Woman describes lift nightmare

Gran considering legal action after lonely, agonising wait for rescue with daughter and baby

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“It was like having a nightmare but you are awake and you are living it.”This is how a grandmother described her horror experience at Uitenhage Provincial Hospital after a lift seemed to fall half a floor with her, her daughter and grandchild inside, leaving them trapped for more than three hours.“Now when we go back, the personnel make jokes about us and how we were stuck,” Leonie Clarke, 44, said.“They pretend that nothing bad has happened.”Clarke says the family only received a brief apology from the hospital staff and she had consulted an attorney to investigate possible legal action against the Eastern Cape department of health.On Friday, health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said he wanted to apologise on behalf of the department for the unfortunate incident.He said: “I want to apologise personally to the family who were involved in the traumatic and unfortunate incident.”He added that the department considered it to be an isolated incident, but would liaise with the lift company to assess the state of the lifts.He said he would also ensure the Clarke family received trauma counselling.“My grandson needs constant medical attention so we have no choice but to use the lifts. It has been very tough on us,” Clarke said.She said that on May 20 she, her daughter Twane, 23, and her grandson Logan, 17months, had been at Uitenhage Provincial Hospital to pick up a referral letter for him.“It was just a quick visit. We only had a little milk in a bottle and one nappy,” she said.She said they had picked up the letter on the sixth floor and were on their way down when the lift suddenly shuddered.“It fell maybe half a floor,” she said.“My daughter, who had her baby on her hip, fell. I didn’t fall but I injured my knee, my back and my shoulder.“The lift came to a standstill and we were scared. Even too scared to breathe. So many things go through your mind. What if the lift catches fire?“We tried to open the door but we could only open it a little. We were pressing the alarm but it sounded like the alarm only went off inside the lift and not so much outside. We were calling out for help.”She said about 15 minutes later a man came round and said he would call someone.“He said he was on the sixth floor. I realised that there were many floors below us. My chest closed up.“A nurse came round to ask if we were stuck. I said yes. We were two women and a baby. She said she would phone [for help]. Nobody came back to us. It was hot in the lift. The baby was crying. He choked on his milk.“Another person came and said they would phone the lift company.”Clarke said she was scared as the cellphone reception in the lift was not good and they did not have airtime.“My daughter sent a pleasecall-me to her fiance. He phoned the hospital. They said they were waiting for the lift company as they did not have a key for the lift shaft.“After an hour I became panicky. I could see my daughter wanted to cry.“We lost a child at this hospital. I was wondering if my husband would also lose his wife, daughter and grandson.“We sat there singing to the baby. My chest was closed up and the baby’s chest was closed.”She said she had eventually got through to the 112 emergency line on her phone.“The woman put me through to the Uitenhage police. A warrant officer Gouws answered the phone. Like an angel from heaven she went out of her way to help us.“She phoned the fire department. She kept on phoning us to hear if we were ok.She said after some time they heard the bell signalling the end of visiting hours.“We pressed the alarm again. This alerted the security guard, who went to call someone. A few minutes later the technician from the lift company opened the door.“I had collapsed by this time. Men from the fire department helped us out.“Nobody at that hospital even offered us a glass of water. I was hurt. We had to take the lift again to the ground floor. At least this time a clerk took us down with the doctors’ lift.”She said they had needed help for shock and injury and were told to sit and wait.“They gave me two Panados. At half past 10 my husband took us home.“I phoned the hospital to hear what had happened. Nobody even asked how we were.”She said hospital personnel said the lift had not fallen but only came to an abrupt stop. “I want to know about this. “They explained later that the lift had three brakes – but how does anybody know this when they are inside the lift and stuck?She said she had been to see attorney Wilma Espag van der Bank to investigate the matter.“We are taking statements from witnesses and we will be investigating what happened,” Van der Bank said.Acting head of infrastructure for the Eastern Cape department of health Johann Cronje said he could confirm that the three people had been stuck in the lift for about three hours. He said the lift had not fallen and it was currently being repaired.

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