The smile in his tears :
On a recent trip to a mall in Bangkok while waiting for an elevator suddenly the lobby was filled with screams of women and children.
The general initial reaction was of indifference as there was a media engagement going on so most thought it was linked to that.
However the screams got louder and turning towards the direction they were coming from it was apparent something was terribly wrong.
Running towards them i realized a mother and child were stuck midway on an escalator. People were gathering nearby but were too afraid to approach them.
So I rushed up the few step to them and what I saw was disturbing; their hands were trapped in the side of the escalator.
The mother was hysterical and was making the child more nervous causing him to become fidgety resulting in him crying bitterly as he struggled to free his trapped fingers.
He was barely 3 years old and neither him nor his mother understood English.
A quick inspection revealed that the child’s hand was wedged deeper than the mother’s. So I was able to extract her hands out and get a friend to take her away. It turned out she had a toddler in a stroller too and someone from our party helped take that child away to comfort as well.
By now several minutes in there were many onlookers gathering, mall management, even a photographer gathered, all chatting away but too afraid to approach and lend a helping hand.
I beckoned one of the staffers to come and help. Finding it rather odd that they were all busy shouting orders over their radio sets in Thai but not helping.
As time went by I was able to get at least one of my fingers through the minuscule gap and massage the tips of the little boy’s fingers. The purpose was twofold, to comfort him and to figure out if the fingers were still attached to his hand.
By now some ten minutes into his ordeal I used hand gestures to instruct the mall crew (including a medic) to get me soap water. The idea being that it would lubricate the fingers enough to slip them out similar to how people tend to lose wedding rings down the kitchen drain while washing dishes .
The child in the meantime stopped crying as I was kind of cuddling him to comfort him and more importantly to keep him still as his constant moving around could have resulted in a severed finger or two.
A security agent returned with his hands cupped filled with soapy water because he couldn’t find a vessel to bring it in.
However we met with little success and beyond freeing one finger it didn’t do much else.
Another guy came with a metal tool that he used to pry the stair apart but the tool bent and we made no progress.
13 minutes in and 4 fingers remained trapped:
I looked around at the gathered crowd and again using hand gestures because clearly no one understood English, I asked for some cream or lotion, when a woman who was standing on the escalator realized what I was doing handed a tube of lotion she had in her bag.
Mind you at this point medical team had arrived but just stood to a side and there were at least another 15 staffers all standing by and watching.
Emptying the entire tube I was able to extract one finger at a time until all four were out.
When the final finger was out this 3 year old with bloodied fingers and flesh off the bones for the briefest of moments looked up at me with tears in his eyes smiled and hugged me.
I handed him over to the medics and never saw him again.
His teary smile has been etched on my mind ever since and for what seemed like an eternity but was maybe 30 or 40 seconds I just sat in the same position on my haunches as I had been for the fourteen minutes ordeal.
I couldn’t move but it was from sheer relief and not anxiety.
Some Key Learning :
– Don’t expect people whose job it is, to know what to do, to actually be able to perform in a traumatic situation.
– Always keep an eye on children on escalators and if you have more than one with you unless you can hold all of their hands use an elevator instead.
– Learn Teach Repeat Safety Instructions; you never think a simple mall outing could become a nightmare.
– Language can be a huge barrier but hand gestures can help especially with children so teach them from young.
– First aid training is always helpful sign up for one TODAY.
To the mother in the mall you’ve hopefully learnt a harsh lesson, even though it was an accident as the child had slipped and got the fingers snagged. Don’t use escalators with bags in your hand a child in the pram and another walking.
To the emergency teams who just stood by please don’t do that. In my case I knew what to do from years of training but you must still ensure that someone is doing the right thing or they could end up causing more harm. Good Samaritan laws exist but that doesn’t protect the victim from unintentional harm.
Finally to the little boy. Thank you for trusting me, an absolute stranger. You’ve only reinforced my belief to be always prepared.
The smile in your tears will stay with me forever.
PS. will never ever again wonder why women carry such large bags with everything but the kitchen sink in it