NOTE: These next two parts might be a bit of a text dump- the days kind of blurred together and I just wanted to pick out the things that stood out most to me. I have to admit, a lot of this is me writing to not only clear my head of the details, but also to give myself a primer on what to expect and to do (and what NOT to do) if we get into this situation again.
Okay, so it’s Monday. Tom was in the hospital till Tuesday night, we went to my parents’ to shelter from the storm on Saturday, Hurricane Irma was Sunday, and on Monday morning we came home (and had the huge blow up with my parents.)
So after that, my parents finally left, and Tom cleaned up the insulation that had been blown throughout the house during the storm (definitely NOT a four person job and NOT worth the horrible argument that ensued with my parents about it.) While Tom was working upstairs, Grace and I unpacked everything and put it all away, and we got the pets settled and fed.
I knew that coming home wasn’t going to be just “pick a few things up and get back into normal routine”, not only because we had tons of stuff to clean up and lots of damage to repair, but also because we were going to be without power for a while. Anytime you get a major hurricane, with high winds, and all that rain and possible flooding, the power is going to be out. But I felt like as long as we had running water, it would be fine. We could open the windows and doors and stay in the cool (ha!) shady parts of the house and we would be okay.
The longest I’d been without power was two days, and that was during Hurricane Wilma and while I remember it being hot, I don’t remember it being overwhelmingly so. Plus, I spend time outside during summer because of swimming and gardening, so I thought I was prepared for the heat – it would be uncomfortable, but we’d get used to it and it wouldn’t be that bad. We’d just work around it.
Well, I was wrong, because the heat really *was* that bad.
It was miserable. The temperature outside was around 90 degrees all week. Inside it stayed a degree or two higher because there was no breeze and the heat builds, like a little oven. I think it was the humidity that made is unbearable- it was just like sitting in a steamy sauna, all day and all night. Sticky, moist, sweaty.
And there was an extra element I didn’t even know to consider: the sewage smell. Marco Island had an issue with the sewage system after the storm, so they had to turn off the “odor control” at the sewage plant, and the whole island smelled like rotting carcasses for a while. On top of that was the smell of wet, dead foliage. It was really bad. We get “low tide” funk around here quite often so we’re used to that weird fishy smell, but this was a whole different thing altogether. And since we had to have the windows and doors open to keep the house from turning into an oven, that smell permeated the house pretty quickly.
I really thought I could power through the heat (and the humidity and the smell), but it just doesn’t work like that. It just zasa every little bit of energy out of you, especially if you don’t have a tremendous amount of energy to begin with- and with the whole surgery/storm/family feud succession of events, we were already pretty zapped to begin with. I can’t imagine how horrible it was for Tom, since he was still pretty fresh out of surgery plus he was still on very strong meds for whatever mysterious infection he got in the hospital. And cleaning anything up- from the lawn to the inside of the house- is significantly more challenging when you don’t have power or gas- you have to do everything by hand, and it takes 500 million times longer. No vacuums, no leaf blowers, no chainsaws, etc. Just Tom out there, picking up leaves and branches and roof tiles and construction debris and palm fronds by hand and broom, one by one. I don’t know how Tom did it all, but he did.
Thank goodness for the running water (cool showers) and the pool (cool swims). Tom rarely goes into the pool, but he was in there every day after the storm, just to get cool. And we were all taking a few showers a day, despite the fact we were running out of laundry pretty quickly (my whole “two weeks” preparation barely got us through one week, so I did *not* over prepare.) But we all had to keep sane, so we did what we had to.
By the end of the week, everything was damp from the humidity- the couches, the window coverings, anything with any kind of fabric. Thankfully, we were able to wash all clothes and linens and towels and stuff when the power did come back, but things like the couches and the window coverings all needed to be replaced by the end of the week because you can’t just throw them in the wash. We were very lucky that we were here to get the house opened right up after so everything else could air out, but the windows coverings and the back of the couch (which is right next to a set of sliders) all need to be replaced because they were exposed to the elements all week, including the rain and drizzle. We already got simple shades to replace most of the window coverings, and the couches are next, but we are trying to be a little more cautious about spending money at the moment because between Tom’s diagnosis and surgery and the cost of emergency repairs after the storm we’ve pretty much wiped out a huge chunk of savings. (The insurance adjuster also said we should consider a new roof, but I can’t even fathom that right now.)
Besides the smell and the humidity, the open doors and windows allowed a lot of airborn stuff to drift into the house, including lots of pollen and all the other stuff Grace is incredibly allergic to. Because we have a screened-in lanai, we don’t have screens on our windows or doors. And since all the screens on the lanai had been torn or blown out in the storm, the house was basically wide open to the elements.
And the bugs.
Night turned into a daily episode of Fear Factor for me. I hated it. That was hands down the worst thing about the days after the storm- trying to sleep at night.
Backstory: I sleep with a light on. The building I lived in during college was crawling with water bugs aka palmetto bugs aka giant flying roaches, and I realized that they didn’t come out as much during the day, so I started sleeping with the light on in my bedroom to see if they would stay away. It made a huge difference and so for the five years I lived there, I slept with the light on in my bedroom.
Then I moved to my next apartment and quickly found out I couldn’t fall asleep UNLESS the light was on. Fast forward 20+ years later, I’m still sleeping with a light on. I literally cannot sleep in the dark- I HATE the dark. Unless I’m stargazing or at the movies, I don’t want to know about dark. Dark is bugs.
Tom is not a fan of the “lights on during sleeping” but he got used to it. We eventually negotiated on a 15 watt bulb in a lamp in the corner- it’s kind of like a slightly brighter nightlight. It keeps the room from being completely dark and shadow-y, but it’s not so bright that it keeps you wide awake. It’s a compromise that works for both of us.
In addition to the light, we have air purifiers all around the house for Grace’s allergies and just to keep the air fresh, so there’s always the fan/blower noise they make. In addition to that, I have a white noise machine that I was sent for review a few years ago in the bedroom, as well. So light and white noise. It’s funny because I am someone who likes it very quiet and still, but I like the sound of white noise, especially when I am working or meditating or whatever. It might be because the main sounds of this island are leaf blowers, construction noise (house being built across the street), or people yelling/Fox news- the guy across the canal from us has his outdoor TV tuned to Fox news all day and the sound echoes across the water. I’d just rather hear a fan.
During the storm, there was no light. No fans. No white noise. Just swamp noise and skittering in the bushes. We had a lantern, but we had limited batteries and the stores were out, so when it got dark, we’d leave a lantern on until we all went to bed, and then lights out.
The first night, I heard rustling near the dresser and I *knew* something was in the bedroom. Tom said it was just our pet birds, who do rustle a lot at night when they shake out their tail feathers and stretch. But I know what their feather rustling sounds like and this was different- it was crinkly. My skin was crawling and I was positive something was in the room. Tom told me to relax and get some sleep.
A few minutes later, one of our cats, who was on the bed, sat up straight and started staring at the wall like he was watching something. I made Tom get up and check, and lo and behold there was a GIANT roach/palmetto bug crawling around, up the wall.
I am a friend to all animals, including bugs. Bugs make me very nervous, but I’ve gotten really brave about being able to handle them and move them outside when they come inside. Things like beetles and smallish spiders and ants don’t give me pause. I have zero issue with lizards which are not bugs, but a lot of people consider them a pest down here. I just think they are cute. But palmetto bugs I can’t handle or be in close proximity to- I am terrified of them. I don’t want them to get hurt or injured and I feel really bad for them because from what I’ve heard they don’t *like* to be indoors, they usually only come inside when searching for their mate. So I want them to make it out safely. But they still scare the shit out of me. They move so fast, and they fly at you when you go near them, even if you aren’t being aggressive towards them.
When I realized there was a palmetto bug in the bedroom, I involuntarily started screaming like a horror movie victim and ran out of the room like a cartoon. That’s my typical response to them. I wish I didn’t have that reaction, but it just happens automatically when I see them. I was totally spooked. Too hot and too dark and too quiet and now there’s a super scary bug crawling up the bedroom wall.
Tom got a net and after some dancing around and running away from the roach when it tried to fly at him, he finally caught it and brought it outside and released it away from the house.
And on his way back into the house, another giant bug flew in- this one a huge green buzzy beetle, just as big as the palmetto. Tom managed to rescue/release that bug and we checked the house for bugs with the lantern. I insisted we shut the open door in the bedroom (which made it so much hotter). I tried to go back to sleep, but I was completely skeeved out. It was hot and sticky and uncomfortable and smelly and too quiet and I just felt my skin crawl in fear.
Every night after that, I’d freak out a little inside right before bed time- it made me so unhappy and anxious. Every night Tom would collapse into bed and try to go to sleep before the “cool” from his shower wore off, and I would keep him awake by talking to him- loudly- about anything and everything until *I* would fall asleep. And then he’d be too hot and sweaty to fall asleep and he’d be stuck awake.
The next day, we found a bunch of huge Sphinx moths in the house- the ones that are bigger than butterflies. Like I said, I don’t think twice about butterflies or moths or caterpillars, but the big moths are super noisy and buzzy, so we tried to escort them out as we found them.
The bugs weren’t our most unexpected visitor, though…
On Wednesday or Thursday, the front door was open, Grace and I were sitting in the living room, Tom was cooling off in the pool in between doing stuff outside, and a dove landed on our front porch. This isn’t unusual- we have tons of doves around the house because of the bird feeders we usually have out front. When the feeders are empty, the doves will come up on the front porch and look through the window to sort of remind us that they exist and would like some food.
Well, a dove came down to the porch, came over to the open front door, peeked in, and just strutted right in to the house. I saw the whole thing play out- I saw him land on the porch, and just thought “he’s not going to actually come in here, is he?” and then *boom*, he was inside our house, flying around. I called to Tom that we had a bird in the house, so he had to jump out of the pool, dry off, run inside, try and find the bird (hiding on top of the blinds in the dining room) and then try and get the bird to perch on a net. The dove wouldn’t perch, so Tom had to gently put the net over the bird and hold it with his hand until he could take it outside and release it.
After that, Tom moved the makeshift screen door we have at the back of the house to the front door.
I’m writing this six weeks after all this, and I still totally and completely procrastinate every single night before bed. I’ve never had an issue going to bed before this, but now I can’t deal with the thought of it. Even with the lights on, the air purifiers blowing, the white noise machine making rain noise, the air conditioner keeping everything absolutely blissfully cool and crisp, I struggle to get myself into my bedroom and then into bed. I stay up until I can’t see straight (usually 1am, though I will stay up later if I can muster up the energy) and stumble into bed only when I’m sure I’ll be out cold when my head hit the pillow. This is clearly not a good habit to get into, especially since I am trying to get up earlier so I can do some work in the mornings before I swim. The other night I found myself looking at photos of Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber (?! ??? !!!!!!!!!) in an effort to prevent myself from going to bed. That’s when I knew it has gotten out of hand.
WHY A TANK OF GAS EQUALS HAPPINESS
I have to give this town props for recovery- Marco Island really put the focus on residents and what we needed first. Their second priority was get the island back to “open for business” status. That sounds a little jaded, and maybe it is – it is a tourist town, which is one of the things I really don’t like about living here. But the desire to get the town up and ready for business again so that the people who make their living providing services to visitors could open *their* businesses fueled local recovery. The heart of this island is the huge beachfront Marriott hotel/complex/resort, and the island sort of revolves around that. If they lose even a month of tourist revenue, things will go south. So recovery happened much faster than any of us expected.
The local grocery stores opened mid-week, but with very limited selection. They all lost most of their perishables during the storms, and supply trucks had to make it through the state to get to us. The whole state of Florida needed the same things we did- fresh food, staples (like batteries and bottled water), and gas. When you think about life after a hurricane, you don’t really consider the supply chain for things you’ll need in the future, but it’s something to consider. Same with gas- it would take a while before we got enough gas for all the people who were desperate to get some. A lot of people were running generators, and needed lots of gas to keep them going. Whatever the grocery and gas stations and convenience stores had left before the storm was what they had when they opened after the storm. And since people were in a run to stock up before the storm, it was slim pickings. But the supply trucks made it in after a few days.
Tom went out every morning to see what was available, hit the hardware store for supplies for repairs and cleanup, look for ice (which was as precious and as rare to find in the days after storm as gas was- we were all desperate to get coolers going for water and rinks), and brought Grace and I home cold drinks and whatever else he could find while he was out.
We don’t have a generator, but we wanted to keep our car running because of two very magical features: it had both air conditioning and the ability to charge our iPhones.
Our devices kept us sane. When we weren’t cleaning up, we just sat in the living room, where it was a degree or too cooler than the rest of the house, and stayed glued to our phones and iPads. It was warmer inside than out, but it was more comfortable without the sun beating down on us, so we stayed inside. I read books on my Kindle app and obsessively checked for updates on the electric company’s Facebook page. Tom read and watched movies (and napped- the guy was still recovering froms urgery/mysterious infection and still on meds that were making him sick), Grace did a bunch of Pinterest and reading, YouTube and whatever else- plus she played a lot of Animal Crossing on her 3DS. She also napped- she had hives and her allergies were acting up so she was sleepy a lot of the time. She HATED the heat but she was amazing all week.
We used our cell service as a wireless hot spot, so we had internet. It just drained our devices much quicker, so we used it all sparingly.
Every night at around 9pm we’d trek outside in our pajamas, get in the car, plug all our devices in, crank up the air conditioning and spend an hour in there, getting a little cooler and recharging things enough so we could use them the next day. It was an hour break from the heat and the smell and the discomfort of the house. Then we’d have to go back into the house- it felt like a death march- heading back to the horrible, smelly, dank DARK and trying to fall asleep.
The car turned into our sanctuary. There was no gas on the island for a few days after the storm (and when we finally did get gas there were lines you waited in for hours) but we had a full tank of gas right before the storm, so we used it carefully after the storm so that we could preserve it for the recharges and cool downs. It was sort of a standby generator for us. I’d always thought we’d switch to electric cars in an instant if we could afford them, but now I realize that unless I had some ultra-fail-safe generator system for my house, I would always want a car with gas after a storm. It felt like a lifesaver.