Blizzard 2019

“Eight to ten inches of snow for southeastern Minnesota,” predicts the weather lady on the Saturday evening news, “followed by 45-50 mile per hour winds. There is a blizzard warning from 6 p.m. Saturday evening until 6 p.m. Sunday evening.”

            I groan. Not again! We have already received almost 40 inches of snow in the month of February. It is piled high along the sides of our driveway. More snow is the last thing we need. But like all Minnesotans we take the prediction with a grain of salt and hope for the best.

            Mother Nature has started to shake clusters of fat fluffy snowflakes past our security camera before we crawl into our warm bed. The storm has begun. Church has already been cancelled for tomorrow so it remains to be seen what the landscape will look like in the morning. I awaken several times during the night. The wind howls around the corners of the house. At least we don’t have to go anywhere being it is a Sunday.

            I peak outside in the early dawn of morning. The sky is blue, and the sun shines brightly. Judging by the stacked pile of white peaked on the deck railing, it looks like we might have gotten around seven to eight inches. The trees are whipping back and forth but otherwise, it is a winter wonderland out the bay window in the back of the house. It is a different scene from the front door. The wind drives sheets of white across what was once our lawn and hurdles them down the drive. Our snow fence and garden fence have disappeared beneath the ocean of blinding brightness. Only the tops of posts with specks of orange webbing peak out. So much for the snow fence effectiveness. The stone bench by the apple tree is no longer visible while the apple tree trunk has gotten significantly shorter.

            Hubby ventures outdoors to steal a few pictures and I follow him in a few minutes. Just how bad is this situation anyway? I step into his footprints as I trudge after him seeking to avoid making new tracks in the mid-thigh drifts. I am soon out of breath with this balancing act. Our whole driveway is covered to this depth. Neither of us go far in this labor-intensive march and turn back towards the house. The wind blasts us in the face and hubby disappears into the snow. “Help me up?” is the request thrown my way as I look back to see if he is coming.

            “If you really can’t get up, I am not strong enough to pull you out.” I worry out loud. This could be a life-threatening situation if one fell out here alone. The tracks we have made only a few moments before are almost filled back in already. I extend my hand and he is soon back on his feet. Together, we return to our warm cozy house.

            We have a plow truck, but an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness engulfs me. There is no way that we will be able to push these kinds of drifts. I make several calls to different neighbors looking for someone who has a large tractor snowblower or a tractor and bucket. Everyone is in the same predicament and not willing to venture out in this weather. There is not much we can do in this wind anyway. We both finally make the decision to wait until Monday morning when the wind has died down to tackle this impossible project. I am supposed to work at 9 a.m. but maybe I can negotiate a later time.

            The same white landscape with even deeper drifts greets us in the morning. Now the drifts are solid and unmovable. Thankfully, the wind has retreated, and the air is still in the almost zero-degree weather.

            “I am going to see what I can do,” Hubby announces. My stomach is tight, and I am tense. I know how this will end – being stuck. I watch the movement of the truck on the security cameras. Back and forth. Back and forth. I am constantly watching for a lack of movement. He needs to drag the snow backwards with the plow in small amounts and deposit it out of the way. He does this over and over because it is too hard and too deep to plow forward. I am just putting my boots on to go out and check on the progress when I hear the garage door slam. Uh Oh! That is a bad sign. Hubby has come to retrieve the shovel. I stomp heavily in his footsteps to the stranded truck.

            “Are you stuck?” I ask the obvious. The front wheels have dropped over the edge of the driveway in his effort to push the massive pile back from the edge. The plow is buried in the snow drift. Soon we have the wedged snow dug out from under the plow and the truck frame. But the attempt to back up only results in two deeper holes for the front tires and the back tires spin. The chains usually work wonderfully for traction but now are digging only deeper holes.

            “We’re done for!” pronounces Hubby. We stand and stare at our hopeless situation. But my ever-creative husband has an idea. He gathers all the tow rope that we own and ties the truck off to the other truck in the shed. Then he attaches his come-along. Neither of us are optimistic that this is going to work but we have nothing to lose. While he is doing that, I struggle back through the snow for a ½ full pail of sand and salt for the back wheels.

            “Get in the truck,” he directs, “and put it in reverse while I ratchet.”

            I let out the clutch and apply the gas until the wheels begin to spin. Then I stop. We do this a couple of times while Hubby tightens the rope with the come-along. Finally, he says, “That is all I can pull it. I think we are done. Try it one more time.”

            I let out the clutch and step on the gas – this time like I really mean business. Amazingly, the truck rises up out of the hole. I am almost shocked by our success. The extra tension and the pulling downward on the rear bumper were the ticket to triumph. My husband is a genius.

            I retreat to the warmth of the house while I wait for the next call for help. Another hour goes by before I hear the house door bang again. “I need your assistance.” In this last hour, Hubby has been able to clear out by the house garage. This leaves us with the access to his 4-wheel drive work truck, a significant improvement from our previous predicament. I drive the plow truck while he pulls with the other truck. Soon, I have been dragged backwards out of the snowbank and planted firmly on the drive again.

I glance at my watch. 10:00. If I am going to arrive at work by noon which was my re-negotiated start time for today, I will need to leave in an hour. The drive is only ½ cleared after three hours of plowing. My decision is made. I need to let go of my guilt and life-long instilled drive to always meet my obligations. I will make my first road call ever. I am already stressed to the max over this situation and the sheriff’s department is saying many roads are still closed with huge drifts in places.

One more episode of needing to be dragged backward out of the snowdrift on the side of the drive occurs in the next hour before Hubby announces, “I’m through. I can get out. I need to go on a service call though. One of my customer’s barns collapsed. You can try to widen the path a little if you want while I am gone.”

I have no desire to get stuck while he is gone, and I have no one to pull me out. However, I have this bright idea that I can go to town with the snowplow and fill the truck with gas. The roads are snow covered so the chains won’t be so hard on the blacktop and it will give me a chance to see what the roads are like. I switch over to 4-wheel high gear and off we go. The chains do make for significantly more chattering of the tires, so I drive slowly. Several spots in the road are one-lane only but otherwise, the road is in fair condition. One mile out of town, I notice that the “Coolant Low” light is on followed by the “Engine-Overheated” light. Great! Just great! I am frustrated as to why the truck should be overheating. We have plowed all morning without a problem. I pull over, turn the key off, and pull the hood lever. I do have extra coolant with me. I know that one is not supposed to open the radiator lid when the engine is hot, but I think that I can turn the cap just enough to let off some of that pressure slowly. I stand back and slowly turn the cap, allowing the scalding coolant to sizzle gradually around the cap. But the boiling liquid has other intentions. Like a volcano, the cap shoots into the air following by the trapped geyser like those found at Yellowstone National Park. I stand there in horror and watch the spouting liquid cover the plow, the engine and the front of my coat. It does not stop until most of the coolant has been spewed into the air.

“Can I help you? Do you need a ride?” the voice is that of a gentleman who has stopped.

“I’m good,” I say, “it just overheated, and I wanted to add more anti-freeze.” I am not about to admit that I am a total idiot for taking off the cap while hot but I’m sure it is obvious from the state of my truck. The engine is steaming, and the plow is covered in orange-yellowish liquid. He wishes me well and drives away. I am left to dump what remaining anti-freeze I have with me into the holding tank. It does not begin to fill it. If I can only make it to town, I can buy more. Now to find the missing cap. I look under the truck and all through the engine compartment. No cap! “Lord, help me,” I breathe. This is an utterly ridiculous pickle. I turn around and look up the road. There it lays on the shoulder of the road six feet in front of the plow. “Thank you.”

The temperature gauge has dropped back into the safe range when I restart the truck. If I can just make it this last 1 ½ miles to the gas station. No sooner have I started out again than the temperature begins its climb and the “Coolant Low” light comes on. I barely make the city limit before the “Engine Overheated” begins flashing again too. Frickit! This is not going at all like I planned. There is nothing to do but stop and walk to the gas station to buy coolant. Walking down the icy street because the sidewalks aren’t cleared makes me feel totally conspicuous. The middle of the street is piled high with the remnants of the storm making me an even more likely target for unwary motorists. Soon I am able to buy more coolant and stroll back to the truck. This does allow me to reach the gas station where I buy another container of coolant to empty into the bottomless hole. A full tank of gas and a full container of coolant later, I am ready to begin my journey home. The temperature stays in the acceptable range. Thank you, Lord. But as I make the last turn into the drive, that pesky “Coolant Low” light comes on again. Ugh!

The drive is passable, the truck is gassed, and blizzard 2019 is over. I am so done with this storm. And we are left with memories of a lifetime.

The Other Side Of Medical Care – An Unexpected Journey

Beep! Beep! Beep! I roll over and hit the alarm for the third time. It is Friday morning and my day off. I am looking forward to a day of home activities. In the darkness of early morning, I slide out of bed and throw the covers back over the bed. As I pull open the bedroom door, I am hit by a sudden overwhelming curtain of silence followed by wooziness. That was weird. As I take that first step down the hall, my right leg wobbles and I reach out for the wall. My right arm also seems somewhat uncoordinated and I need to think about where I place them as I traverse the morning route to the bathroom in the dark. I shake my head several times trying to clear the cobwebs from my brain. It is not unusual for me to experience vertigo at times, but it usually passes in thirty seconds or so. This does not want to go away. I peer at my face in the mirror. All facial movements seem symmetrical. I console myself that it is probably not a stroke. I conclude that this must be an escalation of my normal vestibular (ear) problem. Afterall, I have been sick for most of the last week with the common cold. Maybe it has moved to my ears.

            “Are you OK?” It is the voice of my husband.

            “No, I am not OK.” I stand there trying to clear my head. “I would go downstairs to the bathroom, but I don’t think I can make it that far.”

            He offers me the commode as a seat, and I plunk down on it. I sense the watering in my mouth that precedes an upchuck. Oh dear!

            “Do you need to throw up?” he asks.

            “It’s coming. I don’t know what is wrong, but I think we need to go somewhere. I don’t know where to go at the clinic so maybe we should just go to the ER. Can you help me get dressed and then you should go plow first?”

            Thursday had been a day of receiving three to four inches of snow followed by high winds and significantly subzero windchills. As I had driven home from work at the hospital at 7 p.m. the prior evening, I struggled to see the road in places. I would find myself on the wrong side of the road, disoriented, and with the need to get myself back where I belonged. As I finally drove up the drive, the wind-driven snow hit me smack in the front. The drifts were piling up in the yard and in the driveway. I didn’t know if we could get out without plowing.

            I sit and contemplate my situation as Hubby makes his way downstairs and out the door. Because of the weather and the prediction of below zero temperatures, as well as an injured right arm from a fall on the ice on Wednesday, he has already decided to take the day off from work. If one has to be sick, I guess the timing could not be better. Hubby is home and neither of us are trying to get to work.

            After attempting to throw up, the ever determined me decides to comb my hair. I have to look respectable. I plant my feet wide apart for stabilization at the sink and with a little thought into directing my arm, I am able to accomplish this task. Now to get downstairs. I grasp the rail as I put one foot ahead of the other. As long as I think about what my right foot is doing and grasp the rail to stabilize the spinning room, I do quite well. I collapse in the recliner in the living room. Uh Oh! Almost immediately, I can feel that premonition in my mouth. I am going to throw up again. There is no way I am going to make it to the bathroom. What am I going to do? I don’t really want to throw up on the carpet. I drop to the floor and crawl the six feet on my hands and knees to the laminated flooring just in time to heave over and over. Exhausted, I crawl back to the chair.

            Bang! Hubby appears at the kitchen door. “I can’t get the plow truck to start but I think we can get out without plowing.”

            “Let’s just go then.” I grab my basin.

            The trees glisten with frost covered needles and branches. The sun shines brightly. It is flanked by the colored pillars of sundogs. The car thermometer displays 12 degrees below zero. On any other morning, this would be a beautiful scene to absorb and photograph. It is still a beautiful scene but not really enjoyable with one’s head in a barf bucket.

            A lady with a wheelchair is waiting for us just outside the emergency room. I could not be more thankful as I don’t think I can walk anywhere at this point. We are whisked into a room and soon introduced to a medical student. I was expecting hours of waiting to be seen but when one is really in trouble, the most efficient means of obtaining medical care is the emergency room. I suppose it was that telling them that my right arm and leg didn’t work right. That triggers a different response than just throwing up or some such thing.

            “Is this your partner?” asks the nurse who takes my vital signs.

            “No, it’s the guy I picked up in the ditch along the way,” I intone.

            “She hasn’t lost her humor.”

            Soon, I am performing all kinds of neurological tests. “Squeeze both hands. Follow my finger with your eyes. Pick up your left leg. Pick up your right leg. Push down on the gas pedal. Pull back towards your nose.” I perform most of these with ease. I only stumble on two of them. “Touch your nose, then my finger with your right hand as fast as you can.” My finger has a hard time hitting my nose and it takes complete concentration to hit the doc’s finger. “Slide your right heel up and down your left shin.” To this command, I find my heel weaving down the shin bone. I just can’t make it go straight.

            “We think you might have vestibular neuritis (a viral infection that affects the nerve of the ear) but because of difficulty with those two tests, we are going to send you for a CT scan.”

            I grab my trusty barf basin and off we go. By this point, I am throwing up every fifteen to thirty minutes. If I keep my eyes open, the world has some semblance of stability. If I shut my eyes, the world goes around and around. When I sit up to transfer to the CT table, I sway back and forth like a branch in the wind. “I think we should just slide you over,” is the conclusion of the CT techs. Good decision!

            I make it back to the ER just in time to throw up again. I have given up waiting for them to bring me the promised medicine for nausea. I hit the nurse call button. “Can I have some nausea medicine?”

            “I don’t think there is anything ordered,” states the nurse who responds. Really? There have been two different doctors who have promised this. I am ready to collapse into a sobbing heap as I just keep heaving and heaving. I have lost track of the number of times now. Soon she is back with the treasured medication.

            The med student squeezes her body though the slightly open door, “The CT shows a small cerebellar stroke, so we are going to put through a neurological consult.”

Shock would be my reaction. Why would I have a stroke? I don’t have high blood pressure. I don’t have diabetes. I am not particularly overweight. I have never had a blood clot. I do not have atrial fibrillation. I am only sixty-one years old, exercise regularly, and I take a full aspirin every day. All I can think of is my father who had a major stroke at eighty-two years of age from which he never recovered. He could not write or talk or communicate for the next seven years before he died. I would rather die than be like that.

Within a few minutes, the neurology resident appears, and we go through the same battery of neurology tests again. “I am going to send you for an MRI to evaluate the arteries in your head and then we are going to admit you to the hospital.”

By this time, I no longer care. I just want relief from the nausea. I want to sleep but every time I close my eyes, the world spins and renews my discomfort. By the time escort comes to take me to the MRI scan, I have received some Compazine for the nausea, but I still do not trust myself. The nauseous feeling lies just below the surface.

“What am I going to do if I have to throw up in the MRI scanner?” I clutch my emesis basin close to myself as if it were my security blanket as we set off again for another test. No one seems particularly concerned but me. I try to calm my rising panic as they strap me onto the MRI table and snap the head piece into place. I am somewhat claustrophobic anyway. So I talk to myself. Just take deep breaths and close your eyes. Then you can’t see how tight the tunnel is. I clutch my call ball and shut my eyes. At least the world has stopped spinning. The air blowing into the tunnel is cold and I shiver. By this point, all I want to do is sleep anyway so I doze off and on and soon the test is done. I am so glad the medicine is working.

I sway back and forth as I sit up after being transferred from the cart to my hospital bed. I close my eyes and go to sleep. This whole situation is beyond comprehension. My hubby settles down in the chair next to my bed. His face is lined with worry.

My assigned nurse comes by to introduce herself. She holds up the ridiculous yellow band that says, “Fall Risk.” They put them on everyone who admits to having a fall in the last year. Everyone in Minnesota in the winter is a fall risk and I have always told my colleagues if they ever put one of those things on me, I would cut it off. I stare at it and sigh. I guess I really am a fall risk. I soon discover when I try to sit up on the edge of the bed that a loud obnoxious noise also emits from the bed!

Sleep seems to be the only thing I am capable of doing without supervision. Before long, I am awakened again. A transport cart is parked by my bed. “You are going for a CT scan with contrast.” How many scans can I possibly go for? I just had a CT and an MRI and now we are going to do another CT – this time with contrast!  So off we go again. I try to keep my eyes open to prevent the dizzying spinning.

Later that afternoon, the neurology resident comes by the room. “None of the scans show any evidence of vertebral artery tears, plague in the arteries, or a bleed. Since we do not find anything in your head, we need to look at your heart. I am scheduling a TEE (transesophageal echo) for tomorrow.” Gads! How many tests can they come up with? By this time, I am starting to feel significantly better and am returning to my normal personality. I ask to visit the bathroom and am trilled that I can ambulate fairly well. I still cannot pass a roadside DWI test but with the compensation of a wide-stance gait and a tightly clutched gait belt by the nurse, I can walk. Bored with being in bed, I sit up in the chair for a couple hours. I attempt to find and write down a few phone numbers for calling my supervisors, but my hand produces mostly an illegible scrawl. I can text if I take my time. After notifications to some family members of my state of affairs, I crawl into bed and sleep some more.

Steam rises from the chimneys of the city outside my window on Saturday morning. My immediate view is that of the hospital chapel, its door surrounded by frost. My life feels a little bit like it is surrounded by frost too. I was not planning to be here today. I have life to live.

Not being inclined to be an invalid, I situate myself in the chair. I just need to be careful about not doing any spins or dance moves. Reassured that I am fine and won’t do anything stupid, the nurses have turned off the bed alarm and I have reverted to being the patient+. This means I maneuver my own IV pole, my bedside table, and IV pump the best that I can. The lab gal comes to draw my blood and I ask her to use my left arm because the right antecubital area is all black and blue. “But someone has to come and turn off the IV,” she declares.

“No problem. I’ll take care of that.” And I do.

Soon there is a knock on the door and a lady from occupational therapy enters. “How are you doing? My job is to evaluate you from an occupational standpoint and determine if you need therapy. Can we go for a walk?”

I sign heavily. I am fine but I am happy to go for a walk in the hall. She slips on the dreaded gait belt and off we go. The IV pole provides all the stability that I need. I am convinced that if I stumbled or started falling, this lady would not be able to help me. She seems more unsteady and feebler than me. My being as good as I am, I reflect, has nothing to do with my own abilities but to the grace of God and his goodness in allowing me full return of my faculties. This facade of independence, competence, and strength that we all present to the world is just that, a façade that can be crashed at any moment.

I have not eaten any breakfast as I am not to eat in preparation for the planned TEE.

Imagine my surprise when the escort shows up with the transport cart around ten am. “I am here to take you to your MRI with contrast.”

“My MRI??” I question incredulously. “I thought I was going to have a TEE today?”

“The directions say we are going to an MRI,” repeats the escort gentleman.

I just love the communication around here. No one talks to me. They just change plans out of the blue. I guess we are going to an MRI. I think I will have met my medical deductible with two CTs and two MRIs. This time I am more prepared and feel physically better. I open my eyes in the MRI scanner and look around the best that I can while being in a head vise. Above me is a mirror that reflects the head frame back at me. It gives the illusion of more space than there really is. I can’t actually see the bore that surrounds me. That’s interesting. I wonder if they can see me from the control room.

Back in my room, I get up to the bathroom. My legs and my upper arms are covered with red spots intermingled with white splotches and they are starting to itch. Great! I must be allergic to the MRI contrast used. The MRI tech told me that no one is allergic to the MRI contrast. There is always a first. The only time I have ever seen this on me before was after several mosquito bites in the same area and that rash lasted for weeks. The only thing that was helpful was to grit my teeth and not scratch.

The resident comes by later in the afternoon to inform me that this MRI did not show anything abnormal either. “I thought I was to have a TEE today. How come we went for MRI instead?”

“We can’t do the TEE on the weekend unless it is an emergency, so we have to wait until Monday. We wanted to definitively confirm that nothing is going on in your head anyway, so we decided to do the MRI instead.” I am beginning to wonder if there is anything at all in my head. Maybe they are just trying to find a brain.

I sigh. I am already bored and feeling over tested. I have so many things I could do at home. “Can I go home today then?”

She gazes at me and smiles. “You do look quite well. I guess we could let you go home and come back for the other tests we want to do as an outpatient. I will order a 48-hour Holter monitor for you and once you have the device on, you can go home. We will order the TEE for Monday as an outpatient.”

“Versed and Fentanyl medications do not work for me so I would really like one of my colleagues to use propofol for me.”

“Just tell them when you get there,” she brushes my request off.

“That isn’t going to work,” I impress upon her, “If you do not order it as anesthesia, no one is going to honor my request. I know how this works around here.” I can tell by her face that she has no intention of following my request.

Taking a shower is the next item on the agenda if I am going to have stickies all over me for 48 hours. With meticulous care and deliberate moves, I gather all the supplies necessary and bask in the warm shower. I am still somewhat like a waving reed but if I take my time I can compensate for any remaining deficiencies. This could have been so much worse. How does one wake up one morning and five minutes later, the world has been turned upside down? It hits me that we are not prepared for something to happen to me. I have always planned that my hubby would go before me. After all, his parents died in their early seventies and mine were both 89 at their time of death. The urgency of remedying this situation floods over me.

Once my shower is done, the Holter Monitor tech comes to hook me up. The last order of business is to read the discharge instructions. I notice that they changed my cholesterol medication without telling me and that the resident has marked sedation instead of anesthesia on the TEE order. She comes back to see me one more time at my request and I point out to her that there is a box to check anesthesia. “Alright, I will see what I can do,” she finally concedes.

How am I going to know when the TEE is planned for on Monday is my question? The resident has given me the phone number for the floor at the clinic where they do these, but I do not have a time. I am told that they will probably call me to let me know but no one really knows.

Monday morning, I anxiously wait by the phone. I check the on-line portal for patients. It tells me that there is a TEE scheduled for “undetermined time.” That is helpful! Finally, after hearing nothing by 8:30 a.m., I make a phone call to the clinic. “You are scheduled at 2:30pm in the cath lab at the hospital,” she tells me, “We don’t usually do them there for outpatients.”

She transfers my call to the cath lab. They clarify that I am on their list, but the nurse then hesitates, “Are you on an anticoagulant now?”

“Nooo… not more than aspirin and Plavix. And I got three heparin shots in the hospital.”

“That’s all gone by now. So that’s not enough. You have to be fully anti-coagulated before we can do this. I need to make a phone call to the doctor and then I will call you back.”

I do not know what to say. I am confused. This seems rather excessive. But then, I don’t do TEEs every day, so I have to assume he knows what he is talking about. I wish they had thought of this on Saturday. Maybe I should just have stayed in the hospital.

Finally, around 10 a.m., he calls me back. “My mistake,” he says, “We should be good. I thought you were having a cardioversion. We don’t need full anti-coagulation for just the transesophageal echo.”

The light bulb goes on in my head. Now I know what has happened. I have totally messed up the system and confused everyone. In order to meet my request for anesthesia-controlled sedation instead of nurse sedation, they needed to schedule my procedure in a place where anesthesia is available. And in doing so, the nurse there assumed that I was having the procedure commonly done there. It always amazes me how confused the system can get by changing just one aspect of the standard practice.

But I am delighted to find that one of my colleagues, a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, is there to administer that special drug, propofol, that I handle so adeptly every day. I drift off into a blissful sleep to wake up feeling comfortable and secure at the completion of the procedure. Finally, I am able to reap a benefit of my career.

In spite of all these tests, no clots, or artery tears, or cholesterol plagues are ever found to explain why this happened to me. It leaves me wondering. Is there another time bomb waiting to go off some day? Only time will tell. And I think I like being on the provider side much better than on the patient side.

Coldest Minnesota Weather in Decades

I am hit in the face by a blast of cold air as I step out of the elevator and into the fifth level of the parking ramp. The weatherman has predicted temperatures of -15 to -20 degrees for this evening with 30 mile per hour winds. I am hoping to make it home from work without a problem. My 2016 Subaru Forester protests as I turn the key but pops right off. The dashboard thermometer shines out a chilly -14. Every part of my trusty chariot creaks and cracks with stiffness but soon we are rolling homeward. The air is saturated with tiny particles of blowing snow making for a hazy backdrop for the street lights.

            As I approach the stop sign at the top of the hill behind the hospital, I step on the brake as is considered appropriate to do at a stop sign. The brake pedal is stiff and refuses to be depressed. The car keeps creeping forward. Oh no! I press harder on the pedal as a sense of helplessness washes over me. I then let up and press again. This time the brake pedal responds. What was that all about? I ask myself. A memory from this past Sunday comes back to me. My hubby was driving on the way to church. As he braked for a stop sign, he had declared that the brakes didn’t work.

            “Well, I haven’t had any problem with them,” I had declared brushing off his concerns. He must have been mistaken, I had thought. Now, I understood what had happened to him.

            I pump the brakes a few times. They seem to be working again. This is not a night that I want to be stranded beside the road requiring walking but then moving forward is not the problem, it is only the stopping. At least, there are not many people on the road, so I make the decision to continue my journey towards home. The wind driven snow hurtles across the road making for whiteout conditions in spots. This makes travel slow and tedious. The brakes seem to now be working properly. Soon I am making a left turn onto main street in Elgin and then a right to stop at the post office. Well, maybe, I will stop at the post office as it is happening again. I apply the brakes. They are stiff and do not respond. Is this just because it is so cold outside? I have no idea but this is getting scary. I need my car tomorrow, but I am going to have to call the garage.  I can’t drive like this. It is a lot like playing Russian roulette, never being sure which stop will become the deadly one.

            We are greeted the next morning by frost coating the windows and creeping around the edges of the doors of the house. The little snowman on the wall is bundled up and declares that it is -28 degrees. Hugh beautiful sun dogs grace the sky. I have no desire to leave the house, but I have a tax appointment at 10 a.m. and I need to drop my car off at the garage afterward. My hubby has decided to not even try to go to work so he can at least pick me up.

            That little Subaru groans as it does a slow turn of the engine but then sputters to life. She always starts. I test the brakes gingerly a few times as I drive away but all seems well. My trip to town for the completion of taxes is without incident and I continue on from there to the repair shop in our little town that sports our address. As I roll up to the garage, it happens again. My foot firmly stomped on the brake is having no effect. Horrified, I have visions of crashing through the closed garage door right into the service bay. Hello. I’m here. Now wouldn’t that be embarrassing. Thankfully, my anticipation of the possibility of such an event has caused me to come in slower than I normally would, and we roll to a stop just shy of the door.

            “Just drive it in,” instructs the repairman, “and we will check it out quick.”

            We turn off the car while he tears off the engine cover and peers at the various contraptions under there. He then steps around and drops into the car. A turn of the key producing a cranking of the engine, but it refuses to start. After several tries, the battery has given up and a turn of the key produces only a clicking sound. OK, we are going from bad to worse. I wasn’t having any problem starting it.

            “All I did was take the cover off the engine,” he insists.

            “Your hubby is here,” adds his brother.

            Yes, it is time for me to walk away. There is not going to be a car for me to drive by tomorrow.

            “Should we drive to the shop while we are out and moving and try to start your other pickup, so I have a vehicle to drive to work tomorrow?” I question Hubby.

            “It hasn’t been run for a week,” he counters, “but now is probably better than at 5 o’clock this evening.

            My hubby’s shop is not heated and the cold seeps into our clothes and bites our fingers and toes. The truck does not think it should have to wake up today in the cold either. It makes a gallant effort at cranking sluggishly five or six times and then it is done. Jumping it is not an option due to its forward position in the shop parking bay. The charger and the portable LP heater are at home, five miles away but there is nothing to do but go get them. At least we have one vehicle that has not been defeated by the bone chilling cold.

            Soon we have the heater pouring its warmth into the truck engine and the charger putting new life back into the battery. We hole up in the running work truck while we wait. Thirty minutes later, hubby decides to give it a try again. Vrrrmm!! What a delightful sound.

            “Hurrah!” I shout. My hubby who doesn’t realize I have followed him back into the shop half collapses to the floor in fright. Oh dear! “I didn’t mean to scare you,” I laugh. “I was just so happy it started.”

            “Hello, this is Gary from the garage. Your car is ready.” Begins the phone call at 5 p.m. “I couldn’t find anything wrong except the battery is weak.”

            “Really! How is it possible that the brakes don’t work because the battery is bad?”

            “I couldn’t find anything else and so many things are electronic these days, the ABS system could be being affected because of it.”

            As I drive home from the shop, the thermometer on the car still reads -18 degrees. Who would have guessed that a stressed and weak battery from the cold could cause the car brakes to fail? Could we just turn the heat up now, please?

Mobile Home Ownership

          “Can we get together and do something, just the two of us, while you are home from college?” I plead of my daughter. She is in her first year of studying veterinary medicine at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa and I don’t get to talk to her much, let alone see her.

            “You can go with me to Ames on New Year’s Day to pay my lot rent if you would like,” she replies.

            “I would love that.” I am excited about spending a day with my daughter. She and her husband have purchased a trailer in a mobile home park that lies just behind the vet school. She lives there during the school year and then she comes home to Minnesota during breaks from school to spend time with her husband.

            We drive the 150 miles on a crisp sunny winter day. The temperature hovers around ten degrees. The cold has moved in after a week that began with 50-degree temperatures and ended with a cold front ushered in by rain and high winds. Glare ice on the road of the trailer park greets us as we make the last turn and park by the trailer. Questions of what we will find inside swirl through our minds. Daughter has only been gone two weeks, but her furnace has this habit of going out when the wind blows. We gingerly pick our way up the ice-covered steps and press the storm door handle button. It is covered with ice and does not respond to Daughter’s touch. Great, the door is froze shut. Even a couple of fist poundings does not loosen it. Do we have any de-icer in the car? No, we don’t. Time for a well-aimed kick. This causes it to let loose enough to spring open.

            Freezing cold air greets us inside. Not good! The furnace is out. A few steps to the kitchen sink and a quick test of the faucet. Both faucets offer total resistance and will not turn. Oh dear! Not only has the furnace gone out but the water is also frozen. A quick check of the bathroom reveals that the sink there puts out a small trickle, the commode flushes, and the shower runs. So maybe, the situation is not as dire as it seems. The first order of business is to relight the furnace which Daughter has become quite adept at doing. Soon, it is pumping warm air back into the rooms.

            “We are going to town to buy you some backup heaters,” is my decision that I share with Daughter. I am hoping that the freezing occurred just over this last night when it turned really cold and that it is not so complete that the pipes have cracked.

            Soon, we have two electric space heaters cranking out their heat along with the furnace.

            “Just let the water run if it is running at all,” is the advice of my hubby, “and it usually thaws out by itself.”

            “The instructions with the space heater say ‘don’t leave unattended’,” I inform Hubby by phone, “and the whole reason we bought them was to leave them unattended. What should we do?”

            “They are probably OK to leave if they have a high-limit shut off on them,” is his thought, “but you should probably shut off the water and open the faucets when you leave.”

             “I don’t really want to crawl under the trailer looking for the water shut-off,” Daughter storms.  “I have no idea where it is.” And it is cold and miserable.

            Oh, the joys of owning a trailer. “I will help you.” Together, we venture outdoors to remove some of the skirting to allow Daughter to slither under the dark dank claustrophobic causing space. “I don’t see anything,” She finally informs me. Alright, give up on that idea.

            As we relax and wait for the water to thaw, a light bulb goes on in Daughter’s memory. “When I was living with the other girls, their trailer water shut-off was in the closet.” This calls for a trip to the bedroom and a removal of the panel covering the water heater in the closet. Sure enough, there it is. Inside and accessible from the warmth of the bedroom.

            A couple of hours later, we really need to head for home if we are to get home in a timely manner. The kitchen sink has thawed to the point that one can turn the faucets on and off and a slow trickle of water is emerging. We are making progress. We turn off the water, leave the faucets open, and leave the space heaters set at 60 degrees. Hopefully, when she comes back in another two weeks everything will be thawed out and back to normal without any issues.power pole and birds 323

            “Safe in Ames. Trying to thaw the trailer,” reads the text two weeks later on her return to Ames, “Nothing has thawed. Kitchen has pencil width. The bathroom has drips.”

            Not good! This doesn’t make any sense. The temperatures have been above freezing for most of the two weeks since our trip there and the heaters kept the trailer warm even though the furnace had gone out again. “Dad wants to know if you want us to come down tomorrow and check things over.”

            “Yes, please!”

            It is a beautiful mid-January day when we pull up at the trailer in Ames. The eves are dripping water as the latest snow melts under the warmth of the sun. A hand turn of the kitchen faucet yields only a small trickle, not even a stream as big as what was running when we left it on New Year’s Day. And now the bathroom faucet has no flow either. How perplexing!

            Hubby begins a thorough investigation. The water is definitely on. He crawls under the trailer and looks around. The pipes seem well protected in the floor. There is no water dripping or worse yet, flowing. He removes the panel behind the washer and dryer but can’t see anything. None of this adds up. The water should have thawed out long ago. “You are going to have to call a plumber tomorrow as I can’t find anything wrong,” is the verdict to Daughter.

            Unwilling to give up and in desperation, Hubby begins to tear the kitchen faucet apart. Surprise of surprises, brown water pours out! He quickly screws off the little aerator that covers the opening on this and most faucets. It is packed with brown sediment. A bee line to the bathroom reveals the same brown sediment obstructing the faucet there. How silly! This whole time we have had it stuck in our heads that the water is still frozen, not even considering this simple solution to what seemed to be a continuing problem but is actually a different problem. The freezing and thawing have apparently stirred up a bunch of sediment in the pipes and deposited it in the aerators. A plumber would have been laughing all the way home with a tidy sum in his pocket from such a call.

            I am reminded of how much of life is often like this. We are so focused on our preconceived ideas about various things that we can’t see the truth because we are stuck in one way of thinking.

          At least our journey is not in vain. We get to enjoy the day with our daughter, and she gets to start her new semester with several problems in her trailer resolved. No pipes have burst, and all is well.wintershoot 347

An Adventure in Domestic Flying

We leave the hotel in Bar Harbor, Maine at 7:15 a.m. We soak in the beautiful fall colors during the peaceful drive to Bangor where we return the rental car without any difficulty. Our flight is not scheduled to leave until 1:10 p.m. so we nourish ourselves with food from a gas station with the plan to eat lunch when we arrive in Newark, NJ. We have plenty of time to kill and settle in for some people watching and internet surfing.

We overhear other people talking about having been put on this flight as United canceled the 6 a.m. flight that morning. No one knows why. I question the desk attendant around noon as our flight is not on the board. “It is delayed ½ hour,” she states but confirms that there is still a flight UA4299. It does appear on the board around 12:30 p.m. and indicates that it is “on time.” However, the boarding time passes and then another ½ hour and another ½ hour, and a third ½ hour. We are starting to get antsy along with all the other passengers. We only have a two-hour time frame in Newark and then we will miss our connecting flight to Chicago. No one has made any announcements or tried to update the waiting people. I finally wander over to the desk attendant again, “What is the holdup?”

“Traffic control issues in Newark,” she responds, “The wind is very gusty there and they have had to change runway directions.”

About this time, they announce that we will board in ten minutes. Finally, around 2:50 p.m., we begin boarding. I breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe there is hope yet. Boarding goes smoothly and soon we are taxing to the runway for takeoff. The captains voice comes on the loud speaker, “Sorry folks, I have bad news. We have just been delayed for another twenty to thirty minutes.” I groan. Will we ever get off the ground? Finally, twenty minutes later we lift off into the air.flying1

I do some quick calculations in my head. We should arrive in Newark around 4 p.m. Our Chicago flight starts boarding at 4:10 p.m. How can I expedite this process? Hmm! Those magazines in the back of the seat pocket always contain drawings of various airports. I tear out the one for Newark. We will be landing at the B terminal and need to cross the airport to get to the C terminal for our next flight. “What is the best way to get to the C terminal?” I question the stewardess.

“Take the stairs at B28,” she instructs, “and get on the bus to terminal C.”

I am ready. Now I have a plan. Dave is seated further back in the plane, so I cannot discuss anything with him. My instructions on boarding to him were, “I will find out where our next boarding gate is until you can catch up with me.”

C95 is the gate listed for UA 1180 and it is currently boarding. Great! Down the stairs we go along with a bunch of others. The bus is waiting. Within a few minutes, we arrive at terminal C. We keep moving and arrive with a few minutes to spare. They haven’t gotten to Group 3 and 4 yet. Made it.

flying2I soon realize after boarding that we are also going to have a problem in Chicago. This one is my fault. I didn’t look close enough at the times when buying the tickets. It seemed like we had an hour between flights but now I realize that the distance between landing and boarding is only 35 minutes. The time is quoted for takeoff, but one needs to be on the plane long before actual takeoff. Oh dear! I hope our departing gate is close to our incoming one. If it is, we might have a chance. We do leave Newark on time and the pilot initially indicates that we will arrive in Chicago fifteen minutes early. Hurrah!

My cheers and feelings of hope are soon dampened when the pilot announces, “We have been doing some S flying to delay our arrival in Chicago.” This results in a loss of fifteen minutes. It is very windy and cloudy in Chicago we are told, and this is affecting flight times coming in. My stomach is tight, and I breathe shallowly as I alternate between hope and gloom. I do not have the boarding gate number for Chicago making it impossible to do any pre-emptive planning as I did with the last flight.

The pilot is still hoping to arrive by 6:30 p. m. The clouds hug the aircraft as we descend. We cannot see the ground for the thick white that surrounds us. All of a sudden, our downward projection is reversed and the engines roar as we begin an ascent. Now what happened? The captain’s voice soon comes on the loudspeaker, “We have aborted our landing. An animal was hit on the runway and they have to clear the runway before we can land. We will be circling until they are able to make sure the runway is safe.”flying3

Noooo! What else can go wrong? We might as well give up any idea of making the next flight. We might as well plan on driving home. We fly, what seems to us aimlessly, in the thick soup around us for what seems like an eternity but in reality, is probably about fifteen minutes before we get the OK to land. The clock reads 6:50 p.m. I search frantically for an electronic board to see what gate our Rochester flight will depart from. We are in C terminal and the board indicates our departure is out of F27. You have got to be kidding me!!! The only thing that gives me hope is that it doesn’t say that they are boarding yet. The problem is this is in another terminal as far to the end as is possible. We decide to give it a try anyway.

Down the escalator we go, taking steps like a regular stair along the moving steps. Then I am trotting. I glance back at Dave to make sure he is keeping up with me. Through the tunnel and up the next escalator we speed. Next is the moving walkway and we hurry along it. Dave is puffing. I am getting hot and feel like I am burning up. My mouth turns dry and feels like it is full of cotton balls. Onward we race, as fast as two over sixty-year-olds can go. I am running out of breath and slow down to a more sustainable pace but there is no time for a bathroom stop. Where is F27 anyway? Of course, it is the last gate at the end of the terminal. We roll up just as the last two people are boarding. I need to get rid of some clothes before I melt.

“I bet you $100 our suitcase won’t make it,” I comment to Dave. But we have MADE IT!

flying4The flight to Rochester is uneventful and we soon stand back from the luggage conveyor and watch others collect their baggage. We do not expect ours to be there. Soon the bags have all disappeared and the conveyor stops. We stand there along with another young man.

“That’s it,” I say to no one in particular.

“You’re joking, right?” the young man responds.

“Nope.”

“But my clothes for the wedding tomorrow are in there,” is his anguished assertation.

Well, at least all ours contained was dirty clothes and a few personal items. Soon we are filling out forms documenting our lost luggage.

“It should be here by tomorrow at noon,” the airline agent assures us. “Where do you want it delivered?”

“My house??”

At 11:00 a.m. the following day, the med-city taxi glides to a stop outside our house. “Here is your suitcase.” I’m impressed. Now, that is service.

 

When the Memory Begins to Go

080I have just a few minutes to brush my teeth before setting off for Rochester for my Chiropractor appointment in thirty minutes. I step into the bathroom and my heart does a flip flop. There lays my husband’s cell phone on top of the laundry basket. Great! He is supposed to be working 45 miles away today and I can just see him not discovering this until reaching the job site. My brain does a quick spin. How should I deal with this? I can’t call him to tell him of my discovery. Ah, I don’t think he has left yet. Maybe I can catch him. I swirl and try to hurtle down the stairs. But my speeding is not very smooth and coordinated anymore. It is more like having the brakes on in the car while pushing on the gas. Reaching the bottom, I surge out the house door to the garage just in time to see the overhead garage door touching down. Grr!  A few more steps and out the side garage door I fly.

“Stop,” I scream towards the rear of the receding truck. Well, that is obviously not going to work. What now? The car keys. . .  I can catch him with my turbo charged car. I plunk into the seat, slide into reverse, and rocket out of the garage. The stones fly as I speed down the driveway and up to the highway. I groan as I realize there is a pickup coming from the left. I have to stop if I don’t want to cause tiny pieces to go flying everywhere. Now to make matters worse, I have a law abiding vehicle between me and my target. Not to be deterred, I kick it up to 90 miles an hour and sail past the puzzled man in the obstructing vehicle.

“Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep,” I lean on the horn over and over and over again as I tailgate behind my husband. Apparently, not only does he not notice other people on the road with him, he can’t hear them either. The oncoming lane is now empty, so I ease up alongside my oblivious husband, finally catch his attention and wave him over. I hold up the phone and he rolls his eyes and lets out a sigh. “Thank you,” he says.

Though frustrated, I chuckle. There is no reason to be irritated with each other. These kinds of things have become the norm in our lives these days.

I do a donut in the middle of the road and head back to the house to finish getting ready and grab the paper work I need for the day. That little adventure only took 7 minutes. Soon I am driving towards Rochester like a sane person. Suddenly, I realize that I didn’t get my long-distance glasses on for driving. Oh well, my computer glasses are just going to have to do – the world in front of me is a little blurred but distinguishable. I arrive at the chiropractor only two minutes late.