Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Hezekiah Tunnel Incident

My sister is visiting us in Paris for Christmas and tomorrow is her last full day here. We've been cramming in as many fun sight-seeing events as possible in the time we're here and tomorrow is supposed to be proceeding in much the same fashion.

First on the agenda is the catacombs. Now I've heard little tidbits about the place before, but we haven't been yet. It's basically these underground caverns full of arranged bones. They were cleared out a cemetery and put on display down there years ago. Now it's a huge site for tourism. I even found out they have a sign that says, "Stop! This is the empire of death!" (That's what it says in the picture.)

Sounds awesome, right?

Wrong. It's not awesome because I can't go and I'm super pissed about that. Okay, it'll probably still be awesome for my brother, sister, and dad-- but it sucks for me. You see, I'm claustrophobic. Like, I have panic attacks from claustrophobia. Panic attacks including tears, snot, and plenty of hyperventilating. Turns out the caverns are pretty narrow, which means it's definitely a no-go.

We don't need another Hezekiah Tunnel Incident.

"What's that?" you ask. Well, the Hezekiah Tunnel Incident is basically the story of what happens when I underestimate my level of claustrophobia. When I was told my tour group in Israel this May was going to walk through the Hezekiah tunnel, the tunnel Hezekiah travelled when he and his army were attacking Jerusalem in the Old Testament, I thought, "Sounds like fun."

I should have known better.

My first red flag was when we watched the informational video at the beginning. I saw a clip of some guy having to crouch to get through part of the tunnel. I quickly asked about the narrowness of the tunnels, but was assured that it wouldn't be bad. I'm thinking, "Oh, they must've just been exaggerating. The tunnels are probably pretty big. I mean, if an army is going through them, it's probably, like, five people wide."

Oh, how terribly mistaken was I.

It only took about five minutes of walking through the tunnels before it was narrow enough that I only had to move my shoulder about three inches to the right or left to hit the walls. Then the roof lowered to only a foot above me. I tried to stay strong, I really did; but it wasn't long before I was reduced to tears.

I cried for twenty out of twenty-five or thirty minutes of the journey. God, it was terrible. The only thing that kept me from hyperventilating the entire time was knowing that if I managed to make myself pass out, I was going to just get trampled as I drowned in the calf-high water. By the end, I was practically pushing the others out.

That was probably THE most terrifying ordeal of my life. I was shaking at the end of it. Then some of the adults on the trip had the nerve to go laughing about how I was probably over my claustrophobia now. Yeah? Far from it. If anything it's probably worse.

So that's why I'm not going to bother trying to "tough it out" in the catacombs. It was a bad idea the first time and the sign of insanity is to do the same thing multiple times and still expect a different result. No thank you.

I think I'll just meet up with them at the Napoleon Museum.


  1. Thankyou thankyou thankyou. I went to Israel some years back and was almost talked into going into the Rabbi's tunnels. I was given words of assurance, hand holding, praying, wide tunnels etc etc . I didnt go, I cant even sit in the back seat of a two door car. I was almost in tears too by the end of your account of Hezekiah's tunnel. Its comforting to know you arent alone in this debilitating phobia.

  2. It's always good to hear from someone else who has claustrophobia. I'm usually pretty good about it. I've had one panic attack on the Metro (France's Subway), but have figured out that if I can tilt my head up and get my face into some free space, even when everyone's packed in, I can manage.
    Anyway, I understand the horror of feeling trapped that comes with claustrophobia and I wish you luck on dealing with it, because it's definitely not fun. And I'm super glad you didn't give in and go through the Hezekiah tunnel. It wasn't fun in the slightest.

    I did end up going to the catacombs, though, a couple of weeks later. My brother had come back and explained the exact dimensions and everything. It was much wider than the Hezekiah tunnels and the only time I felt even the slightest bit claustrophobic was on the stairwell.