Philadelphia was spared the worst of the Hurricane Sandy, though a number of friends were without electricity. On Lombard Street, we had rain, wind, an ominous “calm before the storm,” and a shutter blown off an upstairs window, but are lucky and relieved. My heart goes to all those in the Caribbean and the U.S. who have not been so fortunate.
Even for us, of course, Hurricane Sandy was not without drama. Because Craig can’t walk due to ALS, I’d been preparing for a week. I thought we were in good shape. I had cash, water, flashlights, batteries, cat food, granola bars, our “go” bag, and Craig’s medicines.
Ha! As someone said yesterday, when it came to the crunch, our home was “like a zoo.” After two neighborhood power transformers blew and a Hurricane Irene scare in the last year, a friend and I carefully researched and bought a generator at Home Depot (the portable $500 model, not the $5,000 self-contained unit), to keep Craig’s oxygen concentrator, ventilator, and suction machine functioning during a power failure. I went over it with our electrician, and practiced starting it and hooking it up.
Ha again! Who knew from generators? A boldface warning in the generator manual yesterday told me that you “must not use the generator in rain or inclement weather.”
None of the several men advising me about this generator had bothered to mention that detail. I, of course, am at fault for not reading the manual till the day of the storm.
I did know that you can’t use a generator indoors, or you might die of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Enter our nursing agency, in the person of a beloved nurse-manager who was here anyway for a routine visit. After reaching a live person at the generator company, who confirmed that we should not use our generator indoors or out, Nurse Jane (not her real name) warned us that Craig would be at risk in the event of a power failure. He could even, she told him gently, “pass away.” The only safe place was a hospital.
One glitch. Craig’s doctor (whose office was closed so I was never able to speak to directly) could not admit him, as there was no current change in Craig’s medical status. Craig would have to go to the ER and take his chances, probably (if he was lucky) spending hours in a bed in an ER holding area.
Enter Jack, our overnight caregiver extraordinaire, who was returning from checking his house an hour away to ride out the storm with us (something he’d offered the minute we first heard of Superstorm Sandy). Unbidden, Jack quickly improvised a tarp shelter over the generator. Suddenly, unbidden, enter Michael H. and Michael S, two contractor sons of two friends, with a box of tools. (Michael H’s parents, our dear friends Susan and Rick, had sent them, evidently not liking what they’d heard of our plans.) The two Michaels further secured Jack’s shelter. Then Michael H. and his dad drove around looking for a special gizmo to make sure the generator current worked well with the medical equipment (another detail I’d overlooked).
Enter Craig, warm and cosy and reading a good book in bed. Wavering myself, I left it to Craig. On the one hand, we had medical advice (in the form of Nurse Jane and a doctor I’d reached on his cell) urging him to weather the storm in the ER. (No one knew, of course, that power and backup generators would soon fail in two New York City hospitals, and staff would have to evacuate hundreds of patients down dark stairwells at the height of the storm.) Get to safety now, rather than wait till a power failure during the storm’s expected peak at 2 a.m., when a 911 call might or might not produce an ambulance during 70 mph gusts.
On the other hand, we had four macho guys assuring us that NO BIG DEAL, the generator WILL WORK. (The extra gizmo we needed for the generator, by the way, was sold out.)
Which would you choose?
Wrong. We chose machismo. It was so cosy at home. It wasn’t that windy outside, or even raining that hard. Rick promised to come over at 2 a.m. if needed and help Jack drive Craig to the hospital. Jack was sleeping upstairs. With that utopian scenario, Craig and I both felt secure enough to stay home and hope for the best.
Which we did. And were rewarded. We passed Superstorm Sandy reading, watching a good episode of “Bonanza” and a film noir, and (me) doing the nursing shift. Jack took over at 11 p.m I went out a few times to experience the awe one feels at silent streets and the raw power of nature.
The lesson, for me, which ALS and Craig have taught me again and again the last two years, is the raw power of friends.