That time I got Jack Bauer'd
This happened on my first humanitarian trip to India.
It is 100% true.
Folks who have watched the TV show “24” know that it was famous for the fast pace, the high energy…and Jack Bauer extracting information in painful ways every twenty minutes. But, here in the village of Fatehpur, India, Mike Vayda created a scene that even Jack hasn’t experienced.
Before I tell the story, let me say in my defense that,
number one, this happened immediately after waking up from the long trip here. I was, in a word, really tired. And, second, I was really tired. Third, this procedure worked the last time I was in a Third World country, so I honestly thought it would work the same way here. With all that being said, let’s review Lesson Number One that I learned here in India.
It goes like this.
I wanted to take a shower. There is no hot water available here. You have to heat it yourself. The bathroom is all tile; essentially, the entire room is a shower. There is a bucket that you fill up from the tap, and pour over you to wash. Heidi had already washed her hair, so the floor was wet. There is a heating coil that you use to heat the water. (Can you see where this is going yet? Hang on, it gets good.)
It’s about eighteen inches long (much longer than the picture), with a handle. The rest of it is a metal rod attached to a cord that you plug into the wall. You put it into the water, plug it in, and in a while, it heats the water. I recognized it, because we had one of these in Kazakhstan. (Heck, we had one of these in our camp in Pennsylvania.) Although they look dangerous, you just need to be careful you don’t touch a hot one.
Cue scary music.
My jet-lagged brain thought back to Kazakhstan and remembered how I used it there. So, I placed it into the water, plugged it in, and waited. (Scary music increases.) After a minute or so, I decided to check the water to see if it was heating. Now, OF COURSE I know better than to touch the actual heating coil! So, eying the coil carefully, I reached toward to water to feel the temperature.
Now. Let’s leave Mike there for a moment, shall we?
Perched at the edge of life as he knows it.
What Mike DOESN’T know is, what is completely safe in Kazakhstan..is…not-so-much in India. Mike doesn’t yet know that there is no such thing as “grounding” in India. In fact, there is no word for “safe electricity” in Hindi, or any of the other two dozen languages in the subcontinent. You see folks, in India, when Mike sticks his fingers into a bucket of water that contains live, ungrounded electricity…Mike becomes the grounding.
In the miracle of conductivity, it seems that the electricity will actually go through Mike to find it’s way to the wet floor beneath him. And Mike will never think of electricity the same way again.
It all happened very quickly, I’m sure.
Probably less than a second. But I had the time to think a few things as my hand touched that water. Even now, my left hand tingles a bit as I think about it.
It wasn’t a sharp, stabbing pain that ran up my arm and into my body; it was just…So. Dang. Jarring. I had time to think, I’ve got to get my hand out of there. I have to pull it out or this pain will never stop. I had time to think, in a very vague way, about those cartoons. You know, the ones you are thinking about right now—only it’s Mike and not Yosemite Sam? Yes, I actually thought of that. As a kid, I thought that was funny, but it isn’t. It really, really isn’t.
Then, I was on the floor.
Water was spraying onto me, and my back hurt. My right side was hurting so badly, I thought perhaps I had shocked it somehow.
Apparently, (at the risk of sounding dramatic) what happened was that I either jumped back or was thrown back against the wall, and then fell to the floor, because my back had hit the faucets on the wall and bent them, so that water was now spraying from the wall behind the faucets. The coil from hell was lying on the floor, pulled completely out of the plug; the plug housing was still in the outlet.
In my mind, I had yelled very loudly, but apparently not out loud. I stumbled to my feet, trying to grasp what had just happened. Heidi came in, and I expected her to rush to my side and offer comfort and tears. However, she didn’t even know what happened, and instead, she began yelling and ran to the faucet to try and stop the water. That’s right folks; I almost die, and my wife runs to the faucet.
It took me a few minutes to try to grasp what happened before I could begin to explain it to her. My heart was pounding and my whole body was shaking like..well, like electricity had been coursing through it. Eventually, I summoned the courage to continue my shower.
I used cold water.