If you have lived in Spokane for more than two years, then you remember the wind storm a few weeks before Thanksgiving in 2015. No one escaped the ominous grasp of mother nature that night. I remember getting the text from my oldest that her high school was releasing the students a little early, so they could all arrive home before the storm hit our little city also known as the Inland Empire. The message traveled fast and businesses and clinics were closing early, except for the one I worked at.
After I saw my last patient, I swiftly gathered my things and headed to my car. The wind was howling like a screaming cat and particles of dust and leaves were swirling in the air. The drive home felt much like a scene out of Wizard of Oz. Thick dark clouds, trees bending into perfect right angles, broken branches swirling. Flying monkeys were all that was missing from this extra ordinary scene. I needed my ruby slippers in a hurry. Or a broom… huh… which one ??
A little back story. Starting in mid October, I had begun a rigorous work schedule, more rigorous than it already was. One of the 3 nurse-midwives in our group had abruptly quit, leaving the two of us to cover clinic and call 24/7 with approximately 20 mommas ready to delivery during each month. We kept our promise to our patients that they would have a midwife attended birth as compared to having our back up physicians share our call. Our new schedule consisted of one midwife in clinic for the week while the other midwife took call for the week and then flipped schedules the following week. Total Insanity. Clearly, I had not learned one of life’s most valuable lessons, self preservation. Looking back, I had spent the last 10 years pushing hard to follow my dreams and to have “it” all at once. A perfect career and a perfect life. Admirable but not sustainable. I know better now.
All my littles were home safe and sound by the time I arrived. They had already begun to gather flash lights and candles piling them on the kitchen island. My husband made it home about an hour later, just as the lights went out and total darkness set in. Elle was becoming increasingly agitated and frightened by the change in her environment. Quite typical for autistic children. I was mentally preparing for a very long night. We made up a tray of summer sausage, cheese and crackers and gathered around our gas fireplace to discuss our survival plan. Where was the safest place to sleep? What about our gas tank in our pool house – if a tree falls down could that cause the fuel tank to ignite and explode? My husband was ruminating on all the potentials and what ifs in an effort to keep his tribe safe. I love that man.
While we sat around the fire place, I noticed Tim’s hands were clammy and he seemed to have a light sweat emerging on his forehead. He had been complaining of lower abdominal pain for the past few days. Shit, I knew this would not turn out well. After giving Elle a little magical Lorazepam to calm her nerves, we all settled into a restless sleep for the long night. Tim and I both woke early the next morning and by this time our home felt to be the same temperature inside as it was out, below zero. Additionally his abdominal pain had kept him awake most of the night and he did not look well. Within a few minutes he was out the door on his way to Sacred Heart ED for help. The girls were still asleep but Charlie was up and we decided to go get coffee (COFFEE FIRST) and explore the mess Mother Nature left behind in her furry.
We made it approximately 100 yards before we became fully aware of how much damage had been done during the darkness. Pine trees blocked our neighborhood streets in every direction, power lines down, and the hum of generators could be heard in the distance. Charlie’s eyes were wide open, he had never seen anything like this before and neither had I. Luckily, the wrath of mother nature had preserved Starbucks, miracles do exist. Vente Americano with extra cream please, I knew it would be a long day. Next stop, Home Depot. Armageddon was ON! Frantic people were hording batteries, flashlights, mini generators, and water. The power was down city wide, it was below freezing, and Avista crews were broadcasting it could take 5 to 10 DAYS, not hours, to restore our power, our lives.
Time to make a game plan, an action plan! Time to call the Grande Hotel. Within minutes I had reserved a room for our little family. It is one thing to survive a few days without heat and electricity as a self sufficient adult, but quite another when you are responsible for 3 kids, including one with special needs. It did not take long before our bags were packed with only the essentials including electronic devices and chargers. Modern day necessities. Fortunately, our care giver for Elle at the time, Miss April, was one of the few people in our city who had not lost power and she agreed to take Elle until we got settled in our new home away from home and also at night so my call schedule would not disrupt her even more than she already was. On the way down town, we stopped in the ER to see how daddy Tim was coming along in the ER. Not good. After several blood tests and a CT scan, he was admitted to the 5th floor for a contained micro perforated diverticulum. Ugh. I was on my own. Not a problem, keep moving. We all gave him a quick kiss and I told him I would come see him later during my evening rounds. Sink or swim, I always choose swim.
My midwife partner and I switched schedules so my odds of being more available to my kids during these unforeseen circumstance would improve. At the time, she was a DINK (double income no kids) and living the free life. Pas moi ! Now I would be on call for births as compared to being tied down to long clinic hours. It was a gamble as to which option would be best as a pseudo single mom, but I rolled the dice anyway. There were several women about to deliver including one woman in particular that had become some what of a “soul” sister over the course of her pregnancy. Free spirited, boundless energy, beautiful, yet she faced some of the same dark troubles I had in my younger days. She was one of my patients that I had helped to guide back to her center, dust off her wings, and prepare her for life with baby. There was also another woman I knew was due any day now. She was the type of patient that no one else could really deal with but me. Very opinionated, talked a lot and only came to appointments when she felt like in spite of her elevated blood pressures. I had cared for during her first pregnancy so I think she knew she could trust me. When she did show up for her scheduled visit, she often brought her 3 yo daughter, the one I had caught a few years back. She called her Athena.
We were without light and heat for 4 days and 7 hours. These were some of the most atypical, stressful, and beautiful days of my life. The Grand hotel spoiled the displaced Spokanites with lowered rates, fresh hot coffee, and 5 star service. No matter what time of day or night I went to the lobby I always came across a neighbor or co-worker who had also made The Grande part of their survival action plan. Every where you looked, hotel guests were sharing their storm stories and giving each other hugs and words of encouragement. Spokane is an awesome community to be a part of. Lucky.
Every morning at about 5am, I snuck out of my hotel room without waking Amelia to make my way up the hill to our home to see if our power had been restored. Charlie had moved in with a school friend that still had power and Elle had been spending the night with Miss April. Serious Team Work and proof that it takes a Village. Stop lights remained down, huge trees still blocking the neighborhood side streets, and homes that I had become use to seeing with a warm glow from the windows remained dark for days. It was a very peculiar feeling to walk through our home each morning. It was a time capsule for our lives before the storm. Dirty dishes in the sink, stacks of untouched mail and unmade beds. On day 2 there was a fed ex box on my door step which contained emergency battery operated lights my step dad had mailed over the day before. These lights saved me. It was impossible to see where I was walking at 5 in the morning during November.
On the fourth night I was called at midnight to attend the birth of my soul sister, she was expecting her first baby. The late night- early morning calls are bitter sweet for every OB provider. Fighting the urge to stay in the land of Nod, finding the strength to trade my warm comforter for chilled leather seats in my vehicle and to wake up enough to safely catch a baby is a serious fucking challenge. On the other hand, attending one of life’s greatest miracles has been one of my greatest honors and privileges. As I left the hotel lobby at about 1am, with a warm cup of fresh brewed starbucks and a prewarmed car compliments of the hotel valet service, I remember thinking to myself that I could get use to hotel living. It’s a thing right?
Jen had made quick progress during her labor and was ready to receive her baby not long after I arrived. Her husband and the nurse anxiously cheered her on in the few minutes leading up to the birth. Just as I was about to put on my blue gown, I heard the familiar text ringtone from my phone. Normally I try to ignore interruptions during these sacred moments but due to the fact that all of my family members were displaced by the storm, I took a quick glance. It was my neighbor letting me know that the power had been restored to my home. I smiled and shared the good news with Jen and her husband as I prepared to catch their precious baby. Only pure joy and gratitude filled the delivery suite as I skillfully guided the baby from within Jen’s body. Just as my midwife had told me when I gave birth to Amelia, I instructed Jen to reach down and take your baby. Jen looked shocked but followed my lead and began to sob as she reached down and pulled her beautiful baby boy from her body and directly to her heart. Tears flowing all around, me included. Whitman was born from the darkness and brought into the light by the shear strength and perseverance of his mother.
I am still amazed by this thing called birth. Just because two people have sex/make love … 9 months later a perfect new human is born. It is a true miracle. And the sheer strength and perseverance women go through during this process, is beyond admirable and completely selfless. Women amaze me. My only wish is that women as a whole, truly knew how amazing they are.
After sneaking a few more hours of sleep, I drove up the hill to confirm my neighbor’s text was not just a dream. I was so excited to start of the heat, turn on a few lights and start the dishwasher. Ahhhhhhh, the simple joys of life that we all take for granted until they are stolen away. It was time to go make morning rounds, check in on Tim and then return back to our true home. Tim was definitely looking much better and his doctor gave him discharge orders for later that day. Things were starting to return back to normal. Thank the lord. I took a few of Tim’s belongings with me including some beautiful flowers his mom had sent him during his hospital stay.
Before I could return to the hotel to gather up our belongings I had to make one last stop on the mother baby unit to see Jen and baby boy Whitman. I also needed to round on Athena’s mother, she had delivered the day before. Once I had done by due diligence, I made my way out to the parking lot feeling buzzed on adrenaline and caffeine. Just before I climbed the stairs I saw little Athena skipping towards the hospital entrance with her grandma on their way to meet her new baby brother. I heard her grand mother say “Athena look, that is your mommy’s midwife.” Athena’s long dirty blonde hair was blowing in the cold wind and the sun was shining bright on her. “Hello Athena, remember me ?” I said as I walked toward her and kneeled down to her level. She had beautiful deep brown eyes that seemed eerily familiar to my soul. Athena was precocious and wise beyond her years. Just like my Amelia. “Those are really pretty flowers.” She stated. “They sure are pretty Athena, just like you. And you know what, these flowers are for you. Congratulations on becoming a big sister.” I said. Her eyes grew big and she giggled with joy as I handed them to her. As I stood back up her grandmother was starting to tear up. “No one has ever done anything like this for me or my granddaughter before. Thank you so much.” I gave her a hug and told her how proud I was of her daughter and looked forward to seeing them in a few weeks. And with that special moment sealed in my life treasure vault, I began the journey of putting my home and my family back together again….
In spite of our challenges, our circumstances, there is always goodness and richness to be found. You just have to remain open to these gifts.