I called our local fire station directly the first time. Worried that we would be diverting an ambulance from a true minute to minute medical emergency I couldn’t pull the trigger on dialing 9-1-1. After all, Liam was still as warm as he needed to be and the weight of the added blankets seemed to have had a calming almost soothing effect and he still hadn’t woken up. The dawn, while surely not doing any actual warming, brought with it the confidence in a new day. Cold in complete darkness is different then a well-lit nip to the air, maybe things would work out anyway.
“My name is Eric Olson and my 4-year-old so is ventilator dependent and also wheelchair dependent. We have no power and no heat. We still have battery power and he is not in any distress. We are all fine at the moment but if this goes on much longer we will eventually need a to get my son to somewhere with heat, power, and also available oxygen. I’m not looking for you to come right this minute but I need some information.” I tried to be as efficient as I could with my words to give him as much information as he needed.
“Well I don’t have any information on when the power will be back.” He sounded a bit drained already, like he had been answering the same question over and over already.
“No, no!” I didn’t want to lose him. I did have questions he needed to answer. “I know about that, I need to know what will make it easier for you guys when we do need to get out of here.”
“Well you just call 9-1-1 when you need us and someone will come and get you as soon as we can. You said that your son isn’t in any distress at the moment sir?” His tone changed to one of someone who wanted me to be sure that if I needed them they would be there. Into that of a Fire Fighter.
“No, he’s fine but I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to keep him warm and I think I have about 8 hours of battery (really I thought I had about 12 but he didn’t need to know that.) but those seem to holding less charge with the cold and I’m worried about his suction. We have time though.”
“Look I’m gonna be honest with you, right now even our trucks are getting stuck out there right now, but when you think it’s the right time to go then we’ll be there to get you out. Just call 9-1-1 and we’ll be there.” he said.
My next call was to the Emergency Room at Hasbro Children’s Hospital to ask if we were brought in by an ambulance was there an immediate intake and admission process or could we simply walk through the tunnel into the separate hospital I work in. For sure we could hunker down in my office for a while and get warm provided we could get there.
“Well we’ll probably just find some open space somewhere for you guys to plug-in and you would take care of him, if you work next door why don’t you just have the ambulance drop him off there?” the nurse asked.
“Because it’s an ambulance not a taxi.” I said, surprised that an ER nurse would think that the ambulance would bring us to the emergency room of a hospital that only treats women and newborns (of which Liam is neither). I ended the conversation a bit concerned that I didn’t fully explain our needs to her but we would figure it out. If we needed to get out of here for his safety it wouldn’t matter which hospital we ended up in. [Spoiler Alert: It ends up being both!]
Karin made contact with my parents who while awake now, were also snowed in. Hours away from being able to go anywhere since apparently not everyone spent the night shoveling every two hours. I suited up again to clear out the path for a stretcher. I had just gotten the ramp done and was a few feet from the driveway when I heard the rumble. I threw my hands in the air and waved to the big burly guy with his head out the window as his plow threw snow at my front fence and cleared a beautiful ice-covered asphalt path down the street. At least now an ambulance could get in.
Overjoyed by the appearance of the plow and naively thinking that it signified a round the clock effort that had kept things clear all over the city I dug in with gusto and cleared the whole driveway all the way out to the plowed path. I could get out now in the van if I wanted, I kept thinking. I just didn’t know how far I’d get. It’s not a risk I was willing to take with Liam in the back.
By the time I got back inside Karin had gotten our little weather radio to the local news AM feed and reports were grim. 190,000 without power just in RI. impassable roads everywhere. Travel bans enforced with tickets and fines for being caught on the roads, which I was exempt from since I am considered “essential personnel” for the hospital (patients have to eat!) just a general, batten down the hatches and don’t leave your house kind of vibe. I wished that was the vibe that would be possible for us.
And then a really strange thing happened. By now it was still only about 7:35am. With a cozy Liam STILL ASLEEP?!! Karin and I laid down under to the covers on the floor mattress to discuss the next move. To listen to the coverage and to tell each other that we would be ok. But instead we both fell asleep.
It was 9:15 when we woke up. Pissed that I had fallen asleep at all I was glad that it was only for a short while. My first thoughts were of what we would do now that Liam would undoubtedly need a new diaper now. I was still so worried about how cold removing all the blankets would make him. It was time to make a move.
I did the only thing I felt I could do to feel like I was protecting and helping my family. I grabbed my shovel and hit the driveway again. There was some snow back on the road but not enough to keep us home.
My father called to say that he could hardly walk up his street and the cross street to his hadn’t been touched either. I’m not sure what either of us could have done to help the other, but even though we live only a few blocks from each other, it was moot. There was no getting around town yet. I better make the call.
Karin greeted me at the door holding my phone when I came inside and said “It’s time”. She was right of course. But foolishly thinking that a rescue would arrive in only minutes I made us pack all of our emergency gear for the trip first, which consisted of Karin double checking all the emergency packing she had already done the day before, and me pacing around, getting in her way, and shouting about how our portable oxygen tank leaks at like a 1/4 liter an hour.
I made the call.
2 of the 3 fire fighters who arrived about 6 minutes later have been here before for at least one of our calls for an ambulance. One of them even commented on our new pass through window from the kitchen to the living room. I explained the situation to them on our walk from the truck into the house but once the lead guy with the radio saw Liam all bundled up he called into his radio “Yeah we are going to need that rescue here now, go ahead and send that rescue through.”
Until I started asking some questions.
Could they bring his chair with him? No. Wouldn’t be very helpful to get him there only to be separated from his only way of getting around.
Could we both ride in the ambulance with him? No. looks like I would be driving behind them in the van with his chair anyway. No way I was going to be separated from them now.
I didn’t even bother to ask him whether or not they would drop us off at my hospital to avoid being admitted at the Children’s Hospital. I was already seeing what our new best option was.
“It’s going to take a little while for them to get here since we had to call in a rescue from another town but it will get here before you run out of battery power.” The lead guy said.
“Let me ask you guys this. If I can get my van down to Pawtucket Ave, (the main road through town to the highway, only a few blocks from our house) will I be able to drive that van to the hospitals?”
They all looked at what seemed to be the oldest fire fighter. He thought for a second but then said “yeah, I just came from there, you should be able to make it.” The lead guy with the radio nodded.
“Cancel that Rescue.” I told him and looked toward Karin. “let’s go. It’s the only way to get him, us, his chair, and everything else we’re going to need. We have to go for it.” I said, unsure of her reaction. Silly me. She nodded enthusiastically without hesitation.
“Let’s do this.” She said.
“Are you sure?” Radio guy brought up his radio waiting for our say so.
“Cancel it. If we can pass the roads we’ll get there. save that rescue for a real medical emergency.” Karin told him sternly.
Radio guy made his call while the other two offered to help carry stuff out to the van. We thanked them kindly but assured them that we have a system to loading up and they would only be in the way.
And then next is when it all got real. We made it through the night but now the real discomfort would start. At least at home there’s some comfort in the cold. Not a lot of comfort to be found at a hospital. Not in furniture, the ambiance or the food, and it was the food that made me realize what we were about to do, when Karin picked up the pan of Brownies.
Our “snowed-in” brownies with the chocolate chips in them and everything. She picked up the pan, looked up to the three men in her tiny kitchen and said “Looks like we’ll be in the hospital for a while guys. Want to take these back to the station?”
“Sure we do!” The youngest and quietest of the three stepped up and took the pan as they all thanked us and made their way back to the truck.
I hope they enjoyed those damn brownies. I know I would have.
Editors Note: 1.) I want to make sure that I mention that throughout these pieces all of the photos are by Karin. I was in no shape to think of taking pictures through this all, I’m glad that she was.