Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Blizzard of 78

Thirty years ago today, I got up at 6:30 am, bundled up and headed out in the snow to Children's Hospital, where I was Coordinator of the Pre-Op Unit. I was in a great mood, since my beloved sister had given birth to her first child the previous day, and I was hoping to go visit them after work. I took the Copley bus and walked to Children's as usual. As I was unwrapping my scarf and hanging up my coat, a Recovery Room nurse came in and said "What are you doing here? All surgeries are cancelled- we are operating on a skeleton crew for emergencies only!" (Since I was supervised from a different department than the OR staff, I never got notified.) "Didn't you listen to the weather report?" No- I listened to an album while I dressed. So, back on with the boots, and back out into the storm, which was harder, heavier and windier.
I walked to Copley (I seldom took the Green line trolley- had to wait too long and it's quicker to walk) and waited for a bus homw that never came. So I started walking. I got to the New England Medical Center and waited for a BayView bus. A bus came along after an hour with an "Out of Service" sign and the driver pulled over. "They recalled all the buses- the T is closing," he cried to the huddle of frozen waiters. "I am on my way to the yard but I can take you to Albany Street!" So we all got in and he dropped us off at the Broadway Bridge. We all got out and faced the howling wind. The group headed out onto the bridge, which spans the Fort Point Channel that ends in the harbor. The wind swept in from the ocean, the water was so high already (and this was before the high tide) and the bridge was an inhospitable place. One elderly lady (who told me she had gone to keep a medical appointment only to discover all appointments were cancelled) fell behind in the snow, weeping. I fell back with her. "I can't make it," she wailed. "Oh yes, you can," I told her, "we will do this together, I won't leave you behind. It seemed like hours trudging blindly through white-out snow over the bridge. Once we got beyond the water, we had a little cushion from the wind. Her son lived in a triple-decker in the Lower End; I escorted her there. He opened the door and cried in relief; he had been calling her for hours with no answer. They wanted me to come in and warm up, but I declined and went on down Broadway.
I made to my parents' house near the beach around noon. When I went in, to my utter shock, there was my sister holding her baby. She had a premonition that if she didn't leave, she would not get home. Having a healthy dread of hospitals, she signed herself and baby out AMA and made her husband drive them home. They stopped in to show off the baby to my mom, so I got to hold my niece for the first time. She was a perfect rosebud of a baby. They went off to their apartment and I changed into warm, dry, clothes.
My older sister came by with her son shortly after. She normally worked 3-11 at NEMC on the hematology-oncology floor; she wanted to get in before the storm got worse. She left her eight-year-old with me and Mom, and headed out. She met a friend on Broadway, hoping to hail a bus or cab; at this point it was a snow emergency and the National Guard picked them up and escorted them in (necessary personnel). She was stuck there for days as relief personnel could not get in- but that's her story.
I called my sister at home; she was doing ok. I asked her if she needed anything; she was low on bread and milk. So around four pm, Richie and I bundled up and headed a block away to the corner store. We bought what was almost the last of their milk, eggs, and bread, and trudged up the next block to my sister's apartment. When my brother-in-law opened the door, he didn't know who we were, we were so covered in snow. We had cocoa and held the baby, and then headed back out into the storm. I debated a trip to the beach- I do love the beach in a bad storm- but even I recognized this was a very bad idea. Right after I got Richie home, the power went out.
We lit candles and played cards by candlelight while listerning to the radio for reports on the storm. The storm raged, but we were safe, and warm. I have always loved storms and loved snow; I was quite content. I was reading a very enthralling novel by candlelight; "The Shining" by Stephen King. I remember waking up with a nightmare and listening to the wind howling as I tried to get back to sleep. (Fortunately the image of Nicholson quipping "Heeere's Johnny!" with is maniacal grin was far in the future at this point!)
The storm ended late the next day, and we began the task of . I have pictures of the streets covered in snow- you couldn't dig out because there was no place to put it. It was days before buses ran again, so everyone had to walk everywhere. We had enough perishables because Rich and I had gone out in the storm, but many people went without.
Sue was gone for days since personnel couldn't get in to the hospital. My dad was in the hospital and although ready for discharge, could not get home and had to stay. He called frantically every day, but there was nothing we could do. My sister's in-laws didn't get to see the baby for weeks, since the roads were closed.
And the hospital my sister gave birth in, high on a hill, was inaccessible; they had to do food and supply drops by helicopter. She was right; she would never have gotten out.

It has rained all day today, dark, dismal and depressing. I talked to my niece a long time on the phone. She reminds me that she has always had snow for her birthday, and that everyone reminds her of her arrival with the blizzard. Now, hours into today's storm, it is pouring harder than it has all day and it is lightning and thundering as well. I have my candles, and I am warm and content.
Happy birthday, honey.

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