Thursday, June 06, 2019

A Co-Worker with a Demon

Every morning that week, I made myself a beautiful, enormous salad and took it down to the lobby to eat, where it was slightly quieter and lots cooler. It was 95 degrees in my kitchen (yes, I know I mentioned that before) and the food in my cupboard was no longer being stored at the suggested cool temperature. It was all now toasty warm. There were also hoses rigged up to drain water from the dehumidifiers into both my kitchen and my bathroom sink.

While I was eating my salad in the lobby one day, a neighbor from one of the unaffected units came along and listened to the whole story, and then she went up to her apartment and brought back a gift of fish: low-mercury tuna from Vital Choice, and a can of Redtresca (Vital Choice’s name for salmon bellies, which my neighbor said are very tender and particularly high in omega 3s). (She also brought shrimp and mussels, but I don’t partake.)

I suddenly realized that I felt incredibly loved and cared for, which I would not have expected, and I also recognized my immense privilege: something bad happens, and immediately tons of people come to fix it. I know everyone can’t count on that. It also could have been way worse. It could have been sewage instead of fresh water. It could have happened at a time when someone wasn’t here to shut the water to the building off within just a few minutes. And my parents kindly listened to blow-by-blow reporting on the matter via phone, and my neighbor gave me fish.

Going to work one day afforded a much-appreciated break from the heat and noise. One of my co-workers mentioned that our new staff chaplain has a demon. “Oh, dear,” I said, and then realized he was saying “DMin,” also a very impressive thing to have.

Halfway through the week of drying, the water damage people came to open up the walls in my living room, hallway, bathroom and kitchen to dry the insides. Mine was the only apartment where this needed to happen.

I had put Hammett in the walk-in closet, along with his food and litter box, both on sheets of plastic. He seemed happy enough, so I was going to go out to the library. I put a note on the closet door saying DO NOT OPEN, and I put a chair in front of the door. I told the two demo guys that the closet door must not be opened, because my cat was in there and my top priority was that my cat not get out of the closet. Within a few minutes, while I was standing right there, one of them moved the chair aside, and when I said, “Pop quiz: what’s my top priority in this apartment?”, they both looked completely blank, so I changed my mind about going out, and sat in the kitchen while they did the work in the other rooms.

They started in each room by making a cave out of plastic in which to work. While I wrote thank-you cards for the contributions people had made for my street retreat (did I mention I plan to go on a street retreat?), amid the banging and crashing and sounds of debris falling, I could hear them yelling to each other:



And periodically:

“Watch out!”

“I got it!”

Later the boss arrived to see how his workers were doing, and I soon heard him yelling “Beautiful!” as well. In the end, three holes were made in my living room walls, along with a huge expanse of wall and ceiling removed in my front hallway, and a long hole in the bathroom. In the kitchen, fully half of the ceiling was removed. (I was pleased to see that the newly exposed wood appeared sturdy and was even quite nice looking.)

The building manager told me that every single month, for 14 years now, along with his rent check, Tom sends a hand-written card to the building owner: “I hope you are doing well,” or “It’s a sunny day here in the Mission,” or “I went on a fun bike ride to such-and-such place.” I had no idea he did this, and couldn’t believe it. He might literally be the only person on earth who does such a thing. (My own rent is sent from my bank via automatic billpay, and I never give it a thought unless it goes up and I have to adjust the amount. I suspect my bank does not include a hand-written card with each payment.)

I have received a lot of contributions for my street retreat, most with nice notes: checks in the mail, cash, an electronic contribution from my friend who wants me to be able to function to some extent in the modern world. One person sent a small, fat brown envelope which had inside, all stuck together with blue tape, a little vial of incense around which was wrapped a letter reflecting on her own street retreat experience, a five-dollar bill, and a small piece of paper on which was written, “The way in is unwinding.” The whole thing brought me joy. I laughed the whole time I was peeling it apart.

My routines were all messed up during this mold-prevention operation, yet another opportunity for reflection. If I can skip stretching for several days in a row, do I need to do it at all? Answer: yes. If I can skip writing down my dreams for several days in a row, do I need to do it at all? Answer: maybe not. My dreams seem to be less interesting than they used to be, and I was only doing it in order to improve my ability to have lucid dreams, but since I started writing down my dreams again, about three months ago, I’ve had literally two lucid seconds that I’m aware of, so I decided to quit writing them down.

Professionals to the Rescue

The building manager tried to get a plumber to come that very night. That was impossible, but one came first thing the next morning and fixed whatever was wrong. Tom, going by the second-hand instructions he received, had removed the wrong cap, and it also turned out that the valve that had recently been installed was defective. (I will mention that I got five hours of sleep on that drippy, nasty, foul-smelling night. I was up until 1:30 a.m. trying to soak up as much water as possible.)

Next to arrive was a cheery young electrician, who removed my three affected light fixtures and temporarily installed bare bulbs dangling from wires.

Close on his heels were the water damage people, three men. I had aimed a fan at the wettest part of my carpet and let it run overnight, but that was laughably inadequate. They came in and used instruments to determine where the water was. By this time, it had made its way into my living room and yellow streaks had appeared on the ceiling and walls nearest the bathroom, and an expanse of plaster was getting ready to fall. I asked if I needed to move my bookshelves and they said: yep. This is a very tiny place, so finding a place to put every single book, CD and every other thing that was on those shelves was a challenge.

Hammett sat calmly in his spot in the walk-in closet through most of this. Then the drying guys got out knives and starting taking up the carpet to see where it was wet underneath, and then they installed industrial-strength fans and dehumidifiers in my place, Tom’s, the building manager’s, and the hallways outside my place and Tom’s. In my place there were six fans altogether and three dehumidifiers. The head drying guy, who was very pleasant and friendly, said the windows had to be closed while these things were running, so as not to introduce humidity when we were trying to get rid of humidity. The dehumidifiers—one each in the living room, bathroom, and kitchen—put out more than a hundred degrees of heat.

In sum, it was extremely hot (95 degrees, where it is usually 71), extremely loud, and rather arid in my place, for an entire week. It was also dark, because I quickly realized that opening the shades meant light came in and made it even hotter. The drying guy said I could turn the stuff in the living room off while I slept, but I wanted this phase to be over as soon as possible, so I left everything running all night, and wore earplugs. Hammett evidently hadn’t gotten the news that cats’ hearing is more sensitive than ours. He was perfectly serene at almost every moment and seemed to positively enjoy being a temporary fan owner. (I learned later that cats can seal up their ears to keep out damaging sound, though not instantly; if you fire a gun near a cat, you might damage its hearing.) I think he liked the heat and the vibrations. He was even seen tenderly licking a fan one day.

The daughter of the building’s owner came and spent the day with us—her insurance person came—and she was incredibly nice about the whole thing. She was calm and cheerful, and said, “Stuff happens.”

Everyone who came in took tons of pictures. The bathroom light fixture was a particular crowd pleaser.

(Click photos to enlarge.)

The Sound of Water

In May, I sent my boss this email:


I just had quite a long visit on my unit (transplant) with a patient a nurse referred me to. The patient’s affect was relentlessly flat, and he did not seem to have nurturing relationships in his life, or activities that bring him joy. I know “depression” is a clinical  term beyond my purview, so I just said in my note that he seemed downcast and I noted what I said above. I said to a nurse that I thought maybe he could use a psych evaluation, and the nurse said, “I’ll text his doctor and tell him the chaplain thinks he needs a psych evaluation.”

Nice to be taken so seriously!

My boss wrote back, “Good work, including the word ‘downcast’!”

Tom and I drove a Zipcar to Sacramento to visit Ann on Mother’s Day and to see her new place (and for me to meet her newish dog). We had a lovely lunch in the community’s elegant dining room, and Ann made a stunningly generous contribution to my street retreat.

May 15, 2019, is a day that will long live in (my) memory. The first part of it was routine. I rode my bike to work and kibitzed with my colleagues and saw patients. In the afternoon, we had a meeting at another campus, so I rode my bike over there and discovered that a cage had been installed around the bike racks in the parking garage. I tried my badge and it didn’t seem to unlock the cage door, but the parking attendant told me to pull the door open, and sure enough, it opened.

Our interim director gave us a presentation on patients with mental illness. A couple of us did a role play, trying out what we’d just learned. Then we had a team meeting, and, just when the day would normally have ended, I got a page about an emergency back at my normal campus. I considered whether to ride my bike back over there and then cycle home, or whether to take a cab there and back, and then ride my bike home from where it was currently parked. I don’t mind cycling in the rain (I’m not saying I love it), but strong winds were also forecast, so I decided to take a cab.

I saw the patient and her family (and discovered that we don’t have after-hours priest coverage at the new hospital), and then I called a cab to go back to where my bike was. It took 56 minutes to get a cab—and then it turned out that my badge really, truly didn’t open that cage. I called security and, fortunately, there were a few parking people hanging around that campus. One of them came and opened the bike cage and I rolled home. I got home three and a half hours later than usual.

I did my normal evening stuff. At some point, it dawned on me that I’d been hearing running water for quite some time. I remembered the words of a friend of mine who also once upon a time listened to running water in her apartment building for quite some time and learned from that experience never to ignore this sound. I called Tom, in the apartment above mine, to inquire, and he said that he had flushed his toilet 45 minutes earlier and it had never stopped running. He had just had a new valve installed a few weeks earlier. These are old-fashioned toilets with no tank (but plenty of water pressure, as I was minutes from discovering). He said he would let the building manager know in the morning.

However, the noise was not insignificant, so I said I would text her. She wrote back instantly to tell me to tell Tom to take “the cap” off and try shutting the valve for a minute and re-opening it. I passed this on to Tom and I heard him in his bathroom, and then I heard a grunt of dismay followed by the sound, perhaps, of a wrench falling on the tile floor. “Something has gone wrong,” I thought, and one second later, water began pouring down my bathroom window, and then coming right through the ceiling.

I called the building manager back and at first she said, “Go up there and see if you can help him,” but I said, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. There is water pouring down into my bathroom, and hallway, and kitchen,” and she said to go turn the water for the whole building off, and gave us instructions. Her husband helped us.

Tom’s place was engulfed in water, mainly the floor, and my place had water gushing down from the ceiling, and raining through three light fixtures, in the bathroom, by the front door, and in the kitchen. The glass covering for the light fixture in the bathroom, which was pretty large, filled entirely with urine-colored water. (Fortunately, this actually was clean water raining down, not sewage, but the building is ancient, and was getting a thorough interior rinse.) I put a bucket under the light fixture in my front hallway, and it filled completely with pitch-black water.

It was a wet, yucky night, with one towel after the other getting soaked. There was a terrible smell. The water went from my place down into that of the building manager below me, soaking her light fixtures and ceiling and walls, and thenceforth into the basement. (Which we figured might be good: the place is porous. Better than having water sit in one place indefinitely.) The hallway outside Tom’s place got really drenched, and there was water raining down outside my front door, too.

I called my father, and though it was well into the wee hours in Michigan, he kindly listened to my initial report, and several reports after that.