The Scare

Gail and I had probably the worst scare of our parenting lives yesterday. We went to the Ontario Science Centre with Gail’s mom, Carol. The kids love it, and right now there’s a special exhibition on the Titanic which only goes until early January, so we wanted to see it while we had the chance. The exhibition was really interesting — there are lots of pictures and stories as well as actual artifacts from the Titanic itself; everything from third class toilets to pieces of the engines to dinnerware and pots from the kitchen, even passenger’s items like eyeglasses and jewellery. Anyway, the Science Centre is in a valley, and one of the things I remember from going there as a kid are the long escalators that take you from the main entrance down into the valley where the exhibits are.

After buying our tickets, we got to the first escalator. I got on first, then Gail and Nicholas, then Ryan and Carol. Part of the way down, I heard Gail asking Nicky to stop doing something. I did’t know what he was doing, and I don’t really remember what happened next, but the next thing I remember is turning around and seeing Gail kneeling in front of Nicky and pulling on his leg. He had been dragging his boot along the side of the escalator and it had become lodged between the escalator stair and the side. Ryan yelled “Stop the elevator!” and then Gail also started yelling for the escalator to be stopped. By this point, we were about 3/4 of the way down, and I ran on ahead to the bottom and started frantically looking for the emergency stop button.

My parents once told me that when I was a kid and they took my sister and I to the mall, they were surprised at the fact that every time we were there, the escalators were not working. They started to get suspicious, so one time they watched me and sure enough, as soon as we got near the escalator, I’d run over and press the button. You’d think that after my extensive training, I’d be able to find and press the button in no time flat. Not this time. I found the button easily enough, but it had a little plastic cover over it — probably to make it more difficult for kids like me to press it for fun. I tried to lift it, but found that I couldn’t get my fingers underneath it. I tried every angle I could to get the cover to lift, but I couldn’t move it. There was another man standing next to me by this point, and he didn’t know how to open it either. Finally, when the escalator stairs were no more than a foot or two from starting to collapse at the end, the man next to me hit the button assembly hard with the heel of his hand. Not only did this stop the escalator, thankfully, but it also pushed the entire button assembly in and down a little, so there will need to be some repairs done on it. Once the escalator stopped, Gail was finally able to yank Nicky’s foot out of his boot and she carried him off the escalator, both of them in tears. Carol was holding on to Ryan, who was also crying, and once I knew that Nicholas was not injured, I tried to pull the remains of the boot free of the escalator. Even before I got to it, the boot was damaged beyond repair. It took me over a minute to get it dislodged, and I had to rip it in half to get it out.

Within a minute, two or three Science Centre employees appeared out of nowhere. One seemed to be a nurse or EMT or something, and immediately examined Nicky’s foot. There were no cuts or scrapes and he said it didn’t hurt, and he could move it around. She decided that he was fine, though she said he might have some bruising or swelling later. Another employee had a cold pack, so we put that on his foot for a while. We realized then that he couldn’t wear his boots for the rest of the day, since one of them was in piceces, so we took the liners out and he just wore those. At the end of the day, I had to piggyback him to the van.

I wandered back over to the escalator to see if I could determine how the button was supposed to open. It turned out there was a red spot next to the button, with a little message saying “Push HERE to open cover”. I didn’t see this when trying to open it the first time. I don’t know whether this was my mistake or if it was a usability problem with the escalator design. I have a feeling it’s the former, but I don’t know if this is because of my feelings of guilt over the fact that someone else (who I never even got to thank) was able to stop the escalator to save my son when I couldn’t.

The rest of the day proceeded without incident, though Ryan was much quieter than normal (and had trouble falling asleep last night). This whole thing affected Ryan even more than Nicholas. I think it’ll be a long time before he agrees to go near an escalator again (we took elevators the rest of the day at the Science Centre). A couple of times later in the day, Nicholas was very quiet and almost seemed introspective, and I’d ask him if anything was wrong, and he would just say “I’m bad”. We tried to convince him that he was not a bad kid, that it was an accident. At the same time, we tried to gently let him know that he did do something dangerous, and that this is why we always tell them not to goof around on escalators. There hasn’t been any pain in his foot, but he has been complaining about his waist hurting; Gail thinks she might have elbowed him pretty good while trying to pull him free. Gail also has a nasty scrape on her leg that she thinks she got when she dropped to try to pull Nicky free. She, of course, has no memory of this; she was trying to save her child and was running on adrenaline so she wouldn’t have felt any pain if she’d been shot with a .44 Magnum.

To the Science Centre employees who helped, other people who stopped to ask if we were all right, and especially to the man who managed to stop the escalator, thank you.


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