suggests that even within this example of so-called dark humor, there is an implicit hope of peace for their shared patient.  

The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs

Main piece:

“The Crescent Hotel is a famous building in Eureka Springs with a long history because now it’s a common ghost attraction and makes a lot of local haunting lists. The building which began as a hotel for elite visiting Eureka Springs later became a tuberculosis ward during the plague and there were rumors about doctors who experimented on their patients trying to find cures to diseases like cancer”

Background:

The informant for this piece is a woman in her late 40s who lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She was born in Joplin, Missouri but moved south to Fayetteville and has lived there for almost 18 years by now. Fayetteville is a college town as it is adjacent to the University of Arkansas. Due to the proximity of the town to the Ozark mountains, the Ozark culture influences the town alongside the culture of those going there for college. This specific building is located outside of Fayetteville in an area called Eureka Springs. The hotel is just one of many structures converted to a tuberculosis ward to fight off the diseases in the 1900s. Similarly, in the past there have been similar stories of abandoned and haunted hospitals. 

Context:

The piece was shared with me via a phone call with the informant. This exact topic was brought up in response to my general question looking for local folklore of the Fayetteville area. 

Thoughts:

I feel as though this piece is interesting as it represents an amalgam of other similar haunted buildings. The Crescent Hotel began as a hotel for the elite members of society, but the business went under. This keeps in the theme of haunted buildings having ties to old money, and I feel represents a distrust of those with extreme wealth. This also makes sense in context of the location, which while not poverty-stricken, by no means has a large population of extremely wealthy inhabitants. The hotel is also described as a tuberculosis ward, which while not entirely accurate does reflect a fear of doctors and disease. This is a common fear and is often featured in similar structures like haunted hospitals. In my opinion, what differentiates this building is how the history of the building as both a hotel for the elite and hospital combines these two separate but similar stories into one extremely haunted structure.

The Haunting of the Lorenzo

Main Piece

JS: “Yeah, dude! The Lorenzo is haunted! You’ve never heard about this?”

Collector: “No! I guess I don’t know enough people who live there.”

JS: “The Lorenzo used to be a hospital, which was abandoned for a bunch of years before the developers bought out the land for the apartments. A bunch of people died in that hospital, so obviously some parts of a place that big have got to be haunted. They try to gloss over it, but the carpets in there still give it away. It looks like The Shining! People get lost in the hallways all the time, and never come back.”

Collector: [laughter] “Has this happened to people you know or is it just something that you’ve heard about?”

JS: [laughter] “No, it’s never happened to anyone I’ve known. It’s probably all just made up. You can never be too careful, though. The place still gives off the creepy vibes and I am not making up that it used to be a hospital…look it up!”

Analysis

Buildings that have taken on lives beyond their original intention or original owners are often claimed as haunted places. The inevitability of death and pain in places like hospitals and prisons adds a very convincing layer to many that there are still souls who cannot escape the earth trapped in these locales. Many people are uncomfortable thinking about the harsh lives of those in the same spot as them, even if they did not know them directly. The legend is known to students of USC because of how many end up living at the Lorenzo after they lose their spots in student housing. To this very day, people consider ghosts as considerations when deciding where to live, which demonstrates how strong the belief in after life and spirits are in the US.

Nursing Superstitions

Background:

My informant is a twenty-one-year-old college student in Boston, Massachusetts. She is studying to be a nurse and has worked in the emergency room at both Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Performance:

“I’m not technically a nurse yet so I’ve only really seen this stuff happen…but you kind of catch on. The biggest one I think is to never say that you’re having a “quiet” day, because that’s when everything like, blows up in your face. I’ve had nurses seriously freak out at each other for saying that. That’s the big one, I think…there are also a few nurses, no one that I know really well, but some people say that if you tie a nurse in a patient’s sheets they’ll live through your shift. They’d only do it to the really sick people — you know like bad accidents, or kids, or something. I don’t know if it works, necessarily, but I will say that when we think we’re keeping our patients alive, we’re working a lot harder and people tend to stay alive just a little bit longer, if that makes sense.”

Thoughts:

The never-say-quiet superstition makes a lot of sense, though I’m not sure if it’s specific to nursing. I remember at my high school job scooping ice cream, we had a similar rule about not saying that the store was “slow” because that would mean a rush was imminent. The superstition about the knot, however, it interesting. It’s like the nurse is trying to create a bond between their patient’s life and the physical world; like they’re trying to keep the patient physically tied to their life. Though a simple gesture, it speaks to how seriously nurses take their work. They’ll do anything to keep their patient’s alive, even if its as simple as a knot in a bed sheet.

Nurses in Suits on Halloween

My mother and informant, KK, meets up with her friends from high school about once a month.  They call themselves “club.”  I was home when KK hosted “club” and listened to her and her friends, several of whom are nurses, swap stories about their shifts when working in a hospital.

On Halloween my informant, KK and her friend, both nurses, dressed up in suits when working the night shift at the hospital in the early 1990s.  Arthur Anderson Consulting had recently come into the hospital and “told the nurses how they should do their job.” From KK’s tone of voice it was clear that she and her friend thought it absurd that a consulting group could come in and tell the staff how to do their job when they had no medical education.

The patients that KK and her friend visited found their costumes amusing.  The administration and staff of the hospital did not really react because it was not too busy at night.

So it seems as if my informant and her friend were using Halloween as an excuse to mock the consultants and hospital administration for hiring Arthur Anderson.  This is typical with Halloween celebrations.  At Halloween, it is appropriate to act differently than one would in normal life.  KK and her friend became what they are not.  In doing so, they poked fun at the Arthur Anderson employees who, ironically, became someone they are not when they consulted a hospital without medical know-how.