Nov 18, 2012

Hurricane Sandy, Part 2, aka Has G-d Had Enough?

Tuesday, October 30.
We awake to the chill in the air. I knew I couldn't stay here and so did he. My nerves were frazzled because I had something like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the storm. As a stroke survivor, I had some trouble going with the flow now, and I was near the end of my patience. But I tried my darned-ist not to say anything to my friend about the heat and lack of hot water. We were leaving anyway. And he had more problems than I did.

My friend went down to the basement to check for moisture, but he found more--15 inches of rain and sea water. His boiler, water heater, washer, and dryer among other things went south to hell. We had breakfast and, when the tide started retreating around 11 am, we went back to Philadelphia to stay in his mother's apartment who didn't live there anymore. She had died on Thursday.

We brought our computers, but in an assisted living facility, there was no need for Wi-Fi for the great majority of the people who lived there because they don't use computers. If someone wants to go online, they have a certain area where it's possible on the dining floor, but the Internet was out for awhile, I imagine because of the storm. I continued writing my blog. He watched television and we ate dinner at his sister's house two miles away, going over roads that were absolutely passable, and then returned to his mother's apartment for much needed sleep.

A side note on the sleep issue is there's much evidence that getting a good night's sleep--at least 7 hours--is so important for stroke survivors. But it's not uncommon for stroke survivors to have problems sleeping. Maybe they have an arm or leg muscle that quivers in a spasm (called "tone" in physical therapy jargon) or are kept awake with over-thinking the day. At least once a week, my muscles go into "tone" in the middle of the night and I am forced to get up and stretch. And wow, do I over-think. More than a few times, I got up at 3 am and thought until 7. Any stroke survivor could identify with these conditions.

But the really shocking news is that even if you have average weight and are healthy, and have normal readings in both blood pressure and cholesterol, sleeping less than six hours a night consistently could quadruple your risk of a stroke, according to a recent study at the University of Alabama. The extensive test was done on over 5,600 people, aged 45 and older. Researchers concluded that sleep is just as critical as diet and exercise. The reasons, say the researchers, is that deprivation of sleep can cause changes in the blood pressure, heart rate, and glucose levels, all critical factors that might possibly lead to a stroke if any one of those factors goes too high.

Wednesday, October 31.
The entries from here on out would be shorter. The storm and all the destruction left behind had passed.

My friend wanted to return to his house at the shore because standing water in the basement could spell disaster. So back we went sixty miles--again. We left the computers and our other belongings in his mother's apartment. He rented a pump along the way which operated on gasoline. When we arrived in the town next to his, his town was inaccessible because there was a breach in the water system, and back roads were not the answer. There was no doubt about it. New Jersey got hit hard by the hurricane. The police figured out almost all the ways someone could get in. We decided to go for a pizza dinner in the neighboring town and think, and after that, he figured out a way to get back to his house because the police didn't think of everything.  When you live in a place for sixty-four years, you just know.

When he went down to the basement, surprisingly, the water level diminished to four inches in a few places, seeping through the cracks in the floor, and simply wet in most places. But the pump didn't have a hose that was long enough to extricate the water and put it into the street which wasn't flooded anymore. The rest of the day was allotted to my thoughts, partly of G-d and how we were spared from the hurricane this time. But I still wondered, would next time be the last time? To put it simply, has G-d had enough?

We slept at home on Wednesday.

Thursday, November 1.
The power came to life just before noon, and I flipped a lot of switches needlessly, just to make sure it was really on in the whole house. My friend went back to Philadelphia to retrieve our belongings and bought a shop vac at Loews because the water level was manageable now. But on the border to his town, the police stopped him. They had finally figured out all the ways to enter his town. One of the cops said there's no law against walking. So he parked and got out of the car with the shop vac and all our belongings and walked the mile back to the house.

His sons came to help him clean out the soggy, moldy basement. The house was cold and damp, at least to me, because I take Coumadin which makes most of us who take it feel a lot colder than the temperature readings indicate.

In general, there's a lesson to be learned in everything that happens to us. Maybe for the next monster storm that hits us, we'll know the answer. Maybe it's just a wake-up call for us to get our heads out of our asses and evacuate. But just between you and me, after all was said and done, the storm was thrilling, especially because we lived to tell about it.

Nov 10, 2012

Hurricane Sandy, Part 1, aka Has G-d Had Enough?

The hurricane came on slowly, like a tiger stalking his prey. All I heard was the low wind, but then there's usually wind on the beach block of South Jersey's shoreline, especially in the downtime from fall to spring. The fall was over a third finished, but there it was: Hurricane Sandy.

Sunday, October 28.
My friend's mother died, and we had a graveside service at the shore where she lived for over fifty years. The wind was already blowing, but the gusts slowed down as if the wind wanted to pay its respect to his mother, too.

My friend motioned for me in my wheelchair to walk to the chairs the cemetery had set up for family members, but I sat on the edge of the crowd, not trusting myself on the uneven terrain, common to all cemeteries. (You may not have noticed because you don't walk in my shoes and you may not have had a stroke). The service ended a half hour later, and we all went back to his sister's house in Philadelphia which was sixty miles away for the after-gathering.

While in Philadelphia, a few people said that the bridges to the barrier islands, where we are from in New Jersey, would close down at 4 o'clock, so we left his sister's house at 2:45 in order to make the 4 pm deadline. It started to rain, and he took the Atlantic City Expressway, intending to go from Exit 44 to Exit 2, to make it back in time.

But near Exit 5, the police slowed us down by having one patrol car in each of the three lanes and, at Exit 5, the patrol cars stopped and another officer, who was standing in that wide-legged stance that only policemen and workout guys have, told us to turn around.

''She had a stroke," he said, pointing to me, "and I'm returning to the house to get her pills." It was no lie. I needed my Coumadin.

But the patrolman must have heard that excuse before, so he repeated himself. "You have to turn around."

My friend, who knew the back roads, went onto Exit 5 and kept going beyond where he should have gone. He took a circuitous route which took us close to his home, but we still had to go over the bridge. At 3:59 pm, he took the bridge which closed at 4 o'clock promptly. I know because we were the last car that was allowed to go over. The roads were empty and the town was ghost-like.

When we pulled up to his place, I saw and heard the roaring ocean from his house.

"The ocean looks dangerous," I said, "but the ride was thrilling." I know it sounds crazy, but you weren't there. Those two, diametrically opposed statements were both accurate. We went to bed early, him, because the funeral day was tiring, and me, because I love a storm when I'm safely inside and under the covers. But this storm was different, with strong winds at 75 mph that howled and moaned, and I was afraid the windows would break.

But before I slept, I thought about all the ways we had fucked up this world. Not me, specifically, but "me" as part of the world--wars, pollution, homelessness, hunger, the super PACs? I wondered, was G-d trying to give us a last warning? Was this flood representative of the last one, involving the Bible's Noah and the Ark? Was G-d even so tired of us that He decided to start over? Was this it, the east coast version of the Big One?

With so many questions to myself, asked and answered, I slept for 2 hours that night.

Monday, October 29.
We awakened to a flooded street. According to my friend, the last time the streets were flooded was in 1962 with a nor'easter that blew out the boardwalk. With Sandy, the sea water covered our driveway ramp and started to creep up to the bottom step of the entrance to his home. The storm was encroaching. We lost power, electric and gas, somewhere around 11 am. But we couldn't leave because we were trapped. So we sat in the house that day with nothing to do but stare at the flood or read a book when the light let us.

When I thought that I couldn't stand it any longer, I said, "We could microwave popcorn," I said, but he replied, "No power. Remember?"

A little while later, he said, "You could check your computer for the weather," but I replied, "I have no battery power left."

When it got dark, my friend made us dinner--the leftovers from the funeral food--and, being the ultimate saver, he used a flashlight to find a new headlamp that was a Christmas gift from nine years ago. He put the batteries in and I was a virtual miner, focusing the light on my head at the stairs to the bedroom. He led the way, with the light on the next step, and all the ones after, to guide me. When I reached the top, I moved toward the bed. He helped me into bed and, because I hadn't hardly slept the night before, I slept deeply.