The Surgeon of Your Nightmare

hand with scalpel

The names that I list in this story have been changed to protect the identities of the people and institutions that were involved in the story’s events.


In one of my previous posts, The Red-Haired Boy & the Angel of Death, I described a disturbing account of (what felt like) paranormal activity. As a healthcare consultant, I travel around the country working with all kinds of hospitals. On rare occasions, I’ve run into other fascinating situations that are similar to the hospice haunting. It’s a small part of my job that I didn’t know I signed up for.

There’s another encounter that I wanted to share with you. This occurred at a large, prestigious academic hospital in the southern United States. While visiting the hospital, I heard an intriguing story that allegedly took place in the surgery department. I interviewed a surgical nurse, Kortney, and asked her to share her story. Kortney is a twenty-year veteran of the hospital and is a truly magnetic human being. My original intention was to turn the account into a short story. However, I thought it would be more powerful if I simply shared the recorded interview with you. I hope that you’ll enjoy it.

The Interview

Seth Donovan (Me): Thank you, Kortney for sacrificing your lunch to tell me about what happened.

Kortney: No problem. I hope you don’t mind me scarfing down my tuna wrap in between your questions.

Me: Not at all. So, tell me when this happened and then give me a brief summary of the events and all parties that were involved.

Kortney: Sure thing. The whole ordeal happened about a year ago. Dr. Patel was one of the top cardio-thoracic surgeons in the world. His research papers were published in tons of medical journals. He was a celebrity at the university and the hospital. Patients came from all over the world to see him. Surgeons too. Doctors from countries like Great Britain, China, Australia..blah blah blah, would all come to see him perform cases. They wanted the best and he was the best. Patel was a genius. People said that his hands were worth more than gold alone. That being said, working with the guy was a nightmare.

Me: Why was working with him a nightmare?

Kortney: The guy was a giant dick. I’ve worked with surgeons for twenty years and I’ve met plenty of jerks with god complexes and oversized egos, but Patel was another animal entirely. The guy thought he was such hot shit that he didn’t have to be nice to patients. His bedside manner was awful. No compassion. No empathy. His attitude towards the people that he worked with was even worse. He treated nurses like animals and hazed the hell out of residents. Some days I felt like I was working in a fraternity house.

Me: How did he treat people terribly, specifically?

Kortney: He didn’t use peoples’ names. He’d just look at them and shout. He loved to put residents, who were still learning, in ultra-high stress situations and then watch them fail, just so he could scream at them for being stupid. It was a sick game to him. He threw stuff at people. I remember one time, there was this poor little nurse, cute as a button. She’d just graduated nursing school, so she was as green as could be. Patel asked her to hand him a scalpel and she handed him the wrong size. The son-of-a-bitch chucked it at the girl. It missed, thank God. Poor thing ran out of the room and never came back.

Me: Was he punished?

Kortney:  Technically, yes. Actually, no. He got a code of conduct warning, whatever the hell that is. Administration would’ve sacrificed small children to protect Patel. He made the hospital a shit ton of money. Oh, sorry. Am I swearing too much for your recording?

Me: Swear away. I’m not that fragile.

Kortney: Okay, cool. So, he made the hospital a ton of money and his research boosted the reputation of the university. Front-line staff were disposable. Patel wasn’t. And the bastard knew it.

Me: I see. Let’s go back to what happened on that day about a year ago.

Kortney: Alright. So, it was a Monday morning. I got to work around 6:00 because I was the charge nurse that morning. Patel had a full schedule, which was typical, especially for a Monday. The first case was on at 7:00. There were a few late add-ons from the weekend, so I needed to confirm with Patel where patients would be placed on the schedule. He was always very particular about his schedule – the order of cases, when he took lunch, if he wanted blocks put in – there were a lot of things to consider and I had proven to be a very poor judge at predicting how he wanted the schedule to look.

Me: Was he one of those surgeons that was always late?

Kortney: You’d think, but actually he was very punctual. That was one of the very few positives of working with him. We never fell behind schedule due to Patel. It’s funny that you ask me that because that’s how we knew that something was up. He always did his morning rounds and then came to the OR about fifteen minutes before his first case, which is weird for a surgeon. The clock got to 6:45, which is when he normally would have rolled in, but no one had heard from him. I didn’t know what we were going to do. We had a full schedule and some of these patients had to have surgery that day. I was freaking out. I called his cell, which I would only do if I absolutely had to. A police officer answered the phone. He had gotten t-boned by a semi-truck at an intersection. He was dead.

Me: Jesus. What happened to all of the patients on the schedule?

Kortney: We got on the phone with some other cardio-thoracic surgeons to see who could operate on Patel’s patients, and also what order they should see them in. Basically, they were triaging them. It was a hot mess. Before anything could be scheduled, the other surgeons and the patients’ nurses had to inform Patel’s patients (those that were scheduled for surgery that day) that their surgeon had died and that another surgeon would be operating on them, if they wanted.

Me: Were they upset about the change?

Kortney: Very upset. But that wasn’t the worst part of it.

Me: What do you mean?

Kortney: Every single patient said that Dr. Patel had rounded on them that morning and told them the time of their surgery. I asked them when this had happened and the earliest patient said that Patel had rounded on them at 6:15 and the latest patient said they were rounded on at 6:40. I checked with the police. Officers responded to the crash scene at 5:57 that morning.

Me: That’s…odd.

Kortney: Oh, we’re just getting started. I wrote down the times that the patients on the schedule said that Dr. Patel gave them and then went back to the schedule. The changes were already inputted into the schedule, which meant that between when I looked at the schedule and called Patel’s cellphone and when we finished informing the patients of the news, which was probably around 7:40, the schedule changed. I went into the EMR, oh, FYI – that’s our electronic medical record, it’s where all patient info is stored. I looked at the time stamps in the EMR to see who made the schedule changes.

Me: What do you mean by timestamps? I’m confused.

Kortney: Anytime an employee does anything in a patient’s chart, there’s an electronic timestamp with the user’s ID.

Me:  Okay, gotcha.

Kortney: So, like I was saying…what was I saying?

Me: Schedule. Timestamp.

Kortney: Right! So, I went into each patient’s account and looked at the user activity. For each one of Patel’s patients that were rescheduled sometime between 6:45 and 7:40, the operator ID that showed in the system belonged to Dr. Patel.

Me: How is that possible?

Kortney: It’s not. Even if he were alive and well, it would have been bizarre. Doctors don’t manually adjust the schedule. Nurses and schedulers do. Doctors couldn’t reschedule patients if they wanted to.

Me: Did anyone do any follow-up investigation to figure out why there were time discrepancies?

Kortney: We all did. All staff swore they didn’t reschedule any patients. They had no reason to. Security checked the badge logs and closed-circuit TV footage of the hospital to try to disprove Patel’s patients’ accounts of the early morning rounding.

Me: What did they find?

Kortney: Patel’s badge wasn’t used to get into the building. There are no cameras in patient rooms, so it was difficult to see inside the room. What can be seen from the footage is a shadow moving from room to room. Patel was only 5’5’’ and the shadow was about that height. It was obviously a short guy. Even crazier, the time that the shadow went into each room matches exactly with the times that the patients said they were rounded on.

Me: Did things calm down after that day, in terms of the creepy stuff?

Kortney: No. Sterile processing takes all of the used surgical tools and sterilizes them and then wraps them in a way that keeps the instruments sterile until surgery. We started seeing that tons of Patel’s former case carts, which were marked especially for him, weren’t getting sterilized. Some surgeons, especially Dr. Patel, were very particular about what implements that they wanted to use. Dr. Patel’s surgical tools were customized with his initials and fine-tuned the exact way we wanted. His tools alone probably cost more than both our salaries put together! Each case containing his tools were required to have a temperature-sensitive tag that turns black when it is sterilized. After he passed, surgeons wanted to use Dr. Patel’s implements to see how much better it was than theirs. Well, every time we would go to grab the case, the tag was green instead of black, which meant it was not sterilized properly. We can’t use tools that aren’t sterilized, that’s why we’d always check before opening any case. This was a big issue in our department. Dr. Patel’s case was always contaminated for some unknown reason. We’d go and scream at sterile processing, but they’d tell us they’d sterilized it. They produced the documentation to prove that they did. It was a pain in the ass.  

Me: You think Patel’s ghost was screwing with the department?

Kortney: Something like that. He loved to make people suffer. It’s ironic that the man saved thousands of lives, but had such a knack for making people miserable. People started claiming they saw his shadow and heard his laugh while they walked alone through the halls. Creeped a lot of folks out. Some quit.

Me: Were you ever scared?

Kortney: That Monday morning, I was pretty scared, especially when I saw his timestamp in the EMR. That sent chills down my spine. Since then, staff have complained that things have been thrown at them. The lights have shut off at random times. The worst thing that’s come out of this is insanity. We’ve had several folks quit or take medical leave for psychiatric reasons. They heard voices. Evil voices. Voices that encouraged them to harm their patients and coworkers. One nurse finally got tired of resisting them and attacked a scrub tech with a scalpel. That stuff has been pretty scary. Certain people just go mad when they work here.

Me: Why doesn’t that happen to you?

Kortney: He won’t mess with me.

Me: How can you be so sure?

Kortney: Every morning before 6:45, I’d make a large coffee with two Splendas and a shot of hazelnut Coffee-Mate and leave it on my desk with a post-it note that said “Dr. P.” I found out what he liked in his coffee and would do that everyday. It’s been a great investment. I still do it as a kind of offering. It’s worked. I don’t have any issues.

Me: Does the coffee disappear?

Kortney: No. But I don’t go crazy either. I’d love to talk to you more, but I have to get back to the grind. It was real nice talking to ya.

Me: Likewise, thank you so much for your time, Kortney. I really appreciate it. I just have one final question.

Kortney: Shoot.

Me: Do you think Dr. Patel will ever leave this hospital?

Kortney: Never.

woman in straight jacket

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