I think this might be the final post in this series.
Writing this has been a really interesting experience and I’m glad I did it. I mentioned before that this period of time and this experience was one of the most significant in my life, so I wanted to document it. I wish I had a detailed account of what it was like when Grace first came home, or my first few days of college, or what it was like when I first met Tom, or what it was like to go through my surgeries as a kid.
Recounting the whole cancer surgery/Hurricane Irma experience has definitely been a healing process for me, because as I’ve written and posted each entry, the memories and feelings from that particular day or period of days lifts off me.It’s kind of like writing it down means I don’t have to carry the burden of remembering it all. But it’s also brought back a lot of things that I think I was starting to block out in an effort to forget.
Bottom line is that the experience gave me a big shift in perspective and forced everything to be shaken up. I always try and see those kinds of situations as a kick in the pants instead of a kick in the face, if that makes any sense- an opportunity to change things a bit. Something that forces me out of my comfortable routines and habits. And the longer it gets from the storm and the days following, the more I find myself shifting back into old routines, so this was a good reminder that I came out of that experience with a desire to change things up a bit.
As far as the writing process itself, I definitely enjoyed the challenge of writing so much every day. I am the kind of person that loves a project to focus on (it takes a lot of decision making out of the equation, and making decisions can often be agonizing for me) but only if it’s a very specific project. This was perfect for me. I’m a little worried when I’m done with these posts I’ll lose my momentum and stop writing.
But writing also this was a reminder that even though I’m long-winded and very rambl-y, I do enjoy writing and documenting life. I’m eager to write about what’s going on right now, and after writing so much and being so detailed with these posts (lots of TMI, I guess) it’s kind of taken away my inhibitions about writing too much. I’m kind of thinking of dedicating a lot of November to writing- working on this journal/blog and also getting back into the fiction thing I was writing and posting (anonymously) for years. It is NaNoWriMo, after all. But then I think about giving up a month of painting and art and worry that getting back to it will be super difficut. I’m not good at jumping from one project to the other, so I’ll see what I end up doing.
If you’ve read any of this (Misti, Megan) thank you for coming along on the adventure.
Okay, the last few days before the power came back:
WHY FORGETTING TO DRINK STUFF IS A BAD IDEA
One thing I did not do responsibly during the power outage was stay hydrated.
I’m really bad about staying hydrated in general because I have bladder issues from Spina Bifida and I hate having to run to the bathroom literally every 15 minutes. As a kid in the early 80’s the medical solution was “don’t drink much” and that has always stuck with me. I was trained to ignore my thirst. For instance, when I’m out or around people, I’ll never drink more than half a glass of anything so that I don’t have to keep obsessing about where bathrooms are and running to them every 10 minutes as a precaution. It’s one of the main reasons why I don’t go out too much or travel- it means I am thirsty all day and I feel crappy the next day from being so dehydrated.
I drink hot tea in the late afternoons and I have a big green smoothie every morning, and both of those provide hydration. In order to not wreck my kidneys, I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying a big insulated mug of decaf iced tea around with me all day and sipping from that. First thing I do in the morning is get it going and last thing I do at night is put it in the dishwasher.
Well, there was no hot tea or green smoothies or decaf iced tea during the power outage, so during and after Hurricane Irma I just forgot to drink stuff altogether. I’d have a little bit to drink when we had a meal- a few sips of whatever we had available in the cooler, but then I forgot about it. It just never occurred to me to force myself to keep hydrated, which is so stupid, but like I said- I usually “graze” on iced tea all day so I never, like, think “I’m thirsty” and do something about it. I think this may be why the heat was so horrible for me- I was just completely dehydrated from before the storm even came.
On Tuesday and Wednesday I spent most of the mornings and early afternoons in the pool, cleaning out the debris. The pool was just loaded with broken roof tiles, dirt, leaves, torn screens from all over, etc. There was just inches of stuff covering the bottom of our pool- you couldn’t even see the bottom anymore. Of course, I worried about that because I swim five miles a day- the pool in our yard isn’t ornamental or recreational, it’s important part of my health. Tom really thought that we’d have to hire someone to come in, empty the pool, and get all the crap out and power wash it before filling it up again, but when I heard our next door neighbor trying to clean his pool the morning after we got home, I decided I was going to try to clean ours.
Our pool is huge in comparison to most of the pools around here – we have a narrow 55 foot long lap lane with a little splash area around the steps – but I’m a strong swimmer and really didn’t mind the prospect of doing the work. It actually really made me felt better, having that project. I could get into the pool (it was so hot!) and I’d be doing something useful- since I don’t have physical balance, I couldn’t help Tom with the clean up around the lawn and back so I tackled the pool.
I got on my suit and goggles and spent a few hours picking all giant debris from the bottom of the pool and then brushing all the dust and debris into piles and then swimming down with an aquarium net and scooping that up. I kept doing that over and over for a few hours and I made great progress. Then I used our little rechargeable pool “hand vac” (which still had a full charge from before the storm- rechargeable vacuums are another “I didn’t realize how great they are until after the storm” award winner) to get up all the dust and dirt in small patches.
The next day I worked on it more and it got much cleaner- just some debris on the bottom the regular pool vac would have to get and the water was clear and swimmable even without the pump running. I don’t know why it gave me such happiness to get the pool in good shape, but it did. It was one less thing we’d have to call someone in to repair, and it was something we thought would take weeks to tackle. Plus, Tom could get into the pool without worrying about his sutures getting debris in them. He was in and out of the pool all week to cool down while he worked outside.
One thing I didn’t do when I was in the pool was drink anything. Or after. The one really bad thing about swimming in a hot climate (besides the risk of skin cancer) is you get tricked into thinking you’re hydrated because you’re in the water, but you’re actually getting just as dehydrated as if you were exercising outside the pool. This happens to me a lot- I just forget to drink a lot when I swim. Then I gulp down a glass of something ice cold out of the fridge when I get out. But there was no “ice cold out of the fridge”when the power was out so I just didn’t drink.
On Wednesday I started cramping a lot, and just feeling really dizzy, and I attributed it to stress. Then I had an asthma attack (which I haven’t had since COLLEGE- 20+ years ago!) and Tom immediately put me in the car and drove me to the store and made me drink an entire Gatorade which made me feel 100% better. I drank another one after that and I felt a little like a dry sponge having water poured over it. But I’m not a big fan of Gatorade, so I had to figure out something I would remember to keep drinking.
The thing that I will consume no matter how I feel or what or when or how warm or cold it is: Coca Cola. I love Coca Cola. I crave it. It’s the one thing that always tastes perfect no matter what temperature it is. I want to drink it, and when I have a glass of it in front of me, it will be consumed within minutes. When I’m traveling or out and super thirsty, I crave Coca Cola. It’s a huge treat for me, because it messes up my stomach, but I love the way it tastes and how it’s kind of bubbly and even tastes a little dry- I sound crazy, but there’s just *something* about it I love, kind of like how I love the way felt-tipped markers feel sketching across really smooth paper.
But I also understand Coca-Cola is basically liquid candy, so I don’t really have it often, and rarely at home.
However, I went ahead and let myself drink copious amounts of it until the power came on. I think I drank 4 or 5 cans on Thursday alone just to get hydrated again. I know it’s not the best thing to be drinking in heat, but it was something, and I was drinking it readily. On Friday I forced myself to vary the drinks a bit- I allowed myself a Coke only after I drank a lot of something else, like juice or regular iced tea. It worked, and it helped immensely.
Of course, when the power came back on, the Coca-Cola spree was over. I’m back to my sippy-cup of iced tea. Womp-womp. (I’ll take power over Coca-Cola any day. And I’m writing “Coca-Cola” not because I’m trying to be old-timey, but because the word “Coke” is also the name of something entirely different than soda.)
GENERATOR HINDSIGHT and WHY TRUCKS ARE MY FRIENDS
If I could go back and change one thing about the entire preparation/recovery period of time, it would be this: getting a generator.
A lot of people in Florida have them, but we don’t because we rarely get big storms or power outages, and when we do, the power tends to only go out for a few hours. We were only out for 2 days or so during Hurricane Wilma and we were okay. Plus, we weren’t going to buy a generator right before the storm because if there was any flooding , it would be ruined, so we didn’t even consider investing in one.
But if there’s even a slight chance we might be in for another significant storm of any sort- even a Category 1 hurricane- the first thing we are doing is getting a generator.
I could kick myself for not getting one right after the storm. The local hardware store had them and could deliver. It wasn’t a whole house generator or anything, but it would have been enough to power the portable air conditioner (we have one I was sent for review several years ago), several fans, and even the fridge and the washing machine. It would have made a tremendous difference in recovery efforts right after the storm, and our well-being, plus we would have saved all that lost money in food that went bad and everything that got ruined from having to have the windows open. I forgot to mention in my last post that the insurance adjuster said that our floors felt “squishy” to her. Like I said, we’re still in the middle of getting stuff fixed from Irma, so the idea of doing something like having all the floors in the house replaced makes me want to weep. It’s a little ironic because it’s also a case of “be careful what you wish for”- I’ve wanted new floors for a long time. Now maybe I’ll need them.
Anyway- back to power… Coming into Hurricane Irma, we assumed the power was going to be out for the whole island for weeks. That’s what our electric company was saying after the storm- expect it to be out for weeks on Marco Island. They wouldn’t give anyone dates- just “weeks”. Their trucks were out on the island right after the storm ended. But they were still saying “weeks”.
But then, the day after the storm, the electric company managed to bring 20% of the island back up on the power grid (the Marriott, of course- and my parents’ building was also on that line… ) And the city officials were saying “20% more every day- the whole island will be powered up by the end of the week.”
We’re just two blocks from the main circuit, and we live on a main street that feeds a whole neighborhood of homes, so I made the mistake of getting a little hopeful.
And then the next day, the block next to ours got power. I started to assume that repairs to the power lines would be done systematically (one block, then the next, then the next, etc.) so I definitely got my hopes and expectations way up about when we could expect the power to come back. If the block next to our was on, and the blocks around us were on, surely we were next…
Then I got my hopes up even further when the big tree trucks came rumbling down our street to remove the trees on several of the power lines in our little neighborhood. Tom and I sat in the living room, staring at the windows, and getting giddy at one another as we watched the trucks roll in that afternoon, listening to them get their chainsaws going and the “beeping” of backing up and them working, and then watched them roll out several hours later. Supposedly, the power company crews were working 24/7, so surely the power trucks would be coming down our street any moment.
As the sun started to set that day, we waited excitedly for the sight of the flashing yellow lights on top of the power trucks and the sound of their diesel engines. We were like kids waiting for Santa Claus- even Grace was checking the windows and listening for trucks. Our hopes got up with every vehicle we heard.
The problem with all this is that I got my expectations and hopes up so far that it was SO crushing when the power trucks didn’t come that night. Or the next day. Or the next night. Or the day and night after that.
One night- I think it was Wednesday- I was so disappointed when I realized that the trucks weren’t coming that I just broke down in tears. I sat on the couch in the dark and just cried and cried. It wasn’t just the power – of course- it was everything. I hadn’t cried once during the last few months, only on the night when Tom needed to be re-admitted in the hospital and the asshole doctor on call at his doctor’s office wasn’t taking it seriously and stopped calling back as Tom’s temperature spiked. (Tom eventually called his surgeon’s cell phone, and his surgeon told him to go RIGHT to the Emergency Room, so that doctor on call was seriously a piece of shit.) But since then I hadn’t cried. Well, I think I cried while we were having that epic argument with my parents, but those were more in the “anger and frustration” tears and not the “I’m so tired and worn out” tears.
It was probably good that I let it go. I felt better after that. And I also realized once again that expectations can really set you up for agony. I did a lot of work on that in my class this past spring and it was shocking how much of my anxiety and feeling down in the dumps comes from the expectations I place on things. I need to keep working on being anchored in reality and being in the moment as opposed to letting my mind create possible outcomes and then getting attached to them.
The power came back was for 80% of the island by Thursday, but we were still dark.
By then there were rumors flying around that our neighborhood circuit was completely damaged by salt water and had to be rebuilt from scratch (etc.) and the only areas that were still without power at that point were going to be the ones that met the “weeks” deadline that the power company was still saying on their several-times-a-day bulletins.
On Thursday morning, Tom managed to find a weird tiny USB operated fan at the hardware store- when he brought it up to the counter to pay for it, the guy asked “is that from here? where did you find that?” He brought it home and plugged it into one of our charges and lo and behold it worked! I slept like a baby that night- just having the noise and the little bit of air moving around the room made everything so much better.
The next morning, I decided that we should invest in a generator. Before went and got one, I called the power company to find out if they could give me *any* information at all. People were losing their minds on Facebook about some people getting power and why they weren’t getting their power back. That wasn’t my intention- I honestly knew it was going to take as long as it would take, especially if we did need extensive repairs. But I just wanted to know if someone at LCEC could give me a *hint* of when we might get power back, so we would know whether or not to go ahead and get the generator. I told the guy I spoke to, who was very helpful and compassionate, that I totally understood why they were being a bit guarded in releasing information, but I also said that if they had told us on Monday that our particular neighborhood needed more extensive repairs than most of the island, we could have bought the generator and it would have made a TREMENDOUS difference in every single aspect of that week- not only in well-being, but in the repair and recovery process. I know there are a lot of people on the island who were willing to buy generators, and local stores had them, so it would have benefitted so many people (people and local business) if there had been more transparency about the repair timeline.
He couldn’t give me any additional information, but we commiserated on the heat (his house was also without power, and they had a newborn 🙁 ) and wished each other well and that was that.
So I called Tom, who was in line waiting for gas, and told him to go ahead and get a generator. And just as I was about to hang up with him, a whole fleet of power trucks rumbled down the street. Along with several little cars with the LCEC logo on the side.
*CUE ANGELS SINGING*
I called Tom and told him about the trucks, and as soon as he got the gas he came home and went down the street to check out what was going on. A supervisor confirmed that yes, we were finally being repaired but we might be up that evening. The reason it took so long on our street is because they needed to wait for specialized repair equipment to come from another state and now they could start the process of getting the power back to our neighborhood.
We were overjoyed, but also very cautious.
We decided to delay the generator purchase until later that day, in case the power did come back on. Tom managed to find a few more fans that morning and brought them back so we could use them that day (and that night, if the power didn’t come back on) and to pack away with our hurricane supplies. Now we know that a little fan can make all the difference.
The day was SO much better because of those little fans, in fact, it was totally tolerable. We did stuff around the house, and then when the sun started to set, we started getting ready for the evening. We decided to wait one more day on the generator decision because the fans made enough of a difference that we could tolerate another night. I started stressing about whether the power crews were going to finish their work before the shift change at 7pm, when the night linemen came back on duty and would continue the projects they hadn’t completed the night before. If our power wasn’t turned on by the time the day crew left, it was going to have to wait until the next morning when they came back on duty.
At 8pm-ish that night, I was in the bathroom when I heard a fan kick in. I thought Tom had jimmied up a fan in the bedroom, but then I realized it was the EXHAUST fan wired in the bathroom. Then I heard Grace and Tom shouting and I realized the power was back on.
I held my breath because I was afraid it was just a system test and it would go back down, but it stayed on. I quickly threw EVERYTHING into the wash as fast as possible- sheets, towels, clothes- I did about ten loads of wash that night, and scrubbed the bathroom (humidity + moisture = mildew- I wanted to get it before it started) and Tom and Grace unloaded the fridge and the standalone freezer of all the ruined food, took inventory for insurance, and tossed it all. We cranked up the air just in case the power did go out again- at least we’d get a few hours of comfort before we had to open up again.
We really didn’t believe the power was back on for good. We did a zillion things that night, took showers, and then crawled into our beds with fresh clean sheets and fresh clean pajamas with the cool air from the AC over us and we all slept. Finally.
We still had stuff to repair, people to contact, things to do, a whole room full of furniture and stuff that needed to be moved outside. A house that needed to be cleaned thoroughly with the vacuum. But when the power came back on and *stayed* on, we all felt, collectively, that we finally were on the other side of all these things we had been through. It was a tremendous relief, and it felt so sweet.
(And now big power trucks have become a little totem of hope for me- I can totally see them popping up in my art journal or something as a little icon of “hope” 😉 I’m sorta kidding, but not.)
I think this is it!
I have a bit to write about a project inside the house (massive decluttering and purging of a ton of our belongings) that I started while the power was out, but that’s something that went on after the power came on, so I’ll talk about it in a dedicated entry.
If you’ve gotten this far, you are awesome. Thank you for taking the time to read.