Trapped Tatiana, Crippled Craig
Apoldu de Sus, Romania
Tatiana's nerves are still making her shake and I'm left unable to walk—what a mess of an afternoon.
What was shaping up to be another uneventful day turned wildly dramatic when the 40-year-old door handle mechanism of the bathroom in this home broke, effectively locking Tatiana and Aidric inside. Stephan was already off at work for the day (without his mobile phone) and wouldn't be back until long after nightfall.
I'd noticed something odd when I'd closed the door behind them, after handing a naked baby Aidric over to Tatiana so they could bathe together in the tub. I immediately tried to open the door, but the handle didn't seem to respond properly—rotating stiffly without operating the internal bolt. Tatiana's attempts to open the door from her side were likewise unsuccessful, and she was growing more and more frightened of her predicament.
I ran around the cluttered home throwing open drawers and rummaging around shelving searching for a large, old-fashioned key that I might use to open the bolt. Little did I know that even if I'd found the appropriate key, it would've done us no good (as the deadbolt is an independent locking mechanism from the simple one that keeps the door from opening when closed).
All a screwdriver revealed by taking off the metal door handle plate was unfinished wood—the entire locking mechanism was actually built into the door. Trying to keep Tatiana calm by letting her know what I was doing, I returned once more with a set of tools that I hoped to use to slip or force the bolt open with.
The sound of hammer and chisel echoed harshly off the cold, concrete walls as I strategically attacked at the door frame. I could hear metal pinging on metal, and the baby getting scared as both Tatiana and I wondered how long they'd be trapped in there.
The mental checklist filled my thoughts as I worked on the door—the baby had just eaten, there's a heater in the bathroom so at least they won't be cold, and there's water.
I didn't want to kick the door in—still too extreme for the moment. I needed to get the pins out of those door hinges so that we could just take the door off. Alas, it opened inward, and Tatiana had no tools.
But there was a window. It was always closed and I remembered it being a rather antique opaque, but I'd opened it once, nine or ten days ago.
I scooped up the tools and ran outside, to the back of the property. Towering above the chickens was a large wall that extended from the home and continued along the perimeter of the home. Clearly the ground-level window was looking into the neighbor's yard.
Out of our own gated courtyard and onto the stone and dirt street I went, tools in hand. A few unanswered knocks/shouts on the large metal gate was all I needed to remember Stephan's earlier remark that no one was currently living next door.
…and this is the point where I should've just turned around—but I didn't.
Off went my sandals and down went the tools beside them, next to a gap at the bottom of the security gate (between the gate and the ground). And up I climbed, using the decorative metalwork as hand and footholds.
Peering into the neighbor's courtyard I could see that the other side of the gate was flush metal, and completely lacking in handholds that I could use to climb back over. Adding to that was the unhappy discovery that the gate required a key on both sides, as opposed to the turn-latch that our host's gate sported on the courtyard-facing side.
…and again, this is the point where I should've just turned around—but I didn't. (My thoughts were only for extracting Tatiana and our infant son.) I'd spotted an old wooden ladder leaning against the courtyard wall, and quickly decided that I'd be using this as my means of return.
Upwards I proceeded to climb. Small spikes on the top of the gate didn't permit me to rotate properly at the top to dangle down the opposite side, so in a final moment of stupidity I decided to just hop over and push myself away from both gate and spikes, taking my chances with the grossly underestimated drop onto the courtyard concrete.
As soon as I hit the ground I knew I'd made a big mistake. It probably had something to do with the searing burst of piercing pain emanating from my feet, and the general inability to stand.
I'd pushed too far off the gate and landed very improperly from a height that certainly shouldn't have been jumped from barefooted to begin with. The heels of my feet absorbed the full impact, and I was totally shell-shocked.
Trying to walk off what I thought was much less of a problem than it actually was, I slowly hobbled towards the rear of the courtyard, searching for the bathroom window in the shared brick and concrete wall.
There was nothing. Nothing but large grape vines.
Frustrated, and perhaps blinded by pain, I weakly yelled out to Tatiana. No response.
Was my memory faulty? Maybe the window actually opened onto a small, inaccessible space between the wall and the home? Sure didn't look like it from the outside.
Unable to make out an access point to hand the tools over to Tatiana, I admitted defeat and focused on the more urgent matter of getting my injured self out of the neighbor's property.
Slowly hobbling, doubled-over like a hunchback caught mid-flogging, I made my way to the old wooden ladder. It was an ancient gray thing, easily double my age and constructed haphazardly out of mismatched branches and cut timber.
Half wanting to vomit and half wanting to cry from the pain, I repositioned the ladder so that I could climb onto a low-hanging roof. This was the only means of exit; there was no way that I'd be able to climb back over and down the opposite side of the gate.
I'm really not sure how I did it, but somehow I managed to climb up this ladder onto the flat concrete roof, drag the ladder back up behind me, reposition it on the street-side of the gate, and climb back down it. If it wasn't for this ladder I would've easily been trapped in the courtyard, injured and improperly clothed for the near-freezing temperatures that dusk would've brought with it. Tatiana would've still been locked in the bathroom, completely unaware of my venture into the neighbor's yard or my injury.
Slipping my sandals onto my bare feet did little to ease the excruciating pain. I bent over and "walked" with some of my weight on my hands to help the slow progression back into our property.
By the time I was inside the courtyard every single movement of my feet was accompanied by a wail of pain. Klaus, the dog gated at the far end of the yard, was a barking frenzy.
I couldn't remember if I'd left the ground-level door leading to the kitchen and bathroom open before leaving for the neighbors (what would've been the fastest way back to Tatiana), so I was forced to climb up an outside flight of stairs to the dining room and pair of bedrooms, and then down again into the kitchen. Every movement bringing with it wave after wave of unbearable pain.
I collapsed onto the frigid tiles outside the locked bathroom door. I could hear Tatiana weeping from the other side—she'd heard my cries of pain, the barking dog, and imagined me bleeding, attacked, or worse. She said the baby was sleeping in her arms.
Now unable to stand or really even kneel, I almost worthless to Tatiana, but I decided to try once more to figure a way for her to open the door from her side.
With my last ounce of strength I rose and pressed as hard as I could against the top-corner of the door, thrusting the blade of the chisel into the sliver of light from the gap I'd created. It was just too big to fit.
Again I grunted, moaned in pain, and pushed the corner of the door, this time driving a smaller screwdriver towards the trapped Tatiana. She pulled the last of it through as I gave a final shove of the door and collapsed onto the floor in a pile of agony and exhaustion.
Through the door's opaque glass I could see Tatiana working on something that wasn't the hinge pins. She'd found a pair of screws that kept a metal bracket attached to the outside of the doorframe (an odd, older design), and was working hard to undo them.
The more she unscrewed the more give the door had, until finally a welcomed crash of metal from tool and bracket echoed alongside an open entryway. They were free.
(Tatiana would later take a few snapshots for me, below)
A closer look at that bathroom window revealed that it did indeed open out into the neighbor's courtyard, but was concealed behind both a plastic and wine vines, and certainly not at ground level.
Stephan returned home a few hours after the incident to find me in bed, my feet propped up to a level above my heart. I'd taken a dose of every type of pain management medication we had on hand, and lathered a layer of Tiger Balm on and around my heels.
Maybe I've broken something, maybe it's just a terrible sprain. All I know is that my feet are in pretty bad shape, and I'm completely incapable of getting to the bathroom (so I've been forced to urinate in a two liter bottle for the remainder of the day).
I'm hoping the morning will find me in considerably better condition.