We had a near miss last Saturday night at a restaurant in Brisbane which got me thinking about all things fatal. It was the kind of incident that’s over in a flash (pun intended) and it’s only when you think about it later that you get the wobbly knees.
There were 4 of us, up in the big smoke for the rugby union tie between the Wallabies and the Springboks (and what a great game it was). We picked a busy restaurant in South Bank and settled in to enjoy the ambiance. A food and wine festival had been flaunting its wares all afternoon and the atmosphere was most convivial. The young waitress lit the patio heater right next to me and then it happened. A muffled squeak alerted me that all was not well and I turned to see flames coming from the base of the heater.
My lizard brain recognised danger and I leapt up from my seat, followed by about 20 other diners. I guess the recent Ravenshoe disaster was fresh in our minds.
While the under-manager wrestled the cover off with a chair like a lion-tamer, we all stood spell-bound by the flames gaily fluttering out of the gas tank. Eventually a punter walked calmly forward and turned off the gas. We all breathed again and carried on with our meals. A few seconds later, I got a dressing down by my husband. ‘You were not remotely far enough away from that gas bottle for safety!’ he lectured from his lair behind a post. And then we got to thinking how wrong it could have gone if the tank had exploded. Hubbie was right. We could all have been mince, if the tank had decided to detonate.
The waitress was pretty shook up and I guess it was her first brush with danger. I got to thinking of my first near death experience. I was 15 in war torn Belfast of the 70’s. We had ditched the Girl Guide meeting and were strolling around town looking for boys. There was a pea soup fog that only the UK can muster and we couldn’t see beyond our hands, never mind the local talent. Suddenly shots rang out from nearby – but from where? I ran down steps to a basement entry, while my friend decided to have the worst panic attack I’ve ever experienced. As she ran up and down the street screaming at the top of her lungs, she must have made an easy target for the shooter.
Out of the fog, a group of bystanders homed in on our location. Assuming I’d been shot (that’s why I was lying at the basement steps and she was screaming) they gathered around full of concern. You can imagine their disappointment when I was found to be unhurt. After a bit of banter (obligatory in Belfast, especially when in imminent danger), we were let go and told to get home. My mother, doing the ironing, was singularly unimpressed as she could clearly see I was OK. Since that day, I have experienced nearly 20 years as a doctor in Belfast of the 70’s and 80’s, followed up by two Gulf Wars. Many and varied are my stories of close-calls and pants-scaring episodes. My tale of going over escape plans in Oman with my 8 year old son, if we weren’t home, is always a good dinner party story. As the responsible male, he needed to get his sisters and the baby-sitter to safety.
But you know, when you get to a certain age, you have lots of ‘near miss’ stories to tell. That’s why you’re still here – you survived. I’m sure all of you can recall ‘almost accidents’ and close calls when luck was on your side. Then you can sit back and thank your lucky stars…