It happened to me... I got stuck in a lift for two days
By Daily Mail ReporterUpdated: 22:30 GMT, 20 March 2009In 1999, Nick White was 34 with a home, a beautiful girlfriend, a great social life and a good job. But all that was to change when he became trapped in a lift without food or water for two days. He tells his story:
Working late one Friday evening, I left my office to smoke a cigarette outside. Once I'd finished it, I walked back into the building, past the guy polishing the marble floor – the same guy I had seen for the past 15 years – got into the lift and
pushed the button.
On the way up to my floor, I felt a jolt and the lights dimmed for a second. I soon realised that the lift had stopped, so I rang the emergency bell. The first thing I thought was that it was inconvenient.
Nick White trapped in a lift for 41 hours: 'But it wasn't the lift that ruined my life. It was me. I just gave it away. Lawyers talked of millions, and I just let go of the ropes'
I was a production manager for Business Week magazine and had to get the latest issue out that night. I waited for a while for someone to answer, but no one did.So I pushed the button again. I thought about yelling, but I was embarrassed.
I didn't want to make a fuss, so I just left the bell ringing and waited. Gradually, the thought dawned on me that it was the weekend. There was only a skeleton staff working downstairs and there were 32 lifts in the building.
What if nobody discovered me until Monday morning? I tried to keep that thought out of my head, but the longer the alarm bell rang unanswered, the more persistent the image of me lying dead in a lift became.
To make things worse, I hadn't made any plans with my girlfriend for the weekend, so she wouldn't be looking for me. As the minutes ticked by, panic began to rise up in me.
I started to pry open the doors to see if there was a way out, but when I wrenched them apart all I found was the concrete wall of the wall lift shaft, which only served to make me feel even more enclosed and frustrated.
I scrambled up the sides of the lift to push open the trap door in the ceiling. I knew it would be dangerous to leave the lift, but I was desperate and I didn't care. But the trap door was locked. I lay on the floor, defeated. Thoughts of a slow death consumed me again.
I wanted to push these thoughts away by trying to sleep. As I turned on my side I noticed pieces of fingernail, bits of skin and hair on the floor. I wondered how people managed to shed so much during a short lift ride.
Then I started to become angry. I thought someone should pay for this, and that if I ever got out of the lift, I would take a day or two off and have some fun. I had no idea how much time had passed. I was like a fly trapped in a glass.
Eventually, tired, thirsty and desperate, I heard a voice over the intercom: 'Is there someone in there?' I jumped up. The voice asked me to confirm my identity. He started doing a security check on me, as if I was a criminal who'd broken into the building. I shouted back, 'Just get me the hell out of here!'
I waited what seemed likes hours but was probably about 40 minutes while they called in a mechanic. And then, with no warning, I felt a breeze as the lift moved. Then, the doors opened and I just popped out like a cork.
I squinted at the bright lights in the lobby. I asked for the time. 'It's 4pm,' the mechanic said. 'On Sunday.' I had been in that lift for 41 hours. For two nights, I had only slept fitfully, consumed by panic, and I hadn't had a drink or anything to eat.
My story got out and the next morning, reporters were waiting outside my flat. Every comment I made would find its way into the newspapers. The head of PR for Business Week suggested I should stay in a hotel until the storm had died down.
And then, inevitably, lawyers started calling me, throwing numbers around with regard to how much I could get in compensation. Some talked of £15 million in punitive damages and advised me to quit work to help my case.
They convinced me that I had a straightforward lawsuit and I began proceedings. At that point, I went off into a fantasy life. I had no job but I began looking at flats worth millions and I took a trip to the Caribbean. I told myself that I'd worked hard for 15 years and now I should retire, rich.
In 2004, the case went to court. There was a lot at stake: I was frightened; I had no money, no job and no future. I was banking on a big payout. I was accused by the defendants lawyers of being a money grabber who had exaggerated his suffering, and it was very unpleasant being in the witness box.
My mother and girlfriend were with me that day but both of them were in tears. In the end, we settled for an amount which I'm not allowed to disclose, but it felt like small change. I barely got six figures.
All living creatures have a deep fear of being trapped. I was truly terrified in that lift. Two days in an enclosed space without food or water is an incredibly long time to be imprisoned. I still have a tape of the CCTV footage of my time in that lift. I know it sounds silly, but I watch it sometimes. I am not horrified or entertained – it just doesn't seem real.
My life was good before the ordeal, but I went for the big bucks and ruined everything. My relationship with my girlfriend broke down. I haven't had a job for ten years and I have never married. I walked into a lift with one kind of life and walked out with a completely different one. But it wasn't the lift that ruined my life. It was me. I just gave it away. Lawyers talked of millions, and I just let go of the ropes
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"You do not understand me at all!"
I screamed at my father, ran upstairs, finding a peaceful haven in my own room and slammed the door.
My father, as usual, was speechless.
It was typical of me to make a dramatic exit after any argument with my father. Usually, he would stand still for a moment, then get up to my room and apologise. Anything I wanted; be it pocket money, new shoes or anything in the world, would be given to me. Mission accomplished.
But magic did not occur this time.
As I eavesdropped through the thick layer of the wall, my father was dragging his feet to the front gate. The gate cracked open. The car engine roared. And he drove away.
"Why was he so annoying?" I wondered as I reached out for the door lock. All I wanted was a new dress for my junior prom.
Gripping the handle, I jerked it down, and pulled.
But the stupid door refused to open.
I pulled it again, using all the energy I had, and yet the door stubbornly stayed still.
With an immense effort of will, I tried one more time. I kicked it. I banged at it. I jerked it, but in vain. All my effort trying to free myself proved futile.
Great. I was trapped!
Trapping myself just because I had a habit of slamming it sounded like the most ridiculous thing in the world. There, I found myself sitting on the floor panting for breath, my hands red after banging at the door. Anger simmered within me. It was my father's entire fault. He should have fixed the door ages ago after realising how hard it was to open it. With mom away, he was supposed to take care of me; he was supposed to understand my feelings and cater to my needs. Sadly, he could not, after all.
I stood up, my feet finding their way to my wardrobe. Ever since I moved to this new school I had felt intimidated by my schoolmates, who looked totally like those Runway models with trendy clothes and cool accessories. I could just close my eyes and the prospect of me looking like a fool in front of them in the prom would come and haunt me. How could my father now understand such a simple thing like that?
I felt so desperate.
The only acceptable outfit I had was a knee-length black-and-white dress with fanciful butterflies and laces at the end of it. When I first saw it in stores last year, immediately I fell in love with it, and had my father buy it at once, without even looking at the price tag. It was beautiful.
And the only time I wore it was the final year party.
I tried it on. It still fitted me well. It took me quite a while to dig for a beaded necklace I bought some time ago in my drawer. It might look good with my dress.
Putting the necklace on, I stared at myself in the mirror. My father was right. I might not look like a fool after all.
In my prom dress, I walked around my room, my only haven whenever I disagreed with my father. On the shelves sat some pretty blue-eyed dolls, which I had yet to touch once. Trendy magazines and costly toys were left lying all over the place. I had never thought my haven could seem so cold.
As I circled my room for the hundredth time, the memories in the past started to come back. I missed the time me and my father chatting merrily in the dining room. I missed the time we went into the park together to enjoy the sun instead of trapping ourselves in these lifeless rooms doing our own work. Flabbergasting indeed, to look back at your life one year back, and wondering, what had happened to my life.
I sat down again, exhaustion and despair washed through me like waves. It was such a long tedious moment, with only the clock tickling sound to break through the eerie silence. I rested my head against the wall. For the first time in many months, I did not want to stay in my room.
Suddenly, I heard footsteps walking up the stairs. My father was back.
As fast as I could, I knocked at the door, whispering, "Dad, I am trapped!"
Thankfully he heard me. After telling me to get away from the door, he jerked the door handle strongly and gave it a kick. Somehow, the door opened.
The last thing I remembered was hiding my face in my father's embrace. I had not done it for such a long time.
As I scrolled down my memory lane, I felt so childish at that time. Years passing by, I had grown up in the love of my father, unknowingly and taking it for granted. If I had not been trapped, I might have yet to realise that it was I who always trapped myself in a rigid place of my own, trying to hide and yet longing to be found.
And luckily, the door opened.
I will never be trapped again.
Hi, can you give me some advice on this piece? Thanks so much!
You've written a very nice story! I found it moving, and your descriptions are quite vivid. I think you are a talented writer.
The only advice I have is to proof-read carefully. I found a few typos and some phrases that, while cute, are probably not what you meant (e.g., "clock tickling"). And "me and my father" should be "my father and I." You may already know this, but when trying to decide whether to use "me" or "I", take out the other person's name and see what you would use then. You wouldn't say "me was chatting in the living room," so the correct pronoun is "I."
Very good work. Good luck!
I was always puzzled about the "I" vs. "me" thing until a very wise teacher taught me the trick about taking the other person out of the sentence. Works every time!
I think you should get a high score, but I wouldn't venture to say what it should be. Every instructor is different, and each has particular criteria for an assignment. I think you can be proud of your writing, though. ;-)
As for the editing, I've found that reading my work out loud is the best way to, literally, hear what doesn't sound right. You can also read it to other people and ask them to let you know if there's anything they don't understand or that sounds odd. (Needless to say, this refers to literate people with good taste.) You can also take advantage of your university's Writing Center, assuming they have one. The entire purpose of a Writing Center is to help students hone their composition skills.