A Younger Man

The snow started in the afternoon earlier and harder than expected. I got the kids inside with some DVD’s and pizza. I cracked the thermostats up to give us some heat in the event we lost power that evening, which was the worry with the autumn trees still being so full of leaves and the snow predicted to be wet and heavy. The kids didn’t get halfway through RIO before the lights went out. They were impatient for it to come back on, but with daylight still present, and a quick call to Grandma confirming she had power, I packed them up with a couple days clothes and some food and drove through the storm. Once I had them safe, I headed back home to wait the storm out. Getting home was crazy. Power lines and trees down, streets blocked. I was happy to make it back to my driveway unscathed. All that night you could hear the trees cracking and the wind whistling. Occasionally the sky light up green as transformers blew. Instead of four inches, we’d gotten 12.

When the storm was over 800,000 plus in the state were out of power. Many of the towns like my own were 100% out. The devastation was rare to our area, which at worse gets a blizzard or a weakened hurricane. Many roads were impassable. Trees were down in nearly every yard.

I slept at night in long johns and under every blanket in the house. On the fifth night the temperature in the house dipped down to 48, and the cold took root in my bones. I came home the next afternoon to find the power finally on, although still no phone or cable service. I was lucky as many of my neighbors were still and are still in the dark. The utility company said everyone would have their power restored by midnight of the eight night, but it hasn’t happened.

This morning we responded to a fall. The house a nicely kept middle class home, not far from a commercial center, was dark and cold when we walked in. No power here. In the bedroom we found a 89 year old man in bed, skin pale and cool and dry, shivering under a mound of blankets, wearing a winter jacket and a baseball cap that said 101st Airbourne. A first responder told me the man’s legs had given out and he’d fallen against a table and bruised his chest. It was 42 degrees in the house, and now he couldn’t stop shaking.

“He was at the Siege of Bastonge,” the responder said.

There are place names that invoke awe. Bastonge is one of them. Late in World War II, the Germans mounted a massive surprise attack against the Allied lines in Belgium under the cover of severe weather. The 101st airborne were surrounded in the Ardennes forest near the town of Bastogne. Unable to be reinforced, they dug in in foxholes, fighting subzero temperatures, while being blasted by artillery. They were critically short on food, medicine and ammo, but they repeatedly refused entreaties to surrender. Some of them froze to death. Still they held the Nazis off for a week until General Patton’s tanks could come to their rescue. More commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge (the Bulge signifying the near break in the Allied lines), it was a key turning point in the war that devastated the Germans’ hopes to hold off the Allied advance.

“If you haven’t heard it enough, thank you.” I said to the old man, and then added, “I guess this cold now must all be like a summer day to you.”

“I was a younger man then,” he said, quietly.

2 Comments

  • Dan says:

    Hi Peter, I transported an 88 YO man and his wife to the shelter in my town during this storm. They tried to tough it out in a house with no heat but after the second day a police officer called EMS after a welfare check. The old man had a WW2 vet hat on and like all my patients, I had small talk with him in the rig. The frail guy who was not able to make the step up to the ambulance was a combat engineer in the Philipines. After getting back to the world he started his own insurance company that he owned until retirement. People, especially old people, are very interesting.

  • Ian says:

    This story gave me chills. In fact I find that most of your posts evoke an emotional reaction of some kind. We in EMS are lucky to have a talented scribe like yourself, even luckier that you maintain this blog.

    Thank you!

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