Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Blowin' in the Wind: Part One of the Tornado Story

Well, one F4 and four months later, we are here and giving thanks. To sum up those tense moments before, during, and immediately after the tornado in Tuscaloosa on April 27, 2011, I'll transcribe Richard's notes from that evening that he wrote by the light of the Coleman lantern.

The sound of water dripping into the kitchen and den. Blood from my finger as a result of brushing off my chair to sit down, glass everywhere. The floors covered with glass, leaves, small branches. The sound of sirens, constant, unceasing. Chainsaws coping with the trees, down everywhere. People walking around dazed, in shock, not knowing what to say to each other. Are you alright? Do you know anything about the folks in the house on the corner?

Flashing lights,
headlights of emergency vehicles,
but no lights at all from houses or streetlights.
People actually driving around sightseeing, taking pictures of the devastation from their car windows.

Sitting in the cellar laughing and sort of coping with five people in a 6'x6' space listening to the radio, "this is the perfect storm!" Approaching Tuscaloosa from the SW heading for downtown and the University. A path sure to bring it right to us. "It's a half mile wide!" Then the radio goes dead. Our ears popping, the sound of thunder, but sustained, a deep rumbling, vague sound of destruction, God be with us, God have mercy on us, (no atheists in foxholes or in the cellar during a tornado). Then, stillness after the violence. And, Parker, "Hail Mary, full of grace." Parker who comforted his brothers (and mother I might add) during the ordeal.

Finally when we were reasonably confident the storm or this one anyway had passed, I emerged (no better word) from our refuge to a world only vaguely resembling the one we knew before where formerly there were trees and shade and green, now there was a broad horizon, a sense of what it must be like to live on the great plains or in Montana, big sky country.

But, we were unharmed, unscathed, untouched, alive, together, mom's word, "we're together." And, thank God, thank God.
Really, when I think about it I realize we're so traumatized that only when we heard Willie barking, Willie who refused to come to the cellar with us, only when we heard him barking did I finally climb out, finding our neighbor Cherry walking down the street checking on neighbors, slowly did I, and eventually we, come to understand the extent of the damage and great good fortune we enjoyed in being alive.

Most windows in the house blown out, the house full of debris. The roof damaged, the ceiling sagging. glass, debris, photos on the floor But, the awareness on another level that our most valuable possessions were of so little significance. We were alive, we are together, we have one another.

Now outside. All of the trees are down, enormous Oak in the backyard-3-4 feet in diameter, uprooted, Sweet Gum-3 feet, uprooted, Pine- 3 feet, uprooted, Pecan tree 3 feet, uprooted, Redbud uprooted. Shed in the back moved off its foundation and lying on it's back, roof completely gone. Roof of our house with one very large hole and numerous smaller holes. The biggest hole in the house being 5x8 in the den, where the window used to be.

Roll call on neighbors. Everyone accounted for as far as I could walk, trees down across the streets in every direction. But, word of three people in the back corner house which hardly stood at this point.

Back to University Boulevard, cars bumper to bumper in every direction-being routed away from Alberta. I would later understand why. Even pedestrians were prevented walking in that direction.

Assess cars: windows blown out of every car. But right now we can't get out of the neighborhood anyway.

I talk to a cop, someone I recognized from the citizens academy and who reminds me why I have a fondness for cops. I explain that I have a family trapped in the neighborhood and need to get them to someone's house. He offers me his phone and tells me an officer will take them wherever they need to go.
Irene comes out, uses his phone and leaves a message with Johnnie. I walk to Nikki's who invites us to her home since they are relatively intact. Irene packs several bags and we walk toward Nikki's when at the intersection Irene says, "there's Johnnie!" "Like an angel" she says, and we make our way to her car and load everyone in, on the way to power and running water, safe and well in the arms of someone we love. I can't believe how our lives have so suddenly changed.

I stay. I stand around stunned, not sure what to do or which way to turn. The smell of wood-like a sawmill, hardwood and pine. The open horizon. The sirens and lights. People milling around, literally walking in circles, carrying birdcages and puppies and a kitten wrapped in a towel. Are you OK? Yeah. Are you? Any word on the house in the corner? I decide to see what has happened in the neighborhood and tread my way through the downed trees and power lines, laboriously making my way back past Barbara and Mr. B and the Shirleys and the Johnsons, and Darlene's and through the backyard of Darlene's neighbor to Ann Ramos' house, roof, doors, and windows gone, water running freely from broken pipes, Miss Delbridge's.

Now getting dark but I make my way out the far side of the hood and onto University. Now, having bypassed the roadblocks, able to walk East and shocked at the utter devastation. Cars upside down on the road, entire buildings gone, not just damaged. Ambulances lining the streets, police cars, and emergency vehicles of every description. Empty lot where a tire store stood this morning, now a staging area for emergency personnel and the suddenly homeless. Beds, grocery carts full of water, medics.

And finally, back home. Can't sit still, so I walk down to the corner house for an hour while a track hoe digs three bodies from the rubble, kids who had taken refuge in a crawl space but the house was hit and collapsed on them, a refrigerator among other things having to be pulled off of them to open the grave in order for them to be given a proper burial on another day. City employee tells me two infants were killed in Alberta, one found across the road from her mom. Silence. No one really speaks beyond orders/instructions. Coroner glances down, then pronounces them dead.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

One of those days and other happenings

I think I may be a seasonal blogger. It certainly is not that nothing has happened around here since January the 4th. Or, maybe it's just that the experience has to be so powerful that I am driven to therapeutic writing such as our day yesterday.

The day began at 4:30am with Neil wide awake and wanting to come in the den and play with Willie. For a brief few moments I tried to entice him back to sleep in my lap in the lazy boy, but he really was ready to start his day. So, I started a pot of coffee to try to keep up. 4:45 and Henry is up as well. Trying quickly to re frame how this day had started, I told myself this was good to get such an early start since we had a to see Dr. Pettit today for the five year check up. I made the lunches, drank more coffee, got breakfast started, drank more coffee and watched Henry and Neil playing very sweetly on Willie's dog bed and all over Willie.

Today Henry and Neil and I will be heading to Dr. Pettit's for their five year check up. Henry has already asked if there will be a shot and I have let him know there will be one. So, as he is dressing this morning he says, "I am going to disguise myself as a detective and keep an eye on that nurse." He proceeds with getting dressed in what he perceives to be detective clothes--corduroy pants, a plaid shirt, a bow tie, and his brown fedora. I have said several times we need to get ready and get to Dr. Pettit's early so their won't be a long wait. Neil is saying "take Parker school." So, I'm guessing he is hoping for something besides a trip to Dr. Pettit's.

Ok, we're off. Not too many in the waiting room so I choose to sit on the sick side rather than in the "well" room" even though we are there for a "well" check. The boys have a little sniffle and a little cough and I would feel real guilty if they coughed on "well" children. The wait is loooooooonnnnnggg. Now, I'm nervous that the waiting room is filling up (with really sick children) and worrying that we really are going to leave is some sort of bug. I Purell them after every toy and would not dare read any of the children's books lying around--I am certain they have a high germ count. They need urine specimens. Oh boy, this is something new. Henry manages a tiny bit that the nurse says might be enough. Neil is rather amused with the thought of tinkling in the cup, but decides not to produce a thing.

Finally, "Neil and Henry, room 2 please." Weight, height checks, ok still doing well. Finger sticks, not doing so well. Neil cooperates somewhat. Henry does NOT cooperate somewhat. Major chase by the nurse to catch Henry's finger and squeeze a drop of blood from it. Henry leaves the examining room and runs to the waiting area. I run to look for him (not sure what I did with Neil) and he has gone into the "well" room and is under a table. Somehow, I coax him our of there and back to room 2. I get a call from Dad who says he is in the area, and asks if it would help for him to come by. YES, YES, YES I say to that. Dad and Dr. Pettit arrive about the same time and we make it though the exams and updates on what a 5 year old should be doing.

We find out there are two shots each for Henry and Neil, not the one I had thought. Oh boy. A couple of minutes later, in walk two nurses, each holding two syringes. Not a welcome site. Neil goes first and only has a tiny lip poked out. Henry is on the run--this time only in room 2. Dad decides to step out with Neil and Mom gets the challenge. Long story short, two nurses and mom and Henry is vaccinated. One of the nurses remarks that no more shots are due for the next six years and I thank God for that.

A few other happenings. Our sweet Parker turned 15 in January (and I must add very calmly received a shot at his yearly check up with Dr. Pettit). Dad turned 56 in February and took a trip to his beloved Apalachicola. Mom turned 47 in March and is feeling pretty darn good.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy 5th Birthday!

When the twins looked out the front window about 6:30 am yesterday, they were understandably thrilled. I mean, who would have ever thought Mom and Dad could have gotten the fire department to send a truck, complete with lights flashing and sirens wailing, just for their birthday? And when a couple of minutes later the ambulance arrived, likewise flashing and screaming, well the boys were just beside themselves with joy. Their excitement was unfortunately dampened a bit later when Mom was rolled out to the ambulance on a stretcher and loaded in the back. Actually, Henry became hysterical and stood in a corner screaming over and over again, "I want my Mommy back. Now!" Neil mostly just stood in stunned silence, though he did manage a feeble wave and "Bye Mom," then stood nose pressed against the window as tears started to roll down his cheeks.

I woke up a little before 6:00 and was getting up to go to the litterbox when Irene stopped me saying Richard, there is something wrong with me, something really wrong. She said she felt very dizzy and could not open her eyes. She was nauseous and was definitely going to need a receptacle. She said she felt very hot, though to the touch there was no apparent fever.

About this time the birthday boys started to wake up and things got very busy very quickly. Irene decided to get up, thinking that might help, so I helped her to a chair and tried to distract the boys while at the same time trying to assess her condition, get her a glass of water and provide for other needs peculiar to this particular situation.

In the meantime, Henry got a bloody nose.

Realizing the boat was leaking faster than I could bail, I woke Parker to enlist his help. He made it to the den where he sat down with his Mom and brothers. I propped Irene up in a chair with a trash can for the nausea and gave Henry a paper towel for his nosebleed. Neil thank God was, as usual, entertaining himself. I could see it was going to be a day and I thought I saw an opportunity to take a quick shower, but as I was getting out Irene stumbled in to tell me that Parker did not feel well. I ran immediately - do not pass go and do not collect any clothing - to the den where Parker reported that he indeed wasn't feeling so great and in fact was starting to feel really bad and needed to get to the bathroom.

I walked with Parker toward the bathroom, but ten feet on he passed out cold - collapsed against the wall and dropped to the floor. Now we're really taking on water.

Parker said he couldn't see, and he certainly couldn't stand, but he still needed to go, so with a renewed effort I managed to get him up and situated in the bathroom. Once I felt he could sit there safely for a brief time anyway I ran back to the den to check on Irene and Henry, where I found his nosebleed improving but her nausea and dizziness not one whit better. Once Henry's nose had stopped enough that we could safely move to another room I steadied Irene long enough to relocate to the sofa in the living room. I had been asking all along if she felt the need to go to the hospital and if she wanted me to call an ambulance, though I was not getting an unequivocal response. At this point, with Parker reporting what sounded like similar symptoms and having passed completely out, I decided we must have a plague in the house and called 911.

The fire department guys took vitals and reported that everything in that sense looked normal. They did encourage Irene at least to take an ambulance ride to have someone check her out, but by this point Parker had recovered enough to say he really just wanted to get back to bed. So off they go with Irene on a stretcher, the twins crying inconsolably, and me on the phone with our neighbor who God love her was able to come over and stay with the boys so I could follow Irene to the bowels of hell - I mean the DCH emergency room.

Three hours and much frustration later Irene was discharged, having never seen a doctor but only a medical student who though a nice young fellow seemed to have only a little better understanding of medicine than I have. During Irene's stay there I fetched blankets and water and found a new nausea bag when needed. While the hospital did provide IV fluids, Reglan for nausea and Benadryl for dizziness, they offered no idea of what the problem might be and certainly nothing in the way of what one might think of as "care."

Arriving home, Irene was greeted with squeals of delight. Visiting royalty could not have had a more enthusiastic welcome. Henry's first question for his Mom was whether they had given her a Mic-key button. Mercifully, she did not require a gastric feeding tube, and in fact improved considerably over the next few hours. Henry's nose was fine and Parker felt much better. We were ultimately able to celebrate the boys fifth birthday in what for our family passes for a normal manner.

Thanks be to God and pass the ice cream.