“We can do it,” said my unflappable 10-year-old daughter. It was hour 30 of the blackout caused by the southern Ontario ice storm and the four of us had slept together on the third floor.
My husband, who had to go to work, asked if I wanted him to carry Deane downstairs. My husband had carried the lanky 70-pounds of our son up two flights the night before because our elevator, which usually does the heavy lifting, had gone with the power.
To take him downstairs would mean waking Deane who was finally sleeping peacefully after a very rough night. It would also mean the end of my rest.
The alternative suggestion was for my daughter and I to carry Deane down to the ground floor. Irrationally hoping for 30 minutes more sleep in my warm bed, I said nothing in the face of my daughter’s confidence.
Of course when I gained full consciousness, I realized this was ridiculous. As willing as my daughter is, she would have to walk backward downstairs carrying Deane’s feet as I carried his shoulders, stooped low so as to not overpower her. That had disaster written all over it.
Not really sure what I was going to do, I knew the safest way for Deane to get downstairs was in my arms. I carried him – which I can still do for short periods – to the top of the stairs. I then sat down and pulled my 15-year-old son on to my lap and I went down the stairs like a toddler, sliding from one step to the next on my bum.
I’m lucky – with a little imagination – I can manage without our elevator. There were stories of handicapped people stuck in cold, dark apartments waiting for paramedics to have time between emergencies to carry them down the stairs.
As that second cold day wore on, I realized the elevator was not the only issue. We needed power – to charge Deane’s feeding pump, his suction machine and my phone, which was our only source of communication.
I loaded Deane and his equipment into the car. Luckily a neighbour, who was scraping the ice off her car, was able to hold the non-functioning automatic garage door open so we could get out. We went to my mother’s and recharge – literally and emotionally.
Many disabled people rely on equipment that must be charged – electric wheelchairs, oxygen pumps, adjustable hospital beds. If you don’t have someone looking out for you, someone who knows how to help you, an uncontrollable event like an ice storm can become a real crisis.
The case worker with government agency that supports Deane’s care called as I was staying warm in my bed that second morning. She asked if we were all right and told me about the nearest warming station. I’ve had my frustrations with this bureaucracy, but it was reassuring to know that they were keeping tabs on their clients.
As we gratefully returned to our normal life after 2 ½ days without power, my thoughts were occupied by three groups of people: those still without power (now 7 days and counting); the dedicated workers who gave up their holidays to clear the roads and restore power and those for whom the power outage was not just an inconvenience but threatened the very devices they dependent upon for their health.
Let’s hope we’ve all learned how to be better prepared for next time.