One Hundred Years Ago…

It is 8:53 AM. Of the last 48 hours, 22 of them were without power. Losing power wasn’t the hard part. One hour before the power went out,  my youngest daughter received a second degree burn. She was making ramen and spilled a bowl of boiling water down herself. I never moved so fast.

I pulled her shirt off, grabbed stuff out of the freezer and just started shoving it on her. When it was all done and said, her belly, where the majority of the water hit, was left unharmed. The ice worked that quickly. Her arm has a minor, almost rash-like burn where the fork touched her skin. You can see the fork prongs branded on her arm. I also had iced her arm.

The worst of the burn, however, went to her foot where I didn’t even know she had been burned. Despite wearing socks and shoes at the time, the water went right through the sneaker. By the time I realized the boiling water had hit her foot, she had three boils on her foot and a state of emergency had been announced in my region due to a tornado warning…the first tornado warning in 15 years. All travel was banned. Twenty minutes later, we were without power. It was 7:00 PM Monday night.

Prior to Monday, I would have said electricity gives you movies, video games, and Netflix. It’s like we go camping without the cell phones. Turn off the lights and read by flash light. Today, I will tell you that electricity gives you ice, sanitary working conditions, and hygiene. These were things I didn’t care about until I realized I had to clean and dress a two degree burn without light, hot water, or ice. I had been working in the garden all day and had no hot water to scrub my hands. I washed them in cold water. Scrubbed them best I could, and then rubbed them down with alcohol for good measure.

I often think back to a hundred years ago. “What was it like?” I dreamed about baking in dark brick kitchens lined with solid wood tables lit by multiple roaring fireplaces. I ache for silent evenings without phone or television. Monday night, my son did his homework by candlelight while I knitted in the dark… my cat curled up in my lap. The silence was blissful (Electricity is loud).

By Tuesday morning, we still had no power. The winds, which reached 70 miles an hour Monday night, uprooted an entire tree and dumped it on a power distribution plant. 12,000 were without power from Monday night into most of Tuesday. I woke to the grind of the mortar and pestle. My husband had the older two children grinding coffee beans by hand while he built a fire in the fire pit to boil water. Twenty minutes later, my youngest was up.

The boils on her foot had doubled in size. At 7:10 AM, I drove my oldest two to school, then drove to the Doctor’s office. I had no cell phone. I had no power to charge it the night before and the phone was dead. I had no access to news, to updates, to anything…I couldn’t even check to see if the State of Emergency had been lifted.  School buses were out in force. I was driving.

I arrived at my doctor’s office and a passerby with a badge let me in.

I saw the familiar face of my doctor’s nurse and burst into tears.

“The ice box is warm. We have no ice. We have no phone to call the doctor. There is even a burn ban in New York State until 14 May. We’re waiting for the fire department to fine us for cooking breakfast this morning over the fire pit. I can’t even wash my hands to attend my daughter’s wound.”

“Did you go to the emergency room?”

Now this is a topic I am passionate about. The emergency room is for emergencies. Emergencies are defined only as life or death moments. If you lost an appendage, lost consciousness, or lost a considerable amount of blood… if death is in question, get thee to the ER. If you wouldn’t call 911 or an ambulance for assistance, you shouldn’t go to the ER.

“No. I didn’t go to the ER. She burned her foot. She isn’t dying. There was a no-travel ban on the roads, and every emergency operative was swarming over the county-wide emergency due to the storm and lack of power.” My neighbor had reported that he was getting no answer at the police station, the electric company, or the emergency line they provided. Emergency  officials were simply swamped with work taking care of the most urgent of emergencies.

I had an appointment at 9:00 AM for my daughter and was back at the medical center within the hour.

The Doctor taught me how to sterilize, lance, clean, and dress the wound. She gave me all the supplies. I returned home where we still had no power.

No showers? Fine. I have two teenagers in the house, but we’ll get through it.

No lights? Fine…or I did until I realized the electric company wasn’t even telling us when power would be back on. It could be a week. Prepare for a week.

That changed everything. We had a limited amount of time to get things done and then we were SOL. Suddenly, everything had a deadline. Hurry up before the sun sets.

My kids got to work, strategically setting up candles around the house for sunset. Here is were I was thrilled over the home I have. The house I have was built in 1906. It was designed for a life without electricity. Instantly, I understood the purpose of the solar and sitting room. We have two. I opened the drapes and let the sun shine in. I had made plans to collect everyone in the one room after sunset to reduce the use of candles. Reduce the use of candles…It’s amazing how much my thoughts have changed. We pulled out the board games, I collected my knitting… Evening entertainment was not an issue.

I walked into the kitchen and gazed at the mess. No water to wash the dishes. The nearest water? The creek half a mile away. Hot water? None. I could boil it. Fire ban until 14 May. We have no heat.

Cooking? We have the burn ban. We do have a grill. I have no idea how to use it. I had three hungry children asking for dinner at 3:30. My husband would work well after 6:00. I could cook on the stove. I knew how to build a fire and cook meat and sauces on an open flame, which would have been sufficient if there wasn’t a burn ban. I had only two hours of solid light left meaning it would be dark once my husband got home to cook.

I suddenly wanted a Franklin stove in my kitchen.

Had there been electricity, I would have baked the breads and the biscotti and had intended to bake Tuesday morning. Had I at least the right to build a fire outside, I would have fried up the hamburgers. So many variables just fell together…or apart… as soon as I lost my freedom to cook, to bake, and to sanitize.

I turned to the one thing I could do. I gardened. The weekend prior to the storm, my husband and I had laid out plans to do a container garden. On Saturday, we purchased all the veggies and the supplies required to pull this off. Tuesday, I finally sat down with the veggies and potted them. I spent the next hour reading up on how to grow veggies all through winter. I needed a rain barrel. I needed a fire pit. I needed a bread oven outside so I could continue to bake even through the zombie apocalypse. Still… One thing weighed heavily on my mind. Ice.

Many who read this will probably be thinking, “Just go to the store and get some ice!” I tried that. Because the power was down, all stores were either closed or taking cash only. All the money  I had was in the bank in credit form only. Buying ice was not an option. There I was, without currency, fire, hot water, or ice. Buying a generator never looked more appealing. But I didn’t just want a generator. I wanted to be self-sufficient.

While I pondered these findings, I redressed my daughter’s wound with brine and burn cream. The only reason why her stomach and arm isn’t covered in boils to match her foot is because of ice.

Ice.

A hundred years ago, they didn’t have ice. How many burns have since been reduced, minimized, because of ice? How many infections were caused because they didn’t have the clean environment to sanitize and dress the wound? They also didn’t have ibuprofen to keep a fever down. They had willow bark and it’s aspirin like quality, but not ibuprofen. And not everyone was living next to a patch of willow bark.

How quickly something like a burn became horrifically dangerous.

Power came back on at 5:40 PM Tuesday night. I literally jumped up and ran to the kitchen. I cleaned, fried up the hamburgers, and and baked that biscotti.

It is now 10:25 AM. In the last few hours I’ve baked soda bread, a pull apart monkey bread with mini cinnamon rolls, made two runs of French Press coffee, drove my daughter to school, and wrote this article. I am tempted to make ciabatta next for sandwich bread and some wheat bread.

Ice.

Cooking.

Hot Water.

 

 

 

 

About the Author: Angela

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