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Okay, I’ll fess up. It’s all my fault. Two years ago, I posted this snarky comment in the PIT:
Obviously, whomever is in charge of the weather saw that and said “Oh, yeah?! Well, I’ll show you!”
Kidding! I really don’t have the hubris to think that anything I say or do has such a major effect on the world. I also don’t think that God is that petty. You can put away the torches and pitchforks, tar and feathers, and iron maiden.
(As an aside, think how much trouble I just saved you. You’ll probably be able to find pitchforks at your local Tractor Supply, but torches? Where can you even get those anymore? I’ll also bet TS doesn’t accept returns on tools with blood-stained tines. Tar is only about $25/gallon, but feathers are a bit harder. Someone will need to rip open a down comforter, and who has those in Texas? Spending all the time and effort to build an iron maiden will just get you ratioed on Twitter: “DERP! Dude doesn’t know that wasn’t even a real thing!”
On Thursday, the 11th, I drove to work in the afternoon. It was hovering around freezing, but the streets were still just wet. That all changed overnight. The temperature plunged and the streets became impassible, resulting in several crashes. After my shift, the hospital put me up in a nearby motel so I would be guaranteed to be at work the next day. Meanwhile, my house was without power for twenty-four hours. Saturday morning wasn’t that bad and I was able to drive home without difficulty.
Then the snow came. We woke up Monday morning to about six inches. I have been in Texas since 2004, and have never seen anything so bad. My wife was following the news and told me that there would be “rolling blackouts of three to four-hour duration during this weather emergency.” Sure enough, at noon the electricity went out.
And stayed out. Three o’clock, four o’clock and five came and went without power. A new update told us the power would now be out for “up to 24 hours.” We bundled up and went to bed early. Though the temperature in the house was in the 40’s, we were able to sleep under two light blankets and a bedspread. Plus long johns, a hooded sweatshirt, and a knitted woolen cap and socks.
Noon Tuesday. Still no power. In a bit of serendipity, we had booked a stay at a nearby resort weeks before this all happened. We drove to the facility about 4 pm when the temp topped out at a balmy 21 degrees. The streets were icy, but I was a professional driver for 22 years. I have lots of experience driving under extreme weather conditions and carefully planned the route to avoid bridges, underpasses, and hills. We had no problems getting to our accommodations.
When we checked in at 4:30, we were told that it would be a couple of hours to get to our room. Apparently, some of the housekeeping staff were unable to get to work, and guests slated to check out had been unable to leave due to the airport being shut down. That was fine. My wife and I just got our swimsuits and spent a couple of hours at the indoor water park. She then went to the bar and I drove back home to check on the dogs and chickens. Note that we’d planned to do it this way when we booked our little sojourn. The resort is only about fifteen minutes from our house in normal conditions. It took more than twice that to get back on Tuesday night, but traffic was light. I also observed that several traffic lights were now out, meaning the power outage had gotten worse.
When I got back to the resort, there was a mass of people at the front desk. Apparently, no one had been given a room since they had checked in. Then a manager came out and told us all that none of the reservations would be honored. He also said that the facility had been designated by the county as an emergency shelter, and we all needed to leave. This seems to be a contradiction, but maybe I’m misunderstanding the term “emergency shelter.” The rest of the people there were not in our position. Most were from out of town, quite a few were from out of state; they all had nowhere to go. Even the folks who lived nearby would have to drive home on treacherous roads, and did not have the training or experience with adverse driving conditions that I did.
A large group gathered around to argue with the manager; I didn’t bother. I went down to the bar, which was now closed, and gave my wife the bad news. Her response was “Oh well. Go get the beer out of the car.” (We’d brought our own beer from home to avoid paying for the overpriced beer-flavored water they had at the resort.)
So we were sitting there enjoying a beer or three and checking on the news of the world. At about 10 PM, two security guards approached us. The conversation went something like this:
Security Guard: “The bar is closed.”
My Wife: “Yes it is.”
SG: “Uh, so you need to leave.”
SG: “The bar is closed.” (Note that the bar had been closed for about two hours at that point; the bar staff had been gone for over an hour.)
SG: “So you need to leave.”
MW: “Why? There’s no place else to go.”
SG: “Um, they need to clean.”
MW: “Who needs to clean? The bartenders are gone and you don’t have any housekeepers.”
SG: “You need to leave.”
MW: “I thought this was an emergency shelter. I’m sheltering.”
SG: “You need to leave.”
MW: “I’m staying. Call the police.” (She put her feet on the table.)
The security guards looked at each other and walked off. A lady with a newborn baby who had been in a group the next table over came over and thanked my wife. In the next couple of minutes, several more people came and sat down in the bar area; none of them were hassled.
At about 10:30, my wife told me to go up to the front desk and get some blankets and pillows. I went up and waited in line at the front desk. I noticed that the person in front of me had gotten a room key. So instead of asking for a blanket, I asked “Do you have my room yet?” The clerk pulled up my file and said “I’m sorry, I can’t put you in the King Suite you reserved.” I replied “I understand. Just give us a room with a bed and a shower.” The clerk activated the key I already had used to get in the water park and told me “The room is not made up yet.” I answered, “Just give me the linens; I’ll do it myself.” I was told to find the housekeepers on my floor.
I told my wife “We have a room!” and we went up. There were clean towels in the bathroom and the beds were made. There was no coffee maker, ice bucket, or furniture besides the beds, but we didn’t care. We were warm and dry and able to take a shower for the first time in two days.
So, our romantic getaway turned out a little different than we’d anticipated. Instead of a suite, we had a bare-bones basic room. There was no water park or spa; we sat in the room and watched tributes to Rush Limbaugh. Most of the restaurants were closed so instead of steak and wine we had pizza and beer. (At least, being that it was ours, the beer was good.) All the employees were great save the idiot manager on the first day. When we left on Thursday afternoon, the lifeguards from the water park were doing the housekeeping on our floor.
As we drove home, we stopped by a large H.E.B. grocery store on the way. There was a queue wrapped around the building and a two-hour wait to just get in the door. The temperature was in the mid-20s. We decided that Soviet cosplay was not our thing and checked out the Sprouts a little closer to home. There was no line but almost nothing on the shelves: No milk, no eggs, no fresh meat, almost no fruits or vegetables.
So we went home empty-handed except for some red onions. And the power was on when we got there! Altogether, we had been without electricity for three days.
I had to work that night, and this sight greeted me at the front door of the ER:
I won’t show you the interiors so as not to violate the Ricochet COC.
Yes, the entire hospital had no water. The port-a-potties were for both staff and visitors; the staff also had another option:
I went to my boss and requested to stay overnight again. I told him I could stay in a patient room instead of a motel, if necessary. He gave me a strange look, then replied “That’s good, because motel rooms are not a thing anymore.” I got assigned to a treatment room in a med-surg unit.
Treatment rooms are where nurses do procedures on patients; We want patient rooms to be places of respite and safety. The treatment room had a stretcher and supplies for wound care, splints, IV starts, and catheterizations. Unfortunately, the room also becomes a repository for “stuff we don’t know where else to store,” so it also contained a bedside table, a chair, a stool, three procedure trays on wheels, a portable ultrasound machine, a rolling vital signs monitor, two manual blood pressure cuffs, an iPad on a wheeled stand (called the “Rolley Españole” because it is used to access the remote translator program), a linen hamper, a portable DVD player and a stack of DVDs, a doll the size of a small child with a splint on a leg and an IV in an arm, and, for some reason, a giant curly brown wig. After a 12-hour shift in the ER, I didn’t care. I put a sheet on the stretcher, rolled up another sheet to use as a pillow, and slept for six hours.
When I woke up, the ultrasound machine was gone. I emerged from the room and a nurse at the nearby station said “I’m so sorry. Nobody told us you were in there.” I told her no apology was necessary; I definitely didn’t hear her come in.
There were no showers, of course, but a children’s hospital has lots of baby wipes. It was now 3 PM on Friday, February 19th, and the temperature was a blistering 39˚F. This was the first time we had been above freezing since the previous Thursday. According to the UT Football News, the last time Texas had experienced even four days in a row of sub-freezing weather was in 1951. I worked in the ER that night and drove home in the morning. The streets were completely clear.
Right now, 4 PM on Sunday, February 21, it is 75˚and sunny here. This is what it looked like on Monday morning compared to now:
I can make light of this because I came through it pretty easily. We didn’t have power for four days total, but were in a hotel two of those days. We never lost water and our pipes didn’t freeze. We had plenty of food, had canned and dried supplies in case we ran out, and it was cold enough in the garage to keep the stuff in my chest freezer from thawing. We were understaffed at work because a lot of people could not make it in, but our patient census was low for the same reason.
I had to spend very little time outside. At work, I was in a nice warm hospital; I was not a lineman, windmill deicer, fireman, paramedic, or police officer. And it was a children’s hospital. All of the adult hospitals were packed. One even had to be evacuated. A colleague told me he had to do a blood transfusion in a hallway. Another worked in a warming center with over 500 people where the entire medical staff was two doctors, two nurses, and a paramedic.
But we largely came through it alright. We had a once-in-a-century occurrence that affected more people for a longer period of time than most other natural disasters, and we survived.Published in