Sometimes our biggest challenges turn out to be gifts. We had one week to determine the best way to handle power outages scheduled for September 19. It was not something we had planned for or especially wanted, but our nearly forty year-old generator needed to be replaced. Residents and staff prepared for no lights, no call system, no phones, no computers and no anything that relied on electricity. We assigned administration staff to be on resident units, called in extra volunteers, secured stairwell doors and asked family members to avoid visits during the four-hour period of darkness. We were as ready as we could be for this drill of our disaster preparedness plan.
When the power went off, I was struck by the quiet it left behind; we don’t notice how much background noise we live with each day until it’s gone. Keeping their room doors open to allow their windows to illuminate the hallways, Residents gathered in the lounges and dining rooms on each floor. I was stationed on 4th floor to make sure no one mistakenly entered the stairwell.
Change is hard, but I did not see fear or confusion; I saw joy and peace and camaraderie. Nurses went about their work armed with flashlights and a dose of humor. Residents, staff and volunteers played games, told stories or just visited. Sisters delivered refreshments and made sure Residents’ needs were met. Manicures were given to all who wanted them. There was lots of laughter and togetherness.
Our dietary staff was particularly challenged. How could they create and distribute a hot meal without power or elevators? At noon, the dietary team delivered serving pans of Kentucky Fried Chicken and all the accompaniments up the stairs to all five floors. They were incredibly enthusiastic, joyful and exhausted! Residents, staff and volunteers gathered as Sisters prayed grace and all enjoyed a relaxed meal. We told stories, shared memories and laughed at silly jokes.
Time flew by and when the power returned shortly after 1:00 o’clock we all cheered and went about the business of the day. I learned that the cheerful atmosphere was the same on other floors. Residents were social, had few complaints and enjoyed the “forced togetherness,” learning new things about each other. I am sure our emergency preparedness committee learned a lot of valuable information to help in the event of a real disaster. But what I learned is that we could all really benefit from an occasional four-hour power outage!
Our Day in the Dark