Saturday, July 29, 2017

And Then, Our House Burned Down

On Monday evening, I started to fix dinner for my family. Halfway through, I went to my bathroom to grab something. (I don't even remember why). There were some grey wisps of smoke coming from the bottom of the sink cabinet. I was very puzzled, and started pulling out all the items in the cupboard to investigate. Nothing in the cabinet was on fire so I realized I needed to investigate in the basement. I thought perhaps our boiler was acting up. On the way to the basement, I mentioned to my son, Josef, that I thought we might have a fire. I was a little nervous, but wanted to get more information before acting.

I walked downstairs into our laundry room where our boiler is and saw more smoke, I crouched down to flip the emergency switch and then happened to look up. The door into the garage was cracked and I could see flames there. There was also a man in the garage shouting, "Your house is on fire!" There was a small fire on the workbench. He asked me to go get a fire extinguisher. Initially I agreed and started to get one, but my brain clicked on. I turned back and told the man that I had six kids and I had to get them out of the house right away.

I turned around and started running up the stairs, yelling, "The house is on fire! Get out of the house!" And then I dialed 911 and told the emergency service what was happening. I quickly ran through the house, turned off the stove and went outside. All my kids except Walter were gathered outside with the man who had been in my garage. I yelled, "Where's Walter?" and he came from the trees behind our house.

We were all startled and shocked as the fire amped up and explosions started happening. We moved farther away from the house and waited anxiously for the fire trucks to show. It felt like forever as the flames grew bigger, but eventually the trucks showed up and firemen jumped out and started getting their hoses ready.

It was so scary to watch. I cried in shock and fear as we watched everything happen. I called my husband and curtly told him the house was on fire and needed to come home right away. Later he talked to my son who assured him that we were all safe.

As the firemen worked I was hit with a ton of questions. First and foremost, they wanted to make sure that no one was still in the house. They also asked what kind of things we had in our garage. We answered their questions as they worked. They were very relieved that no one was in the house. Within 10 minutes they had the blaze extinguished and then worked on making sure there were no more hot spots in the houses.

My neighbors started showing up, checking on us, and offering us a place to stay. People called and texted and asked questions. Eventually my husband came walking up the road. He was stopped several blocks away and had to walk the rest of the way to the house. The kids and I were so relieved to see him.

Josef's friend, Sam, and her mother came to the house and asked if they could take the kids back to their house. It was getting late and we had no idea how long we would have to be there. We were happy to accept and the kids were taken care of.

We talked a little more to the man who had run into our garage when he saw the fire. His name was Michael Cola. He was kind to stop and help. He stayed with us most of the time. I got his phone number and plan to call him and send him a nice thank you.

Some of my friends that I work with on the PTSA for the high school called and checked on us and one of the women, Jenn Albano, started gathering donations, including diapers, for us. We had nothing but what clothes we were wearing. Half the kids had bare feet.

We waited for several hours as the emergency personnel worked. We answered so many questions. Eventually, two firemen took us through the house and let us grab a few things. It was really horrible. The house was covered in soot and debris. The firemen had knocked holes in the walls and ceiling and pulled out the insulation to check for any smoldering. Our home was totally unrecognizable. Brent and I searched all over the house for Winter's blanket and Jonathan's blanket. They both love their blankets and sleep better when they have them.

Then Brent and I got into my car, which was fortunately okay, and we went to pick up his car. We then drove to our neighbor's house to be with our kids. We had to shower right away because we had soot on our hands and arms. I was so shook up and couldn't stop shivering. It felt so good to get into a hot bath and warm up.

That night, several bags of clothing and toiletries were dropped off for our family. Our community has been incredible. Donations are being collected of clothing and household goods. At some point, we will collect them and be able to use them. Several people sent us gift cards and money. We were bombarded with offers of places to stay.

Brent and I discussed our situation. My parents and in-laws asked if the kids and I could go to Wyoming while Brent handled the details back in New York. The idea was very appealing because it would be a secure place to relax until we could figure out our future plans. But that had to wait until we found out more from our insurance company.

The last few days have been a whirlwind of meetings. Several adjusters have toured our home and given their professional opinion about what needed to happen next. The good news is that the structure of the house is still in good shape. Unfortunately, smoke damaged all our possessions and very few items can be salvaged. We rescued a few things but the majority of our possessions will be replaced. The bad news is that it will take at least 7-9 months before the house repairs are completed. We are in the process of looking for temporary housing. We also learned that the fire was most likely caused by some battery chargers we had plugged in. We had Ryobi and Craftsmen battery chargers for tools like a cordless drill, leaf blower, weed whacker, etc.

Our family feels extremely grateful to all our neighbors, friends, and total strangers who have reached out to us. Several of my children's school teachers, principals, and school staff reached out to us personally to ask about our needs and welfare. I didn't even realize how much we have become a part of the community.

We are very sad about what happened, but feel so grateful that we made it out safely. Things can be replaced. It also feels good that so many people have reached out to us, making us feel wanted, loved, and cared for. With all that support, we are going to be okay.

Several people have asked about my scrapbooks. They sustained smoke damage and have some soot on the tops of the pages. However, I think if I pull the pages out--the most important part--we can do some things to remove the smoke smell and preserve them. If we can't salvage the pages, I can always photograph what I made and have prints made. I have 10 years of photographs backed up digitally in a couple of places. I also photographed nearly every layout I made in the last five years. Additionally, my older photos were stored in secure plastic boxes, so I hope that most can be recovered.

There were three news articles about our family and the fire. Most focused on Michael Cola and his role. He was very brave to stop and help and we are grateful to him. The only quibble I have is that I am the one who got my children out of the house and I had realized that we had a fire before I even saw him, but otherwise, the articles were okay.

WABC 7 News

Westchester 12

Friday, July 7, 2017

Walking on the Path of Uncertainty

Yesterday I received some difficult news at a doctor visit. I have routine eye exams because plaquenil, the medication I take to keep my lupus in check, can cause some rare and irreversible eye damage. These eye checks are meant to catch any problems quickly before they become too severe. The ophthalmologist asked me how long I had taken plaquenil and when I told her that I have taken it for 13 years, she got very serious. While I currently have good vision and she isn't seeing any negative effects, she said the risk of eye damage was much greater after being on the medication for so long. She was going to recommend to my rheumatologist that I stop taking plaquenil and start other treatments.

This is very disturbing news as plaquenil has allowed me to lead a very healthy, normal, active life for the last thirteen years. In fact, lupus patients who take plaquenil long-term show better health and life outcomes. They live longer and experience lupus much less severely than patients who don't take plaquenil. Additionally, other lupus treatments, like prednisone or immune suppressants have much worse side effects and problems than plaquenil. The current recommendation is to have regular eye exams and stop treatment if any problems are noticed.

This leaves me in quite a quandry and anticipating a very important conversation with my rheumatologist. I don't want to stop taking plaquenil nor do I want any vision problems. I am not certain what the future holds and I feel worried what will happen.

While pondering this today, I felt impressed to listen to a talk from the podcast BYU speeches. I came across the talk, "Waiting upon the Lord: The Antidote to Uncertainty," by Dr. Erin Holmes.  It was just what I needed to hear. It reminded me that I am not walking this path alone, that God is with me, and that there are lessons to be learned in this time.