Reflections on a Spannered Spine

This morning while sorting laundry, I leaned over and my back went crack-pop.  That is not a very pleasant sound to emanate from one’s body; it was an even less pleasant sensation.  Standing up straight was agonising.  Walking made me wince.  Thankfully my older kids can get themselves back and forth to school but the littlest one needed to be taken to and collected from nursery.  So I had no choice but to pop some paracetamol, waddle along the road at a pace a snail might have sneered at and clench my jaw against the pain.

What this episode has highlighted for me is that I have been much too tardy in stocking my medicine cabinet.  I thought of the kids and bought children’s medications for “just in case” but failed to apply the same logic to medications for the adults.  Therefore, all I have to alleviate the symptoms of my cricked back is the small packet of paracetamol I had in my suitcase when I first arrived in America.  That’s it.  I could apply heat to my back but I didn’t ship my hot water bottles and have not replaced them so I improvised with a steamed towel.  Nor did I ship all of my gel-filled ice packs.  Clearly I have procrastinated too much and for too long over creating a “first aid” kit for the house.  Since I cannot drive like this, I need to await Mr Pict popping into a drug store on his way home from work to bring me the medications I need to get some proper respite – though I am hoping that by then the pain will have largely worn off anyway.

The more critical thing that this episode has underlined for me is the reminder that I don’t have anyone to call on for help when things go a tad pear-shaped.  If this had happened to me back home in Scotland, instead of soldiering on I could have called on friends to help me get the youngest child back and forth and I could even have asked them to grab me some painkillers – although I always maintained a good medicine cabinet in Scotland.  Here, however, I don’t know anyone remotely well enough that I could call upon them to help me out and do a favour for me.  Not even at a push.  Today it was just a cricked back and I could just about deal with keeping things going but I am home alone with four kids a lot of the time so it does lead me to ponder what I would do in an actual emergency, especially if the emergency centred on me.  It’s quite an isolating feeling.

Stocking the medicine cabinet is an easy fix that I will place at the top of my “To Do” list.  Generating a list of people who I can depend on in a bit of a crisis is going to be more challenging and take much more time.

My First State of Emergency

I am currently experiencing my first State of Emergency as a resident of the US.  Governor Corbett declared that Pennsylvania was in a State of Emergency last night following an ice storm that has felled trees and taken down power lines.  In my township, 88% of residents are still without electricity.  We are very fortunate in that our power outage only lasted 24 hours, perhaps due to the fact that we live next door to an Elementary School which may place reconnecting our area to the grid as a high priority.

The snow was still thick on the ground yesterday when the ice storm came through.  I am not sure anyone anticipated its severity given that the School District was initially just calling for a two hour delayed start.  We then had a call not long after the alarm went off yesterday morning informing us that they had decided to make the day another snow day.  My kids are now aware that all “free” snow days have been used up and that every day lost to weather now will have to be made up in the Summer. They were not happy bunnies.  They actually want to be in school – which is a very good sign indeed.  A few minutes after that call, the power went out.  I often look like I got dressed in the dark but yesterday that was literally the case.  Amazingly I looked no worse than usual.

The freezing rain came through during breakfast.  The last time I experienced rain was when we were driving across the Erskine Bridge in Scotland.  Seeing the windows of your house get speckled with icicles is much preferable to it happening to your car windscreen, to that I can testify.  A thick layer of ice formed across the top of the crispy snow and soon everything was encased in a transparent sheath of glossy ice.  Branches of trees started to groan and creek from the additional weight.  A few in surrounding gardens sheared off the trunk and walloped to the ground below.


I experienced lots of power outages in my childhood.  The late 1970s in Scotland were filled with power cuts for one reason or another and I actually have some very fond memories of the fun we used to have playing games and chatting by candlelight.  The only downside I can recollect was that one year we got a bit short on candles and had to melt my birthday candle, which was a floppy-eared beagle dog wearing a party hat from which the wick protruded.  I didn’t need therapy over it but the fact I can still picture the candle so vividly tells me I was not a happy pixie when he had to be sacrificed to the darkness.  Of course, back then we were more used to making our own entertainment anyway.  We had three TV channels and those did not broadcast all day every day, our phone was so prehistoric it was made of Bakelite and was a party line and I had never even heard of computers let alone game consoles.

My kids were, as children of the 21st century and fans of modern technology, not so impressed by the power outage.  They kept thinking about TV and PS3s and even CDs – all while I couldn’t even make a phone call because our stupid house phones require the internet to function and our internet router needs electricity – and were frustrated that all they could play with were the hundreds of toys we had shipped over from Scotland.  The poor wee mites.  Thankfully the house we are renting has a gas hob so we could eat hot food.  Unfortunately the hot air system requires electricity for the fans to disperse the heat so the house got increasingly colder as the day progressed and as it got gradually chillier we wore progressively more layers of clothes.  Some of the kids even had a steaming hot lobster bath to get nice and warm.

Then the darkness fell and they were suddenly delighted.  The darkness was exciting – so long as they were not alone in a distant corner of the house when it suddenly became intimidating and threatening.  They played Hide and Seek which was even more challenging in the dark and allowed for some unusual hiding places, we ate by candlelight, played charades (the first time my kids have ever played charades – they don’t know how to be old school!) and read Scottish tales by the firelight for bed time.  And the best bit was that they all fell asleep really quickly in the pitch dark.

One of my books which did not make the cut for being chosen to come to America with us was ‘The Blackout Book’, a collection of facsimile pages from texts that were distributed during the Second World War, each full of games and puzzles to keep people amused during the blackouts or when they were stuck in air raid shelters.  That could have come in handy last night but thinking of it also puts this whole State of Emergency into perspective: the Luftwaffe are not dropping bombs on us after all.  Of course, I say this in the light of being among the 12% who have had power restored within 24 hours.  Things are quite difficult out there.  This afternoon I attempted to take the smallest Pict to the birthday party of one of his preschool classmates.  The venue was a few towns further north so we set off with plenty of time.  However, every route I attempted to take, we had to divert because of fallen trees.  My sat nav app was doing a great deal of recalculating along the way.  Eventually it ran out of options that did not involve just bulldozing through tree trunks and I am not familiar enough with the area to attempt just navigating without assistance so I had no choice but to admit defeat and slowly wend my way back to the house.  Hardly any traffic lights were functioning which meant that each junction, even of pretty major intersections, had become a four-way stop.  Some of these had restricted vision in certain directions so I had to hold my breath and slowly edge out hoping that I would be seen by the traffic hurtling along on the perpendicular road.  It’s definitely not pleasant out there.  Although my 4 year old was sorely disappointed to have to miss the party and I was gutted for him, I felt quite relieved to pull into the driveway and get the kettle on for a warming cup of tea.  Relieved and lucky.