Monday, January 13, 2014

Life in the Polar Vortex

Having grown up in the shadow of Lake Effect Snow, I am used to snow and ice taking out power lines, sometimes ripping them right off the house such as happened to my house in my senior year of high school. Being without power is a pretty serious business when the temperature is hovering around 0, let alone below zero. I've been through plenty of power outages, but I've always had gas powered heat, so it wasn't much of an issue, just annoying. So when I went to bed last Monday night under piles of blankets with Memphis curled up at my feet, though I had a blip thought of "what would we do if the heat went out," my mind dismissed that as a possibility because how could the polar vortex knock out the gas?

Though I've not been given an explanation, that is exactly what happened. Greg got up for work before the sun rose and checked the thermostat because it felt unusually cold in here. We normally keep our heat at 68, and it was around 60 when Greg checked it. He assumed, as I would have, that the furnace was just having trouble combating the outrageous cold that had moved in. 

Then I woke at 7:30 freezing. It was the coldest I had ever felt inside a building in my life. Memphis was an immobile lump curled up between my legs, his nose tucked into tail. I pulled him under the covers with me, which he started to protest, then settled down because it was warmer under the blankets. I finally got the courage to crawl out of bed and check the thermostat. The needle was resting at its lowest point, 50, which means it was actually less than 50 in the apartment. 

I immediately went to the stove, turned it on 400 and cracked the door to heat up the kitchen at least. Sawyer had buried himself under a blanket on the couch and was curled up tightly to keep warm. Memphis followed me around trying to use me as a heat source whenever I settled down in one spot, which was never for long. I texted Greg that the heat was out, then called the leasing office and left a message with them. I then called the emergency maintenance line and was told it was a problem with our entire neighborhood and that DTE was already aware and working on it. She directed me to call DTE for an update.

First I tried DTE's website which is not equipped for gas outages, only electricity problems. I managed to track down a general customer assistance number and called that. I explained what the emergency maintenance woman had told me and the DTE woman told me with full confidence that I had been lied to. Uh, what? She then spent 10 minutes making me run all kinds of check on my apartment, tried to get me to check things that aren't available to me because I live in an apartment, not a house, which she didn't seem to understand, clear a path to my furnace, and demand I shovel out a path to the box outside. I told her that I couldn't do that because I had to go to work, and she said if I didn't make someone from the office go out there right then and shovel a path, then I wasn't going to get my heat back. 

When she finally got all the info she needed, she put me on hold to pass along the info to her supervisor. She was gone maybe 30 seconds before she got back on the line and told me that it wasn't just me, it was my entire neighborhood and that DTE was aware of the problem and working on it. EXACTLY WHAT I HAD STARTED MY CALL WITH AND WHAT SHE HAD SAID WAS A LIE. She would have saved us both time and aggravation by just listening to what I had said, putting me on hold, and checking with her supervisor first. 

Meanwhile, Greg got a hold of his aunt to coordinate her picking up our cats and getting them safely to her house which had heat. That meant me getting the cats into their carriers. Unfortunately, I could only find one carrier. Before I even pulled it out of the closet, I closed the doors to the bedrooms and bathroom, and Sawyer immediately freaked out, literally bouncing off the walls in his panic to find some place safe to hide. I captured Memphis first and got him in the carrier. Sawyer I had to drag from under the TV, his claws digging into everything within reach, including me. Amazingly, I managed to get them both in the same carrier, which pissed them both off more than they have ever been pissed off in their little kitty lives. 

It took me 1.5 hours for my car, which almost wouldn't start in the cold, to crawl into work (it usually takes 20 minutes) over ice sheets that had once been roads. I parked in the parking garage 3 blocks away, and even as bundled up as I was, my cheeks were exposed to the -38 air and remained red and raw for days. If you want to know what that kind of weather feels like, it's just like burning yourself with fire, only instead of intense heat, it is intensely cold. I have now experienced both. When I was little, the popcorn maker caught on fire and a spark fell on my wrist, bubbling the skin. The cold felt just like that, only cold.

By the time I got home that night (we'd had 2 customers all day), the heat was back on, but felt weak, and DTE said it was only a temporary solution that might fail again. Greg and I decided to keep the kitties where they were and join them ourselves for the night. The added problem was that Memphis had been exhibiting symptoms of a bladder infection, and I had a vet appointment scheduled for the next day. Happily, the highway at least was drivable, though not past 50mph, and I got Memphis to the vet on time, though he yowled more than he has ever yowled in his life the entire way there. 

I like our new vet, and the office ladies are very friendly. That's the plus in this scenario. It turns out it was not a bladder infection, but what the vet thought is an ongoing problem that Memphis will never get over. She said I have to buy a special prescription food that is more than double the cost of my usual cat food and give him nothing but distilled water, which I have to buy from the store. This does seem a little extreme to me, and out of my means, but what choice do I have? So thus far, I have been following the vet's instructions, and Memphis is back to his old self. 

After the vet visit, I got Memphis settled back at home with his new food and water, then met Greg at his aunt's house to pack up Sawyer. With the carrier trip so fresh in his mind, Sawyer was NOT HAPPY about going back in, and it took all three of us to shove him in there. Sawyer scratched Greg along the neck and tore gashes in my suede winter coat. I can't seem to find any tutorials online on how to fix it properly. All I can think is hot glue to hold the flaps closed. 

After such an exhausting couple of days, Greg and I just made a frozen pizza and I sipped hot chocolate while he had a beer. The kitties happily pranced around the warm apartment purring. We all went to bed early. 

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