Monday, January 28, 2008

Every Day is Different

My phone rang while I was in the shower. When I checked my machine, my grandmother had left a message. "I need you to call the telephone company," she said in a voice that conveyed she might need medical attention. "My lights have gone out, and I can't call anybody, so I need you to call the telephone company and tell them my lights are out. When I called her back, I determined that she had heard a very loud "boom" (probably a nearby transformer at the power pole) and then she had lost electrical power. She was able to call me on an old rotary dial telephone she still uses. At 95 years of age, my grandmother is still well enough mentally and physically to live alone.

After determining that the power had been off about an hour, I told my grandmother I would report the outage to the power company for her. She told me her neighbor across the street still had power, and he had said he would report it, also. This told me the outage was fairly localized. Her parting words were, "I've not got any heat!" For a woman who keeps her home what feels like a sultry 90 degrees or warmer, this was tantamount. I knew it was not a terribly cold winter day for us... somewhere in the mid-40's, and I assured her she would be fine until hopefully we could get the power restored.

I hung up and telephoned the power company, and immediately, I was connected to an automated voice mail system and given a menu for selecting the proper number to report an outage. "I see you are calling from telephone xxx-xxx-xxxx. If this is the number at the location where a problem exists, press 1. If not, press 2," the voice said. I pressed 2. I was then instructed to enter my grandmother's telephone number, and then the voice verified the name associated with that account, and I was to press more numbers to confirm. After probably 6 more sets of menus, the recording told me that the outage had been reported, and that service should be restored within the next 2 hours. I was asked if I wanted a telephone call to confirm the power had been restored, and I punched the appropriate numbers to confirm this, thinking a phone call would appease my grandmother.

I telephoned my grandmother to tell her that the power would be restored within the next two hours. "You have GOT to be kidding!" she said. I assured her I was not. She told me again how loud the "boom" had been and how she didn't have any heat. I told her I felt she would be fine for a couple of hours, and that the power company would call her - and they had assured me this would be within the next two hours. She said that was okay and we hung up.

That is not the end of the story - almost never is with 95-year-olds! Some 30 minutes later, my phone rings, and it is a friend of my grandmother's - a sweet little deacon in her church who is 86, I believe. "Debbie," he says, "your grandmother is in a mess!" He begins to relay the same story about the loud "boom" and how nobody on my grandmother's block has power. I assure him I have contacted the power company and THEY assure me it will be fixed within the next two hours. He tells me, "I've called every number between here and China, and I can't get anybody to talk to me!" He goes on to relate that he immediately got the voice-automated systems - "those computers" as he puts them. He says, "I'm sorry, but when my company got computers I told them if the world comes to an end, we'll have to wait for the computer to shut down first! But your grandmother is in a real mess."

I asked if there was another problem I didn't know about, and he said, "Well, no, but her back door is open and that cold air is just blowing in and she has no way to stop it!" Now, the "back door" to which he referred was my grandmother's garage door, and without power to her electric opener, she could not lower it. Inside her garage, she has TWO entry doors to her house - a wooden door AND a "storm door." The air was not exactly "blowing right in her door" as had been described. But I thanked the nice man and assured him once again that I thought everything was under control, and we hung up. I have no idea how many deacons and others my grandmother called during the three hours or so her power was off. I honestly don't think I want to know!

When the appointed hour that the power company had given me for restoring the power arrived, I telephoned my grandmother once more. She sounded like a much younger, much healthier woman, and yes, her power had come back on, and all was well. "My toes got a little cold before that," she threw out... "but I'm fine now."

I understand the deacon's frustration. Those automated menus ARE daunting... and most seniors simply give up and sit in the dark - or call their grand-daughter or some other "youngster" to help them. But I do wonder about those who don't have a younger person to call for help. How do they navigate the maze of automated menus, red tape, mountainous paperwork, and inconsiderate or impatient "customer service" reps and case workers who are assigned to lend a hand? And how do we as caregivers cope with these same representatives while keeping our sanity and our patience for responding kindly to those in our care?

Recently I told my 17-year-old niece that I was trying to understand the lessons God has for me in my encounters with my grandmother, and she asked, "...and just what have you learned?!" I told her that I was learning that "it" is most often not about me... that most days there is some other "issue" and I just happen to be the nearest target for venting frustrations. In today's instance, the bottom line was heat and her fear that her thermostat might dip below 80 degrees for a few minutes! I am trying not to take things too personally - a tough one sometimes, I admit - and I just try to do what has to be done to rectify the "situation of the day" and move ahead. Today it was power and heat... tomorrow it may be her dentures! But for the moment, all is quiet, so I say "Crank up the heater and celebrate!"

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