Friday, November 13, 2015

The Haunted Sanatorium

Just outside a small town in northwest Arkansas sits what once was a Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Opened in 1909, by the time it closed in 1973, over 70,000 patients were treated there. When the facility was opened, the mortality rate from tuberculosis was over 80%. By the time it closed, it was down to 10%. During those years of medical advancement however, more than 20,000 people died before the facility was closed and the front gate was left unlocked for the first time in 63 years.
The Nyberg Building once housed over 1,000 patients at a time.  The sick people who came to live here knew it most likely was a death sentence as there was no sure cure. They were contagious and had to be quarantined away from their family and friends. They were sent here to live out what time they had left. The building now is closed, in disrepair and empty. TB has been conquered by modern medicine so there is no need for a TB sanatorium. Thank God. Thank God. The broken glass in some of the windows has been boarded over, but not all. The roof has gaping holes through which the rain and the winter snow pour through and the occasional pigeon returns to roost for the night.  
The halls that run the length of the building, and the rooms, especially the rooms, have an aura of sadness. Everything is covered in dust and cobwebs. The rooms where the people lived and breathed their last, room after room after room are each and every one dark, shadowy places infused with sorrow and misery. They were built as places where those who entered would never have to leave. And many of them seem to have found this a permanent home even after death.

From the time it opened until the late 1940’s, medical tactics for combating TB were often horrifying and even barbaric. For a while, doctors thought that giving the lungs time to rest was the best treatment. Of course, breathing is necessary for life, but to make the patient breathe less, they often would clip and pull out the phrenic nerve, the long chord which connects the spinal column to the diaphragm and enables breathing subconsciously. Without the phrenic nerve, the patient must consciously think about breathing and must force air into the lungs by contracting and relaxing the diaphragm. The painful procedure was most often done while the patient was fully awake so he could tell the surgeon whether or not he was prodding the right nerve. Other treatments were tried as well, such as opening up a patient’s chest, deflating the lungs, filling the chest cavity with sterilized ping pong balls and then sewing the chest closed to force the lungs into staying mostly deflated. This left the patient in a continuous state of gasping for air, always feeling on the verge of smothering to death. Another treatment was thoracoplasty, which is the removal of a large chunk of the patient’s ribs and chest muscles to force the lungs to collapse and not have the ability to fully inflate again. Many of the patients said they would welcome death from TB rather than continue to suffer from the “cure.”

For many of them, especially in the early years, there was nothing but boredom and fear every single day and night. With no cure prescribed except clean air and bedrest, they were left in their room laying in their bed with no human interaction and nothing to occupy their minds for hours at a time. Nothing to do but stare at the same walls, the same door, the same little rectangle of sky through the window, trying to breath and waiting to die. Those lucky enough to somehow survive the disease, the “cures,” and the boredom reported their life at the sanatorium was mostly one of sound. Laying in their bed, sounds were the only thing to focus on. Mostly it would be the sounds of someone in another room down the hall dying. “It always began with a long coughing spell, then it would turn into a kind of gurgling, raspy sound. Then it would get deathly quiet. You knew what happened.” Death was a daily occurrence. Death became routine.

When someone died like that, everything would get real quiet. A stillness would descend and then the nurses would push a gurney down the hallway, the wheels wobbling and squeaking. When it came back with a body on it headed to the morgue in the basement, the weight would cause the wheels to run straight and it no longer made a sound.

With this much tragedy, suffering and despair, is it any wonder some of the thousands who died here have not been able to leave? Several of the buildings in the complex are still occupied and serve as a home and training facility for over 130 developmentally challenged adults. Over the years, staff and maintenance workers have reported hundreds of ghostly incidents in every building, but especially in the Nyberg building where the TB patients were housed & treated. Forlorn faces looking out of broken windows in empty rooms, seeing quick-moving “shadow people” from the corner of the eyes, unexplained glowing orbs of light, lights in abandoned rooms glowing even though the electricity has been turned off, faint feathery touches on the neck and arms when nobody else is around, a strong feeling of being watched or “someone being there”, apparitions suddenly appearing or disappearing, and ghost people walking through solid doors and walls disappearing into empty rooms have all be reported. Most of the staff refuse to go anywhere near the Nyberg building after dark and more than a few have abruptly quit, stating they would “never come back to this place” after an encounter with a long dead resident.

Some of the developmentally challenged residents refuse to walk near the Nyberg building. They know nothing of the building’s history, but will pull back and cry out in terror whenever they are brought near it. There are good spirits and there are evil spirits and it seems some of the current residents are especially aware of the evil ones.

Only a few people know about one particular part of the 3rd floor in the Nyberg, the part that was blocked off from the rest of the floor and the rest of the building. TB doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care if you are a good person, an innocent child or a deranged axe murderer. Part of the 3rd floor, the part few know existed, was where the criminally insane, the murderers, the rapists, the child molesters and psychopaths were held after they had contracted TB in prison. This is where many of them took their last ragged breath. And, if the actions of the current sensitive mentally challenged residents are to be believed, this is where some of them, their essence forever rotten and evil, remain.