I only get in one if I absolutely have to, like when my mom was having a piece of her liver cut out for a biopsy and the hospital downtown Chicago offered NO exceptions to the rule. Stairways closed, period. Except in the event of fire. The event of claustrophobia would have to be worked through. Asking my mom to give me a call when she got back home, since “you know how it is with me and elevators,” would have been appallingly insensitive, not to mention a really bad example to my sons. How could I ask them to overcome irrational fears if I wasn’t willing to make an effort to at least tame mine temporarily. I managed, barely, exhausted the whole trip from sheer exertion of will.
On the way to the contraption, I always used the bathroom. I’d be empty if we got stalled half way up, and besides, intense anxiety caused me to really have to go, or else. I’m not a wimp on all fronts, but when there is no door knob, I freak. All the way up, all the way down, every time, head tucked in my husband’s shoulder, holding his arm like he was a teddy bear, I prayed and focused on each in-breath and forced exhale. I would not be a cool cucumber on the Enterprise.
One afternoon, while I was eleven flights up greeting and comforting my very confused mother as she woke from anesthesia, my husband and children were wandering corridors. When I was ready to go back to the place we were staying overnight, I called my life-long sweetie, asking him to please come get me for our arm-clutching descent. Not understanding the gravity of the situation I faced – alone, in front of a row of buttons, two sliding doors, and a painfully small box-of-a-moving-room that could shrink at any time with me in it – that naive man I married suggested I courageously hop on the elevator and meet him and the boys on three, then we could go to the ground floor together, and “Honey, wouldn’t you feel good about yourself for being so brave?”
While I sympathized with his position, that of having to round up children who were finally getting their wiggles out and having a darn good time imitating anything with wings, I absolutely could not manage the ride down alone, though I did try. I looked from the knobless doors to the ceiling height window to my right, throwing all sorts of creative affirmations at myself, “I am an elevator warrior. I am relaxed and trusting, calm and composed. I face fear with a smile, moving forward with…” I moved, but not forward. My fingers hit the buttons on my phone rather than the buttons on the wall. “Honey, Come get me please!” I don’t know what I thought his presence was going to accomplish if we got stuck between floors, or what danger we would be in, but I could not force myself to be reasonable, or alone in an elevator when I had the option of support, however inconvenient for my husband.
I was no more rational seven years earlier. Part of my birth plan involved securing permission with the powers that be to walk up four flights to labor and delivery when the time came. A little after 9pm on a Thursday, my dear and I walked into the check-in lobby, and over to the paper-signing cubicle. When the receptionist said, “You’re all set, the elevator is down that hall and to your left,” I said, “No thank you, I have permission to take the stairs.”
“Wait, miss, um… well…” She stammered, her brow scrunched in confusion, “I’ll need to… get someone to escort you up. Wait here.”
A middle aged, overweight man walked over to us. “Miss, I’m taking you up the elevator.”
“No you’re not, I made arrangements last week. I’m going up the stairs.” I was already half way to the appropriate door, one with a handle.
As I always had before then, I ran up the steps double. My husband, who would have been beside me on our ascent to the place where we planned on meeting our first born, instead kept my escort company, seeing as that poor man couldn’t keep pace. By the time we all reached level four, I could hear my assigned assistant huffing and puffing down the hall, sputtering exclamations involving consternation, amazement, and a pressing need to sit down.
My husband isn’t thrilled about having to deal with my special phobia, but he sure enjoyed that four-story climb. Still gets a kick out of retelling our little escapade.
Turns out I was one to stay eerily calm through contractions. Having managed our way to the maternity ward, I stood before our equally serene midwife and said with a smile, ‘I’m pretty sure I’m in labor. What do I do next?”
“You’re not in labor. You would know.”
“I do know.”
“You wouldn’t be so relaxed. Let’s take you to triage, check you out, then you can go back home.”
He checked whatever one checks for, raised his eyebrows, and informed me that I was, in fact, at the right place at the right time. A few minutes later I requested a trash can, leaned over the bed rails and threw up three times.
Unfortunately, every room in the maternity ward was occupied.
To be continued