Dementia Exiled: Part 1
Updated: Mar 5
Before Texas, and other southern states, came face to face with the faults in
their infrastructure we in the the Pacific Northwest were already
freezing our way through days, and days, and days of no power.
In the last two weeks our Stumped Town Dementia household has been been through the wringer, even managing to take another family unit down with us. Well done there.
I imagine a lot of you have had similar experiences as of late; turns out sustained power outages and dementia don't mix. AT. ALL.
Friday night two weeks ago, I was giddy with anticipation for an upcoming snow storm. We don't get snow very often on the our side of the Cascade Range, and while I realize dementia caregivers don't get days off, I was still filled with the childish joy of a forecasted snow day. I had stocked up on groceries and was ready to snuggle up with Mom, MotherMinder, and The Boyfriend in the Basement to revel in the beauty of a winter wonderland.
We didn't get as much snow as predicted. What we got was a lot of freezing rain, steadily, beginning around 7 pm that evening. A mere three hours later TBitB and I stood outside listening to the booms and watching the flashes as transformers began to blow in the distance. I wasn't too worried, we had candles and flashlights at the ready. (Stupid, stupid girl.) We turned up the heat in the house, so it would stay warmer longer should we temporarily lose power, and tossed an extra blanket on a snoring Mom.
The booms continued, sporadic but insistent. New, discordant notes became increasingly more prominent in the soundscape - that of mighty fir, oaks, birch, and maple trees cracking and crashing to earth as they succumbed to the crushing weight of the ice.
At 1:00 am our power went out.
And stayed out.
The next morning we went to check the outage website for an update and discovered what should have been obvious - wifi does not work when there is no power, and when the wifi is down cell phones and lap tops are useless for getting information on how long this chilly predicament might last. While MotherMinder kept a bundled up Mom occupied in an increasingly cold house, TBitB and I finally located a signal in the driveway. The outage website estimated power restored in our area by Sunday evening.
MM, myself, and TBitB might be able to last a night in an unheated house, but there was no way we could keep Mom there.
I started eyeing the few cars that were traversing our street. Traffic was moving. Slowly. Slippery. But moving.
I could get Mom out.
I immediately began calling hotels but only managed to connect to one - a frazzled female voice answered, "Good afternoon. We have no vacancy. How may I help you?"
I decided to take my chances out on the road in search of a decent wifi signal to book any hotel that had a room for me and Mom that night.
As the van slipped and slid its way to a major thoroughfare I realized my inability to connect to hotels wasn't because our cell signal was weak, and it wasn't just our general area experiencing a power outage - there were whole ice-encrusted trees blocking roadways, huge branches crushing cars, power and phone lines down in the roads, draped on homes, criss-crossing yards.
The entire city was blacked out, no traffic signals, no lights in stores and homes. Everything had gone dark.
My breath caught in a moment of terror. What was I going to do with Mom? The afternoon was waning. The thaw of the day was going to ice up again after dark.
I could already feel the frigid breath of nighttime blowing to life the embers of my fears: Mom will freeze to death in that house. If I was going to get her somewhere with electricity and heat I had to do it fast.
In desperation I pulled into a small senior living community that had lights shimmering from their foyer. Turns out that was their generator. Also turns out I was a nut job to think they'd give us an empty apartment for the night (could you imagine the liability issues?), but they were kind enough to offer me encouragement in my search for shelter, suggesting friends or family homes as a heat source.
I refrained from smacking my forehead at such an obvious solution, gingerly picked my way through the slick spots in the parking lot back to the van and mentally went through the list of suitable homes with friends just dementia ignorant enough to say " Yes!" to a deranged mother-daughter duo.
I landed on my friends Julie and David as they have a large home, minimal stairs to the entrance, a main floor big enough to accompany Mom's endless shuffling, and my friend Julie has a history of saying "Sure!" to me every time I have an outrageous scheme I wish to execute in her abode. (I made two of my student films there, one with over 25 strangers tromping through her house three nights in a row. She didn't bat an eye!)
She apparently hadn't learned her lesson as she once again gave a rousing "Why not?" to my request to host Mom and myself overnight.
I went home, packed up pills, clothes, pull-ups, pee-pads, pudding cups, oatmeal packets - all the accoutrement of a dementia household - and loaded Mom and Mr. Bones up for the trip to an oasis of heat and light.
The decent condition of the roads eased some of my fears as nighttime quickly snuffed out dusk, but what I hadn't counted on was how much more snow everyone north of us got.
Mom and I hit a stretch of compacted snow/ice about half-way to our destination that had my stomach in knots and Mom gripping the door, dementia-staring straight ahead into the unlit darkness.
There were a few other travelers on the road - perhaps they too had dementia folks they needed to defrost - and, of course there was the occasional big truck or too tiny car careening at unsafe speeds around those of us proceeding with an overabundance of caution. My stress levels soared at the approach of each and every one of them.
But the home-stretch was actually easier, the mounds of snow on the neighborhood streets had not yet compacted, smoothly giving way to our all-weather tires with no downed power lines or trees to maneuver around and street lights pointing the way.
We arrived to a warm welcome both literally and emotionally. My shoulders sagged with relief as David helped me get Mom into the house, my heart swelled with gratitude at the sight of Julie's lovely grin.
I had got Mom safe.
I wouldn't be able to keep her that way.