by Leslie Farin
How many natural disasters can we cope with at one time?
After almost an entire year since Covid-19 invaded our lives, I continue to hunker down at home. I love my home, but spending so much time cooped up is not something I enjoy. Flaws in the house I never noticed before now loom large in my mind. I need to get out of my house – or at least stop watching “Love It or List It”! All that said, until last week I still felt incredibly grateful to have a house, plenty to eat, clean water, a good internet connection which allows me to continue to work from home, and a husband with whom I happily share these pandemic days at home. I am well aware not everyone fared as well as I did over this past year.
Perhaps you noticed I said above that I was grateful “until last week”. Texas experienced an unprecedented snow storm last week that made national news. Completely unprepared to handle this unusual weather, Texas residents suffered through record low temperatures without heat, electricity, hot water or internet.
Both the pandemic and the storm by themselves are stressful situations. Coping with both at the same time was doubly challenging for a lot of people, including us.
“Too much of a good thing, isn’t”
For the first few days after the storm, my husband and I cozied up by the gas fireplace, played a lot of backgammon, read books and enjoyed leisurely conversations, reminding me of our years dating as “twenty-somethings” before we married. However, “too much of a good thing isn’t” as they say. Truthfully, I’m not sure who “they” is, but I hear this comment often.
We kept our food from spoiling by opening the refrigerator only when necessary and fortunately we had enough in the house to get us through a few days. Experts advised us to wrap our outdoor pipes, pool equipment and spigots, and to drip water from indoor faucets to prevent freezing, which we did. We did not use our dishwasher and washing machine as recommended to conserve water.
Concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning after 36 hours with the fireplace on, we decided to turn it off. People told us to stay home to monitor possible damage from burst pipes, but the house was cold and mid-week we ran out food. Even the “emergency chocolate” we hide around the house was gone. Don’t laugh until you try it; we seldom eat sweets, but an occasional chocolate is a great pick-me-up when life gets hard.
After a day with no food and freezing temperatures inside, we packed up and went to a friend’s house less than one mile away who for some reason did have heat, electricity, hot water and food. We were hesitant to ask due to the ongoing social distancing recommendations, but they graciously welcomed us into their home.
It turned out it was a mistake to leave. We left for less than 24 hours on day four of the freeze, and turned off the dripping water faucets as a precaution while gone. Upon our return, we found the garage and master bedroom flooded. At this point the water had to be turned off entirely, a seemingly simple task that is actually much easier said than done. We knew approximately where to find the water main pipe in the front yard, but still it was challenging to locate now that it was covered with snow. Once we did uncover it, we realized we needed a special key to open the metal vessel housing the unit, and another to turn off the water. Who knew? Luckily, some kind neighbors saw us in our front yard and intuitively knew what was happening. One had one of the necessary keys, and the other had the second, which they shared with us.
So now we had no water in addition to our other issues. We could not shower, wash dishes or do laundry. We had mounds of dishes in the sink and piles of soaking wet towels used to clean up the flooding. By this time, the dishes smelled of old food and the towels smelled of mold. The shower issue was not as big a deal as we washed up while overnight at our friend’s house.
My next door neighbor invited me to help myself as often as needed to the boiled water she kept on her stove. We also stood in line at the local church giving out water bottles. As a result we enjoyed our morning coffee, brushed our teeth and cooked a little using random items we found in the house. We melted snow and collected water drips from ice melting as the weather warmed, which was sufficient to allow us to flush the toilets.
It was a harrowing week, but we survived. I am acutely aware that we are the lucky ones. So many people endured much worse than us and still struggle with issues related to the storm.
For example, this morning we had an insurance adjuster come to the house to assess the significant amount of damage caused by the storm. Fortunately we have good homeowners insurance. It’s a pain to fix all the damages and we must pay a sizeable deductible , but we have a home. Not everyone is able to go back to their home, even now.
And yes, the house had a horrible smell until we cleaned up, but at least we could smell. We personally know many people who had Covid and lost their sense of smell (and taste).
Let’s talk about the lack of food and water during most of the week. It was an uncomfortable week, yes, but in some parts of Texas food and water is still a problem – and not just from the storm. Some were hungry before the cold temperatures hit. I plan to do my best to keep that feeling of hunger in my heart moving forward. It’s one thing to say, “I’m hungry”; I used to say those words without thinking, and won’t anymore. I have a new appreciation for what it means to be hungry for reasons completely outside my control. Before, if hungry, I found something to eat. It’s entirely different when you truly don’t know when you will have access to food again, a feeling I never before experienced. I am a compassionate person that often volunteers time to help others, but now I have a better idea of what some people experience for long periods of time. For me, it was just a difficult week; others encounter this issue day after day with no end in sight.
Finally, I learned the world doesn’t fall apart if I don’t work ten hours a day; that’s an expectation I put on myself. The internet was down for more than a week, and in our current Covid world I am unable to work without an online connection. Things can wait – and they did. This realization might sound like common sense for some people, but honestly this experience was eye opening for me. Moving forward, I plan to implement a better work-life balance.
The bottom line
I am full of gratitude as I sit today at my computer in my warm house with my tummy full. I no longer care about the so-called flaws in my house; that’s a first world problem. I don’t even care about the holes in my ceiling or the decimated pool equipment outside. At some point they will be fixed.
This past week made me truly appreciate what’s important in life. I hope to keep this feeling with me for a very long time.