On a Sunday afternoon not long ago, mom and I had almost completed a long list of things we needed to accomplish to get her ready for the day. Suddenly, an alarm went off in the basement. I ran out as mom was putting on her sweatshirt, grabbed my phone and started dialing 911 as I ran down the basement steps. I expected to find smoke and flames coming out of the dryer since that was the only appliance on. Instead, there was an awful electrical smell but I couldn’t figure out what was causing it.
Assured that the police were on their way, I came upstairs to find my puppy scared out of his mind by the noise. I didn’t know who to get out of the house first, Tucker or mom. Fortunately, he came when I called him and I quickly got his harness on and put him in my car. By that time the police were in front of the house. I told them my mother was in the house with me and I would need their help getting her out but that we first had to finish getting her dressed. While he went down to the basement, I said “Mommy, we have to finish getting dressed and we need to leave the house, there is an alarm going off.” Now here is the scary part, she didn’t hear the alarm, not even when the basement door was open and it felt like the alarm was resounding through my body.
I can’t say enough about our small town’s first responders. When the police realized mom needed a few more minutes, one of them asked for my car keys. “I’ll go start the car and warm it up for your mom.” The other got mom’s wheelchair out of the garage which allowed me to focus on her.
Time was of the essence so, for the first time mom left the house in the wheelchair and did not use her walker. It was the police who took her wheelchair over the one step we need to navigate before the ramp. I could not have done that alone.
Sitting in my car with my mother and dog waiting for the fire department’s verdict seemed like forever. I could see mom reciting the rosary, her go to-comfort in times of hardship. Oh, did I mention this was the weekend of the worst Nor’easter in years and that the storm had started?
The fire department determined that the electrical smell was from a fan on the furnace and that the heat had to be shut off to ensure there would not be a fire. Then they left and the police were lovely but needed to leave even as they asked if we had a safe place to go.
Thank God we had two options. The first was my brother’s house which was minutes away but is under contract for sale so it had nothing in it but a bed. Second was my house which was almost an hour away and had heat but no bed for mom downstairs. Either way, there was a boatload of stuff we had to bring with us no matter where we landed.
Someone recently said to me, when you’re young you carry around a diaper bag with everything you could possibly need in it. But when you are old, suddenly you need a trailer to hold everything that’s needed. Lord above did I realize the truth in this statement that day. Because of everything we had to transport, we decided on my brother’s house as I could easily go back and forth if we needed anything.
For the next hour I made phone calls, first to our electric and gas company to see if they could come out and was told “Not until Wednesday.” The call to our plumbing and HVAC company resulted in an on-call person being available to assess the problem that day.
In the meantime, I called moms’ neighbor for help. If every caregiver had neighbors like my mother’s, there would be a lot less stress in the world. They graciously agreed to load up their van with some of the things mom would need, starting with her wheelchair, walker and commode. In the meantime, I was gathering clothes for her, sheets, towels, toilet paper and tissues, not to mention all her medications. Food for us and Tucker, along with my clothes, computer etc. would have to wait until mom was settled in the other house.
Then our neighbor asked if I would like him to be there when the HVAC guy came. YES, PLEASE. Since I knew this lovely man had taken on many renovations in his home, built the exact same time as my parents’ home, I knew he would speak the “language” of repairs in a way I could not. In fact, it was this very neighbor who figured out the problem and suggested a solution of bypassing the fan which forced hot air into the basement. Since the fan had seized and was a fire hazard, bypassing the fan and tying off the electric allowed the boiler to be started again. We now had heat and did not have to relocate.
It was my worst nightmare come true: getting my disabled and blind mother out of the house in an emergency. Yet there were so many blessings in that event. It could have gone very differently. For example, mom was up and almost completely dressed much earlier than normal because we had planned a zoom call at 2 to celebrate her 89th birthday. Then there was the ability to go to my brother’s house because they have not yet closed on it. Thankfully, we were able to get an HVAC person to the house at the start of a Nor’easter. Even more importantly, our neighbor next door was the reason we could get back into the house after spending four and a half hours in the car. It took that long to figure out our plans and wait for the HVAC person to finish his work. Thank God I had a full tank of gas to keep the car warm.
I am so grateful that things turned out as they did, but it did make me realize that as much as I thought we had an evacuation plan in place, there were things I had not anticipate. That is a blessing in itself because it lets me refine our plan.
What is your worst caregiving nightmare? Do you have a plan in place?
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.
Deb is available as a caregiver consultant. She will answer the question: “Where do I start?” and find the resources to alleviate your stress. If you would like to invest a half hour to learn how she can help you, please contact her at: Free 30 minute consulting call
Deb is the author of “Your Caregiver Relationship Contract.” This book explains how to have an intentional conversation and the how unspoken expectations can cause problems. Click here to learn more about Your Caregiver Relationship Contract.