“In February 2017, I visited the Sultanate of Oman to attend a friend’s wedding. One day, my husband and I decided to be adventurous and visit Wadi Shab for a hike and swim. Let me tell you that on this day, I would have certainly died. While 11,000 km away from home, there was only a stranger standing in between death and me. All I knew was that her name was Patrizia and that she was originally from Switzerland.
Wadi Shab is a beautiful tourist location with fresh streams of turquoise water between cliffs. It is remote. There is not even cellular service. From the parking lot, you take a small boat ride, hike for an hour, swim past deep natural pools, all in an effort to reach the main attraction: The Wadi Shab waterfall.
As we swam towards the cave, there were three people swimming out of the narrow cave entrance. My husband swam ahead of me and asked the last woman exiting if it was nice inside. ‘Yes, it’s so nice, come see’ she said, and miraculously turned around and went back inside the cave ahead of us, leaving her friends behind. The water level had risen and so there was only enough room for our heads to stick out of the water as we swam through the cave, one after the other. There was no one else inside the cave, except for Patrizia and us.
The cave was not what I expected based on my internet search and advice from Omani friends. On top of that, there was apparently a heavy rainfall that made the waterfall stronger than usual, according to locals that we spoke to later. As we made it into the cave, I tried to find a ledge to hang onto to rest. Instead, the walls were carved and smoothed out over the years, and my nails began scratching the surface without success. Without a proper ledge, I could not rest as my legs had to constantly kick to stay afloat.
I yelled to my husband, ‘I can’t… I can’t…’
I saw a rope next to the waterfall. In panic, I thought I would swim to the rope and pushed my body against the cave wall to propel me into that direction. Boy was I wrong, swimming against the water current took its toll. Quickly, my attempt to swim became an attempt to simply stay afloat.
I tried to swim but my body only sunk deeper.
My husband was no longer close to me and to be honest I do not know what he could have done. He began to panic himself as he saw me fight the water. He tried to reach me but could not overcome his own struggle. It was loud inside the cave from the waterfall. Thankfully, Patrizia looked at my husband to see if he liked the cave. Instead, she saw him struggle. She asked if he was ok and he just yelled, ‘my wife! My wife!’
I was dying. People always talk about how they think of their loved one’s moments before they almost die. They have flashes of beautiful memories. My reality was nothing like that. In the moment, I just wanted air. I am a swimmer, but the sudden claustrophobia compounded by the strong current that I was not used to overcame me.
I began to drown. Every time I managed to bring my mouth above the water, I would gasp for air rather than scream for help. Every second counted, and every second I began losing strength and eventually submerged deeper into the water. My last few attempts to lift my body above water for air were filled with water instead. Every time I lifted my body up a bit more, I was still below the water surface.
I gave up.
I’m exhausted, I thought.
I can’t anymore…
I just want to close my eyes and sleep.
I surrendered my exhausted body to the water. It was at that second a complete stranger reached out to me. She wrapped her arm around my neck. I think she told me to lay on my back and take a deep breath. I closed my eyes, so I could not see my surroundings. With my eyes closed and my face close to hers, I only heard her breaths. There are so many things I do not remember about this encounter, but her breaths are so vivid. I felt calmness with each breath of hers. She seamlessly swam through the rough waters and out of the tiny cave entrance, all while carrying me along.
I remained anxious even after she safely brought me out of the cave. I remembered there was a rope outside of the cave and so I repeatedly told her ‘just take me to the rope’. In hindsight, I was rude, and this is something I later regretted but I just wanted something “secure”. I didn’t want to swim or float anymore, I just needed to hold on to the nearest object to feel safe. My throat and shoulders feel tense as I write this.
She asked if I was sure I would be ok to swim the rest of the way and I repeated my demand again. Patrizia fulfilled my request… and saved my life. As she swam away from me towards land I yelled out to her ‘what’s your name?’ and she replied ‘Patrizia’. ‘Where are you from?’ I proceeded to ask. ‘Switzerland’. I engraved those two words into my mind and that was the last I saw of my Swiss angel. Subconsciously, I knew she saved my life, but in the heat of the moment and while still in shock, I showed little gratitude to my savior. The day after my horrific ordeal was when it really hit me. I would have died if it were not for Patrizia. Days passed and my appreciation for Patrizia’s actions grew stronger. I wanted to gift Patrizia her weight in gold and communicate to her how grateful I was for her selfless actions, but I just didn’t know where to begin to look for her.
Every once in a while, my husband and I would recall our traumatic experience. We would talk about Patrizia and talk about how we wouldn’t be here without her. I had so many questions for Patrizia that I felt would never be answered. After all, I was living in a different continent and only knew of her first name. If I saw her walking down the street I wouldn’t recognize her. I often searched online hoping that maybe she or someone else would blog or simply mention our experience. Every time, my search was fruitless. Then one day my husband told me that he had a conference in Germany. My brain immediately started churning, because I knew Switzerland was next to Germany. I booked the flights and began writing my story. Then I left it alone for weeks. I thought it would be impossible to find Patrizia. Then as each day neared, I was eager to give myself the chance to find her. With only a week left for travel, and within a split second, I made the decision to post my story on Facebook and started the #findpatrizia campaign. I had nothing to lose, and this was my one and only chance. If I didn’t do it now, I knew I never would.
I had tremendous support online. People became emotional reading the story. They say they felt they were inside the cave with me. Some began sharing their own drowning experiences, even at the very same location. On Reddit, users started working like detectives to help me find Patrizia. Unfortunately, a week passed and there was still no sign of her. I was disheartened but ok with this, because I reminded myself of one of my goals: that this story was bringing awareness regarding Wadi Shab and drowning in general. Then, one of the users on Reddit mentioned that this would be a great story for Swiss newspapers. As soon as I contacted them, one by one each paper began writing pieces to help find Patrizia. People in Switzerland speak four languages and the media outlets came together beautifully to spread the story in German, French and Italian.
I finally found her.
After 12 days, Patrizia’s close friend messaged me. She had read the article and recognized the incident. She was one of the people that were with her that day in Wadi Shab. Patrizia on the other hand was visiting friends in another country. Her friend immediately contacted me and then messaged Patrizia, telling her to go online as ‘someone was looking for her’. ‘You’re famous in Switzerland’, she messaged her. I was ecstatic to read her message. I told her friend, ‘is this real? Please be real!’
‘I can’t believe I found you’. I said this as Patrizia and I hugged each other tightly. I actually said it many times after as I could not believe that the Patrizia I was looking for was in front of my eyes. I met her in Zurich on August 24, 2018. I was finally able to thank her. We hit it off immediately. It was as if we had known each other for years. She gave us a tour of Zurich and introduced my husband and I to typical Swiss food. We actually shared two large dishes together. I felt strongly connected to her even though fate had only brought us together for minutes, once before.
During lunch, I asked her when her birthday was. My husband and I were astonished. ‘No way… no way’ he yelled. I didn’t say a word. I frantically pulled out my passport and showed it to Patrizia. She, while amazed, pulled out her ID as proof. We had the exact same birth date. Same day, month, and year. Two strangers, born on different sides of the world on the same date, would both travel thousands of kilometers exactly 33 years later to meet at the perfect time in a remote cave in a random country. At that exact moment, one saves the life of the other.
This perfect stranger allowed my children to grow up with a mother and father. She spared our families the grief of losing their loved ones. I will forever be grateful for her heroism, even though she is not one to admit it due to her humble nature.
I have learned a great deal and I hope you will benefit from my experience.
- Drowning is silent. Recognize that when an individual drowns, they cannot yell for help.
- If you begin to drown, try not to panic. Panic KILLS. Instead, take a deep breath, lie on your back and float. It’s only this way that you’ll be able to signal or call out for help. Remember: FLIP, FLOAT, FOLLOW (search online for greater detail).
- Don’t be irresponsible like me. I began swimming since I was a child, but I was not prepared. Be aware of the dangers related to natural waters. Do not fear the water but learn to respect it.
With two pieces of information, I was able to find someone across the world. There is so much we can do with social media. What I once felt was impossible, was merely a sentiment that held me back from finally having my heart at peace.”
Help us show compassion is contagious. SHARE this beautiful story on Facebook with your friends and family