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The Ice Cometh

February 1, 2009
by Kathleen Mears
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On Tuesday, January 27, a double barreled winter storm moved through southeastern Ohio. Several inches of snow were followed by freezing rain overnight Tuesday. By Wednesday morning freezing rain continued to fall and froze fast to the existing snow. During the early morning our power dimmed and brightened. We all wondered when we would lose it completely.

At 9:30 a.m. the power went on and off and then stayed off. With no light in my room, I headed for the hallway. None of us were looking forward to a day with no electrical conveniences or sufficient light in our rooms to do anything. Luckily, breakfast was over.

A friend here and I sat by a large window looking out at the power lines crystallized with an icy cover. We had been short staffed since the night before when only one night shift aide made it into work. On this dark Wednesday morning we had only two aides on our unit. A few hours later a couple more aides who felt more comfortable driving in the daylight arrived.

Our administrator planned to use her four-wheel-drive vehicle to get some necessary things for the facility. From previous experience I knew they would not repair the power lines until the freezing rain stopped. The power company estimated that power would be restored by 1 p.m. But I thought that was rather optimistic.

With no hot water for showering or washing, not much was going on. Some residents had to be moved to the hallway's generator outlets to get power for their oxygen concentrators and other equipment. They remained there until the power came on.

We felt like fish out of water and boredom ruled. Most of the executive staff was here and they did everything from passing trays to feeding residents. They also brought food in for the staff. I assigned myself the job of rolling up and down our unit hall to ask residents if they were comfortable and warm enough.

Residents were concerned that afternoon shift might not make it in to work. Some aides had already worked 16 hours. They and the others who had been here over 12 hours were allowed to lie down on empty beds to get some needed rest. Several staff had no power and most schools were closed.

Several people called off for afternoon and night shift. The administrator went to pick up one afternoon shift aide. Then the aides who had been here for 16 hours gradually started to leave. We watched as it took one aide and hour and a half to remove ice from her car so that she could get it out of the parking lot.

During the day we got an emergency admission. A man without power at home needed to come here for his special care. I do not think that has happened before.

Everything outside looked like it was frozen in place. Nurses and aides came up with snack foods for us. We were all trying to eat to cheer ourselves up and feel warmer.

The freezing rain stopped before noon and was followed by snow. We were amazed because the flakes were so large. Then faster snow squalls began to move through. But luckily they were short lived and there was not much accumulation.

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Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...