Trapped in the Elevator

Last month, I got stuck in an elevator. I remember the precise date as Friday, April 30, because that was the date of my appointment with a new doctor. There is nothing worse than having your long-time primary care physician abruptly close her private practice and integrate with a medical group located at a hospital. Then, shortly after that, she retires, abandoning her former patients, leaving us at the new facility without so much as a “See ya.”

Having lost “the best” doctor I ever had, I inherited a physician who I didn’t select and didn’t particularly like. And dissatisfied with the operations of the medical group in general, I located another doctor on my own and made an appointment. Pardon my digressive rant; I’m still upset about that forced transition and will revisit the topic another day. But now, I will return to the elevator episode.

The new doc’s office is on the 4th floor of a small, four-story medical building (not a hospital) with a single elevator. So far, I like him better than the other guy.

When my appointment ends, I summon the elevator, step inside, and push the button for the first floor after the doors close. The elevator could hold four people comfortably, six in a crunch, but I am pleased to be the lone rider. I watch the panel showing the floors as the car begins descending 3 – 2 – 1, and then step forward, waiting for the doors to open. Nothing happens. I press the “Open” button. Still, nothing happens. I press the open button again, then briefly press the red alarm button and wait. The thought of prying open the doors crosses my mind, but I know that I do not have the strength to do that, so I angrily slam my fist against them. “Open!” I command. “Ouch! Is anyone out there?” I shout.

The narrow hallway on the ground floor extends about 30 feet from the lobby door, past a single elevator and a stairwell. I remember this because upon entering the building, I noticed that the wall at the end of the hallway, opposite the entrance, has a beautiful landscape mural on it.

“Hello!” I holler. “I’m stuck in here. Is anyone there?”

Hearing no one, I scan the panel looking for an emergency phone or push-to-talk button. I don’t see either, so I push the alarm button again and listen. Not a sound other than my labored breathing. Surely, someone hears the darn alarm. I think.

I begin to feel panic rising like a tidal wave. My body alternates between cold sweat and hot flashes. Calm down. I tell myself. I start doing Pranayama, deep yoga breathing and even try to use humor to help me relax. I’m in a medical building; what better place to hyperventilate.

Anxiety soon overtakes my positive thinking, and I press the alarm button again, wait a few seconds, and then repeat the process. Now I’ve got big-time attitude. I lean on the button for several seconds like a determined telemarketer rings my phone. And then, I shout. “Someone get me out of here.”

The light above my head flickers. I bite my bottom lip and try to erase elevator scenes from horror movies and prank videos that flash in my mind like a PowerPoint presentation.

Has everyone left the building but Elvis? I wonder. Of course not, because most people would take the elevator down to the lobby, I reason. What if people are pushing the button for the elevator and wondering why it doesn’t come to their floor? Surely, someone hears the alarm. And then, my imagination takes over. I am lying on my side on the floor. Both feet are propped against the side of the car. I wedge my fingers into the space between the door panels and, while pushing with my feet, begin pulling the doors apart with all my might. I soon dismiss the crazy thought and look up to see if there is a camera in the car. I don’t see one, but I think if there is a camera, they will know that I’m trapped and send someone to get me out of here. Then, did I feel the elevator jerk?

The door opens about half an inch. I breathe a sigh of relief, stand in front of the doors and prepare to exit. But the doors don’t open any further. Moving forward, I lean my face close enough to the gap to see if I can spot anyone, but not so close that the doors will snag my nose and lips if they suddenly close. I don’t see a soul. Dare I place my fingers in the space and try to pull the doors open? Nah. What if my fingers get crushed? As I reach toward the alarm bell, the doors fling open, and I rush out of there like the devil is chasing me. While exiting the building, I pass a security officer entering the facility. He is accompanying a stooped-over elderly lady using a walker and shuffling along at a snail’s pace. That explains why he didn’t hear the alarm; I tell myself. He was outside.

That was the first, and hopefully the last time I get stuck in an elevator.

A couple of days ago, a friend I told about my incident said that he had the same misfortune. While my confinement had lasted about 8 minutes (it seemed much longer), he said that he was trapped for over an hour. He was working late that night. There was no one else in the 12-story office building. He tried everything he could think of to force open the doors or get the elevator moving before using the emergency telephone to summon help. Men don’t yield to defeat as quickly as some women. It’s the machismo factor.

He said that when the elevator began moving, it suddenly dropped two floors before stopping again. Then, he said, knowing that help was on the way, he sat down and waited. He was trapped for nearly 90 minutes before the building engineer and others arrived and freed him.

Had our experiences been reversed, I’d have been a basket case claustrophobic by the time help arrived.

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