Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chapter Thirty-Five

June may have come in like a lamb but it goes out with the roar of a wounded lion. Hurricane Edouard decimates large areas off the coast of South Carolina. Its all people have been talking about for days. It highlights their worst fears. There are more storms on the way as well. Tropical storms Fay and Gustav are spinning harmlessly to their deaths, but T.S. Hannah looks like it might have a temper.

Tampa’s rain pattern finally returns to normal with afternoon showers on most days - June normally sees an average of 5.5 inches of rain – and everyone has been able to replenish their stored water. July, month eleven of the pandemic, should bring them about seven and a half inches of precipitation as long as normal rain patterns are maintained.

With the rain comes even more heat and humidity. TECO really struggles to meet the heightened demands for electricity. Instead of their response getting better as time passes, it is getting worse. They no longer have the resources available to buy "excess" power generated by other utility companies to meet their shortfall. Those companies are struggling as well, or in the case of several small rural cooperatives, have failed, and entire areas no longer have any access to electricity. Fuel shortages have also handicapped TECO’s power production. For the past several weeks Scott and Sissy’ neighborhood has been lucky to have power one day in five. The dam on the Hillsborough River at Rowlette park helps some, but not much.

Lack of electricity has cascading consequences. With less electricity, city municipal services, already dealing with lowered water quality, see a significant drop in water pressure. Some people on the very outskirts of the municipal system barely have a trickle coming from their faucets. Two sections of Tampa are completely without municipal water because of two water main collapses that happened after the last tropical storm. Worse is that some of the sewage lift stations in low-lying areas are failing and sewage is backing up into people’s homes or flowing into the Hillsborough River. Tampa, particularly the older sections of town, are reaping the inevitable consequences that occur to aging infrastructure under stress.

Hospitals now must care for almost all of their patients in outdoor tent facilities full time. The lack of electricity has turned the inside of their buildings into dark, barely navigable, smelly firetraps. Hospitals receive priority for electrical services, but they have chosen to turn off all wings of the hospitals except for the surgical units, the labs, and the main pharmacy area. Any left over voltage is used to operate fans used to circulate air in the tents. Its too much of a logistical nightmare to move people in and out every time there is a black out. Death from heat, dehydration, and out of control bacterial fevers rival deaths from influenza

Gas stations cannot pump fuel without electricity. A few enterprising stations have installed makeshift hand pumps; but, this means less accurate pricing and much longer waits for the ten-gallon allotments.

Those people that are still mobile in their vehicles must drive much slower because of the lack of traffic signals (no power, no traffic lights). This is further complicated by the exponential increase in the numbers of bicycles and motorcycles on the road. There are special commuter rules in effect. Anything with wheels – from semi to unicycle – must travel in the correct lanes. Pedestrian traffic is directed in the same manner, people are supposed to travel on the right-hand side of the sidewalk. If there is a sidewalk available on both side of the road, and the road consists of only two lanes, then the sidewalks are one-way with pedestrians travelling on their right. Commute times, if you are lucky enough to still have a job, have gotten significantly longer as well. The only offset is since the days are now longer, curfew is easier to meet. Even more than before, people do not participate in any unnecessary travel.

But the worst consequences of less electricity are that information dispersal is slowing down. Radio and television stations cannot operate without power and they have long ago used up all fuel for their back up generators. The most reliable news is now being disbursed on the Internet and the family makes sure that they keep their laptop batteries fully charged with their solar panel recharger. The problem is that the most unreliable news is also being disbursed on the Internet. It is a real job to try and separate the two. Everyone seems to have his or her own agenda.

Very few people have access to solar power or battery and appliance recharging. Scott and Sissy try to keep their power preps low profile to avoid conflict caused by envy. When they do come across news they think important to share, they make out like it is found out while Scott and his crew are out and about. Barry and Tom know otherwise of course, but they understand the necessity of some things not being for public consumption. In a sense, their silence is beneficial to their own families for in return for their silence Scott has taken to recharging their batteries and phones . . . after all, sunlight is one of the few things still available in great quantities and for free.

It may have been a fluke, but solar chargers for iPods and other MP3 players were a very popular gift the Christmas season prior to the beginning of the pandemic. Some of these devices have built in radio receivers. These trendy gadgets are turning out to be life-links for some families who might not otherwise have access to any other news outlet sources.

"Daddy, the last batch of batteries are reading fully charged."

"OK Sweetheart, bring me that bag out of my closet that has the dead batteries in it."

While Bekah runs inside, Scott asks Sissy what’s for dinner.

"Spam and veggie kabobs are in the solar cooker. I’ve got rice in there too. Its just too hot to fix anything else. I wish I could say we were having iced tea or lemonade but all the ice is gone." About that moment Sissy gets a funny look on her face and slowly starts to collapse.

Scott cries, "Sissy!"

Sissy’s face is bright red as Scott carries her onto the lanai. "James! Bring me some water and towels. Sarah, go get that fan your Momma made you out of that palmetto frond. I want you to wave that and help cool her down. Rose, if there isn’t any Gatorade drink stuff mixed up, get some made with the coolest drinking water we have."

As Scott has the kids do their best to cool Sissy down, Scott takes off like a shot down the road to get Tom Cox’s wife who worked in an extended care facility before the pandemic closed it down.

Laura Cox is a petite natural blonde with a rather serious outlook on life. Scott runs back to his home as Laura bikes over. They both enter to find that Sissy has regained consciousness and is very embarrassed by the scene she has apparently made.

"Mom won’t stay put!" James quickly tells his dad in frustration.

"Sissy don’t you dare move. This is Laura Cox, you remember her from when the boys were in Cub Scouts. Kids, scram and let Mrs. Cox talk to your Momma. You can come back in a minute."

As she watches the kids file out very unwillingly Sissy says, "Yes I do and I’m really sorry that Scott got you over here for nothing. I’m fine."

"People who are fine don’t pass out," Laura says. "If nothing else, let me check your pulse and blood pressure so that Scott will feel better."

"Oh all right. I just feel so stupid. I guess I just got too hot or something."

After checking her over Lauras says, "Sissy, you know I’m no doctor but it doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to see you’ve lost a lot of weight and you are working really hard. Heck, I could just about say the same thing for everyone on our block."

Sissy interrupts to say, "Well then I’m the same as everyone else."

Laura comes back with, "Maybe. You aren’t the first to pass out in this heat that’s for sure. But everyone reacts to various stimulants differently. Weight loss, stress, sleeplessness, etc. will hit different people differently. Tom has told me all you are trying to keep up with. Frankly I don’t know how you are still on your feet and why you weren’t one of the first down when the sickness went through the neighborhood. But if you aren’t careful, all that is gonna come due in a big payment."

Sissy sighs and agrees she hasn’t been feeling well lately, but asks what she is supposed to do? When you have it, you need to do something to save it because tomorrow, or next week, you might need it. The family needs to be fed, there is laundry to do. You fix it, you make do, or you do without ... but all of that takes time and energy. Both in short supply.

"Sissy, I don’t know what the answer is, but you need to slow down or you’re gonna really get sick. Take siestas in the heat of the day. I know you are always harping at the men to make sure they have enough drinking water to last them through the day. You probably do the same to your kids. Now you need to do it for yourself. Same with eating; no cutting back so Scott and the kids can have a little more. I think we can put this episode down to a little heat exhaustion. Next time you might not be so lucky."

After Scott makes sure that Laura gets back home safely and hurriedly answers all of the questions of the worried neighbors that had witnessed his run down the block, Scott sits down with Sissy to have a serious talk about what happened.

"God Sissy, you scared me to death. If you were feeling this bad, why didn’t you tell me?!"

"I have been saying that I’m tired and stuff. I just figured that’s all it is. Trust me, I didn’t intend to pass out like that. I woke up feeling like I was going to puke and I’m still kind of nauseous. The last time I felt like this was when I was pregnant with Johnnie."

"You aren’t are you?"

"Aren’t what? Pregnant? Lord no. Scott not only are my tubes cut but they are burnt forever closed. The baby factory is permanently shut. And besides I just had my monthly so no way am I pregnant. I’m just tired and anxious."

"You sure it isn’t anything else? You’d tell me if you thought it was?"

"Scott, I’m just … I don’t know. In the beginning of all of this I was fine. We had a plan, I felt in control. The kids were safe. We were safe. We were getting by even when things were getting bad for everyone else. Etc. Then when you all got sick something just … I don’t know, something just changed for me. I’ve always been a light sleeper but now I hardly ever sleep through the night. At first losing my appetite was helpful, I know I needed to lose weight anyway. Now though, sometimes the thought of eating at all just turns my stomach. I’m tired of cooking. I’m tired of cleaning. I’m tired of worrying. I’m tired of these same damn walls, this same damn fenced in yard. I’m just plain tired of everything!" and Sissy starts crying.

Scott is at a loss what to do for her. He has known that she was starting to feel bad, he just hadn’t realized how hard all of this was turning out to be on her. His Sissy always seems to have an answer, always seems to make something out of nothing, was always doing things to cheer everyone else up. To see her so tore up left him feeling helpless and useless.

"OK, look at me. I want you to promise me that you are going to rest after lunch every day just like Laura said."

"Scott I can’t, there is too much to …"

"No, there is no can’t here. If I have to turn into a chauvinistic pig here and put my foot down and demand you do what I’m saying I will. I'll sit on you if I have to. I cannot … will not … lose you. The kids need you. I need you. We will do whatever we have to do to keep you. Do you understand me?"

"Oh Scott. I’m not being a pain on purpose."

"You aren’t being a pain at all. You took care of us for weeks while we were sick. Now you have to let us take care of you."

"Scott, I can’t honestly say that is going to make things any better. I’ll probably just lay there thinking of all the things that I need to get up and do."

"Look, just try it for a few days. If that doesn’t work then we’ll try something else. The kids and I’ll will take over the cooking …"

"No. Let’s not go changing the whole way we do things just because I passed out once. I’ll try the resting after lunch thing. OK?"

"Have you kept up your journaling? I know I complained about having to do it but you seemed to get a kick out of it. Maybe writing things out will help."

"Writing things out? Scott I barely have time to do what needs to be done, much less have the time to do what I want to do. The kids have been writing stuff in the Ship’s Log for me for the last couple of weeks."

"Well, why don’t you go back to writing. Sarah can do more of the mending and help more in the garden. Bekah is certainly big enough to do more in the kitchen and with cleaning. Rose can take on at least one of the day's meals and the girls can help her. James and I will do any lifting in the garden and do whatever else we can."

"Oh Scott, I just feel like such a failure," Sissy moans. "Rose should be going to college, the other two girls are far too young to be taking on all of the household responsibilities of grown women. You and James already have so much work to do to keep the van going and all that equipment you bring back to repair for the apartments. If I can’t …"

"It’ll be OK darling. Whatever is going on, we’ll figure it out. I just can’t lose you. You don’t know how much you mean to me. You don’t know how necessary you are to me. I can’t raise these kids by myself. I can’t keep going on without you. Its too damn hard. We are going to get through this together."

"Oh Scott," Sissy sighs as she is pulled into the arms of the only man she can imagine going through this catastrophe with.

"Let me figure something out. I’ll figure out some way to get you out of the house so you can take a break. It may not be right away, but I’ll try. As far as the rest of it, we’ll work it out. But woman, you are going to get some rest and you are going to eat. We are all making sacrifices, but they don’t need to be sacrifices to the …" and Scott takes a deep breath and says, "they don’t need to be sacrifices to the death. Understand?" And he hugs her that much tighter.

"OK. OK. This day has sucked hasn’t it?" she sniffles.

"Yeah, but hopefully tomorrow will be better. Just so long as we are all together."

1 comment:

rosarychaplet said...

siestas are great to beat the heat!