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January 28th, 2009

Always Respect Ice

I’ve said before I’d rather have two feet of snow then even a little ice.  Snow you can at least dig out of.  Snow at least makes it clear that your car isn’t going anywhere.  And you know you are going to be in for a trudge when you walk through it, and that you need to watch where you put your feet.  Ice just sits there and pretends to be a little wet patch on the sidewalk ahead of you.  And if the temperature is just right, it coats itself with a film of water on its surface and dares you to walk across it.

This morning the sidewalks and streets around my neighborhood were dangerous to even stand on.  You just couldn’t. The moment I stepped outside to start cleaning off my sidewalk, I knew I had to be careful.  My snow boots give me no traction at all on the pavement.  The ice was easy to break up though, because the pavement under it was wet, not frozen.  I have an all metal snow shovel I bought ages ago, for digging my car out when the snow plows had buried it.  I begin to just bang the shovel down on the ice while standing on the dry portions of my front porch.  The ice cracked apart and I could just shovel off the broken chunks.  Then I moved forward and bit and repeated the process.  Wash, rinse, repeat…  I’d got all the way down to my street and I was breaking up the ice on my sidewalk when I head a moan behind me.

It was coming from somewhere in the street, but I couldn’t see who it was because of the parked cars.  When I tried to walk out onto the street I could tell right away that two feet just weren’t going to cut it so I knelt down.  The street was a solid sheet of ice…not very thick…but with a little layer of water on top as the temperature was hovering around the freezing point.  I literally had to walk on my hands and knees out into the street.  That was when I saw her…an older neighbor of mine laying on her side in the middle of the road.  I could see blood around her head from where I was.

You have to picture this.  There really isn’t very much ice on the road, but it is smooth…almost ice rink smooth.  And it has just enough water on its surface that you simply can’t stand on it. Your instinct is to run over to help her and you can’t.  You simply cannot stand on the ice.  The woman’s daughter was trying to get out to her from the sidewalk just then too, but she wasn’t able to navigate the road any better then me.  She’s telling her mom not to move and I’m telling them both I’m coming and nobody is getting there any time soon.  I had to literally walk on my hands and knees to get out to her, but eventually I did.  Luckily, oh so very luckily, our street is a small side street that dead ends, sort-of (there is an alleyway access driveway at the end of it).  So there was no traffic trying to get down our street.  Not that anyone could have anyway without sliding into something.  But that was what I was afraid of right then…some idiot trying to drive down our street, seeing us, hitting the brakes…and well…

This particular neighbor is an older lady…in her 60s going on 70s I think.  She was laying on her side and the ice under her head was bloody.  She was talkative when I got to her, and I asked her if she could feel anything broken.  She said not, just her head was painful a bit where her glasses, which she said were up on her head when she tried to walk across the street, banged into her ear when she fell.  There was blood all over the ice around her head, but she seemed clear headed and knew to just stay put until the ambulance came.  I was hoping the injury was better then it looked.  I asked her if she could move her toes and fingers and she said she could.  The daughter called for an ambulance, but I think everyone knew it wasn’t going to get there quickly. 

What eventually happened was a fire truck with some EMTs tried to come down our street and almost slid into some parked cars.  So they decided to just send the EMTs on foot to the scene.  By that time I was worried about her getting hypothermic and so I crawled back to the sidewalk and went back into the house and I got one of my moving pads out and the EMT people moved her onto it so she wasn’t laying on the ice.  She was talkative the whole time and could move her limbs and her fingers and toes. 

It took the Emergency Crew almost an hour to get an ambulance to her because the streets were all so bad.  The initial responder, a fire truck so I was told (I never actually saw it) almost slid into some parked cars and couldn’t get turned onto our street.  The ambulance eventually had to back slowly down one side street, up an alley, and then drive over the grassy lot at the end of my street to get close enough to where they could bring a stretcher out to her.  When the ambulance crew finally arrived with a stretcher they carefully got her onto it.  You could tell she was in pain when they moved her. 

It really doesn’t matter how much ice you get in an ice storm.  Even a little amount of ice is dangerous.  And all the more so when the air temperature is hovering around freezing because that leaves a little tad of melt on top and then you might was well crawl across it because you are not walking over it unless you’ve got spikes or something.  My neighbor apparently thought that since clearing the sidewalks was so easy this morning, the street wasn’t so bad either.  She only got halfway across when her legs went out from under her and she fell.  And the problem was with the streets like they were no ambulance was getting to her quickly.

It’s going to freeze over again tonight, but the rest of the week looks good.  First chance I get I am buying some extra-strength sidewalk and pavement de-icer.  The box at the end of the street the city provides is a mix of sand and salt this year…I’m guessing because we have no money and they’re trying to make the salt go further…and it’s a solid brick in there.  I have to take a pick to it to get enough of the stuff apart to put into a bucket and salt my sidewalk.  They say putting out salt eats away at your pavement, and some of my neighbors refuse to do it because of that. But better my sidewalk and steps get eaten by salt then covered in blood.

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