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Our Ultra-Rude Awakening January 14, 2012

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Humor, Personal anecdotes, Random Observations.

It wasn’t my fault. Well, yes, it was, but it wasn’t solely my fault. My husband lives here too.

It all began a few years after we moved to Florida, when a routine inspection of our heat pump revealed that it was so encrusted with mold you could barely see that the photo was supposed to have been of metal. There had been a good reason why Jerry spent so much time sneezing.

So we replaced the heat pump. For some reason, our then-air conditioning company (who later turned out to have been a bunch of incompetent crooks) replaced the heat pump with an air conditioner. This was around 2003 or so, while my mother lay dying slowly in Maryland (she finally died in 2007), and I don’t remember why Jerry and I let this happen. The probable answer is “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” To be fair, our electricity bills have been lower for about three-fourths of each year.

But then, a few years later, came the Deep Freeze of January and February 2010. In the Tampa Bay area, the average daily high for that period ranges between 70° and 75°F, and the average daily low is 55°. During the Deep Freeze, our average daily high was 55°. And even with the thermostat set at 64° for day, 60° for night, our electric bill was about twice our historical average for winter. Much the same thing happened in January 2011, but not for as long a stretch.

We bought space heaters. They work well in our oddly designed house, which was built in 1920 and rehabbed around 1998. By “oddly designed,” I mean that we have all sorts of unexpected corners and crannies; my theory is that whoever designed the house was an amateur, not an architect. We also have WAY too few electric outlets, and the ones we have are often inconveniently placed. The best location for our bedroom space heater required an extension cord.

Here’s where I confess that what happened Wednesday morning was primarily my fault: I think most safety instructions are ridiculous, and seldom read them. “Do not use your hair dryer while taking a bath or shower.” And — I swear I’m not making this one up — “Unplug your clock-radio when not in use.” I bought a new space heater for our bedroom on Tuesday, and the first time I looked at the safety instructions was Wednesday afternoon, when I read “Do not use an extension cord.”

I then checked the instructions for all our other space heaters. All of them said, “Do not use an extension cord,” although one set of instructions reluctantly allowed that a heavy-duty extension cord, rated for at least 1500 watts, would be acceptable in cases of extreme necessity. Mind you, the space heaters in our bedroom and upstairs bathroom had been on extension cords for two years, with no signs of trouble.

Using the extension cords was not solely my fault. Jerry lives here too. Jerry is far more prudent than I am. Jerry unplugs clock-radios when not in use.

The new space heater works well. It’s a Patton, 1500 watts. Have you guessed what happened? Around 5 a.m. on Wednesday, I woke to the sound of loud poppings and giant, terrifying sparks flying around the room. The first thought in my sleep-fogged brain was “Fire!” I began shrieking as I accomplished a beautiful lying-down high jump, ending up on my feet. I started to race for the bathroom, with my sleep-addled mind thinking, “Electric fire, don’t get water, get the baking soda, get the baking soda.”

Luckily, Jerry, awakened by my shrieks, had more presence of mind. He leaped for the wall outlet, and had the space heater unplugged so fast that in the end, there was no damage to anything at all. Except the extension cord, which had melted.

Now I need to tell you that Jerry has not one but two leaky heart valves. He had open-heart surgery in 2003, and was hospitalized for the same problem in 2007. General anesthesia shuts down Jerry’s bladder. As part of the aftermath of his 2007 adventure, he spent seven weeks of nonstop misery on a Foley catheter. There’s an excellent chance that if he were ever “put under” again, he’d have to spend the rest of his life peeing through a catheter. This is unacceptable. Jerry refuses to be anesthetized ever again, and I don’t blame him.

So, after dealing with the melted extension cord, Jerry took his heart meds, and the two of us returned to bed and huddled together, twitching a little, until it was time to get up. I am amazed at how few lullabies I know. I must have sung “Soft Kitty” about a hundred times (thank you, Chuck Lorre!), plus the Dixie Chicks’ “Lullaby” (except I really only know the refrain), and Paul Simon’s “St. Judy’s Comet” (which is really too fancy for a 5:30 a.m. lullaby). I tried to sing Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen,” but while it’s got the right tempo, I quickly ended up in tears and had to return to “Soft Kitty.”

Whenever Jerry gets depressed about the state of his health and his probably short life expectancy, he starts in with his “I’m so useless” refrain. He did it on Thursday, the day after our little dawn adventure: oh, I’m so useless, I can’t lift the vacuum cleaner, I can’t do this, I can’t do that, you should just kill me in, yadda yadda. We’ve been married since 1989.

After about the second or third “I’m so useless,” I finally had enough. “What are you talking about?” I demanded. “It was just yesterday that you saved my life. You saved your life. You saved the lives of all our cats. You saved us all.”

There was a long pause. And then, with just the hint of sly humor, Jerry said, “Well, yes. But that was yesterday.”



1. Robert Doyle - January 15, 2012

We are pleased the outcome of your event is, y’all survived !
We had one electrical failure/fire that was no fault. God didit 🙂

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