In 1968, Chorley, England, Mrs Pauline Gittins, a nursery nurse was convinced that a supernatural incident, unexplained footsteps, and an unseen force led her to save the life of a newborn baby that without would have certainly died.
It is perhaps comforting to mortals to feel that some part of the spiritual world is conscious enough of them to intervene from time to time to warn or to prevent a tragedy. But the supernatural seems to use such devious and inefficient methods, at least by terrestrial standards, to achieve its aims that it is difficult not to believe that coincidence and chance are sometimes responsible for what might be outside intervention. In hospitals especially, where at any moment tens of thousands of lives are hanging in the balance, it is hard to see why the help should be so arbitrary or so obscure in its pattern. Certainly, the way in which a near-tragedy was averted in Chorley hospital in 1968 makes one suspect that if there are benevolent powers, and if they do not wish to be misunderstood, they might use a more direct approach. But perhaps their reasons and methods are too complex for mere humans to comprehend.
Mrs Pauline Gittins, a nursery nurse, with a sister and a staff nurse, was on night duty in November 1968 in the maternity wing, which occupied the whole of one corridor branching off, and quite separate from the rest of the hospital. The two main wards were full with about 18 patients; there were 14 newly-born babies in the nursery; the side and labour wards were empty. It was very much a routine, uneventful night, with no births imminent and no cases demanding particular attention, so that between one and two in the morning, when life is at its lowest ebb, the three nurses were in the kitchen, the warmest and most comfortable room. The sister was reading a book; Pauline Gittins was skipping through a magazine, and the staff nurse was stretched out in an armchair, her eyes closed, but like the others, her senses acute for the slightest sound that might indicate that help was needed.
Suddenly all three, with that instinctive reaction that perhaps makes people nurses, or which perhaps they acquire in training, were tense: the door of No 1 ward, which made a distinctive creaking noise, opened. A moment later the flip-flopping of someone wearing backless slippers shuffled past the kitchen door. There was no cause for alarm or even any actions, as all of the patients were ambulant, and if the nurses had considered it at all they would have assumed that someone had gone to the bathroom or toilet. But when a few seconds later Pauline realised that the toilet door, which also had a highly individual squeal, had not made the slightest sound, she put her magazine down, noting automatically that the other two were also alert. The night sister, in a tone that excluded herself from the shortlist, asked, "Who's going to check?" and Pauline, as the most junior, accepted her inevitable role.
There was no one in the bathroom or toilets, and in the two wards all eighteen patients were deeply asleep - Pauline went to each bed individually to make sure. She checked the labour and sidewards in case someone had, half asleep, made a mistake, but all were silent and deserted. Returning very puzzled down the corridor she decided that while she was there she would make a routine check as she passed the nursery, and once inside the door, a sense outside herself made her realise that there was something wrong, even before a faint sound from one corner sent her scurrying across the room. Here a two-day-old baby had vomited its food and was in the last stage of suffocation. Desperately she cleared the air passages - there was not even time to call the sister - and at last, the frail body recovered.
Sometime later, when she was satisfied that the child had completely recovered, she was describing what had happened to her two colleagues in the kitchen: suddenly, in a brief pause, as if it had been worrying her, the staff nurse asked, "Who had gone to the toilet?" For the first time Pauline realised that there had been no one: the door, the footsteps they had all three heard so clearly could not possibly have been caused by a human agency. Unfortunately, in the steady stream of life that passed through her nights on the maternity ward, Pauline does not remember the baby's name. It would be interesting to have at least the slightest clue whether it was an outside power that saved its life, or whether the mother, though deeply asleep, had in some supernatural way realised the danger and had sent part of her spiritual self to the rescue.
There were three things of which the very experienced nurses were certain: that they did not mistake the sounds; that they could not have been made by any human, and that unless they had occurred the child would have almost certainly died. The incident was recalled by Mrs Pauline Gittins from Preston, England.