In The Dark

Hurricane Ike’s remnants made the wind blow strongly Sunday, September 14. While working on the computer, the lights dimmed and brightened throughout the day. Outside it was dark and rather chilly. When afternoon shift arrived at 2 p.m., they reported extreme winds. I wondered when we would lose power.

My late afternoon pattern is to lie down and watch TV or DVDs. I considered staying up till bedtime, since I can do little in my room without power. I decided to lie down rationalizing that I could nap if the power went out.

Since the wind was increasingly ferocious, I had an aide put my manual bed crank within reach. I startled when the lights flashed, but watched TV until the cable went out at 5:00 p.m. Soon after the power went out in the building, but came back on in part of it including my room. Intermittent brown outs followed and I turned the TV off. I chided myself for not purchasing more emergency lighting following a power outage in June. I had forgotten when the power came on.

Sitting alone I was nervous and afraid. I heard louder than normal voices in the hallway. Aides were moving residents with oxygen concentrators and other equipment to generator outlets in the hallways. An hour later the building went dark. The generator was on allowing half light at the nurses’ station and in the hallways. But it provided no light in the residents’ rooms or bathrooms. It was difficult for the aides to care for residents and finish serving dinner.

With my draperies closed, my room was dark. I put my call light on to have an aide get my rechargeable flashlight. I wanted it on to calm me down. I told her there were two flashlights with new batteries in my van that the staff could use, but the aides were too busy to get them. Without power I had no usable phone. When I said that I wanted to call my sister, an aide offered her speaker cell phone and dialed it for me. I felt better after I left my sister a message. Then the aide grabbed her phone and hurried out.

I sat staring at the flashlight pattern on my ceiling wondering how long the power would be off. In my 12 years at this nursing home, there have been several power outages, the longest being 16 hours. Trepidation filled me as my room began to get stuffy. With my fan no longer running, hallway noise permeated my room. I heard the aides’ stressed voices reassuring residents. I was thankful the weather was cool. On generator power, we have no air conditioning.

My flashlight lasted an hour and went out. I put my call light on and the aide opened my window. It provided evening light and the much needed cool breeze. I had my call light on more than usual. Once I asked if management was called to bring flashlights and batteries. I was told the administrator was called. I was frustrated because I did not know what was happening.

I passed the time by making mental lists, outlining articles, and praying. I missed my comforting digital clock, but substituted a smaller battery operated one that was hard to see. I got my medicine early and the aides had a tough time cranking my bed down. None of them had ever used the emergency crank before. Even with my instructions, it was difficult because a flashlight was needed. I was able to settle myself and get about five hours sleep.

On Monday, if staff had not called in, they did not know the power was out. Some day shift aides ran to their cars for flashlights only to find the batteries dead or the bulb out. Of necessity I am an early riser and the flashlight cast a ghostly glow in my bathroom. I would have taken a cold shower but settled for a lukewarm wash up. Before I was completely dressed, my aide was told to conserve linens and change beds only if they were soiled.

Since I could not use my computer, I headed down the hallway to see what was going on. I asked if there was a radio to hear the news, but was told there was not one. Many staff had a frozen look on their faces that is present when they do not know whether to answer a resident’s questions. I chatted with nurses and aides, looked out windows for downed trees or power lines and finding none, rode to the front lobby where the door alarm sounded constantly But the mood was amazingly light and the residents did not seem unduly stressed. A cold breakfast of cereal, bread, juice, milk, and instant coffee was served. When the dining room was empty, I ate there.

After breakfast I called my sister, a communications director for a large company. I learned the power outage was serious, widespread, and that we might be without power for four to five days. I knew the nursing home would be a priority, but I also knew that the power company would know we were using a generator. Looking for business office staff, I rode to the front lobby and inadvertently into the morning staff meeting. Embarrassed I rolled immediately right back out. I thought someone would run to a store and I wanted to give them cash to get me flashlights and batteries. When nobody seemed to know anything, I asked activities to go with me to my van to get flashlights. They searched but were only able to find one.

I rode the quiet halls constantly to keep occupied. The rehab room had enough light from the large windows to allow therapy sessions. Aides cared for some residents after daylight filled their rooms. A couple of staff ran to get ice and ‘real coffee.’ Activities fired up one radio with batteries so we had something to listen to. They also set up tables for the residents in the hallways in front of the windows.

At midmorning two friends came to check on me. We chatted for a bit and I made some contingency plans. Lunch was soup and sandwiches. I ate in the dining room with the residents. In the afternoon an activity aide improvised a Sudoku game for me by filling in my choices, which was fun. We had our scheduled Resident Council meeting that afternoon, but as president, my heart was not in it.

I wanted the security of extra flashlight batteries. Since staff was unable to get them that day, I called a friend who picked them up for me. I called to check on friends and family. Some wanted to talk, but I had no privacy because my cordless was out—and someone had to hold the receiver for me. I expressed concern that my power chair’s battery would die and was told that my charger could be plugged into the generator outlet during the night.

I considered staying up until bedtime but was very tired and decided to lie down. My draperies were opened for light and my battery operated candle was turned on for ambience. It was surprising how its flickering and color soothed me. Through my window I saw laundry staff return from the Laundromat, and pull large bundles of linen from a truck. It seemed that everyone had adapted to the blackout. After napping during the evening, I slept some but could not get my mind out of alert mode.

By Tuesday morning everyone was used to the routine. I got a lukewarm shower in the shower room illuminated by flashlight. The sun came out which brightened up the facility. Dietary’s special cooling unit arrived. To alleviate boredom activities took a few of us for a walk around the building. I was told lunch would be hot and innovative featuring grilled meat loaf. I settled for hot dogs—a known quantity. A hospice staffer visited with bite-size candy for nurses and aides which they shared with a few residents. The facility brought in cold cuts and fruit for staff and they ate with appreciation. Some visitors with dead phones used ours. Others wanted to charge a cell phone, which the facility could not do.

After we heard the power could be out until Sunday, I wanted additional batteries to play my radio. Since activities took residents on an outing next to a dollar store, they were allowed to get them for me. I was convinced if I bought more batteries that the power would definitely come on.

At 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday the power came on. It had been out for 47 hours … a long time at a nursing home. Things are back to normal now and lessons have been learned. Staff found that they need more generator outlets, flashlights, and batteries. I was tired and slept well Tuesday night. Some areas are still without power but the power company says most power will be resumed by Monday. We will remember where we were when the lights went out because of Hurricane Ike.

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