Sunday, August 26, 2007

Finally, some sun

It has been raining here in the suburbs of Chicago for a long time. We have record flooding. Although I have neighbors with some wet basements, we happen to be on a sizable hill, so all is good in the house for a change. The sun is supposed to be here for a few days.

However, the storms really took a toll on me. On Thursday, the husband of one of my close friends was actually hit by a tornado or exceptionally strong straight-line winds. The warehouse portion of his workplace was destroyed, with 40 people including him inside. This place was the logical choice in the building for a storm shelter, since the section had no windows. No one was killed, but he and 6 others were hurt enough to go to the hospital by ambulance. One remains hospitalized. My close friend was trapped and hysterical in Florida at the time of her husband's accident.

Without thinking much about it, I called my friend's husband and told him I was on my way to get him home from the hospital. I figured it would be hours before they would release him anyway. I set my parents and child up in the basement with a laptop set to the NOAA weather map. The same destructive storms were bearing down on my husband's work and my home.

I jumped in the truck. The drive to the hospital would have been and hour, maybe two in rush hour traffic. It took me over four of the most amazing hours of my life.

The storms came in waves of flooding rain and 60 to 70 mph winds. On the trip I had to turn back about 10 times, to avoid road closures for accidents, power lines/snapped power poles, a billboard in the center of the highway, deep flood water, trees shattered in the way, blowing debris, and attacking patio furniture. I expected to see a cow fly by at any moment. I amazingly did not get hit by the waves of hail, debris or lightning, although all were a close thing. I did have to drive over downed power lines that were thankfully not hidden in deep, conductive flood water. The traffic lights and street lights were out just about everywhere. Luckily, a lot of homes still had power and the height of the storm occurred before dark - when we could all still see the road, flood water and intersections. Some of the streets were flooded from curb to curb and I could hear the lower drive belts start screaming. My brakes never slipped once but I do remember being thankful for the load-leveling function when I had to stop abruptly. I drove on the elevated center median a few times. I tried to stay toward the center of wider roadways to avoid falling debris. In the final hour of the journey, the storm lessened but darkess fell and the police tried to direct traffic. There were just not enough of them for all of the unlit intersections. In dozens of intersections, they at least had deposited flares.

Throughout all of this, my terrified friend in Florida is calling me on her rapidly failing phone battery and I am occasionally calling her husband. She is trying to get a flight out and is having her own adventure. I can hear in her husband's voice when the adrenaline wore off and the real pain of a cleanly broken humerus, bruised ribs and injured knees hit. I can also tell later when they finally give him morphine. I am doing my best to not let either of them know that I am having a particularly difficult trip. My friend gets a look at a weather map of the area, and says "oh no, you are in the middle of that?" I said "I'm fine."

I keep in my car a series of emergency kits, including first aid, disaster kits, blankets, rain gear, food and water. I am usually prepared to offer medical aid. The one item that really saved the night was my iPhone. Before you roll your eyes, let me explain. The maps function on this phone worked thoughout my trip through the storm-torn western suburbs and gave me a heads up of the traffic ahead with easy to see red and yellow markings over blocked roadways. I could see weather maps in the browser and drive away from the worst of the storm. The phone itself was an obvious necessity. The quick access to e-mail when my friend's cell phone battery died was terribly helpful as her laptop had a little more life and she was at the airport with wifi access. The SMS traffic kept me in touch with my husband, trying to make his own amazing journey home from the city (and later to the airport to get my friend). The iPhone battery held up through 4 hours of heavy use. I avoided charging it in the heavy cloud-to-ground lightning striking around me. All this, and it propped up on my dash in front of me in one neat little package.

I finally made it to the hospital just as her husband was being released. We looked over his x-rays to see the top of the humerus sheared off but in good relative position. He escaped without any other broken bones and no pneumothorax. Behind his knees, bruises the size of dinner plates were forming, with a central laceration that indicated a pretty sharp blow. We realized later that his injuries came from being knocked down under a falling steel roof girder that was stopped from crushing him. He is lucky to be alive. He went home in hospital clothes, as his were soaked in diesel fuel, antifreeze, water and who knows what else.

I took him to the nearest open Burger King (a wide area around the hospital was completely without power), and we got him medicated before the short-lived morphine shot wore off. We equipped with instant ice packs at Walgreens and I got him home to his sofa to sleep. I called my home to check on my parents and child. I checked the map for the weather at U of I to make sure my son was safe.

In my friend's home I slumped in a chair nearby while their cat sat on me for comfort. I showed the cat pictures from "I can has cheezeburger" on the iPhone. A fourth round of severe weather raged outside but I was largely beyond caring. I did put on the NOAA map on their laptop. We waited for my husband and my friend to get home from Midway Airport. The cat happily purred and drooled all over me.

We all got home. We are all safe, now. We even collected his car from the disaster site unscathed. I'll post pix at Chaos Digest.

My vehicle is undamaged, and I have more respect for it. I had resented trading in my little red sportscar for this practical monstrosity, despite all of the appropriate reasons to do so. The little red car would not have made the trip.

I have been tired and wound up ever since. As much as the entire night alarms me now, I would not have done anything differently.