After a devastating storm on Thursday, April 9, 2020, by the weekend we were pulling ourselves together. We closed off parts of the house in order to preserve what heat we had from the woodstove. We had several buckets of snow melting for flushing the toilet. Our wood stove sits in an old fireplace, which limits our ability to cook on it, but we had a shallow, wide pot for heating water, a small skillet in which to cook eggs, and another shallow pot to heat or simmer food in.
We shut the kitchen away from the heat, trying to keep it near refrigerator temperature to spare our food, opening the freezers only when absolutely necessary.
We assembled flashlights and candles. We filter our drinking water in a big five-gallon bucket. Our water comes from an old hand-dug well, and it’s sweet and good, but we’re careful to filter. The bucket had not been filled before the power went out, and our pump is electric, so we knew we’d need water. Bottled water has been very difficult to find in the stores and if it is available, we can only buy a gallon or two at a time.
Our laptops had nearly full charges, but our cell phones were low. We figured out how to make a hot spot with my partner’s phone, but it drained the battery quickly, so we hastily made calls and sent e-mails to our loved ones and shut it all down. We called the power company again. This time the recorded message gave no estimated time of the power coming back up and advised us to “prepare for a multi-day event.”
I was desperate for a hot shower. My hair, never civilized in the first place, is badly in need of a cut, which I can’t get right now because of coronavirus restrictions. I felt like a dirty, disheveled steel wool poodle. Yikes!
We made a plan for me to go to a friend who still had power on Sunday, take a shower, get some water, and charge our laptops and cell phones.
Two friends showed up with their kids to take a walk with us on Saturday, and we went up the hill, our usual approximately 3-mile walk. For the initial few yards the road is paved, but then reverts to dirt. We saw tree damage everywhere, and evidence of large downed trees having been cut up and removed from the road in several places. Many trees were suspended on the lines, and there were long stretches of line draped around and over the road and ditches, snarled up with tree debris. We saw no sign of power or tree service trucks.
Every other house had a generator running.
Shortly after our friends left, one of them called to tell me that four staff in the rehab building at the hospital, where we’ve all been working, have tested positive for COVID-19, and we’re all on a mandatory 14-day quarantine, after which we are furloughed until further notice. The building is shut down.
This was sobering news. I’ve been turning myself inside out trying to get hours at work, doing shifts in screening tents, working at a screening table, even doing things like putting together trauma packs—whatever needed to be done. In a way, it’s a relief to just be out of work. At least I can count on it! On the other hand, I felt concerned about my colleagues in the building. We don’t know who is sick.
How the hell was I going to keep the house clean and protect my partner without power and hot water? And if I’m in quarantine he has to go out and buy groceries and expose himself.
In addition, we heard of another storm coming, this one with heavy rain and high winds. More than 200,000 people lost power during the snowstorm, and most of us were still down. Countless damaged and leaning trees were balanced precariously, held up by their neighbors, branches and crowns tangled together.
We read as long as we could by daylight, and had another early night in bed.
On Sunday morning (Easter Sunday) I loaded up the car with water jugs and our tech and went to my friend’s house. On the way, I saw one lone power truck from an out-of-state company with one lineman in the truck and another in a personal vehicle. They were trying, I knew, but coronavirus has complicated everything.
My friend was ready for me, and we plugged everything in to charge. I had a wonderful hot shower, washed my wild hair and felt much better. I sat on her living room floor drinking tea and dealing with my e-mail, looking at the weather forecast and headlines. We filled various containers with water and loaded them into the car.
On the way home, about a quarter of a mile from our house, I came across a tree service truck taking a tree off the line. Out here in Maine, when the power goes down the first responders are the tree service people. When they start working, we know the power company is not far behind them. I felt like cheering.
As we unloaded the water, my partner told me he’d been seeing both tree and power trucks going back and forth, and we dared to hope we might be up and running sooner rather than later. We decided to take a walk. When we returned, I wandered over to look at our shattered maple while my partner went in the house. He stuck his head out the door and called to me that the power was back on.
We discovered we still had no Internet. We called our Internet provider and got a recorded message: “If you’re calling from Maine, please hang up. If you’re calling from other service areas, please stay on the line.”
A few minutes later, the friend with whom I’d spent the morning called to say she was achy and feverish and going into the ER to get tested, per hospital staff protocol.
We turned on the hot water heater and I got to work. I was determined to get done what I could before the next storm arrived. I put on a mask, as I’d been exposed to my friend so closely, knowing it was probably too late to protect my partner, but feeling I must do what I could. As I scrubbed and scoured and wiped with bleach, I worried about my friend being alone, sick and scared. I worried about my partner. I worried about other friends and coworkers and their families.
I worried. And cleaned. And worried.
By the end of the day, the house was in order, everything was fully charged, we had lots of extra water, and we were set to deal with another outage if it came.
That night, before I slept, I read by electrical light and was grateful. As I drifted off to sleep, I wondered what Monday would bring.