1993 was a wild year for my family. We were living in Wageningen, The Netherlands. The town was perfect. I went to school and was forced to speak Dutch (although I never became thoroughly fluent in the language, I could understand it and translated for my family). My whole family was in heaven. We loved life, we were so incredibly close, and everything was just ideal. The world was good.
(Lucky Kittah circa 1993, pre accident, not looking terribly thrilled.)
I was wearing rubber rain boots that day. They were yellow. I can still remember buying them. It was raining and my mother and I stopped by the shop to pick them out before going on our day trip to Amsterdam. It was love at first sight, those boots had to be mine. They were my first pair of rain boots and I was so proud to be wearing them and splashing around in puddles.
The escalators seemed to go on forever. The train was underground. My right foot was up against the side of the escalator making a really cool sound. No one had taught me friction and it all happened so fast. There were no signs or warnings. None of that existed in the 90s. What did exist thank god, was an emergency stop system that was apparently common in Europe, but not yet in The United States. In the US, someone still had to push the big, red emergency stop button on the bottom or top of the stairs in order to stop the machine.
I suddenly felt the most intense pressure I have ever felt in my entire life. I felt absolutely no pain, only terrible pressure. Something was so wrong; the escalator came to an abrupt halt. However, it hadn’t stopped quickly enough. It had swallowed my foot up past my ankle. It felt like ages before I noticed what had happened.
I immediately lost all of my Dutch and just screamed, “Mama! Mama, help me!” I cannot begin to imagine what went through my poor mother’s head at the time. We have talked a little about it, never too in depth or for long periods of time. It got worse as people, commuters, just walked down the escalator walking past a small child in absolute panic who was clearly in an emergency situation. If it happened in this day and age, people would all be standing around taking pictures with their smart phones.
I’m not sure how long it was before someone finally stopped to help. It was a man in a business suit with a black, leather briefcase. He had a mobile phone. This was the first mobile phone I had ever seen. He alerted the people at the train station. I remember begging him in my best Dutch to please stay with me. I kept reaching out to him, but he disappeared quickly down the steps. People kept walking by as I screamed and cried.
The police showed up not knowing what to do. I do believe I was the first case of this happening at this particular station. I’m not sure how prevalent this type of incident was yet in the world, but I’m pretty sure they were escalator monster virgins. The firepeople showed up next. All of them speaking to me in Dutch and reassuring me that I would be okay. Someone gave me a stuffed animal of the train mascot to soothe me. It was dressed in a conductor’s outfit. I still have it stowed away with various other toys.
The police put up emergency tape. My mother,in agony had to stay out of my reach for the 45 minutes I was stuck inside of this machinery. She did not speak Dutch. She tried desperately to remember the phone number to reach my father; she couldn’t even remember the school’s name where he was working.
No pain; only pressure. Forty-five minutes of pressure. My foot was flattened to about one inch. It is incredibly hard to believe. It was sucked in through the side and then behind through the teeth in the back corner of the step. I have always had a difficult time describing it to people. It is still hard for me to believe.
(A picture of what it kind of did. This is not my shoe. My foot was sucked up more than that; past my ankle. It was also further sucked to the back of the step.)
Some of the firepeople spoke some English to my mother, telling her that they were going to try one last thing before bringing in the jaws of life. I had no idea what those were until those car crash videos they showed us in high school. At the time I was frightened and panicked, but I still couldn’t quite grasp the enormity of the situation. To my childlike sense it seemed just like a major inconvenience and I simply wanted my mama. Looking back, I was in pure shock. My brain couldn’t process what was going on properly and all it focused on was the pressure and the fact that my mama was too far away from me. I do remember my mother being very upset and I was very upset about that.
After wiggling my foot every which way, they finally brought out some scissors. They made a cut down my beautiful new, yellow boot and through my sock. They cut the boot down as far as they could. After 45 minutes they managed to just slide my foot out. All they had to do was cut the boot and yank me.
There was a very high probability that I would lose my foot. The circulation had been cut off for 45 minutes. I still couldn’t feel anything except pressure.
This was my first trip in an ambulance. It was a Mercedes ambulance. It was loud, but I don’t remember much else. I do remember really bright lights in the hospital. As they were wheeling me through the hallway, I told my mother exactly this, “Mama, I thought I was going to die”. The true horror finally really hit me and I cried tears of horror and joy. I was more scared in that moment than I was when my foot was in the escalator.
I remember the hospital so much less vividly. I do know that the doctors were absolutely shocked that I had not one broken bone in my entire foot or ankle. It had been squashed for over 45 minutes to the size of one inch and I just got an awful sprain.
I got to keep my foot.
Thanks to the technological advances, that one dude with the mobile, the fast acting emergency workers, my amazingly malleable bones, and my mother, I got to keep my foot.
My mother and I have never really sat down and talked about this event from start to finish. It is mentioned casually once in a while (especially in escalator settings), but it’s always just talked about in such a calm, cool fashion. The story gets told, less so now that I’m older; the story is older. People get the shortened version now. I’m not really comfortable talking to her about it because I know it is such a painful memory for her and it makes me terribly uncomfortable to imagine my mother in that much pure agony and terror. It hurts to know that I did that to her.
I am still uncomfortable on escalators although I don’t have the intense fear I used to have riding them. I used to stand directly in the middle, concentrating hard. (Don’t worry, I’d move for the walkers... but there weren’t many in the mall, the only place with escalators in my town.) I can now stand to the side and relax a bit as long as I still have my attention on the monster. I won’t let it get me again. Shoelaces are tied and nothing touches the sides. My hand is carefully placed on the rail, but only touching the top for balance, I don’t want my hand to get sucked in.
I bought my second pair of rubber rain boots 3 years ago. It was a defining moment in my life. I never thought I could ever do it. I still feel proud stomping around campus in my hot pink cheetah rain boots.
(The second pair of rubber rain boots ever worn by me, bought in 2011, 18 years after the accident.)
Two years ago, I rode my first escalator in those boots. Nothing horrible happened. I paid very close attention to where my feet were and I was incredibly stiff the entire time. I did not walk the first time I did this. I could not move. But I did it.
Now I can ride an escalator without much worry (even in my cheetah boots). Most of my worry comes from seeing children playing or people leaning on the sides carelessly. I want to reach out and say something, but I know they won’t listen. I want to warn them of the monster.
My foot was swallowed by a mechanical monster, but it spat me back out. I guess it didn’t like the taste or maybe I am just a Lucky Kittah.