The Ghostly Guardian – The Grey Nurse

Ghost stories are common within the hospital setting. In fact the Grey Nurse, the resident spectre of the former Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) site, shares her name and similar characteristics with many hospital ghosts around the world. In most stories, the Grey Nurse is a benevolent force, providing assistance to patients and helping out the living nurses during the night shift.

When the RAH moved sites in 2017 many wondered what would happen to the Grey Nurse. Karyn Baker, a former nurse and current volunteer with the CALHN Health Museum wrote this short story, from the perspective of the Grey Nurse, hypothesising on her feelings about the move:

The Grey Nurse

As I continue my Rounds along the 8th floor corridor of the East Wing, I find myself puzzling over the sudden silence.  For so many years, too many to count, I have pursued my vocation in this wonderful hospital, helping my fellow nurses wherever I can, and yet, today, here in this eerie quiet, I feel quite abandoned.  Why has nobody taken the time to tell me what is happening? Where have my patients gone?  

Young Fred Walkington is still here of course; after bleeding profusely from a dreadful neck wound, from which he has not recovered, he never leaves. Uncanny how he survived the horrors of the trenches during the Great War, returning home unscathed to his loving Mother, only to suffer a terrible accident involving a garden fork a week later.  I am surprised every time I visit his bedside that he has not yet succumbed to this awful injury.  Poor lad, he cries every night for home, but no visitors come to see him.  Nobody seems to notice his distress, so as always, I go to his aid, but I am unable to console him.  

Wandering through the ward, I peer out the window, and admire that constant view that is so calming to ones’ nerves.  The beautiful Botanic Gardens, oh, how I would love to take a stroll along those idyllic paths again, in the company of my dear sweet husband.  He would take great care to ensure that my grey nurses uniform was never soiled when strolling along the path, and we would smile together about what Matron would say if I arrived on duty with dust around my hem.

I don’t remember much about him now; his gentle smile and bright blue eyes are fading in my memory.  The last time I saw him I was quite unwell, and a patient myself in this very hospital that I have dedicated so many years to.  Needing surgery, I was quite anxious, but he was there with me, being a surgeon himself he was familiar with the operating theatre and staff. I recall they allowed him to stay, holding my hand tightly as the smell of the ether sent me into a false slumber. 

What happened next? Try as I might I simply cannot recall, so I resign myself to continuing each day with that which I know best.  Dedicating my life as a nurse has brought so many rewards; I especially like to observe the looks of gratitude and surprise on my colleagues faces, as I quietly help them with their many tasks.

But how do I continue now, when my very purpose has been taken away? What is to become of me? Why have I been kept in the dark? 

Perhaps I will sit quietly with Young Fred, now it is just he and I, and we will wait together to see what is to become of this grand old place, and what the future will bring for us.

The Grey Nurse

Royal Adelaide Hospital (Circa 1918 to present day)

by Karyn Baker, August 2017

In honour of the Grey Nurse, I thought I would share some of the spookier photographs from within the RAH photographic collection. Could it be evidence of the Grey Nurse? What do you think?

Written by Jonathan Hull, CALHN Health Museum