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In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, my 94-year-old mother is unaware of what has just transpired.

There was no disaster in her universe, no howling winds, no loss of heat or light, no paper that did not come to the door or phone that suddenly served no purpose. The only things that she knows, the only things that she comprehends are the comfort of the bed and the taste of the food. Unable to see or to take in a change in any other circumstance, she perceives that all is in order.

My wife has made the trip up the seven flights in the stairwell before me. Like a coal miner, she wears a small headlight to guide her path. There are no emergency lights here. As I hold onto the railing as a guide, there is suddenly illumination coming towards me. A family of four heads down to the lobby, two young children clearly enjoying the novelty. They move away from me, and darkness again becomes my companion. I become slightly dizzy, making what seem like constant sudden turns to the left.

I try to count the floors, and when seven is reached, I move towards what should be a door. I push it open and find myself in a hallway. Hearing the sounds emanating from but a few feet away, I know I have calculated correctly.

On the kitchen table are close to a dozen hard boiled eggs. What appears to be recently cooked meat sits nearby. The gas stove is still working and so, at least for the moment, is the running water. Well, only the cold water.

My mother lays asleep in her room. During the worst of it, her hospital bed was wheeled down the hall into an alcove, across from her bathroom. Here she would be safe, even if the window in her room shattered. Now, it was back in its place. The problem, and it was one, was that the electrical controls were, like almost everything else in this altered world, not working. And so, it was an immovable object, at least in the sense that it would lower its inhabitant into position to be lifted up and out. My mom was a prisoner.

Today I made two trips up and down the stairwell. The first brought news to my mom's caretaker of the outside world. There was no certainty when power would be restored. The apartment was getting colder, and only a few lanterns kept this space from total darkness as soon as night fell. The second was to return dirty laundry now clean and a cell phone now charged.

My sister and I, and our respective families, must decide with my mom's caretaker if it is time to leave. But how and where? The first hurdle is to get my mom down seven flights to begin her journey. It seems to me that everything that holds her together is so fragile that I dread the thought of what that trip will do. And even if that happens, even if the fire department, or the ambulance corps, or whoever rescues people rescue her, then what?

We have all been on the phone trying to locate a local facility that is willing and able to take on the responsibility, short term, for my mom. Some have too much red tape, some have no openings, some are struggling with the impacts of the storm themselves, and are unreachable as a result. We struggle to match need and availability.

And my mom's caretaker insists that she and mom are fine. There is plenty of food and water, and no good reason to put my mom through the stress of displacement. What if the power comes back soon? What is the right thing to do and when?

In the morning a call should come from one of the nursing homes. Two of their residents went to the hospital today, and if they are not returning to the home, then there will be openings and a decision to be made.

POSTSCRIPT (NOV 1): Good news! Hard-working PSE&G crews have been restoring power all over the state of NJ, and my mom's building got it back late last night. She lost power for just over 48 hours. There are still hundreds of thousands of homes in the state without power, but we are grateful that our situation has improved markedly, and so has that of many of our neighbors.

We're very touched by the personal stories, advice, and empathy offered by all the commenters, and we're happy to report that this story has a happy ending. For people still struggling with the impact that the storm has had on their families, we hope that they, too, will find things returning to normal soon.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You don't say where (10+ / 0-)

    your mother is. If she's in Manhattan, chances seem pretty good that they'll have electricity in a day or so.

    Parts of the subway are running after only two days, when everyone thought it would take weeks.

    Hang in there for another day, if you can.

    "There are no Americans at the airport!" -- Baghdad Bob
    "I’ve got a very effective campaign." -- Mitt Romney

    by Mnemosyne on Wed Oct 31, 2012 at 07:52:08 PM PDT

    •  The key word is "chances" that's why it's such (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      a gilas girl, Mnemosyne

      a hard call to make. We had a severe power outage due to a storm in my area this year and some people had power restored within a day or two while for me it took a week. It was almost impossible to guess among which group a person would be. I made the decision to leave since my apartment was barely inhabitable without power. At the time I was thinking how silly I would feel if the power returned the next day. It didn't and vacating was the right choice. Some of the elderly people who live in my building really suffered. They probably only made it because the building staff is so great and they went out of their way to help people who needed it.

  •  Wishing you,your Mom and all (13+ / 0-)

    involved strength & wisdom in the days ahead.

    "George RR Martin is not your bitch" ~~ Neil Gaiman

    by tardis10 on Wed Oct 31, 2012 at 07:52:28 PM PDT

  •  You face hard choices. (8+ / 0-)

    I wish you well, rsnuss. My thoughts are with you.

    Don't confuse my lack of religion for a lack of spirituality.

    by Mxwll on Wed Oct 31, 2012 at 07:53:14 PM PDT

  •  Thank you for posting this (8+ / 0-)

    Those of us in the landlocked area in the middle of the country cannot get our heads around what it means not to have electricity or water.  It is good you do have at least cold water on.  

    But I cannot imagine what it must be like with no power for days. No refrigeration. No heating nor cooling.

    I have done without in my youth but I was much younger then and everything was an adventure.  You all will be in great shape climbing up and down 7 flights of stairs every day.

    American Television is a vast sea of stupid. -xxdr zombiexx

    by glitterscale on Wed Oct 31, 2012 at 07:53:54 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for the kind words, everyone (14+ / 0-)

    We're in NJ. PSE&G has managed to restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers, but the remaining ones, including my mother, have been told it could happen soon or take up to a week.

  •  If it's Alzheimer's, a change in where they live (10+ / 0-)

    can be incredibly disorienting. Learned that with my grandmother. I'm not saying it will happen, just that you should know it could. Maybe she's already so out of it, it won't matter. My grandmother found it really frightening.

    Sorry for the horrible complications the storm brings to all this. It's never easy to make that call, but fifty times harder, I'd imagine, for you now.

    Nursing home things -- beds come and go daily. It's some kind of odd game. Who has a bed right now? And if you want it, you take it right then. Patients coming from hospitals get first priority. So beds are here today, gone tomorrow. It's just crazy.

    Some nursing homes are really good. My MIL lived comfortably, happily and in good health in one for 8 years. Some are really crappy. One killed my grandmother, and my parents got a lot of money, but it doesn't bring your grandmother back. If there are medical people you know and trust, ask them for recommendations.

    Sorry. I know this sucks.

    Confession time: When I'm not ranting about politics, I write romance novels

    by teresahill on Wed Oct 31, 2012 at 07:59:26 PM PDT

    •  Thanks for the advice. (18+ / 0-)

      This is her grandson. She does have dementia, and she is more lucid some days than others. We have observed just what you state: Changes in her environment can be disorienting or upsetting. While she doesn't always recognize her apartment of 30+ years as home, she is generally comfortable there, and with her phenomenal caretakers. Transporting her down 7 flights of a dark stairwell would almost certainly be a very stressful experience: She is familiar with riding the elevator to and from her home. Since she has not been upset by the loss of power, our biggest concern is the lack of heat for an extended period of time, and because she lives in a highrise, the potential loss of running water if pumping capacity is not restored. We're hoping to have a better sense of both the electricity situation, and the availability and suitability of nearby nursing homes, tomorrow.

      Apologies if we don't respond to every comment, but I'd like to acknowledge our appreciation for the thoughtfulness and sincerity of the comments.

  •  Gosh I am so sorry you find yourself in this (7+ / 0-)

    position. Can you, feasibly, hang on for another week?

    If that is at ALL possible, I would try and do that. I know in the meantime that might be hard, but it may be well worth it.

    My best to you. I know this is very difficult.

    202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

    by cany on Wed Oct 31, 2012 at 08:18:41 PM PDT

  •  Good luck. (5+ / 0-)

    My dad had dementia.  Any change is very hard on them.

    Remember, you can't have crazy without az.

    by Desert Rose on Wed Oct 31, 2012 at 08:37:20 PM PDT

  •  Best wishes to you and your mother and family (5+ / 0-)

    you are good a good son
    take heart that your mom feels fine and knows nothing
    and her caregiver is obviously a person of spirit and dedication and love. She's with her in her normal surroundings

    It's not that cold yet. I live north of you in MA and don't have heat or hot water. I heat water on my gas stove to wash. It is fine...it's been a warm October.

    One maybe obvious note:
    Elders get cold easily so your caregiver needs to be taught how to monitor for  signs of hypothermia...even if it's 60 degrees inside because your mom doesn't move.

     Now, i am not providing physical care so it's hard for your caregiver to have to heat water but people do do it all over the world in this kind of weather and much worse.

    I hope you can hold out as long as your caregiver is willing and conditions remain the same (safe and gas stove works).
    Providing that your mom is kept warm enough and that she will not deteriorate from not being able to get out of bed (electric bed I think you say)

    that is a problem actually, now that i think of it. bad to stay in bed all the time...not sure if she can dangle feet on side of bed (held by strong caregiver) or bed is too high or if she can be repositioned in bed to sit up

    bad for all human bodies to stay in bed for a week unless they are bed bound sounds like she was not physically bed bound yet

    see I convinced myself otherwise. Did some nursing school.
    I am sure you are on it.

  •  Best of luck to you. My mother is much younger, 73 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CuriousBoston, wbr

    and in pretty good physical and mental shape relative to others her age, but I'm still worried about her because she's in an apartment with no electricity and no heat. I've suggested that she stay with my sister who has a spare room, but she's convinced the lights will come back tomorrow. I hope she's right.

  •  Best wishes to you and your family (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CuriousBoston, wbr

    Such difficult decisions, faced by so many.  I can imagine that if it was me I would want to stay. The stairway would scare me.  You should let the utility and building management know about the situation.  Perhaps elevator service could be on by generator or something, even briefly, so she could at least be moved via elevator.

    Thinking of so many people with these stories.  We didn't lose power this time, and I am suffering from nothing more than a bad cold and  insomnia, but thinking of the stress so many are under.  And I expect some of them have bad colds too.

    Wishing you all possible peace and patience.

  •  My mother and her sister made the decision to (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a gilas girl, wbr

    move their 88 year old mother out of the South Bronx apartment building in which she'd lived for over 50 years, and into a garden apartment about a half mile from my aunt in New Jersey.  This was in the early 1980s.  There had been several rapes of elderly female residents in the building-- one of them on my grandmother's floor-- within the space of a few months, and my aunt, who was the primary caretaker of her mother (she lived right across the river in northern NJ) freaked out for her mother's safety and said "that's it.  You're leaving."  

    In some ways it was the right thing to do.  But in most ways it ended up destroying my grandmother to move her away from all her memories, her place, her home where she and her husband had raised 5 kids in a 2 bedroom flat.  She lasted a little over a year in that place.  She was so unhappy there.  Sure, it was light and airy and yet.... all she had around her were her things.  Things.  But not the walls, not the windows out of which she'd looked for decades, not the smells, not the familiar ghosts and memories....

    When my grandmother died I felt grateful that I'd had a chance to visit her and see her, talk with her, hug her a couple of months before she died.  But I remember being appalled during that same, last visit.  She was in bed, so diminished, so clearly depressed and unhappy and weak.  The damage to her spirit was palpable in the room where she lay.  She cried-- my grandmother NEVER cried-- and though I cried with her as we shared what she knew would be our last goodbye, I have always felt that she was crying, as I was, for all that had been taken away from her in the move out of her beloved apartment.

    Hang in there, rsnuss.  I hope you get power back soon and that your mom can stay where she is happiest and most comfortable.

    That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

    by concernedamerican on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 05:24:07 AM PDT

  •  My thoughts & prayers are with you & your families (0+ / 0-)

    Strength, Love & Light

    ...inspiration moves me brightly

    by wbr on Thu Nov 01, 2012 at 07:40:50 AM PDT

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