It is never a good sign when you look out the window and the snow is falling sideways. When you can look for miles in a city and not see a single car on the road, you know you are experiencing some kind of Snowpocalyse.
My daughter is living currently in Chicago and experiencing a week of arctic conditions. She ends every Facebook status with “#Chiberia”. I’ll let you figure that one out.
Her winter problems reminded me of the worst and best days of my wintering life–and they were the same day. We lived in Canada for many years and moved to Montana in 1989. In 1996, Montana suffered through the worst winter conditions on record. That winter, 17 feet of snow came down on Northwest Montana. So much snow pelted the ground that my boys made a toboggan run off the roof of the garage and were able to schloss down their manufactured run without any jump. Yes, it was that much snow.
Between Christmas and New Years’ the snow starting falling heavily and the wind picked up to 40 mph. It was coming down from the north and did not stop for three days. After the first day, the snowplows gave up trying to clear the drifts off the main highways and everyone was advised to stay in and wait out the blizzard. Montanans live for these kind of days; it gives them a sense of achievement similar to Californians tanning without burning. I digress.
The only person not happy with staying indoors during the blizzard was my wife. Normally, she is more than content with snuggling by a fire, reading a good book and napping. But she also is the most dedicated worker I know and she was supposed to show up at the hospital for her shift as a nurse.
My wife worked on a heart Telemetry unit at the Kalispell Regional Medical Center. They worked 12 hour shifts and hers started in a half hour. The phone lines were not working, so Kathy couldn’t call the hospital to find out if they were expecting her. But after looking at the closed highway, she realized they probably needed her desperately. The nurses working these 12 hour shifts could not go home until they were replaced. No one was driving in or out of town at all, so we figured these nurses who had been looking after patients all day would have to continue in that vein for another 24 hours. That’s when I got a bright idea.
We only lived about 6 blocks from the hospital, straight down Highway 93. We had done cross-country skiing for years and now we could put good vocational use to the sport. Since we had both grown up in Canada, we were well stocked with all the accouterment clothing for frigid weather, including long, thermal underwear. We layered on the garments, pulled on our ski boots and headed out the door. It took us almost a half hour to navigate the drifts and bare spots on the road in near zero visibility, but we did arrive at the hospital doors right as her shift was supposed to start.
As we sloshed down the hallway, the nurses on duty just stared at us as if we were living snowmen. Kathy was able to relieve a couple of them, allowing them a few hours sleep. Over the next 24 hours, they were able to keep spelling each other off in 3 hour increments, thereby giving some of the most medically fragile patients the best care.
The next day the road was still closed, so I skied back up to the hospital and retrieved her. I remember stopping at one point on the way home and looked into her frost-covered face. She was smiling with a tenacity I had never seen on her before. She was actually enjoying this!
There is something about conquering adversity and overcoming obstacles that thrills the human soul. It is ironic we spend most of our lives wishing for comfort and ease when what we really enjoy is the challenge of living.
Perhaps we should think a little longer about how much comfort we really need.