Saturday, January 6, 2018


So far, 2018 has been a real test of my patience and endurance. I’m beginning to think my New Year’s resolution should have been, “Take a survival course.”

First of all, right around Christmas, I was taking off my pullover sweater and a hangnail on my middle finger got caught in it and was torn off. I didn’t think much about it, other than it hurt a little and bled a bit.

But that night, my finger kept me awake. It felt hot. It throbbed. Lightning-bolt pains shot down it all the way into my palm. I finally fell asleep for about two hours, and then was abruptly awakened by even worse pain in my finger. Defeated, I got up. What I saw shocked me. My finger had swollen to twice its size and resembled a red sausage. I also couldn’t bend it at all. Still, I figured if I soaked it, it would be fine.

At the same time, the weather in my area was breaking records for being some of the most frigid since the extinction of the dinosaurs. The wind chills were 25 below zero and the authorities were advising people to stay indoors and not even venture outside because breathing the air probably would turn their lungs into Ben & Jerry’s next flavor of the month.

By the fourth day of suffering with my fat, throbbing finger, I didn’t care if the weather outside was the second coming of the Ice Age. I wanted to go to a walk-in clinic and have a doctor take a look at my hand. The fact that I’d earlier made the mistake of checking online to see what I could do for the finger and happened to come across a video of a guy whose finger looked better than mine being told it probably would have to be amputated because he’d waited too long to see a doctor, definitely didn’t help ease my mind.

So, at 6 p.m. that night, I put on my makeup and my warm clothes and decided to go to the clinic. I got into my car, which was parked in the garage, shoved the key into the ignition and turned it.

Nothing happened.

I tried starting the car again. It didn’t even so much as cough.

Muttering, I slammed back into the house and called AAA.  After being on hold for 45 minutes, a human finally answered.

“Where are you located?” the woman asked me.

“New Hampshire,” I said.

“No, I mean are you stranded on the side of the road somewhere?”

“No, I’m home.”

“Oh,” she said. “Then we can’t come help you. We aren’t doing any driveway calls right now during this weather. We have to tend to the people who are stranded out in the elements first. You will have to call back at another time.”

I understood that someone shivering in a dead car in the middle of a parking lot after the building had closed for the night was more important than someone who was sitting in a warm house and drinking hot tea, but still, there was my rapidly swelling finger to consider. So I called my friend Nancy, who lives 10 minutes away, and told her about my situation.

“We’ll be right over,” she said, referring to her husband Paul and herself.

They had intended to jump-start my car, but unfortunately, I’d parked nose-in, with the front of my car against the back wall of the garage, so there was no way to get another car next to it to jump it. Luckily, Paul also had brought a charger with him, so he hooked it up to my car’s battery.

“How old is this battery?” he asked me.

I had to think for a moment. “I’m pretty sure I remember buying it right after Obama’s inauguration.”

He frowned. “I think it’s time for a new one. This one probably won’t even hold a charge and you’ll get stranded if you drive it somewhere. Then you’ll be even worse off.”

“Well, I guess I won’t be going to the clinic tonight, then,” I said, sighing. I held up my middle finger to show them how swollen it was, not thinking that it might have been misinterpreted as a rude gesture. Fortunately, the finger’s appearance pretty much spoke for itself. 

Nancy gasped and cringed. “Come on, get into our car.”

By the time we arrived in the city, however, the clinic was closed, and I didn’t think my problem was severe enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room, even though the guy I’d seen online who was being told he might lose his finger kept popping into my mind.  I asked Paul and Nancy if they could just take me to the supermarket so I could stock up on food and first-aid supplies. I had read online about several home remedies for my finger, and I intended to try them all.

During the next five days, I divided my time between soaking my finger and sitting with the phone glued to my ear, waiting on hold for AAA. Among the things I soaked my finger in were Epsom salts, warm black tea, apple-cider vinegar and hydrogen peroxide (separately, not mixed together). Fortunately, one of them worked and the pain and swelling began to subside. I just wish I knew which one it actually was, in case I ever need to treat an infected finger (or maybe even a toe) again.

On the sixth day, I finally got brave enough to remove Paul’s battery charger and try to start my car. It still was completely dead. The only thing my battery could have used at that point was a tombstone.

So I called AAA yet again and said I would like to use their battery replacement service.

“Oh, they are done replacing batteries for the day,” the woman said. “Call back at 7 tomorrow morning.”

“Well, seeing I’m already on the phone with you right now,” I said, “can’t you just put me down for a new battery and have them come over tomorrow? I honestly don’t feel like being on hold again. I'm pretty sure I can repeat every one of your advertisements from memory by now.”

“Sorry. You’ll have to call back.”

By the next morning, let’s just say I wasn’t in the best of moods. As I sat there on hold yet again, waiting for AAA to answer, I rehearsed what I was going to say to them – and none of it was pleasant.  Twenty minutes later, I still was on hold, envisioning sticking pins into some really painful places on voodoo dolls representing all of the AAA employees.

When someone finally answered, another 15 minutes later, a thought suddenly crossed my mind. I would try using humor to get somewhere instead of sounding grouchy or irritated. After all, grouchy and irritated hadn’t worked up to that point.

“Hi!” I said to the employee who answered. “I’ve been calling since last Thursday because my car won’t start, and they keep telling me I don’t take priority because I’m safely at home. Well, I’m actually not safe at all. I’m trapped in here with two very large dogs that have now run out of food…and they keep staring at me as if they are picturing me smothered in gravy. Frankly, I’m really getting nervous.”

She burst out laughing. “Well, then,” she said, “we’d better get someone over there fast, before your dogs get any hungrier, so you can go buy them some food!”

To my shock, the service technician showed up 45 minutes later.

“Yep, you need a new battery,” he said after testing it. “Let me get one out of my truck for you.”

When he returned empty-handed, I knew I was in trouble.

“Sorry, we’re all out of the size you need,” he said. “It’s been really crazy during this arctic blast. Batteries are selling as fast as we can stock them.”

He then decided to try to jump-start my car. He attached some kind of portable gadget to the battery, then told me to turn the key. I did, and the engine turned over and finally roared to life, as if it had been given CPR. I nearly broke out the champagne.

“But don’t shut off the car,” the technician warned me, “not until you are somewhere where you can get a battery, because I can’t guarantee it will start up again if you turn off the engine.”

He left and I went inside and began calling places like Sears and Walmart to see if they had a battery to fit my car.  Five stores later, I still hadn’t found one. Meanwhile, my car was constantly running and sucking up gas like a blotter.

Frustrated, I called the dealership where I’d originally bought my car and was told that if I came right over, they’d hold a battery for me.

I headed straight to the dealership and finally got a precious new battery, which set me back $150. By then, however, I probably would have paid $500 for one, out of sheer desperation.

That night, I was feeling much more at ease. My finger was nearly back to normal and my car had a nice new battery. The only problem that remained was the weather. Not only was it still cold enough to freeze a polar bear, a blizzard was hitting the area hard – with howling winds that sounded like a convoy of freight trains barreling toward the house.

Unfortunately, those howling winds just happened to knock out the power to my entire neighborhood. I really wasn’t concerned because a few years ago I’d invested in an automatic full-house generator system that kicks in whenever the power goes out and keeps everything running smoothly. Since purchasing it back in 2013, it flawlessly has carried me through 15 power failures, some as long as four days (I live in an area where if a hummingbird lands on a power line, I lose power).

This time, however, the generator didn’t automatically pop on. I waited to hear its familiar roar…and then I waited some more.  It took a few minutes for me to realize that the generator, just like my car, wasn’t going to start, and I was stuck sitting in complete darkness, totally unprepared. I didn’t have candles or lanterns or anything else I needed to cope with losing power because I hadn’t concerned myself with any of those things since getting the generator system.

Immediately, I panicked, thinking my water pipes were going to freeze and even worse, I was going to freeze, which, I calculated, probably would be in about a half-hour, considering the brutal storm and the temperatures outside.

I’ll tell you the rest of the story next week.

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