Light in a Dark Place

Sometimes God gives us opportunities above and beyond our everyday choices, chances to shine as a bright light in a dark place. Yesterday I took one of those opportunities, and I’m still reeling from it.

Thursday, February 21, we pushed out our first release of 2019 at work. With President’s Day on Monday and all the snow the previous weeks, I didn’t feel as comfortable as usual. Every working day that week I put in 10-hour days and still felt less well prepared than I like. But that evening I left work at about 6:25 PM relieved and ready to enjoy a slow, dry, “warm” bike commute home before really nasty weather pummeled us again.

I almost didn’t ride. I’d ridden Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, including a 50-mile ride on Monday. By Wednesday evening’s commute of misery (a different story) my legs had plenty to say about doing more miles, and I’d nearly decided to take the bus home. But at the last minute I checked the weather and decided to take advantage of the one last nice day, fatigue be darned.

I’d ridden nary 15 minutes, and had just gotten on the bike trail near Gasworks Park, when I noticed several bikes laid on the ground around the sides of the trail. Then I noticed a cluster of people standing around together off to the side, and one person sitting down.

“Are you okay?” I called.

Nobody answered. That’s when I noticed the face of the lady sitting down. Blood streaked all over her nose, cheeks, and chin.

I stopped.

The bloody lady, named Teresa, had collided with another cyclist, Ben. Ben seemed completely unharmed. Teresa, however, looked terrible. The blood stopped me, but then hearing her talking worried me deeply. Her words came slow and confused.

“Has anyone called 911?” I asked.

Nobody answered.

I remembered from my First Aid classes that in emergencies, you need someone to take charge and start making decisions.

So I called. I explained to the dispatcher that two bikes had collided, and she asked if anyone needed to go to the hospital. At first it seemed uncertain, so the dispatcher asked to talk to Teresa.

“What day is it?” the dispatcher asked. Teresa had no idea.

“How old are you?” To this puzzler, Teresa answered, “What year is it?”

The dispatcher sent first responders and an ambulance.

Burke Bike Crash 2

Burke Bike Crash 1
Firefighters evaluating Teresa. Teresa’s bike, visible leaning in the background, had a tacoed front wheel. The other person in the collision is the cyclist in the blue jacket on the left.

While the firefighters evaluated Teresa, I started talking to the other cyclists standing around. A couple had stopped to help, but two of them had actually witnessed the collision, and the other person in the collision had stayed around, too. I gathered up their names and phone numbers so Teresa could decide what to do, once her brain started working better again.

After having talked with Teresa a little bit while we waited for the firefighters and ambulance, I gathered that she’d just moved from Philadelphia to Seattle in January. Her parents lived in California. She had no roommates or significant others with her. She was completely alone except for one cat.

Completely alone except for me.

Teresa couldn’t process anything at that point. She could barely see; she knew who she was, but couldn’t remember anything about the crash, what was going on, where she was, or anything pertaining to the date.

I couldn’t leave her alone to go to Harborview in that condition. You need an advocate in a hospital, someone to make sure you get blankets and water and to help answer questions various doctors have asked a million times before. I didn’t know anything about her, and I couldn’t help with questions about insurance, home address, or family. But I could make sure she didn’t spend the night confused, uncomfortable, and alone in the hospital.

As a parent, I can imagine how it would feel if my child was alone and injured in a strange place. I’d want someone to take care of my child until I arrived.

Honestly, I didn’t even debate what to do. I gave my bike to the firefighters, who housed it and Teresa’s bike until we could reclaim them, and I went in the ambulance with Teresa to Harborview.

Bike Crash 3
In the ambulance, Teresa really wanted reassurance that someone had taken care of her bike. Naturally.

We arrived there at about 7:00 PM, I think. At that point we passed through a portal into Hospital Time, some kind of strange spaghettification zone where everything takes 10 times longer than you ever imagined possible.

Bike Crash 4
Arriving at Harborview.

I’ll summarize about eight hours in the hospital by saying that, after x-rays, a head and neck CAT scan, and a careful evaluation by a oral/maxillofacial specialist, the doctors concluded that Teresa had a concussion, a fractured nose, fractured sinuses, and a really nasty hole in her lip where her teeth had poked all the way through.

The bearded doctor in the picture above sewed Teresa up quite expertly–he turned out to be a facial surgeon who’d also gone to dental school, really the perfect person for the job. He found a piece of Teresa’s tooth in her lip. Ew.

In the infinitely long interludes between doctor visits, Teresa and I chatted. At first she kept forgetting what we’d talked about, but within a few hours, she started getting much more lucid.

After an embarrassingly long time, I remembered I had an entire change of clothes in my bag. I felt much better after I’d changed out of my bike shorts. Then I remembered I also had a sandwich, brought as dinner for the release, but that I didn’t feel like eating before I left. With these two realizations, the stay became so much more bearable for me.

Throughout the night, I made sure Teresa had blankets and, later, water and the painkillers she felt comfortable taking (Tylenol only, please). I advocated for Teresa with the doctors and nurses, asking when the next step would happen and making sure we didn’t get forgotten. I also kept all her belongings with her (except the shirt they had to cut off her — sorry, shirt), facilitated a phone call with her mom in California, and sent messages for her until she recovered enough to use her phone herself.

Her mom bought tickets to fly to Seattle arriving at noon today, and I promised her I’d take care of Teresa until she arrived. I worried that Teresa shouldn’t go home to her empty apartment in Ballard all by herself after Harborview discharged her. Who would get her painkillers and water if she needed them? What if she got worse — who would monitor her?

We brought her home to our house.

Easier said than done, of course; we had a logistical nightmare, arranging for Deborah to come and stay at our house at 2 AM while Ian drove to Seattle to retrieve us. But by the kindness and grace of our family, we did it. At about 3:15 AM I installed Teresa in our guest bedroom with extra pillows (using our oldest pillow cases and a large towel; her facial road rash continued oozing for some time, plus the hospital equipped her with lots of ointment for her face) and Ian and I put ourselves to bed.

I found it hard to sleep, having spent the last 22 hours not only awake, but under extreme pressure. Eventually I must have drifted off, only to awaken again when Benji got up at 5:20 AM to go potty.

In the morning we had a car logistical shuffle; I needed a car to go get my bike from the fire station in Fremont, while Ian and Benji needed to drive to Redmond. Mom and Dad loaned us a car, possible because Dad had gotten a cold and decided to work from home.

During the day I “worked” from home, but “working” on what could only generously be described as two hours of sleep didn’t go real well. Fortunately, my boss understood when I explained the situation. I also rescued my bike from the fire station and made sure Teresa got plenty of water in the times she felt like being up. We chatted a bit more, and I learned more about Teresa. She’s a lovely person, a Christian who’s looking for a church home having just moved here (I recommended Bethany in Ballard) and a postdoc doing chemical engineering research at the UW.

Teresa’s mom arrived from the airport at our house about 1:15 PM and swept Teresa back off to Ballard for some family care.

Teresa and I had a long, sincere hug before she left. She has my phone number, and I’m pretty sure that’s not the last I’ll see of her. You can’t go through this without some connection. I certainly feel like I’ve got a special place in my heart for Teresa, and I know I won’t ever forget the last 24 hours.

Why’d I do it? So many reasons. Jesus calls us to care for the widows and orphans, and until her mom got here, Teresa was basically an orphan. She was my neighbor. She needed that care so desperately, care we could give. Then, too, I mentioned before that I knew she’s someone’s daughter. I wouldn’t want someone to leave my child hurt in that situation, and I couldn’t do that to her, either. And of course there’s the Golden Rule: Next time I could be the one on the pavement having no memory of what just happened. Who would take care of me?

Why’d I spend the night in the hospital and house a total stranger?

‘I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

Matthew 25:36 (MSG)

Why do I share all this? Not to toot my own horn or try to show what a great person I am, but to show that every single one of us has these opportunities. The question is what we do when they arise.

Hubris and Humility

The first time it snowed, back about an eon ago (I think it was February 3?), I bike commuted home within a couple days. I rode my bike with studded tires and, although I did hit a few hairy spots, made it home just fine both days.

I thought I’d do the same thing this week. We’ve had some weather in the mid- to high 30s, and roads just have some water but no I’ve, so I figured most anything I encountered on the trails would have melted into slush that I could ride through no problem. I decided to ride the Burke-Gilman the whole way, to avoid some of the unpleasantness on the 520 trail and in Kirkland.

Long story short: I’ve rarely been so wrong, or made such a totally off base decision. Don’t get me wrong, I make mistakes and bad choices all the time – little ones. This biking plan definitely takes the cake.

I made it through the UW, but (in retrospect) the patches of icy slush should really have warned me to cut my losses early. Instead, I thought, well, maybe things are really packed down and slippery here, but where fewer people went will be better. More melted, less bumpy sheets of ice with slush on top.

Nope.

By the time I reached Seattle Children’s, I had realized a few things:

  1. I was going really slow and having to walk a lot. The sun was setting soon, and once it got dark, this would transition from miserable into miserable and dangerous.
  2. The cold, splatty rain would freeze me at this pace.
  3. I wasn’t getting home on the trail.

But how would I get home? I started to panic.

If I turned around, I’d have to face all those patches of slippery ice all over again – with no guarantee of being able to cross 520. If I turned around, though, I could try to get to Montlake to catch a bus home… however long that might take.

I really didn’t want to do that whole long, icy trek again.

Ian offered to pick me up or meet me near 522. That would work but I felt bad forcing him and Benji to drive through traffic both ways just to come get me.

Finally I realized I was very close to my friend Ellen’s house. I called her, and – bless her heart – she was willing to drive me home, even though it was Valentine’s Day and she had stuff to do.

When I got to her house, she had a better plan: Her brother, who lives just a couple miles from my house, was stopping by her house. In fact, he arrived moments after I did. I left my bike at Ellen’s – it’s in good company – and her brother drove me home.

Needless to say, I thanked him effusively.

It wasn’t the commute I planned, but I’m thankful that God made a way despite my foolish choices. And I’ve learned a good lesson in arrogance and humility.

Flaked Out

I hope this will be my last snow-related post for a while, but the forecast remains iffy enough that it may prove nothing but a beautiful dream.

After we had fun sledding on Sunday and building a snowman on Monday, the novelty finally started wearing off.

School remains closed today, Thursday, for the seventh day out of the last nine school days. Even Benji has started saying he wants things to get back to normal, including school. He’s not going to get his wish any time soon, though, because he and Mom fly to LA on Saturday morning for midwinter break. Between snow and planned breaks, he will have had most of three weeks off by the end of the month. Good thing it’s only kindergarten.

Our neighborhood retained its 18″ of snow, slowly converting to slush as temperatures soared into the mid-30s, until yesterday afternoon. At that point we rejoiced to see a rainbow unicorn in the form of a city snow plow clearing our streets. After that, the melting actually made a difference.

Ian and I both worked from home Monday through Wednesday this week, as well as Monday, Tuesday, and Friday last week. I never thought I’d feel so keen to go into the office. Turns out that I started wanting human interaction after all.

I will miss wearing PJ pants all day and listening to music without headphones, and I still don’t love the commute. Nor does it love me. But I’m happy to have the opportunity to slog though the commute anyway.

In short: we’ll gladly welcome our usual winter weather back any time. And if the forecast is any indication, we’ve got a solid couple days of high 30s and rain coming. Delightful!

Snow Day Pictures

We got even more snow, and there’s lots more days of snow in the forecast. I’m trying to embrace and enjoy it, rather than worry about it, since — let’s be honest — what will worrying do? It certainly won’t clear the roads, ensure school’s in session, or guarantee that I can get to work next week. So here’s a few pictures from today’s snow adventures.

Before:

Friday Back Porch

After:

IMG_20190209_062029

Before:

Friday Before Road

After:

IMG_20190209_062254

Some other pictures:

PANO_20190209_062319.vr

After spending an hour clearing our driveway, I went for a snowshoe walk with Dad.

Well, actually, I started to snowshoe to Mom and Dad’s house, but when I got to our neighbors’ house, we chatted and they offered to taxi me in their snow tire-clad SUV. The dad drove me and then his teenage son drove them home after dropping me off, giving him a chance to drive home.

So that was awfully nice of them! Dad got ready and we left for our snowshoe walks.

Well, actually, we first dealt with a couple of the snowshoe binding straps that broke. They’re old, old, old rubber that became brittle, cracked, and broke. Each shoe has four bindings, three on top and one around the heel. The heel binding is crucial, but you can get by with two of the three top bindings. But two heel bindings broke, as did two top bindings on one shoe.

We thought we’d have to scrub the whole plan, but then realized we could cobble together one shoe’s-worth of working bindings. I wore those while Dad wore a pair of rubber boots, and we cut our walk down to a visit to Edith Moulton.

My snowshoe straps held up, so I walked Dad most of the way back to his house and then took the long way home.

Here are some pictures from the walk.

IMG_20190209_100306
IMG_20190209_100533
IMG_20190209_112231
IMG_20190209_112329
IMG_20190209_123403
IMG_20190209_123418

Enough Snowmageddon Scoffing

Okay, Midwest, Northeast, and anywhere that gets more snow than Seattle. We know you get more snow than we do, and you handle it with panache rivaled only once in history, by the socialites aboard the Titanic.

But I’m sick of taking your scoffing and your snide, superior remarks about how inept we are at dealing with snow. It seems that, during our snowstorms, all that people from other places can talk about is how stupid and hopeless we all are to freak out over a “little” snow.

Winter Wonderland?
This picture was taken 24 hours after it snowed last week. Notice the road conditions: Completely untreated and still quite snowy, but now mixed with refrozen slush and packed-down ice. It’s approximately an 8% grade; local kids sledded down the middle of the street the following day.

I lived in central Massachusetts for nigh on eight years, long enough to experience some legitimately wintry winters — and I bike commuted through three of those years. So I think I can speak to some regional differences here. When we lived back East, it would snow; cities and anyone with a pickup truck would clear it; and then it would get sunny and surprisingly nice. Bundle up and you could head out as normal. Cold, yes, but clear skies and dry, clear, mostly flat roads.

Maybe it lets everyone else who has to freeze their buns off all winter feel a little glow of warmth at how much more capable their cities are than ours at handling snow. I don’t begrudge you that little warmth, but before you start mocking us, you try driving 20 miles on our streets (so to speak).

If you really did try to drive 20 miles when it’s snowed here, you might have to let some of that smug superiority slip away. Because:

  1. We have hills. Real hills, with grades exceeding 15%, and they’re everywhere. You can’t go from Point A to Point B without going over quite a few of them. I know; plenty of cities in the Rockies have hills, much bigger than ours. But consider point #2:
  2. Our cities don’t invest in lots of snow-clearing infrastructure. It doesn’t make sense financially, when some years we don’t get any snow at all, or just a day or two. Our usual “wait until it melts” plan works because it rarely stays below freezing for more than a few days at a time. Typically snow goes away within two or three days here, even in the middle of winter. The whole city of Seattle has 35 snow plows; Denver has 70.
  3. Because we don’t have a lot of snow-clearing infrastructure, people drive on the snow, packing it into ice. Then melts a bit during the day and refreezes overnight into an even more exciting untreated skating rink. Try driving on that up and down hills, and then come back and scoff at our caution.
  4. People here have no practice driving in the snow, and therefore stink at it. Most Washingtonians don’t know to drive steadily and carefully, with no sudden stops or turns. Instead, everyone seems to be under the impression that their four-wheel-drive Escalades mean they can drive at the speed limit regardless of conditions. Plus, Washington has recently received a massive influx of people from California, India, and other warm climates — none of whom come with snow driving chops.

Even if none of these factors convince you, remember that every place is different.

You may take snow and subfreezing temperatures with equanimity, but how would you like 145 days of rain? Plus, we live at the 49th parallel, farther north than Portland, Maine. We get less daylight in the winter than anywhere besides Alaska. How would you like to have the sun rise at 8:00 am and set at 4:00 pm in the winter, and in between have mostly cloudy gloom and 40-degree drizzle?

We don’t make fun of people for hiding from rain or feeling gloomy when it’s gray outside. You don’t need make fun of us for our response to snow, whether or not you think it’s reasonable.

How about if, instead of posting smugly about the inferiority of other people’s ability to deal with conditions we handle as as a matter of course, we empathize with each other over shared experiences? Or maybe we could share some tips with how to cope, or even just provide a little encouragement.

It’s an idea.

‘Snow Fun

I remember the first time I thought, “Oh no, it’s snowing!” That’s when I realized I had truly grown up.

Today, Wednesday, is the first day I’ve gone to work this week. Monday and Tuesday I worked from home, thanks to copious amounts of snow. School has been cancelled all week, too, including today. Monday Benji spent at home with us; Tuesday he spent with my mom; and today he’s going over to my in-laws. I can only hope school’s back in on Thursday, or we’ve got a childcare problem!

Friday they forecast more snow. I’m not going to worry about that yet.

It’s been so cold – 14 when I left this morning – that everything that melted during the day when it warmed up to almost 32 refreezes overnight. This cold is supposed to linger, and that means that daily freeze/thaw cycle continues. That’s what I worry about the most. But I got out the studded tires bike and I’m going to be careful, but try to commute home the next couple days.

Here are some pictures from Monday, when the snow was still fresh.

And here’s me waiting for the bus this morning. I’m planning on riding home. I trust the studded tires will protect me from any surprise icy patches.