A plaintive cry for help is the last thing one expects at 5 a.m. in the middle of a blizzard, especially with three feet of snow on the ground and the neighborhood looking like an old freezer in need of thawing. The 30 yards between my house and the couple huddling in the middle of the street may as well have been a thousand; reaching them seemed impossible with snow drifts up to my chest in places.
The man shouted that his mother couldn’t move and needed help, explaining she might be in shock.
My wife and I threw winter coats over our pajamas and dug a path to them with our only shovel. Taking turns to maximize speed, we finally managed a narrow trench to the street. We covered up the man’s freezing mother with blankets as best we could while we discussed how we’d get her up the hill and into our house. Her son had already called 911, but the streets were impassable. Abandoned cars littered the streets, frozen corpses buried under the crushing snowfall. When we saw Stratford firefighter Brian Johnson’s flashing lights down the street, her son braved the waist-deep snow to flag him down while I wrapped his mother in our bedspread. I channeled my mom as I held her up, hugging her for warmth and ensuring her that help was on its way. We got her into the house and a dry set of clothes while Brian held her trembling hands in his.
In the space of two hours, my wife and I experienced a series of small miracles that will forever alter my impatience during snowstorms.
The frozen woman turned out to be a nurse just leaving her shift when she headed out into the storm at 11 p.m. She’d slid off the road and slammed into a rail shortly afterward, unable to get the attention of any passing motorists for help. After several hours she managed to get her car back on the road, but the roads were even worse by then. Her transmission blew as she maneuvered the treacherous streets, crippling the car even as the last of her cell phone’s charge was giving out. She managed a last call to her son across town to explain her predicament. Armed with only a vague knowledge of her location, he called 911 and set out on foot to find her.
Without heat and already frozen from her prior exposure, the nurse left the car on foot to find help despite the fact that she’d only recently returned to work after a hip operation. That she made it so far up a hilly street through deep snow was astounding. That her son managed to walk through the night to eventually find her frozen in place in the middle of the street was even more so.
That we were even aware of them at all was a miracle brought about by one of our dogs needing to be let out earlier than normal due to her continued convalescence from spinal surgery. In addition, we never use the front door to let our dogs out. We’d only used it that morning because the back door was blocked shut with snow.
That I was able to shovel at all was due to the miracle of adrenaline — I’d thrown out my back two days before and had spent most of that time on a vibrating heat pad. I shouldn’t have been able to keep my balance in the snow, much less shovel it.
That Brian Johnson (he’s replaced the lead singer of AC/DC as my favorite Brian Johnson) had managed to find us at all that morning was also miraculous. He and fellow firefighter John Roberts had raced to the house despite having to lug their winter gear through heavy snow up a long hill. In the half hour they waited with us, John kept a lookout for the ambulance while Brian explained how some plows had to clear the roads to Bridgeport Hospital, becoming de facto escorts to the ambulances responding to emergencies all across town. Before they’d managed to thaw out themselves, they were off to respond to another emergency.
By 7 a.m., a snowplow appeared on the street, followed closely by the welcome sight of an ambulance. The crew managed to get the nurse through our hastily shoveled path and into the ambulance, hoping the streets ahead were clear enough to make it to the emergency room. I’m sad to say we never got their names, but I hope someone will post a comment if they know.
As of this writing on a rainy Monday night, we still don’t know how it turned out for that nurse and her son. If you’re reading this, I hope you are warm and well. We were so grateful we were allowed to help in our small way.
On the other hand, I’ve been reading a lot about the complaints regarding the unplowed streets in the area. I probably would have added my voice to that chorus had I not seen all those little miracles Saturday morning. But I did, and I’m not.
Thirty-six inches of snow makes quick fixes impossible, especially when some of those “missing” plows are off performing necessary tasks that save lives. I’ll think twice before driving during a storm, and I’ll practice a little more patience in the face of unpaved streets. Like Hurricane Sandy before it, it’ll take time for a return to normalcy after this storm. However, when the love of a son for his mother — not to mention the courage of our firefighters and EMT volunteers — shows us that the miraculous is all around, the least we can do is show our gratitude. So if you happen to see Brian Johnson or John Roberts in town, be sure to buy them a cup of warm coffee.
Just don’t wait for the sidewalks to get cleared anytime soon. We can’t expect miracles, after all.
You can read more at RobertFWalsh.net and contact him a rob@RobertFWalsh.net or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.