How To Survive A Flood (Or How To Go Spectacularly Insane In The Attempt)

This article is basically EXACTLY like Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" except without all the racism. And with way more CAPS and exclamation points!
Publish date:
January 31, 2013
antifun, flood, unfun, lesley's mind-brain

Frequent readers are probably aware I have been having a pretty terrible January. Monday morning it got worse, when I arrived home from the grocery store around 10am to see water pouring energetically out of my building -- right through our condo.

Once upstairs, I found water pouring energetically inside our home as well, and moved with lightning reflexes to get containers under everything and minimize any damage.

Those of you who live in cold climates can probably guess what happened -- a frozen pipe had burst on an upper floor, sending a cataract of water coursing through multiple condos, our bedroom included.

When I first moved to New England, I developed an almost immediate fear of house fires. Such things are not tremendously common where I grew up in South Florida, as houses down there tend to be spaced farther apart and are usually made of concrete to stand up to hurricanes.

It was only after I started watching New England news that I realized it seemed like incredibly poor judgment to make houses out of wood, which is, like, super flammable. And also to have houses more than 30 years old, period. THEY BURN DOWN, guys. It’s incredibly scary and tragic!

Of course, that fear quickly fell into the background when I saw my first burst-frozen-pipe flood. WATER is the real enemy, friends. I have spent literal years fearing a flood of my own, and here it has finally happened -- which is a useful and needed point to my psyche that my worrying about something I can’t control does not make the worrisome thing not happen.

If I could prevent catastrophe simply by feeling overwhelmingly anxious of the unknown possibilities, I would be the least catastrophic person you know. Unfortunately, this does not work.

But returning to the specific catastrophe at hand -- both before and after the supply to the offending pipe was turned off, I spent several hours collecting water, watching as the damage spread across my ceiling, periodically thinking, “If it doesn’t get any worse than this, it won’t really be that bad!”

It is both a blessing and a curse that I am a fucked up optimist in even the most obvious situations -- if you were hanging out with me during the zombie apocalypse I’d be the jerk always going, “Well they can’t ALL turn into zombies, right? Like the zombie virus has to get tired sometime! Right, guys? Hey let's go for an unarmed walk in a shopping mall!”

So I kept believing it wouldn’t get worse. Except it kept getting worse. You can’t reason with water. You can’t, like, ask it nicely to stop flowing and shit. Water doesn’t give a fuck about you.

At the height of my flood, I had 17 active drip sites and was grateful for my extensive collection of pots and pans and unusually large plastic storage containers. In time the drips all stopped, and I saw no significant loss to our actual stuff -- whether this was due to quick thinking (or whatever you’d call my kneejerk reaction to literally scoop up everything on the leakier side of the room and heave it into massive piles on the less-leaky side) or dumb luck I can’t say.

But we still had to dry out.

And this is where our story takes a turn.

When you have standing water after a flood, the first step is to extract the water -- to literally suck it up (or hire a professional, if you’re not personally up to the task) and get it the fuck out of your house. This happened in the units above me, but not in mine, as for all the pouring and flowing and cataracting that went on, I managed to keep the majority of the water in my many many containers and off the carpet, which was barely damp. A+ for me, protecting the shit carpeting I hate and would love to replace! Go, Lesley! Way to think ahead!

Therefore, most of my water was/is trapped in the ceiling and one wall. How do we deal with this water business, to avert the invasion of mold, which will no doubt choke my lungs and possibly put me out of my protracted misery? We deal with it with FANS.

Because, no, Lesley, you can’t die yet, the universe has many more joys in store for you!

The emergency flood dudes were on site quick as a bunny soaked with disintegrating plaster and drywall. They came in and checked out my unit, led by the very kind and knowledgeable Moisture Guy, who had some magical infrared gadgets that enabled him to see water inside the walls and ceiling, like fucking Superman.

“Seven fans,” Moisture Guy said. “And a dehumidifier.”

The fans came in. The fans are loud. I mean, I know white noise, and I consider white noise to be a dear friend in many circumstances, especially when traveling. But this is more than just white noise. This is spectral jackhammers pounding in my earballs (with apologies to Cheryl Tunt).

This is horror movie creepy-whispered-voices-inside-the-TV-static times a million. This is a wall of noise closing in on me no matter where in my home I try to retreat.

And I not only live here, I also work from home. It’s... not going well.

Like I started looking into whether near-continuous exposure to roughly 75 decibels (I downloaded a decibel-measuring app!) of white noise for 72 hours (so far) could have any weird effects. I know I am feeling very tense that I can’t hear the normal house sounds I’m used to, so every time I think I hear something (which happens every 90 seconds or so) I am jumping up to investigate the source.

I have also noticed that my startle response is WAAAAAY out of proportion, like when my husband surprised me by walking behind me in the bathroom this morning and for a split second I was ready to take a swing at him.

Here’s a quote from a random eHow article possibly written by someone with no formal expertise in this area whatsoever:

Unlike Mozart and Bach music of 60 beats per minute, white noise emitted by machines may actually degrade the brain's performance from high alertness producing 8 to 13 Hz alpha waves to lower quality 14 to 20 Hz beta brain waves. This will reduce concentration, mental lucidity and therefore the productivity and quality of life.

IS THAT TRUE? I don’t fucking know! Does this article seem lucid to you?

Here’s some more points to ponder from the slightly more respectable Scientific American:

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, ambient noise also affects people’s health by increasing general stress levels and aggravating stress-related conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary disease, peptic ulcers and migraine headaches. Continued exposure does not lead to habituation; in fact, the effects worsen.

Several studies have indicated that stress resulting from ongoing white noise can induce the release of cortisol, a hormone that helps to restore homeostasis in the body after a bad experience. Excess cortisol impairs function in the prefrontal cortex—an emotional learning center that helps to regulate “executive” functions such as planning, reasoning and impulse control. Some recent evidence indicates that the prefrontal cortex also stores short-term memories. Changes to this region, therefore, may disrupt a person’s capacity to think clearly and to retain information.

OK, I couldn’t actually read all of that but I bet it’s informative. Also it says something about cortisol, which is the thing those old late-night diet quackery infomercials used to blame for making people be fat! IS THIS WHITE NOISE GOING TO MAKE ME FATTER? OR JUST INSANE? Or will my FAT go insane independently of the rest of my body? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.

I have tried earplugs. Last night I attempted to sleep in our bedroom -- the very vortex of the tornado -- because my prior night on our couch was so uncomfortable. With the squishy silicone earplugs (the same ones Courteney Cox recommended right here on xoJane a million years ago -- also WHY DO I REMEMBER THAT?) the sound was not so bad, but what I didn’t expect was that between the fans and the dehumidifier it was like sleeping in a freaking desert -- impossibly hot for January (actually, it was 105F at this morning's check), and so outrageously dry that I found myself waking up every couple hours just to drink a glass of water. It is essentially like being inside a clothes dryer.

And even with that effort, I still woke up this morning feeling like a desicated corpse. Also there was the issue with not hearing my alarm, because I have giant earplugs in and also THE ROOM IS FILLED WITH AUDITORY COTTON BALLS GROWING AND EXPANDING AND PRESSING INTO EVERY CORNER AND CRANNY OH MY GOD HELP IT’S LIKE BEING EATEN BY AN ENORMOUS AND EVIL STUFFED CARNIVAL TOY SAVE MEEEE.

Moisture Guy, who is super nice and who now visits me every day, like I am an inmate in some asylum for the auditorily insane, says the fan-assisted drying is progressing nicely. But today he also said part of the bedroom ceiling, which hasn’t dried quickly enough, may have to come down -- and sooner rather than later, in order to prevent the growth of mold. So while I protected the carpet I hate, I may lose the ceiling with which I have no beef whatsoever, and of which until now I have thought rather fondly.

I am hoping we can leave the ceiling alone. I am talking to it in a supportive manner and encouraging it to let go of its moisture and embrace the dryness within. I don’t think I can handle any more loss this month.

Of course, we're very lucky the damage wasn't more severe. It all could have been so much worse -- my CLOTHES might have been hurt. And I am trying to take this experience as a valuable lesson in the unavoidable truth that there are events in this life that I cannot control, that sometimes, shit just happens and I have to roll with it. I'm working on rolling with it. I think the rolling might go easier if I didn't feel as though all the fan noise was slowly dismantling whatever fragile sense of sanity I may have cultivated over the past decade or so -- but I am still rolling.

Which brings me to the present, where I am writing 1,700 words about the noise in my condo and my possible impending psychotic break and I can’t leave because I’m waiting for the mold people to come assess the likelihood of my ceiling to grow into respiratory death fungus and my life has begun to look like some cruel possibly-Soviet-era psychological experiment.


Follow Lesley's flood saga (and all the other ridiculous things she does) on the Twitters: @52stations