These are the things I remember: First, it happens so quickly. Then, as we've been told, we are very lucky. And then, it takes nine hours to drive six miles to Greenwich Hospital. And through it all, the graciousness of people we meet.
Here's what happens. It's just past 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 13, and my wife Lola and I are having a superb day. Our granddaughter, Esme -- two years and four months and every-day delightful -- is spending the weekend with us. She comes to Cos Cob earlier today from NYC with her aunt, our daughter Jen who lives there. Esme's folks -- our son Pete and daughter-in-law Lisa -- are busy preparing their NYC apartment for the arrival of a new daughter from China.
We spend the morning in the children's wing of the Perrot Library in Old Greenwich. Outside it's drizzling but inside delightful as Esme reorganizes the library's stuffed animal collection. We go home for lunch -- the rain and the wind growing as you doubtlessly remember -- stopping to shop in Old Greenwich and meet, in passing, an old friend and Cos Cob neighbor, Ted Herman.
The rain gets stronger and I think about using a fireplace to introduce Esme to the Secret Society of S'mores.
After lunch she takes a late nap. We notice the wind picking up. Our home and others along Cognewaugh Road often lose power during storms. But we have no worries as we have a reliable standby generator. Esme gets up around 4:00 p.m. just as the power conks out. We wait for the generator to kick-in. And wait. And wait. And it doesn't.
It's now 4:40 or so and we decide, as the house grows cold, it is best for the baby if we all go back to NYC, and to do so in daylight. In 20 minutes we are in two cars. Jen ahead, driving hers with Esme strapped into the infant seat in the right rear. I follow in mine with Lola next to me. As the cars pull out of the driveway it's about 5:00 p.m. We turn left on Cognewaugh going towards Stanwich Road and at the top of a small hill Jen stops her car. I see a huge downed tree blocking her way.
In seconds: a tree falls and knocks the rear window out of Jen's car and falls to the ground behind it. I set my breaks and rush out and as I reach her car Jen already has Esme out of the infant seat and in her arms and is running back beyond my car. As my eyes follow Jen and the baby, I see Lola exiting from my car and a cable whips forward and strikes her in the head. I can see she is bleeding. I run past my car towards Lola as Jen screams: "Dad, watch out" and another tree crashes down grazing my forearm. The tree lands just behind my car. Each of the cars is now bookended by fallen trees.
For a moment I stand frozen staring at the fallen tree until Jen says: "Dad, crawl under it." An arm of the tree has a crawl space and I kneel down and pass under it. I run to Lola, Jen and the baby. Jen holds Esme and they both seem fine, Esme is wide-eyed. I see the blood covering my wife's blue woolen cap and smeared along the length of the scarf dangling from her neck. Immediately we know we must get to Greenwich Hospital as Lola is on a blood thinner, Coumadin, and impaired clotting is an immediate concern.
Out of the blur I see our friend Ted Herman -- whom we met in Old Greenwich this morning -- getting out of his car. His car is behind mine. Also beyond where we are standing I see a neighbor John Diamontopulos. I throw my car keys to John yelling we're off to the hospital and take Lola to Ted's car as Jen follows cooing and cradling Esme.
Making a U-turn, Ted seeks local street access to the hospital. In the rear of his car Jen tells Lola to press down on her hat to stifle the blood flow. Jen then reaches over and tells me to flex my fingers and to see if I can move my arm, which hurts. I can and do so. Jen says to Esme: "Isn't this great, now we're all in one car: Esme and Nana and Papa and Aunt Jen. We're all together." Ted immediately adds: "And Esme I want you to know that the chauffer's name is Ted."
Esme watches everything.
Ted drives down Cognewaugh to Horseshoe and then to Frontier and Cat Rock, but as we turn onto Stanwich Road a town employee sets up a wooden horse indicating the road is closed. In a few minutes after more circling and turning we are back at the same place on Stanwich. We tell the town employee we need to get to the hospital and he says, "follow me" and drives off in his truck.
We follow him onto Dingletown Road and perhaps 300-400 yards off Stanwich the town truck is blocked by a felled telephone pole. We pull into what turns out to be a long driveway at 123 Dingletown. Through the growing darkness we move down the driveway to an area seemingly without tall trees and turn around to stand behind the town truck, which has now backed into the same driveway. Ted keeps the motor running.
The town employee is named Bob Church and he radios our position to his supervisor, coming back to tell us an ambulance is on the way.
We wait as Bob Church shuttles back and forth in the pelting rain assuring us again that his supervisor knows the situation and someone, somehow, is en route. After a while Jen looks at her Mom's head and says the blood has clotted. Lola says she is fine. We are all tense. Then Ted, Boston born and Red Sox bred -- in truth, someone you want to be with in an emergency -- speaks up: "All I wanted was to go get a cup of coffee and I had to run into Yankee fans!"
After a while Jen using her cell reaches Lisa and Pete and assures them Ez and all of us are OK. She adds we are going to the hospital only as a precaution to see if there are medical issues with Lola or me. The call breaks off.
Sometimes our cell phones work in the front seats but not in the rear. I think it is Ted who eventually reaches the police. They say they are making their way to us. Bob Church again comes back from his truck to tell us about storm reports, downed trees and telephone poles. He says: "Dozens of streets are blocked."
We wait and watch the clock in Ted's car turning past six, past seven, past eight and nine. We try to reach Peter and Lisa again but the call cuts out and the three cell phones in the car become useless. The rain and the roar of the wind grow stronger.
There is nervous laughter as Bob Church comes back to us and asks if he can recharge his cell phone using the jack in Ted's car. He does so and returns to his truck but immediately rushes back to turn his phone's volume down. He explains he doesn't want "the ladies" to hear his taped greeting if a call comes through. We speculate about the greeting.
The Walk and the Police Wagon
Sometime after ten or so off to our left in the black rainy night we see a gleam of flashlights moving towards us. Soon Greenwich police Sgt. Mike O'Connor and two colleagues are at Ted's car.
Sgt. O'Connor explains vehicle-access to Dingletown Road is impossible but he and his colleagues will walk us to their patrol wagon on Stanwich Road. He adds however there is limited space in the wagon and Ted quickly assures him he wants to stay with his car.
(He and Bob Church remain there until roughly 7:00 a.m. the next morning when Ted sets out on a hitchhiking-and-walking stint to get back to his home by about 9:00 a.m.).
Officer O'Connor tells us to stay close together. He says the path is muddy and slippery and we will take it slowly. He assures us we will be fine. He checks that each officer has a flashlight and takes Lola by the hand. As we walk he periodically searches the sky and leads us, where possible, away from the tree line. An officer offers to carry Esme but Jen declines and he walks alongside the both of them. A third shepherds me. The wind and the rain are substantial.
We cut across a front yard and, as I recall, pass through a gate and the backyard of another home. We appear to be walking in a semi-circular direction. Sgt. O'Connor periodically glances overhead and monitors the group's progress. We climb a steep rise, circling bushes and walls, until we reach Stanwich. Then moving around downed branches we reach the police wagon. Our family of four scrunches into the seats -- half of one seat contains what I think are heavy-duty ropes -- and two of the officers climb into the wagon's tailgate.
Burning Tree and the Ambulance
We hear we are less than two miles from our destination, which turns out to be Burning Tree Country Club, to the north. All roads east, west and south to the hospital are said to be blocked. The police wagon slowly inches its way ahead on Stanwich, crossing streets and driveways, until we get to Burning Tree. The club's flooded parking area is awash in fluorescent lights. There are a host of utility trucks, police cars, at least one fire truck and two Greenwich Emergency Services ambulances.
GEMS paramedics Peter and Hillary quickly take us into one of the ambulances. Peter takes a summary of the events and Lola's medical history and immediately wraps her in a neck collar and with Hillary's help ties her to an immobilizing board. He explains these are cautionary steps against theoretical internal bleeding and neck damage. Peter asks Jen to distract Esme as he gingerly removes Lola's bloodied hat and assures us there is no active bleeding. Lola assures him that she is fine. Peter attaches her to a device monitoring her vital signs. He puts my arm in a plastic binding.
After a while Hillary, the vehicle's driver, blows up a purple plastic glove and adds eyes and a nose with a marker and presents the "doll" to Esme. Esme giggles. Soon she nods off holding her doll.
As we wait, Hillary explains the delay. Reportedly the road clearing crews have withdrawn from the dangerous streets until daylight. But a request has gone out to get a single crew to open a path to the hospital. We are waiting for that crew to advance the ambulance. Hillary thinks we'll wait for 30 minutes, maybe longer. Hillary offers us fresh fruit from her supper and nuts she keeps on hand for an energy boost.
As we wait, we hear emergency calls and intermittent police or utility reports on the ambulance's radio: the number of felled trees and telephone poles; the difficulties in driving from one side of town to another; the location of the immobilized cars. We hear: "45 streets blocked," "maybe 400 trees down, maybe more" and "worst storm in 30 years."
And then we are stunned with the sad news of the fatality on Boulder Brook Road; a falling tree kills a woman. The accident takes place some 200 yards from where Ted's car is parked.
And we wait.
Esme wakes up and Peter creates a unique diaper for her out of various medical supplies. It's well after 10:00 p.m. and Esme hasn't had a diaper change or anything to eat since early afternoon. Jen take her into Burning Tree's main building and then returns telling us about the wonderful people there who feed Esme.
Jen also brings hot sandwiches given to her by the club's employees who are feeding the emergency workers.
And we wait.
Sometime after 11:00 p.m. we learn the clearing crew has arrived and we begin a slow crawl towards Greenwich Hospital. The procession includes the clearing crew, a police car and the GEMS ambulance.
Our cell phones work and I finally get through to Ted who remains waiting on Dingletown. He is safe but jokes about still not having his coffee. He voices his concerns about all of us. A little later Lisa our daughter-in-law calls and tells us that she and Pete have made their way from NYC and are waiting at the hospital. We reassure them that Esme is fine and that we are all OK.
From her seat in the ambulance Jen describes what she can see beyond the headlights as the ambulance progresses ahead several feet and then stops to wait for the road to be cleared and then moves slowly ahead again. I try to count the number of times we are held waiting but stop after ten. Lola is extremely uncomfortable on the board to which she is tied and Peter places towels under her to ease the pressure on her back and legs.
We drive south on North Street and eventually are directed to drive around the cemetery at St. Michael's church and then into and out of the North Street school grounds.
Finally we are released to an open road and the GEMS ambulance pulls up to Greenwich Hospital at 1:45 a.m. We left our driveway on Cognewaugh at about 5:00 p.m. Nearly nine hours to travel about six miles.
A doctor is waiting at the emergency room dock and immediately verifies that Lola has no cervical injuries and releases her -- after some four hours -- from the neck collar and the immobilizing board.
As her gurney comes off the ambulance our son Pete comes running along the emergency ramp to greet us. He and Lisa, at the hospital since 9:00, have been following our progress. He goes inside where his sister Jen is waiting with Esme. Lisa takes Esme in her arms.
The medical staff sends Lola for a CAT scan. Waiting for the scan to be examined we learn that on weekends Greenwich Hospital has CAT scan results read "in India." After a very brief wait the report comes back clear and Lola is free to walk about and to go the bathroom. The cut on her head is cleaned and bandaged. They x-ray my arm and conclude it is a bone bruise and put my arm in a sling.
Three people take care of us at the hospital: a physician's assistant named Jessica, another young lady whose name I unfortunately miss and a young woman named Quinta. As each of them releases us they independently make the identical comment: "You both have been very lucky."
We leave the hospital at about 3:00 a.m. and go to a hotel named "Zero Degrees" in Stamford where Pete has reserved three rooms.
We enter the hotel and are greeted by the night auditor Mr. Malcolm Mascarenhas. After we register Mr. Mascarenhas says something along the lines of: You have all had a trying day. May I offer you some cereal and fresh fruit and milk?
In the morning, finishing his shift, Mr. Mascarenhas sees my son in the lobby. Overhearing his question as to the location of a drug store in order to buy some toiletries he invites Peter to his car, drives him to a drug chain and then back to the hotel. We offer Mr. Mascarenhas a gratuity which he declines saying it would be unforgiveable to accept money during a trying period.
Late Sunday afternoon -- as our home remains without power -- we all take the train to NYC. The train is crowded and the family has to break up into various seating groups. Riding backwards Lola and I hold hands and we see Esme's face a row away and play peak-a-boo around some intervening heads. Jen, the heroine of the day, sits looking at us with a big smile on her face. Peter and Lisa watch Esme and we all smile.
I make a mental list of those known and unknown who have graciously assisted our family in the past 24 hours: Ted Herman, John Diamontopulos, Bob Church, Officer Mike O'Connor and his two fellow policemen, the Greenwich Emergency Service paramedics Peter and Hillary, the Burning Tree employees, Jessica and Quinta and their other medical colleague at Greenwich Hospital, Mr. Mascarenhas and the hundreds of utility and safety workers and the words come to my head:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world that has such people in't.