I live a very average suburban life similar to many people across the country. Commute to work, office job, suburban home with wife and kids. Its easy to forget how fragile this lifestyle is and how little it takes to remove all the things you come to depend on. Recently I had an afternoon that showed me just how easy these conveniences can go away and the difference a little preparedness can make.
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After picking up my daughter from day care I drove home to find myself locked out of the house. We were having new keys made and I intended to go in through the garage. Just hit the automatic garage door opener hanging from the visor and I would be fine just like countless other times. However, when I tried the door opener nothing happened. I fiddled with the button for a while and tried to open it manually from the outside but had no luck.
No big deal, I used my cell phone to call my father-in-law on the other side of town to come over with the spare key and let me in. My 15-month-old with a rapidly growing hunger was losing patience in the back but still its not the end of the world. When my father-in-law arrived a half hour later he was in a hurry to get back to cooking and couldnt stay. After handing me the key I thanked him for his trouble and he was on his way.
When I got into the house I discovered why garage door wouldnt open. The power was out and it being early afternoon I didnt notice from outside. It was also about 98 degrees outside that day with humidity that made the climate resemble the inside of a dogs mouth. The air conditioning must have failed some time in the morning so the house felt no better. I opened the windows to let the nonexistent breeze in and went to work on finding something to feed the now very hungry and very uncomfortable toddler.
This was the day before grocery day so my options in the pantry were limited, add in the fact that the microwave and electric stove were inoperative and dinner for the baby became a balanced diet of Cheerios, a banana and luke warm milk. Doing the best to satisfy the kid with what we had I went about calling the power company to figure out what happened to the power. I quickly realized I dumped the phone book in the recycling bin a long time ago and without the internet I was forced to call information on my cell phone to find the number.
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Apparently information is a very loosely given title where I live because it took an excruciatingly long time to find the number of the largest power company in the state. I had been on my phone a lot that day with work and the battery was almost dead by that point. By the time I got through to someone at the power company and discovered that they were aware the power was off and were working on the problem my phone had run out of juice.
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It was that that point that my hot, cranky and only partially fed toddler fell while running through the kitchen. Instead of springing back up like one of the 100 others times she fell that day she landed on her wrist with a nasty pop and started screaming her head off. Now Im terrified trying to comfort her and examine her wrist. She is inconsolable, were both sweating bullets, and I have no phone to call my wife at work or anyone else for help. Not seeing any bones sticking out of her arm or other clear sings of impending death I ended up loading her in the car rushing across town to the in-laws. About a half hour later we were backing the loving embrace of modern civilization, enjoying air conditioning, cooked food and the comforting advice of her pediatrician.
My daughter was fine after some baby Tylenol and a good nights’ sleep. The power was back by on dusk after a wire that was damaged by some tree trimmers was repaired. We went to the store the next day to get groceries for the next week and all was well. This was by no means a real emergency or crisis, the rest of the city and even most of my neighborhood had a normal night. But what if it wasnt? What if the rest of the city had lost power also, or what if we werent able to drive all over the city to get the help we needed? This experience was very illustrative for me, and I hope it will be for you, as to how fragile our needs are and how much we come to depend on our modern conveniences.
In retrospect I did many things wrong that night. I was counting on having a working garage door to get into my home instead of a key or some other way. Not having an adequate amount of food in the cupboard to get through a night without power was idiotic. A lack of knowledge for basic first aid is the most embarrassing realization I had that night. Without a phone to call a doctor or 911 I was on my own and if it had been a real emergency it could have been a disaster.
July 20, 2010