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My Worst Fear Realised

by Ruth Murdoch | 28 February 2018 

Today I experienced the worst most fearful situation of my entire life. Whilst you may laugh at this, as may I in the future, it was by far the most terrifying experience I have ever had, bar none.

As a child growing up I had a safe and secure life. My parents always looked out for my siblings and me, and I was somewhat of a daredevil, a fearless child that would try everything thrown at me. I remember as a child being dared by an older brother to jump into a river stream several meters below the riverbank. I had no idea what lay beneath, and being the youngest of four I didn’t want to look scared and wanted to appear ‘brave’ to my elder siblings. So, of course, I jumped into the unknown. It all worked out okay and I’m here to tell the story.

Safety for me has never been a factor in my life. I rode a 600cc sports motorbike all around New Zealand, then rode around Europe at the age of 30 on another larger motorbike. I owned a yacht and sailed singled handed, and even raced the 30 foot yacht singled handed on an overnight yacht race. I anchored my boat, launched the dinghy and rowed ashore.  I slept on the boat alone and got sailing again the next morning all single-handed. Fear was never a factor in my life.

Until recently…

Isn’t it the small things in life that define us? It’s the silly things that we don’t expect will trip us up.

I have always had this stupid fear, one I would not tell anyone about, but it was a situation while traveling I would face more and more often. I love my husband dearly, but I didn’t even share this fear I had with him. Why, I don’t know. He wouldn’t laugh at me, he would be understanding and caring and would be there for me if and when I needed him. But nevertheless, he didn’t know so he didn’t know how to help me or that I even may need his help one day.

Until today…

Today, and this is still so fresh that I am feeling anxious about writing this, I had my worse nightmare realised.   Writing this is in part therapy to help put my fears down on paper and explain to my husband what I am feeling.

I am writing this to highlight the reality of life, and to assure others who have a similar fear. These things are real, so if you can find yourself laughing, please think again and put yourself in my position, or if not yours, then that of a loved one.  If that doesn’t work then dig deep for your own fears (perhaps a mouse or spider too close) then you might get it.

It was worse than I ever imagined.

No-one came to my aid, no-one knew where I was, and no-one called out any words of reassurance. I was all alone.

We are parked at the marina of Agios Nikolas in Crete, Greece and were heading out for a walk. On our way out we decided to use the marina toilets to ‘drop the kids off’, i.e. do number twos, as it can be an issue to dispose of our ‘black water’ waste and the marina offered toilets for our use.

Not only do they offer toilets here, but the set-up has individual rooms housing a toilet, shower, dressing room and sink basins for hand washing. Each area has a door that you go into and lock behind, then you are free to shower or go to the toilet, which has a separate lockable door.

I didn’t lock the toilet door as the first door was already locked and I felt safe. After finishing my business I went to exit the toilet and accidentally turned the lock underneath the handle. Instead of letting me out, it actually locked solid and would not budge.

I tried to turn the lock back the other way, but in true Greek tradition the maintenance on such buildings is appalling and it wouldn’t budge. I was locked in the toilet! This was my phobia, the worst fear I hadn’t shared with anyone throughout my life.

I tried and tried to unlock the lock. It was solid, locked tight and nothing I could do would make any difference.

I looked up to see if there was a window to escape through. There wasn’t.

I looked up to see if there was a gap above the door that I could climb over. There wasn’t.

I looked down to see if there was a gap underneath the door that I could squeeze under. There wasn’t.

I was stuck.

The door lock wouldn’t budge.

I tried to remain calm and think about which way I had accidently locked myself in. So I tried to turn the lock the opposite way. Nothing happened.

Then thinking I had it the wrong way around, I tried turning the lock the opposite way. Nothing happened.

The knob for the lock was small and one I could only just get my thumbs around.

By now I was starting to sweat a bit, so I used my t-shirt and tried to turn the lock, but the shirt kept slipping and I was still getting nowhere.

I knew that I was trapped. Not only could I not unlock this door, I also realised that the door was metal. I kicked the door as hard as I could with my foot, while bracing myself against the wall, trying to loosen the lock. That would have worked because of the adrenaline now starting to run through my body, if it was a wooden door frame. That wasn’t to be.

Not only was this door made of steel, so was the outer door. Just my luck…

I yelled “help”, “help”, “help”! Not a sound. I knew there were people around and outside but no-one took any notice. I kept trying to unlock the lock, by this time my thumbs were turning red, were swollen and starting to become numb.

I got the feeling that I was on my own, and no-one would be able to get me out of here except me. To that end I keep trying the lock. The panic that was growing inside of me and the adrenaline swirling around inside of me kept my senses high, but I did my best to think things through logically and to panic slowly (a sailing term). It hardly worked. I was panicking and I was scared.

I could see the future, Alan would eventually come looking for me, as he knew I was in the toilet (it was his suggestion after all), then he would calm me down and tell me he was going for help. In Greece, that would take a long time. What could anyone do? First they had to fight their way through the first metal door, whilst the lock on that door was somewhat flimsier that the toilet door, it would still be likely to take some time, an hour or two.

Next would be the harder door. Being steel, I had visions of a gas torch being used to get a hole in the door. The toilet itself was small, hardly any room to swing a cat (oh how I wish there was a cat in there with me for comfort).

By this stage I am still screaming out “help, help me, help”. I could hear the tonality of my own voice and could hear the desperation as though I was outside listening in. No-one came to help. I could hear people outside, surely someone would understand English, surely someone would understand a panicked cry of help through tonality if not language.

No, it wasn’t to be.

All the while I continued with the lock. I turned it left, and I turned it right. It wasn’t budging. I continued to kick the door but it was solid. I continued to scream, but no-one answered my calls for help.

What was I do to?

Where was Alan? Had he gone back to the motorhome sitting there working on some thing or the other? Did he realise I was a long time in the toilet? Did he think this was usual, or perhaps he thought I had a big job on?

He was on the outside, and free, and able to walk around in something resembling more than one step in front or behind him. Meanwhile I was trapped. I was like a caged lion except a caged lion was lucky because someone knew he was there. No-one knew where I was.

I continue to call out, “help, help me, please help me ”. I continued to try what I saw on TV and kick the door in (that’s probably why I have a sore back now). No-one, not one person called back. It was only later that we realised the doors were so solid that noise was difficult to penetrate through.

By now my thumbs and forefinger were red, swollen, and aching but I had to keep trying. The panic and fear kept me going and kept me trying. Time was ticking on, I would have been in here for about 20 minutes or was it 45 minutes or two hours?  Whatever it was it was the longest, most terrifying, time of my life.

Hang on, the lock was beginning to move. Was this it, was it unlocking finally? Oh yes, the lock finally gave up and decided I was the victor. I was free, I could leave now on my own accord, I was no longer a trapped prisoner of this toilet. I would be able to make my way outside of the second door.

I opened the outer door and there stood a young man. His face was blank, confused, and as he looked at me, with tears streaming down my face, he asked in perfect English with a German accent “are you okay”.

My heart beating so hard I thought it was going to leap out of my chest, I stood looking at him and with my hand on my heart I cried “I was trapped”. He didn’t know what to do or say and stood aside while I made a hasty exit from the building.

I stopped half way out to catch my breath, and wash my hands. My heart was pounding so hard I could hardly hear anything else. People were looking at me wondering what was going on.

I walked outside to see Alan making his way back to the toilet block. I raced into his arms and broke down sobbing, like I’ve never sobbed before. Amongst my tears and breathlessness I managed to tell him of my ordeal. He held me tight and assured me he thought I must be talking with someone to have been so long.

We walked back to Betsy, our motorhome, and panic set in. Walking in I felt like I was entering a trap again. A panic attack engulfed me (by surprise) and it took all my power to keep it under wraps. I knew Betsy was safe, but being inside an enclosed space once again so soon after my ordeal was terrifying.

Alan to his credit and knowing how incredibly upset I was, he kindly suggested that we ‘break state’ a coaching term we learnt many years ago, and he put on the TV to watch a program.

It worked.

All day I have had small panic attacks thinking back to what happened.

It was a rare occasion that I didn’t take my mobile phone with me into the toilet, but this was one of those times. Never again will I be without my phone and I doubt I will ever lock a public toilet door again.

I don’t think Alan will ever leave my public toilet door until I am out safely.

I was always taught as a youngster, that if you fall off a horse, you should get right back on – a Kiwi tradition. In true fashion later in the afternoon, after a few cuppa teas, I needed to use the toilet again. I asked Alan to go back with me to face my fear. This time we went back to the same toilet with a can of WD40 – a lubricant to ensure the lock would free itself up. Alan experienced the stiffness of the lock himself (after three squirts of WD40 from me) and finally got the lock working freely. I would hate to think a child or elderly person got themselves locked in this toilet as I did. I still think of myself as young, and I know I am strong (thanks to the gym and years of sailing), so if I struggled others would more so.

My lesson is that I should share my fears with my lovely husband so he doesn’t wander too far and to panic slowly in these circumstances. Then think about what the worst outcome would be. No I wouldn’t die, at least if I could calm myself down, think logically, and realise I was in no immediate danger. Then continue to yell out, continue to try the lock, and continue to stay positive and know that Alan would come and look for me, eventually.

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