Hotel Room Appeal submitted to FEMA. 12-29-12

1-800-621-3362. FAX. 1-800-827-8112

Fema I.D. No. 41-1371304
Subject: URGENT. Long-term Housing
Medical Condition: Spinal Cord Injury with Severe Autonomic Dysfunction, Cervical Myelopathy, Costochondritis, Intercostal Neuritis, Occipital Neuralgia, L-S Radiculopathy, Multiple Disc Lesions, Post Traumatic Neuropathy. Pulmonary Fibrosis.

To Whom it may Concern:

On October 29, 2012, i was a permanently disabled individual, severely limited by symptoms of a spinal cord injury sustained 35 years ago, fully functioning within the closed environment of my home, set up to accommodate my specific physical needs. I was in intractable pain. I used an electric wheelchair, oxygen, a service dog, and was in a hospital bed 80-90 % of the day. I was an ADA/Disability Advocate of 35 years, who has facilitated amazing changes for disabled individuals.

As you can imagine, the sequence of events since the sewage surge hit my home have caused me great physical pain and functional disruption. I slept in my car for 10 days. Then I was able to get into the Best Western at Bar Harbor on Sunrise Highway in Massapequa Park, NY. I have a room with a bathroom and parking outside the door. My oxygen is set up here and my physical therapist visits twice a week for 2 hours each session. I am warm and comfortable. My home was set up like this. I cannot function in an apartment.

I have been told by numerous persons within the system that Fema has the capability to allow me to stay here at their expense, because of my special needs. I provided two medical reports to the Fema Inspector. If these are not in my file I will fax them to you.

I am asking Fema to allow me to stay at this hotel, where I am comfortable and my needs are being met, until my severely damaged home is restored and livable. Please take this request seriously, because there is no way I can fit into the housing standards set up for able-bodied individuals pertinent to Disaster and Recovery. Be assured that I am highly motivated to recover the level of comfort, functioning and productivity I enjoyed prior to October 29, 2012. With your validation of and cooperation with my special needs, I feel that will happen.

Thank you sincerely for your consideration and anticipated help.
Wendy Wagner

********FEMA consistently refused to answer this Appeal, although I was told repeatedly that it was being considered.

Letter to President Obama. 12-18-12

Dear President Obama,

I sincerely hope that you will read this letter personally and realize there are faces on the victims of the flood surge of Hurricane Sandy and that our needs are not being met.

On October 28, 2012, I was a profoundly disabled woman living alone with my service dog, in a neighborhood in Seaford, Long Island, not on the water or even close by. I have Spinal Cord Injury with Severe Autonomic Dysfunction (which means it affects all involuntary functions, such as heartbeat, breathing, swallowing, temperature control, etc.), Cervical Myelopathy, Occipital Neuralgia, Costochondritis, etc. etc. 3 lobes of my lungs are partially collapsed. I am in a hospital bed 80 percent of the day because I can only sit up for 2 hours and can never lie down. I use an electric wheelchair and oxygen concentrator. I am in intractable pain 24/7. I have had 27 malignant melanoma.

Despite all this, I have built a life of incredible advocacy and consultancy for disabled people that has spanned 35 years and allowed many many thousands of people to live more accessible and equitable lives. All of my files were destroyed by the sewage surge that tore all of my furniture, belongings and $50,000 in medical equipment from my home on October 29, and made it unlivable and hazardous to enter. I lost everything. But what I lost most was a comfortable nest in which I could function. I lost control of my own life.

I stand before you destitute, with nothing but my good works in my arms, stumbling about in a Disaster Recovery Program that has no place or compassion for Disabled Individuals, and I beg you to see me and to listen to us. We are being dismissed!

WHAT I NEED IS INTERVENTION. For 10 days after the flood I, with SCI, slept on the floor or in my car. I lived on a half a roll a day and a half bottle of water. Food, gas, and housing were non-existent.
After 10 days I found a hotel in my area, Best Western at Bar Harbor in Massapequa, NY. They have agree to let me stay until December 9, 2012, after which I have no place to go. The problem is, that while I am Approved for Hotel Assistance, Fema said this hotel is not on their List. The list they are using seemed to be from a former hurricane, and the woman was trying to send me to locations 2 hours away. She finally settled on two, Farmingdale, 45 minutes away and Freeport Motor Lodge, on the water in the devastated Flood Zone. I can only sit up for 2 hours and need a hotel close by.

I am located presently, after some effort. Housing and hotels are extremely scarce. I cannot go to a shelter and I can provide medical documentation for this. My needs are being met here. I am near people and medical personnel who know my rare medical condition. And I am close to the home where I need to take care of insurance and other business. No insurance has visited my home yet.

Fema has not said they will pay for this facility. My out-of-state son has it on his credit card but cannot much longer. The daily cost that Fema is allowing for hotel assistance is $143 with taxes, This hotel is only $112. I AM ASKING YOU, President Obama, TO PLEASE HELP ME TO GET FEMA TO APPROVE PAYMENT FOR THIS PARTICULAR HOTEL. PLease help!

It looks like although I had $400,000 in insurance coverage on my home, because it was a flood I am going to get only $14,000 for my home, furniture and all its contents. Devastating. I find myself wishing I had died in the hospital bed that burned up in the storm surge. I am in such physical pain. Land rapers are already trying to buy up our devastated homes for the land. I find myself wondering how in my wonderful America, insurance companies could be so overindulged and homeowners could be so victimized, first by the storm and then by the system. I have been living below the poverty level on $10,000 from workers compensation for 35 years, and there is no way i can rebuild my home without help.

I sincerely appreciate your anticipated help. I have experienced no help or compassion in the systems. God bless you. wendy wagner, 2401 South Cedar Street, Seaford, NY 11783


FEMA Raid 1-11-13

FEMA Raid. 1-11-13

I awoke to a post-Sandy day, with the weight of the world lying on my chest. Yesterday was the day FEMA was supposed to announce if displaced Hurricane Sandy victims would be allowed to stay in Hotel Housing or be thrown into the cold January streets. But typically, FEMA ignored their own deadlines and left thousands of bedraggled victims packing their paltry belongings, in fear.

I, in addition, submitted a written Hotel Room Appeal based on my severe disability, which they had been ignoring for six weeks, claiming it was “In Process, No Decision Available.” And then there was the call from a representative on the 28th: a badgering, angry, harassing lady from FEMA. She told me: make a plan and get out by the 12th; hotel staffs have been instructed by FEMA to remove all FEMA recipients on the morning of the 13th; the Hotel Program is over; your Appeal will not receive any answer because the Hotel Program is over; even if the Program were extended, you will not be allowed to stay; so get a plan and get out or you will be removed; if you cannot go to an apartment, we can put you in a “facility.” What a lot to digest after I was just told at Cedar Creek Park FEMA that I was approved until the 12th and it would be automatically renewed: and by the Special Needs housing Hotline that, due to the condition of my house, I was evaluated to need housing for at least 6 months. I pondered why this government agency was so inefficient, inept, and unable to accomplish an organized mission with their fractured staff of roaming trainees.

I noticed that the local television station that ran an interview with me on the 8th about FEMA’s January 12th deadline, was running clips of the interview, saying that we were all still waiting for an answer whether or not the Hotel Program had been extended. I watched for updates all morning, until my ride picked me up.

I went to the store to get totes to carry my post-Sandy living tools to the car when they threw me out. I had told News 12 that I would request a policeman. As a disabled advocate of 35 years, I was not going to allow FEMA to throw a severely disabled cancer survivor into the cold January streets without legal recourse. Perhaps I was facing the American’s with Disabilities challenge of my life. At the least, I was facing a moral travesty in this event dubbed SuperStorm/NationalDisaster Hurricane Sandy, that had rapidly turned into a National Tragedy!

I had, sadly, learned to be tentative and distrustful since the Super Storm had washed away my life. Nothing was as it seemed: the seams were on the outside, sweet was sour. Life, was walking on railroad tracks, with the third rail braided expertly throughout the steel. Nothing was soft anymore.

I moved about all day in a fog of uncertainty: knowing I belonged nowhere. The stores were full of people who didn’t know me and didn’t see my wounds bleeding through my clothes. I was alone in a world full of people with destinations.

Arriving back at the hotel at 1:45, I put the card into the lock and the door opened: I was not locked out: I was here for another night! Inside I found a barrage of informed electronic sources letting me know that the Program had been extended by the Governor for another 2 weeks. Delayed, but not resolved. I put the television on and saw myself smiling as newscasters announced that the Program had been extended. I harbored cautious relief. I fed Pollyanna chicken from Kentucky and settled down with my iPad and my puppy by my side: to try to decompress. There were phone calls and emails from excited well-wishers who didn’t understand how long is two weeks. I went with the flow, enjoying my temporary reprieve, trusting nothing.

I finished a turkey sandwich. I craved meat all the time now and really didn’t get much. Writing on my iPad with a crumb-filled plate on the bedside table, there was a knock on the hotel room door. I was startled. At home, everyone knows not to come to my door unannounced, especially at night. I looked out the window, recognizing the woman from the front desk. I wondered why she had not called first, as they always did. She spoke through the window.

I opened the door a crack and she said, “These people are from FEMA, to see you.” They looked like me, rumpled and crumpled and worn, with intense faces. I was dumb. They entered quickly, portfolios in hand. There were ID’s swinging from their necks, but I really don’t remember anything except “We are from FEMA.” The desk clerk disappeared. We were alone. Later, when I said they didn’t show me an ID, they each came over to my bedside and showed me his/her dangling tag. I asked why they didn’t call first, and they said they called the hotel.

There I was alone after dark with two wandering facilitators of FEMA’s broken system, beneficiary of a surprise visit. They claimed they were here to help me, by offering alternate options to this place I was now housed within. They obviously thought I was stupid. I knew that meant that they were here to convince me to go elsewhere. Tomorrow was the deadline FEMA had given me to get out, and she told me even if the Program was extended, I was out. She told me they would remove me or “put you in a facility.” I wondered if they were authorized to remove me bodily. I was very afraid. I wondered if I should call 911.

They asked me for several documents that I had submitted many weeks before, and ones, I was told at Cedar Creek Park, already existed in the FEMA computer. They made lots of excuses about not being able to do this or that, because they did not have documents, or authorizations. It turns out these people were so badly misinformed about me by FEMA, they thought I was undocumented and uncooperative, when actually, all of my paperwork had been in for many weeks, some submitted multiple times. FEMA’s practices and procedures, document security and, information dispersal are so dysfunctional as to make progress and resolution totally impossible.

Then they started talking about places I could go besides here and agencies besides FEMA, that might help me. They said there is a limit to FEMA aid and the services it covers. I said it said on television that the Hotel Program was extended. The woman said, “Oh, the television said you could stay.” I got very upset and said, “I think I need a lawyer, I want you to leave.”

I called my son. I emailed an official. Everyone was calling someone. Phones were ringing, everyone was talking to someone. Everyone was confused and frustrated. I wanted all the questions, all the mistakes, all the bureaucratic nonsense to stop. I was so tired. The only thing I was certain of was that they came to convince me to leave. I was very frightened. I couldn’t breathe from turning my head to the right. My hospital bed at home does not allow for anyone to stand on my right-hand side. The man said, “Are you all right?”

I said, “I can’t breathe.”

Phones fell to the bed. There was oxygen. There was quiet.

My son asked them to leave. The woman packed her portfolio and backpack and walked to the door. I was very afraid. I told them I just want to stay here. They asked me why. “Maybe we can find a place like this somewhere else. I said, “I just want to stay here. I can function here.” I wanted them to leave me alone. I wanted my sweet home.

The man said that if I absolutely refused their options, I could write a paper saying I want to stay here. They said if I didn’t write a paper saying I need additional housing, I would get none. They told me what to say. I wrote it down.

During their visit, velvet words had peeled effortlessly like an onion skin, to reveal layer upon layer of insidious motivations. I no longer feared the aggressors who raided my safe solitude with an agenda, so easily revealed. I was tired of inept FEMA: inaction, denials, lost papers, stalling, misrepresentations, denying responsibility, threats, information so amorphous as to become lies, help so unrealistic that it becomes harm, ludicrous decisions. I longed for someone to trust. I watched FEMA walk, calm and reassuring out the door. I knew it wasn’t over.

The Morning After the Night Before. 10-30-12

Twilight Just After Sunset Near Caesarea

I opened my eyes to an overcast murky world that would not lift, foreshadowing reality: a world that would become too stark, too awful, too present, to bear or to escape. A light rain fell, winds gusting with deceptive lack of force, lulling one into false optimism, soon to be shattered.

I woke crumpled against the wall of a cold, overcrowded room smelling of cat, on the floor, wrapped in soft blankets I brought here, with my service dog clinging to my lap. There was pain, much pain, and I just wanted my own bed. My only goal was to get home and uncrumple myself in my sweet nest. The storm was over. There was no heat or electric. But I had lots of warm blankets at home and we would be just fine. So, I expressed my gratitude for the shelter, and headed happily away.

The rain was no intrusion to driving and the wind was a relief from stuffiness. I thought of strawberry ice cream in my freezer and decided to make it a special breakfast treat, rather than watch it melt away with the power outage. Whack! In front of me across the road, a tree: a wall of branches, now blocked the road. Looming fast, it was reality, right smack in front of me, looming fast. Something powerful happened to make this giant fall in such an undignified manner. I was jolted.

I could not turn right nor left, but turned around and found a street around the giant, broken and defeated. Suddenly the winds seemed stronger and the rain was more in my face. I squinted watchfully as I made my way along side streets strewn with branches. Driving south, trees across the road increased in frequency. They were like footprints to the deconstruction of my life

Coming down Willoughby Avenue, Merrick Road was the line of demarcation. Below Merrick Road the path of the water was devastating. Above Merrick Road, homes were untouched. I did not know. Most of us had no electric or television since yesterday, so we saw nothing that happened during the storm. I continued across Merrick Road, down Willoughby. At the postman’s house, the prettiest house in the neighborhood, just renovated last year, with 4 little girls sleeping inside, there was a huge tree across the road: fallen away from the house, not touching those on the other side. Around the corner a large curbside tree had torn through the living room roof and wall of the yellow cape cod with violets along the fence. White curtains, tangled in the branches in the wind, were tattered and filthy. I became aware of violence, and worried for little children. My car moved faster, past people I did not see. I pulled slowly in front of my modest green ranch house: all seemed intact, oddly silent. Neighbors were uncharacteristically standing clustered together, but I paid no attention. I was looking at the dark boggy earth that had become my front yard.

I backed into my driveway as I always did. The ground felt soft and slippery beneath me. I snuggled my car by the side door and sighed, secure. I was home! The storm was gone. How quickly we make assumptions based on what we want to believe. I did not notice the leaves and branches strewn across my yard. The cinder block wall that I built so many years ago was smashed against the north side of the house, in pieces. I was overwhelmed by the fury: I filled with fear. I picked up my cell phone to call my children, but realized they no longer lived close by. I sent an email describing what I saw, ending with, “I am afraid to go in,” not realizing how understated those words would become.

The ground had become spongy, a soggy black bog. There was a foul stench about the yard. Putrid black silt covered the back stoop, broken wall, and back door. I put the key into the lock and turned it gently. It was as if I was a stranger, the door was blocked against me. I pushed, but it did not budge. Puzzled, unable to enter my own home, I approached the front door. The metal storm door was bashed in, hanging in shards that tore the coat off my back. I pushed the metal inner door: it opened barely a few inches.

Furniture was piled against the door, placed there by a vile intruder, pernicious. I had to break into my own home, like a sneak thief in the night. Both entries were rudely barricaded by furniture. Nothing could have prepared me for the violence inside. It was like a tornado hit, but left the walls standing. My home, my sanctuary was shattered, disrespected, violated: my belongings torn, twisted, fractured, muddy, smeared, stinking, filthy, clotted, polluted, defiled, clumped into one horrific collage. I was appalled! I was horrified! I was afraid.

Black silt, brown residue, leaves, seaweed, muck, covered everything. My life welled up in my throat and poured from my eyes, gulping, gasping. It was my worst nightmare. The 48 inch cabinet television was thrown to the floor on top of the cable box, VCR/DVD player and Roku, all gifts from people who love me. My movies! I gasped. “Oh my God. Oh my God”. Everything in the room was somewhere else. My double memory foam hospital bed that took three men to carry into the house, was thrown across the room like a toy. A gallon jug of vinegar that was by the back door was thrown against the north living room wall. The couch, the love-seat, hassock and my bed were soaked with slimy seawater and stinking sewage. Fifteen tanks full of oxygen were flung about the rooms and propelled down the hall amid macerated sea plants. A thick brown trail of sewage wiped across my bed, the couch, through the electronic equipment, and grossly down the hallway to the bedrooms and bathroom. There was the acrid smell of fire. I was choking, wheezing, smothering from the oppressive air.

My fluffy white service dog jumped from my arms onto our precious bed, strewn with pillow pets she loved. I gasped and grabbed her from the vile polluted mess that had been my comfort, my solace from the pain, yesterday. Baby pictures, birthday cards, reference books I used in my writing every day, scores of classic movies, vital papers, vitamin bottles, leather folders, jewelry, unused check books, paper clips, lemon drops, fleece blankets and shirts, teddy bears, antiques, brass lamps, houseplants, Florida sea shells, couch pillows with pictures of bunnies and teddy bears, were smeared with sewage and strewn about the room. My honey oak desk drawers were dashed, broken: filled with water, filled with tiny treasures, special papers and poop. My emotions ruptured across the fetid mess before me. I sobbed uncontrollably, mumbling to myself over and over, “It’s gone. All gone. I lost everything. It’s all gone.” Over and over throughout the rooms i heard my voice. The violence in that room was terrifying. My cell phone rang. All I could say was, “It’s gone. All gone. I lost everything.” I don’t know who was listening.

The floor was slimy and gritty all at once. I was devastated. I was destroyed. I was appalled. The house smelled pungent, acrid. I was nauseous. My eyes were flaming coals ignited by the stench. I was numb, operating in slow motion. I screamed, but no sound came from me. I was in someone else’s nightmare, not my own. I was alone. I was not there at all. The smell was smothering me.

I saw pink glittering through the slime in front of me where a box of my tiny treasures smashed to splinters. I reached into the muck and grasped a smooth hard rock. It was a small quartz cross my son gave me many years before. I grasped the contaminated artifact to my heart and sobbed without shame. The world was too much with me.

There was no place to walk, nothing to touch that was not foul and nasty, contaminated. This was my home! The floors of the halls from the toilet to the living room couch were encrusted with thick brown residue, smeared up the walls and on the furniture. All of the bedroom doors were also blocked with furniture. The floors in the halls were torn up, splintered and shattered, strewn with plant life. My manual wheelchair was lying dead on the floor: reeking and drenched. The Everest and Jennings semi-recliner was a prize: I kept it like new because they don’t make semi-recliners anymore and that is what I need. The door to the linen closet was open: bedding and towels three feet up were soaked and soiled. Under the bottom shelf a Jacuzzi portable whirlpool was ruined in its box. So many hours this machine had eased my pain.

The bedroom next to the bathroom is my office, where my computers, copy machine and office equipment, and a multitude of irreplaceable documents are kept: my writings for 55 years, my poetry and notes for books in progress; documentation for 35 years of work as an advocate for disabled individuals and as a Consultant for Equal Access; architect’s plans and photos for access projects completed; my medical records. All of these documents were tucked away in plastic bins or fireproof boxes in large locked metal cabinets and locked steel file cabinets around the room, next to an oak computer desk, a maple desk, and my $7,000 computerized traction bed.

The room was in shambles, like someone had ransacked it. Locked fireproof boxes were tossed across the room like paper bags, turned upside down, full of water. Locked cabinets and desk drawers were dripping: opened gushing putrid water. Plastic totes were full of brown slimy water: documents floating, clotted and illegible. There was no crevice that this insidious slime did not breach. I was incredulous. Most of my irreplaceable documentation was lost. My heart stopped. It was like my work, a vital part of my life, ME, never existed. I was bankrupt!

Near the door was a stack of clear totes. I was in the process of reorganizing my winter clothes. The unused totes were full of sewage water: the clothes were wet and fouled, clumped on the floor. Office supplies, a laptop, two portable hard drives, copy machine, CD rewriter, DVD player, four typewriters, intermingled with clothes, bedding, shoes, brand new pants and fleece from Lands End, toiletries, computer programs, camera bags, suitcases, and a box of books on what to eat for Cancer purchased from Amazon and not yet read. Strewn about was anything that floated by and was ensnared by this gross collage.

My life-long desks, pristine solid wood, drawers swollen shut, cemented against me, to be broken into with tools of destruction, would reveal putrid clotted vital documents devoid of recognizability or purpose. The terror throughout my house was tearing large chunks from my flesh and leaving me hemorrhaging into the rancid muck. On the floor I noticed my tiny Gund teddy bear, fallen from great heights, gulping sewage, staring up at me, oozing dung, lost and alone.

My hand reached out to him, until I saw my computerized traction bed, covered with stuffed animals, ruffled pillows and pretty flowered comforters, like a quagmire oozing slop into its sophisticated mechanisms. I knew then that relief from spinal pain, comfort as I had known it, would never be the same. I lost my lifeline to normalcy. I had lost medical equipment that I could never replace in my lifetime. I laid my face upon the foul and putrid bedspread, caressing yesterday, and wept to exhaustion. All at once I felt hopeless, panicked and numb.

The middle bedroom was a storehouse of my professional books, stored pedantically in briefcases on a rolling cart for easy use. Over 35 years I had amassed a library to rival institutions. All were gone, in the flash of a sewage surge: all saturated and unreadable. I saw the color of my blood oozing into the debris below and I was weakened with its letting.

Large bins of medical equipment I use every day were overturned and filled with gunk: traction accessories, a multitude of electrical devices for heating and cooling, massagers, two leg braces, passive night braces and heel pillows, an Ultrasound unit, Air Circulation Legs, two passive exercise machines, and on and on: an arsenal to ward off pain and deterioration, soaked, slimy, ruined. I couldn’t think, or feel or cry anymore. it was as if something broke inside of me. I was defeated, destitute, shattered. More winter fleece and pants were one huge clotted mass, a spongy bog wrapping itself around smeared paper pages and electrical cords. Would I ever be warm again, or safe?

The master bedroom had a double bed, used when my children visit from out of state. The pastel patchwork bedspread was deceptively pretty, until I touched it: it turned to stinking gelatin. I bought this pillow-top mattress for my mom: it was expensive and comfortable. I wrapped it in plastic to protect it from potential spills. Now it was a balloon full of water, waiting to burst. As we all experienced with our protective totes and plastic covers, the water rushed in and did not drain away. There was no way to stay the waters of destruction from their pernicious course. We are mere tinder, tossed about by willful tides.

My honey maple cabinet sewing machine of 50 years was next to the bed. I used it to make my clothes, baby clothes, drapes and pillows, everything, including beautiful Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls with pink cheeks and a real heart. Ruined! My sewing chest filled with accessories collected through the years, and patchwork patches saved from special garments over the years, pretty lace in various colors, flower appliqu├ęs and spools of thread, was filled with sewer water, to the tiniest thimble, was spitting straight pins onto the ruptured floor. My parents gave me this cherry chest for my birthday when I was 16. My mom bought this house I bought from her when I was 21. Gone! All gone! How fragile is one life passing by.

Two oxygen concentrators and a portable oxygen machine sat on the other side of the bed dripping sea water and silt. It was incomprehensible to me that I lost most of my medical equipment. I didn’t know what to do. I was paralyzed with fear. How would I survive? I had taken such good care of the equipment, and still it was gone, all gone: through no fault of my own. Could I survive? I had no answers. I was impotent.

Two passive exercise machines were flat on the floor, tossed there by the tides, soggy and rusting. And then I saw the most gross indignity. My power wheelchair, smeared and stained with feces, upholstery saturated, mechanisms dripping: spent. I could not wrap my mind around this loss. I could only remember me and my service dog riding through malls, on boardwalks and into meetings, so grateful to be doing it on our own. I could not see, for all the tears were blinding me. I knew that I had lost too much right here. I mumbled weakly, “It’s gone. All gone.” No one was listening. Thousands lost everything in this “Super Storm,” dubbed a National Disaster: that would leave thousands upon thousands destitute, and the government listening with ears clogged by fiscal crisis. It would become survival of the fittest: with no help for the weak. It would become a National Tragedy, like Hurricane Katrina. I must be strong. I was hemorrhaging. Life was ebbing from me.

I fought the tears and vowed not to be a victim of this loss. But then I saw my Christmas tree strewn across the floor, lying passive beneath books, knitting needles, pillows, broken glass, a laptop, and a kitchen pot. I remembered it standing tall with tinsel and sparking lights, year after year: hung with tiny toys saved from my children’s childhood, and any treasure that made my heart light up. Each ornament was a special memory invoked, endeared. and an accumulation of all the years and all the joy. My Christmas tree was a beacon of hope and joy and peace for me on cold winter nights. To see it sucking slime, it wasn’t right. I lost it yet again, and wept to exhaustion, unashamed, for my Christmas tree, my wheelchair, my hospital bed, my life. And I was done with crying for myself. All was lost and ruined and ugly. And I must find a way to salvage what I could of this my ebbing life. The stench of sewage, decay and fire all mixed together in this my house, was gagging me and I threw up.

In the hallway was a closet some use as a guest room: it fits a single bed. It gives access to the attic. I used this space for storage of functional tools: vacuum, large battery-operated hedge cutter, hedge cutters for the cemetery, a chain saw, George Foreman Grill, new Osterizer, Convection Oven, Brother Printer, sewing machine, fabrics, formal dresses and coats, my sons’ childhood memorabilia, textbooks and classic movies. Five-foot metal cabinets lined the walls. The first was office supplies: staplers of various sizes, computer and copy paper, stationary, presentation books, loose leafs, plastic pages, folios, folders, envelopes, computer programs, and computer bags. The second had small appliances, pots and pans and holiday dishes. The top shelves were a storehouse of emergency and holiday food, organized, and replaced at expiration. I was proud of my secret stash, handy for unexpected guests: neatly tucked away.

I remember a number of times I went into this closet while the worst of a wind storm passed by, because it was in the center of the house surrounded by rooms: sheltered, protected. It seemed to me the safest place in the house. During Hurricane Sandy, this room gulped in and retained water like a thirsty fish tank. It became a tangled mass of necessary items made worthless, locked away or not. With loss piling upon loss, I became most painfully aware that nothing was safe or secure from this insidious Monster Storm that raped my home. And, no matter how much you do the right thing or prepare for a secure future, it can all be torn away in a millisecond by a force of nature, and you are alone, bleeding and unclothed. All of my plans and dreams, all my props and crutches, were torn away, I was lying in a pile of dung, anonymous. I was exhausted.

As I turned the corner, I glanced toward the bathroom that had puked this revolting indignity across my treasures. Its mouth was open wide and stained brown, from spewing excrement down my hall: reeking, festering, spreading plague. I was not prepared to forgive the unforgivable, so I moved on, dazed and overwhelmed.

As I passed by my bed, leaving, I longed to lie down and make my spinal pain go away. I wanted so badly to be comfortable: to reclaim my hospital bed, call this storm a fraud, tear these horrific images from my memory. I ached for yesterday. I feared that I would never be that comfortable again. I doubled over sobbing hysterically for all that was lost, for the innocence of my cloistered world that I could never regain. I was aware and alone. But I still had no way of understanding the terrible awfulness of being disabled during disaster.

I left the house through the kitchen, the route I customarily used to enter my home of 48 years. Cabinet doors were open, and expensive stainless steel cookware and appliances were scattered and pummeled, thickly crusted with feces. I was nauseated. My brand new ceramic top kitchen stove that my son and his wife had just given me was ajar and full of water. I gasped in disbelief. Why did I think that my appliances would survive? I was a vessel taking on the waters of injustice. There was too much destruction to calculate, and there would be no recourse to recompense the loss. I knew that I would never in my lifetime have anything so elegant again. It was leveling. I was numb.

And so it went, loss upon loss: stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, dryer, washer, commercial freezer, and microwave, all filled with filthy water, all ruined in one rush of fickle fate. My kitchen, my cooking, Christmas dinner putrefying in the freezer, all gone. Mom was made effectively inoperable. Grit, leaves, silt, feces and slime was dragged across the floor and into every receptacle: violated. I could no longer cry.

I followed the stinking trail of debris from receding waters, through the foyer and out the side door. Turning to look back, I witnessed the gross course of destruction made by raging water battering the doors open, hours before. I was amazed at the difference a moment can make. I was raw, exposed, and vulnerable. I vomited up the stench of my house: the putrid, acrid, nauseating, smothering, tearing smell of armageddon, my comfortable nest! I gulped the damp musty air outside and was overwhelmed by its freshness.

Destruction – Photos after the Sewage Surge. 12-17-12

Disabled During Disaster. introduction.

Disabled and Homeless. Please help rebuild my destroyed home after Hurricane Sandy.
Wendy Wagner