La La How The Life Goes On


Posted on: January 7, 2016

This is going to sound like a bad movie or a cheeseball sitcom, but I got stuck in an elevator yesterday. For real. Like what you see on the big screen but that you assume never really happens in real life.  Well, hello. It happened, and it was TERRIFYING.

I want to pretend I was all chill about it. I want to pretend that I was singing Hakuna Matata as I did the downward dog while achieving internal serenity. But NOPE. I was distinctly, unequivocally, unabashedly frightened.

Let’s review.

I had just finished my appointment at Dana Farber, victorious in my super near-normal blood counts and ongoing prednisone tapering. I was drunk with the power of my great good luck. My mom had come with me, so I was gladhanding my way around the building like Joe Biden working a rope line, reassuring my mom that while I may be a patient at the cancer facility, I am the COOLEST and least-likely-to-die patient at the cancer facility.

We breezed insouciantly into the elevator, pressed the P2 button and settled in for the 9-floor trip to the garage where we would drive on outta there like the goddamn healthy(ish) bosses we were. And then it happened. The violent jerk of the emergency brake stopping the elevator mid-trip. My exclamation, “Whoa! That was a rough landing!” as I oriented myself toward the doors. My realization that the doors had not opened and the digital floor readout was flashing 2, then blank, then –, then back to 2. Then the electronic voice: “Press the emergency button to summon help. Press the emergency button to summon help.”

Talk about pissing on a girl’s parade.

We reached a lady’s voice on the emergency panel, told her we were stuck in an elevator. “Are we okay? We are fine. I think.

Which is when you come to grips with several facts:

If you need to pee in the next hour you will be peeing on this floor.

If you need to (dear lord let’s not even ponder it) poop, you will be pooping on this floor.

If the emergency brake lets go for any reason you are going to either die or be profoundly and irrevocably injured by the impact.

If anything bad happens, you will have expired IN AN ELEVATOR. This is not the obituary I want for myself. Forty-three years old. Transplant survivor. Pneumococcal sepsis survivor. Aspergillosis survivor. Chronic GVHD survivor and attempted thriver:  Death by dumbwaiter.


The entire ordeal lasted about 35 minutes, during which there was much banging and beeping and far-off voices yelling to us to stay calm. Sweet relief as we began moving, the doors opening and us running free into the blessed lobby of our savior. Where we immediately took the stairs to the garage, not being ready to step immediately back into a glorified Tardis of Death.

So what did I learn from this experience that I can pass along to you so that it wasn’t a total waste?

  1. When stuck in an elevator after a rather violent jerking stop, do not immediately think of all the movies you have seen where bad things happen to people in elevators or people in elevator shafts. Those elevators are old. This one is new. The people repairing your elevator are experts. Yes indeed. Experts. You just tell yourself that. Even as your mind starts to wander and starts to wonder why, if it’s no big deal really, they can’t seem to have it moving 20 minutes in. If it’s all programming and technology these days, how come there is so much noise going on? Try to accept that you know nothing about elevators or elevator repair. Most importantly, do not then fill in the blanks with your imagination. In an elevator and in life, never fill in the blank spaces of  your ignorance with offerings from your imagination. It will always be a recipe for failure, fear and heartache. diehard3
  2. When stuck in an elevator and you ponder the duration of your confinement, do not immediately conjure images of you unceremoniously squatting to poop on an elevator carpet, steeped in your own refuse and shame. Recognize that these scatological terrors are a function of two things: 1–The very real reaction of your body to fear and stress. That rumbling in the tumbling is real, but stay calm: it’s likely not a giant steamer that must be expelled. Yet. 2– Recognize that the PAPP (poop and pee panic) is a metaphor for the entire situation, for the very real lack of control and autonomy you are currently experiencing. There is no human fear like the loss of control fear, which often masquerades as the loss of bowel control fear. So take heart: in an elevator and in life, you likely will not shart your pants just because you have no place to “go.”
  3. As we waited for “the elevator guys” to fix the elevator, a woman above us kept talking to us to see if we were fine. A woman on the other end of the emergency phone button stayed on the line with us just so we knew we were not forgotten. We didn’t really speak; we just knew she was there. The power of knowing these women were present was enormous. They were strangers. Strangers with no more power to alter our physical situation than we had. But what they had was the power of human contact, of empathy, of simply being present in another human’s pain or fear. When you are trapped in a small stuck box with the potential for injury but without the potential for saving yourself, you just want to know you are not alone and not forgotten, especially as minute 18 turns to minute 19 turns to minute 20. So I am reminded that, in an elevator and in life, being present with another person in fear or pain or confusion or worry is non-negotiable. You may not be able to change the circumstances but you can be present, you can witness, you can support by simply being a voice in the distance, a face across the street, or a bystander who resolutely stands by. Simply choose to be present.

So we made it out alive. Lived to tell. And avoided the urge to pretend I was super cool and unflappable when I was in reality not cool and really quite “flapped.”

Next time, I’m taking the stairs.







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