One for the history books

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Harvey D. Kart

Not long after most Americans opened their St. Valentine’s Day gifts, Mother Nature dumped an offering of her own on us: record snowfall amounts for the month of February, with the largest volumes blanketing the northeast. The gift that just kept on giving … and giving … and giving.

While here in Western Pennsylvania the skies were mostly overcast, it was the weathermen and women who had their day in the sun, often leading each newscast and breaking into regular programming to give updates on approaching storms and the anticipated number of inches of white stuff to fall.

Meanwhile, reporters who usually cover crime or political stories found themselves outside with wooden rulers to measure snowfall and to admonish anyone who dared venture onto the roadways unless absolutely necessary. (This of course raises the question of why it is necessary for a reporter and cameraman to actually drive to a particular street to prove it is indeed snowing a lot and that the roads are treacherous, but I digress.)

Anyway, as I watched the snow fall outside my window, sipping a warm drink and wishing I bought that Snuggie™ when I had the chance, I thought about how it all served as a metaphor for those of us in health care and how, despite our collective grumblings, it often brought out the best in us all.

For many Americans, that feeling of piling on was similar to the woes many of us continue to experience because of our struggling economy. Maybe it’s the stress of job uncertainty or loss, or the pressure of mounting bills with no relief in sight. But these challenges-like the snow covering our region-make it hard to imagine that sunny days are coming.

For a few weeks, just the act of existing became a challenge: clearing a path to the car, then shoveling snow from on top and all around it; attempting to navigate across unplowed or icy streets, trying to dodge pedestrians or vehicles blocking the way; finding fewer necessary items on the grocery store shelves and enduring longer than normal lines at the checkout; getting used to stepping into slush or icy cold puddles that were deeper than they seemed; and hoping to avoid confrontation with neighbors who have the nerve to park in a space someone spent three hours shoveling out.

But as each day passed and many local governments proved ill-equipped to meet the challenge in a timely fashion, we stepped up when nature said, “I don’t care where you live, how important you are, or how much money you have, I’m dumping the same ton of snow on your street as I am your neighbor across town, so deal with it.”

And deal with it we did. With rare exception, we shoveled our walkways to make walking safer for ourselves and our neighbors. We helped others, especially the elderly and the infirm. We shoveled them out, helped them out, and when their cars got stuck, pushed them out. Some neighbors lost power, so we took them in. Some needed groceries, so we did “group runs” to the store, or shared what we had.

Even total strangers would pull up to those getting ready to climb into their cars to give advice on which roads were passable and which should be avoided.

Most importantly, those of you in health care refused the luxury of curling up with a blanket until conditions improved. You knew that it is in times like these that people need you the most. And you responded.

Still, we all were forced to slow down and live in the moment. While some parents bemoaned the seemingly endless string of school closings, others remembered what pure joy they felt as a child to get a “snow day.” We watched pristine snow flakes dance in the glow of the street lights. We marveled at the sight of icicles hanging like frozen fingers from our homes. We laughed at the chairs, like so many sentries, positioned to guard parking spaces.

And we remembered those monster snowstorms of our past. For me, it was the a few years ago, when I planned ahead and bought a snow blower from Sears. At last, one Saturday night, a storm blew in, leaving a thick blanket of fresh snow to be removed the next morning. I fired up my new toy, boasting enough power to make Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor proud, and headed down my driveway. Within minutes, we came to an abrupt and noisy halt. It seems I had run over my Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; the snow blower took one huge bite and began to gag before shutting down altogether.

I asked my neighbor his advice for extricating the newspaper from the jaws of death. I appreciated so much that he suggested, above all else, that I disconnect the spark plug to avoid being nicknamed “Lefty” for the rest of my life, that I gave him the snow blower, and threw in what was left of the newspaper. I’ve been a “shovel guy” ever since.

Spring is always a welcome sight. But this year, for those of us who survived the “Blizzard of ’10,” it will feel more glorious than ever.

Harvey D. Kart.

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