Winter storm - Devastation at seniors home

By Lilianne

At the time of the winter storm that affected Quebec in January, I was the director and co-owner of an assisted living residence a few kilometres from the US border, in the middle of nowhere. My partner, my brother and I lived on the premises and provided a 24/7 service, with two day-shift employees. I was just on my way back from groceries when the torrential rain started. We quickly brought in the precious food, certain that we would soon be witness to an historic moment.

When the power blackout hit around 6 p.m., we started up the generator to turn on the water pump, freezers, refrigerators and emergency lights in the hallways. Judging by the outdoor conditions and according to the news on the radio, this blackout was likely to last a while. We were left to fend for ourselves. Fortunately for us and especially our residents, we had a secondary gas heating system and a gas stove to prepare meals and boil water to use for dishwashing and sponge baths for our residents. Just imagine the magnitude of this task!

There were four secondary furnaces: two in the bedroom hallways, one in the dining room and one in the solarium. This meant that, to stay warm, residents had to leave their bedroom and bathroom doors open. Not obvious to some. This also meant that additional blankets were needed during the night and people had to gather in the common room during the day. Some decorative oil lamps were dusted off and a gas lamp was brought out to light common areas. In the bedrooms, flashlights were more appropriate.

Police officers making the rounds to ensure everyone had the necessities, i.e. heat and food, instantly realized that we were doing alright and even brought some other residents in need of help to stay with us. We were overstretched, but focussed on the well-being of the people under our care. Of course, all of these nice people were on edge, but we did our best to comfort them!

When the ice on the sloping roof of the second floor suddenly broke off and shattered the light shafts in the solarium where most people were gathered, a brief moment of panic arose. By the grace of God, the lady on whose head everything would have fallen had gone to the bathroom at that very moment. Yes, I thanked the heavens for that, and for having my brother there; he quickly went on the roof to cover the hole and remove the rest of the ice. We thought then that nothing else could go wrong.

But the worst was yet to come. My heart skipped several beats when the metal pole that supported the hydro wires for the house fell and tore out the phone line. Having no means of communication with 20 or so seniors under my care was, for me, worse than the blackout! No, I had no cell phone (six days later, a generous soul lent me one). Six days without phone service, 20 days (480 hours) without electricity, in the late 20th century, and my being a regular employee no less, we provided a quality service to our residents.

When power was restored on January 26 and everything got back to normal at home, I fell violently ill with pneumonia. It took me ten days to recover, but I will never forget the humanitarian efforts and generous solidarity of our fellow citizens.

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