Friday, July 15, 2005

I Have This Thought Almost Every Day

My spouse was home, pregnant. I was at work at the local hospital, deep among the mountains and lakes of the far northern reaches of New York where we lived in 1998.

The high-voltage power line towers, which looked to me like great frozen robot men playing impossibly slow jump-rope, crumpled into low piles under the weight of the ice. They folded like boxers knocked down for the count. And the count was us.

At the hospital the lights went out momentarily but came back on again as the back-up generator kicked in. Television news described the wide swathes of of areas without electricity, along with pictures of the trees bent over in half and the power lines down everywhere. Everything was icy white. Travel was life-threatening, more so than usual.

Then it seemed like a humming sound, which we previously didn't notice much, wound down and faded away, gaining our attention as it did so. The lights went out again, and stayed out. The generator had failed, and the hospital was without power. It was quiet then.

No computers. No patient call lights. No IV pumps beeping. No televisions. Just voices.

The phones had failed too, but there was one pay phone in the Emergency Room lobby that still worked for some odd reason, and the doctors solicited quarters from all the staff so they could make the calls necessary to arrange transfers of the ventilated patients.

At that time there were no cell towers in the mountains. No cell phones. Not that these would have worked, anyways.

Some of us left the hospital and went home. I did. It was a mile drive only. Sanders were out.

My spouse was warm by the woodstove which we routinely used to heat our beautiful little home. She made grilled cheese sandwiches on it. I quickly gathered flashlights and slid my car down off French Hill back to work.

We switched patients off their drips. The kitchen staff made a fireman's line to pass food trays up the stairwells, as the elevators were useless. We wondered how long it would last. The patients slept well that night, and it did not get very cold in the hospital. Must not have been electric heat.

The next day another generator arrived which had been donated by a local business. And the power returned to the hill neighborhood where we lived, but many sections right in town remained dark. Some of my coworkers had no electricity for two more weeks.

Nurses will complain about things. That is understandable, because the work is very stressful and difficult. Marathon running is comparatively easier. I know.

But sometimes when I am now at work and I overhear people complaining about patients, assignments, lack of supplies, management, or whatever, I catch myself thinking "well, at least we have electricity."


SassyNurse said...

That is a positive thought I need to adopt I believe. That will be my new stress relief. "At least we have electricity"! Although it may be like the magic words of "Gee its quiet around here..."

Anonymous said...

I am reading your descriptions of snow, dreaming of that scene right now. Thanks to a super brief, super powerful monsoon, my house lost its carport, half the back patio, and its electricity for two hours... It gets HOT with no fans or air on...

Well, I go the night off out of it (to stay home and fix the roof from getting the carport ripped off of it) which is done already... Now if only the house would hurry up and cool off...

Just think of snow...

Jodie said...

The power went off once when I worked at KU (street repair folks cut a major line). Parts of the hospital power came back on within minutes as the generators kicked in, but not in my part of the building.

It was winter, cold, and very late afternoon (so already dark). I was on the second floor, interviewing a double amputee for a wound study when it happened.

No lights. No heat. No phone. And most people had already gone home.

I had to hunt down a police officer, and once they had time, he came back with a colleague to carry this lady downstairs so that she could go home.

We waited in the dark for at least an hour. This experience was not nearly so bad as yours, but I'll always remember her attitude: "Honey, I ain't got no legs. No lights is nuthin'."