The Tale of the Night My Family Nearly Froze to Death

It’s really damn cold today. The Polar Vortex™ has elbowed its way into Northeast Ohio, and we are all huddled together in our houses. Schools called off for the next two days just based off of the projected cold. I can’t remember the last time that happened. Naturally, we have bought all the milk and bread in the area.

I’ve never understood that. Why do humans buy bread and milk when storms and harsh weather approach? Is there a recipe for milk sandwiches I need to know about?

Anyway, it’s a high of -2 degrees Fahrenheit today. This kind of cold naturally reminds me of the last time I remember it being anywhere near this freezing, and that would be in January of 2014.

I was working day shift in the ICU at the time. Winter is strangely busy in hospitals. It seems like the cold brings on more serious cardiac events than any other weather, which has never made much sense to me. But the winter of 2014 was no different. The ICU was packed and I finished a shift dead exhausted.

I rarely pay attention to forecasts as they seem like they are only cause for anxiety, and I have enough of that without outside influence, thank you very much. So when I left the hospital to get to my car, the absolute chill punched me straight in the gut. Little ice crystals formed in my beard. Shivering, I hoofed it to my car while the voice of my mother nagged in my brain, “How many times have I told you to wear a coat?!?” I leapt into my car and blasted the heat. As I watched my breath puff out in clouds while I drove, I thought to myself that everything would be fine once I got home.

Sure, at first everything was great. My shift was over, my wife was ready to cuddle, and soon enough we were tucked in bed with my two dogs inside the home we had just purchased the previous May. Things were great and about to get better, as my wife was about seven and a half months pregnant with my daughter. There was nothing to complain about.

And I love sleeping in winter. The cold puts me in a comatose state and I can usually attain a deep sleep unavailable during any other season. I love wrapping myself in warm covers and tucking in with just one foot out to remind my body that if it has any inkling of waking up early, just remember: it’s not worth it.

My wife and I fell asleep in our little piece of winter heaven, ready to greet another day, even though the forecast (of which I was unaware at the time) called for the temperature to drop significantly during the night.

It was about one in the morning when my wife shook me awake.

“Are you cold?” she asked.

I remember being momentarily irritated. The reason is that my wife loves to wake me up to ask me things I would have no way of experiencing while asleep. She has woken me up to ask weird things such as “Did you hear that?”, “Can you get the dog to move?”, and my personal favorite, “Are you asleep?” I thought we were adding to the collection with the “Are you cold” question, as I was obviously fine with the state of affairs since I was passed out.

But I soon noticed that she was onto something. I was cold. Really cold. Too cold for someone with a new house and a paid balance on the heating bill. Something was wrong. I trotted downstairs and checked the thermostat like the man in charge I was. It read fifty-nine degrees. It was set for seventy. I tapped it for encouragement, because that’s what men do. I fiddled with the buttons. The heat turned on. I felt accomplished. Then it immediately shut off. This was discouraging, for sure.

Taking the next obvious step in being the man of the house, I went down to the basement to look at the furnace. It turned on again and then immediately turned off. I stared at the furnace for a few more moments and then came up with the manliest of conclusions…

I had no idea of how a furnace worked.

Luckily, the internet wasn’t too cold, so I searched for a solution. Satisfied, I marched back upstairs to let my extremely pregnant wife know the good news.

“Pack a bag. The furnace is broken. We’re going to stay at the La Quinta tonight!”

The La Quinta Inn was the only hotel in the area that took dogs. It was literally the only option. No one was going to come out and fix our furnace in negative figures at one in the morning, and even if they would, we couldn’t wait around in a steadily cooling house. So, we packed ourselves up and shuffled back out into the cold to move out of our new house. This time, I remembered to wear a damn coat. My mother would have been satisfied. Not proud so much.

My wife was not happy with the situation, as being pregnant is hard enough without having to spontaneously evacuate your house into sub-zero temperatures. She moved at a waddle in the best weather at this point, and now she needed to move on a half-inch layer of ice while dead tired. I worried about her falling, for sure. I couldn’t breathe without forming crystals; I couldn’t imagine what would happen if her water broke.

Slowly but surely, we made our way to the La Quinta. The people there were extremely nice and accommodating. It wasn’t a bad set up, especially since we could crank the heat with reckless abandon. I settled my amazing, highly pregnant wife into bed and then took the dogs outside to make sure they wouldn’t have to pee for a while.

Walking the dogs was another adventure altogether. Everything was covered in a layer of ice, even the hand railings. And now I had basically tethered myself to two animals walking in different directions. It was so cold that their paws would stick to the ground if they stood in one spot for longer than a few seconds. Because of this, both dogs were in constant motion. It took only one trip outside and one slip and fall on my ass to realize that I could only manage one dog at a time.

By the time I made it to bed, it was past three in the morning. I don’t think I fell asleep until after four.

In the morning, we enjoyed the continental breakfast (does that mean cereal bar? Because at most hotels it just seems to mean “we’ll set out some cereal and shit for you.”) and then I left my wife to enjoy the spoils of a mid-range hotel while I went to get some supplies and check on the house.

This was how I learned a lot more about homes in the cold. I remember going to the bathroom and then flushing the toilet. The water went down, but the toilet didn’t refill at all. I tried the sink. Then the tub. Then every other faucet in the house. They were all frozen.

Lucky for me, we have the best neighbors on the planet. Dave from next door came over and helped me expose the pipes and aim space heaters at them all. He also knew a guy he trusted to come out and look at our furnace. Every other furnace guy in the city I had called was busy for hours. When Dave called his guy, the man was at my house in under an hour. I don’t know if Dave has mafia connections, and I don’t care. I’m just going to stay on his good side, as he does “know a guy” for a lot of things.

Within two hours the heat was back on. It turned out that there was a clog in my furnace that didn’t allow for the first stage to get enough air to light. Once the guy unclogged it, we had heat again. It was a simple and cheap fix. Thanks for the hook up, Mafia Dave!

Slowly our little family moved back in to our house. The space heaters did their thing and the pipes all came unfrozen without incident. We were lucky. Soon, we were back in bed and safe with the only problem being that when I let the dogs outside to pee I had to follow them and carry them back in because their paws still stuck to the ground. Poor things.

And poor me. My dogs are each sixty and eighty-five pounds. I remember carrying Maizie, the larger of the two, back inside. I waddled my way across the driveway all top heavy, hauling a giant dog with a thick layer of ice under my shoes.

I thought to myself, “If only someone would start punching my bladder and lungs right now, I might have an idea of what it’s like to be pregnant.”

Okay, probably not. Sorry.

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