There's a word that emergency room nurse Cathy Fox will not say aloud on Friday the 13th.
Even on the Tuesday before, she spells it out over the phone, in a whisper: "Q-U-I-E-T. As soon as you say that word, things go crazy."
It's just one example of the folklore that has arisen in emergency rooms around days like today, not to mention full moons and Halloweens and the eve of a millennium.
It's partly because the schedule in an emergency room can't be planned in advance.
Bruce Lo at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital has heard the superstitions for the past eight years he's worked in Hampton Roads emergency departments.
For instance, there's the "Black Cloud" superstition, where if a certain doctor or nurse or medical student is on duty, weird things happen, or busy shifts commence.
Sometimes it's a certain doctor-nurse combo.
Full moons are also notorious for busy nights in the ER, particularly with psychiatric emergencies and obstetrical cases, some say because of changes in the barometric pressure.
Being of a scientific bent, Lo decided to look into it. The assistant professor of emergency medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School first considered looking into the full moon phenomenon.
Someone had beaten him to it.
A 1996 study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine reviewed 150,999 records of ER visits to a suburban hospital during full moon cycles and found no difference from other nights.
A 2005 study by Mayo Clinic researchers, reported in the journal Psychiatric Services, looked at how many patients checked into a psychiatric emergency department between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. over several years. They found no statistical difference in the number of visits either.
Lo decided to take on Friday the 13th by sifting through the records of more than 49,000 patient encounters.
He examined emergency visits and admissions from six area hospitals for 13 Friday the 13ths from November 2002 through December 2009.
He examined the volume for 13 ailments, including heart attacks, car accidents, animal bites, psychiatric incidents and appendectomies.
He compared that to Fridays before and after, and the month before, and found visits and admissions were no higher on Friday the 13ths than other Fridays, save for one category.
Cue the scary music:
Would that be... stakes through the heart?
No, stab and gunshot wounds.
"It would be that one," he said.
But even in that category, the difference was very small.
Dr. Frank Counselman, who directs the EVMS emergency medical residency program, has also heard the folklore concerning busy shifts, but he said they usually have other factors behind them.
Summer holiday weekends, for instance, tend to be busy because people are outside doing activities. Mondays are hectic in ERs, a trend that's been noted across the nation.
"People struggle through the weekend hoping it'll go away," Counselman said. "Monday, they call their doctor's office and it's full. So they go to the ER."
Some jobs also require documentation to miss work.
Lo, whose study was published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine last summer, said he knows it won't quell superstitions in emergency rooms, but it satisfied his curiosity about the subject: "One of the reasons why I enjoy the work is you never know what's coming in the door."
Fox, the nurse, who has worked in emergency rooms for 26 years and is at Sentara Leigh Memorial Hospital, said some staff members swear by the superstitions, and even plan their schedules accordingly.
"Some people won't even work on that day," she said. "I'm not that bad."
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