Thursday, May 04, 2006

Did I mention?

That I'm claustrophobic?

So, when I was in the elevator today on my way to get some tea from the argo tea kiosk in the hospital and it stopped abruptly, I was slightly disturbed. And when it wouldn't start up again, I was even more disturbed. And I thought, I wonder how much oxygen there is in here?

Fortunately, I was not alone, or I probably would've gone straight into hysterics. There was a facilities engineer in there with me. Not that I found him all that comforting (and he was breathing my oxygen!) but I have to maintain a good front at all times in front of all people, so the presence of another person kept me from screaming, "Omigod, I can't breathe!!! There's not enough air in here!!! The walls are closing in!!! I'm too young to die!!!! Get me out of here!!!" Caught without my ativan or knittting, I just stood there, quietly going crazy.

The facilities guy had his radio. He informed me that sometimes they don't work in the elevators just before making his call. Fortunately, somebody answered or I would've had to kill him to stop him from breathing my air. What transpired was a series of strange conversations which gave me a bit of insight into why nothing in this building works properly.

"Hey Al," Mr. Facilities says.
"You'll never guess where I'm stuck."
Dead silence for at least 60 seconds. Apparently, he was really trying to think of a place.
"Hey, I'm in the elevator in C*ummings in between the 6th and 4th floors." Now, some elevators have numbers that light up as you go past the floors, but the ones in this building do not, so all he could do was guess.
More silence.
"Where are you?"
"I'm in the west passenger elevator with a female passenger and we're stuck between floors." I don't know what the purpose was of telling the dispatcher that it was a female passenger. Perhaps it was code for, "take your time," or maybe, "hurry up before she freaks out on me."
"Alright, I'll send someone. Don't move." I'm almost positive that was joke.

More silence. I take this moment to tell the nice facilites man that I am claustrophobic. He says, "Good thing you're not stuck in here by yourself, then, huh?" Yes. It's quite a good thing. Except that you're breathing my air.

"Don't worry, there are so many cables holding this thing up." Yes, but what about the air??? It had not actually occurred to me that the cables might snap, but thank you for putting that into my head. "You know, we just put a new generator on this car yesterday, and it was working fine except that there was no light in here and the fan wasn't working." I contemplate being trapped in a dark elevator car with no fan. "We just got all that working, and now it gets stuck. It was acting kinda funny before you got on, too. Stopped on the 10th floor, but then I pressed the open and close buttons and it just took off again." He now takes this opportunity to try to slam the doors shut more. Which causes the car to shake alarmingly but this is okay because there are so many cables holding the thing up.

Did I mention he was breathing my air?

So, we hear someone far away shouting "Hello!"
We shout back, "Hello!"
The radio says, "Now, where are you again?"
"I think we're around the 5th floor," Mr. Facilities says.
The radio says something incomprehensible.
"Well, I don't know, maybe we're on the 4th floor then."
"Hello!" Someone calls down the elevator shaft.
"Hello!" Mr. Facilities calls. "Don't you open up those doors, Bob! You'll get your head cut off!"

I'm thinking this means that if he opens the doors they'll slam back shut (as some sort of safety measure to keep people from opening the doors when the elevator isn't there), and this will decapitate poor Bob. This was not hard to imagine. Many's the time that I've shoved my leg in the door to catch the elevator and the door just kept closing.

"Hey, we've called the elevator guys."
"Don't you open those doors!"
"I know, I'm not going to!"
"You'll get in trouble!"
There's laughing.

Mr. Facilities now tells me that it used to be that if an elevator got stuck, the facilities guys would just open the doors and pull the people out. But this aggravated the elevator repair guys on campus, and now there was a new policy that they couldn't do that. Great, I'm going to die of suffocation because the elevator guys will get in a snit if the doors are opened before they get there. Mr. Facilities says that if it's after hours it could take the elevator guys an hour (!!!) to get there, so they call the fire department who comes and just rips the doors off, which causes an even bigger problem for the elevator men because they have to actually put the doors back on, so it's a bit stupid, really.

It's starting to take awhile for the elevator guys, so Mr. Facilities decides he's going to try the emergency call box which calls the campus police. As he pushes the buttons he says, "These things don't really work." Oh good. "The other day, I was trapped in the freight elevator and I pushed the button and I hear, 'U of C police, can I help you?' and I try to tell them I'm stuck in the elevator and they say, 'U of C police, can I help you?' and I keep saying I'm stuck in the elevator, but they can't hear me so I finally said, 'You're an idiot!' Fortunately, there were some electricians around and they let me out."

Note to self, don't take the elevators after hours. I only work on the 8th floor. I can walk up.*

Finally, after what seems like 10 billion years but was more like 15 minutes, we hear another, "Hello!"
"Hello, hello!" says Mr. Facilities.
"Where are you?" I swear you'd think there was a window in the elevator and a road sign nearby.
"I think we're on the 5th floor."
There's a terrible noise as the elevator guys pull the doors open. We were on the 5th floor. Almost. There was about a foot and a half distance between the elevator floor and the corridor floor.

There are two elevator men there. They are both standing in the door. It's not a very large door. They start talking to the facilities guy ("Yeah, the doors were acting kind of funny, not closing right on the 10th floor...") I can't get out because the elevator men are in the way. I'm staring at them. Finally, they let me out. I took the stairs the rest of the way down.

You know, I was heading out for some caffeine to wake me up. I ended up with decaf and the largest, sweetest, stickiest cinnamon roll ever. How did I get back to lab? I took the elevator. Just not the one I had been stuck in. I don't think I'll be getting in that one for awhile.

*As it happens, the operator on the other end could hear us just fine and said they would call the university.


  1. Oh no! *shudder* I'm claustrophobic, too...I can't even imagine. Usually elevators don't bother me too much, but being stuck in one? Eek. You probably handled yourself much better than I would have.

  2. I know this probably won't help much, but in case it ever happens to you again--try to keep repeating to yourself that an elevator car is NOT hermetically sealed and there is plenty of air flow. And then make yourself inhale and exhale... (Yup, I've been stuck before--in Moscow, mind you.)