'Send in a Home Health Aide'

 ... never mind the weather! 

by Natalie Thomson

On February 6, 1978 I lived in Malden, Mass. I had a husband whose job as a printer was in Salem, Mass. I had a daughter who had completed her first four years of college and lived in Winchester. I had a son who was learning the cable-TV business. When the famous '78 blizzard hit our area, they all stayed home from work.  The whole world stayed home from work, it seemed, unless one was in  a necessary human services line. Then you had to show up. My job was to send, by telephone, Homemakers and Home Health Aides into the homes of those who were disabled, or elderly who needed help to maintain their independence. I had to report for work.

27.1 inches of snow had fallen. There were drifts up to 15 feet due to the gale winds of the day before. What an adventure it was to struggle from my front door through the unplowed parking lot to the street. Ralph Reinherz, one of the daring bosses, picked up, at their homes, a car full of adventurous Caseload Managers of which I was one. The sun, this day after the storm, gilded the lofty piles of clean, white snowbanks that lined both sides of the plowed main streets from which regular traffic had been banned. There was only permissible room for snow removing equipment and those, like outselves, in a health field. Jim Katz, an equally daring boss, arrived on skis from his home a mile away.

In our Rolodex world, we whipped to the phones, calling the homes of those clients who were alone and disabled. Knowing the positive attributes of our home health aides as well as we did, we were able to provide help to the neediest cases when necessary. We found that many of our fellow employees who had gone to their disabled clients the day before, during the storm, had taken the time to help neighboring residents whom they knew as "someone else's clients." On this post-blizzard morning, Homemakers and Home Health Aides alike, who were able to get to an elderly housing complex, shopped not only for Intercity's clients, but for any neighbor who needed staples. They were an efficient group of caretakers, plus brave, and productive. There was a strong incentive to produce during an emergency. For many there was a sense of humor that helped others get through it. For all, there was a sense of caring.

Now, in my retirement, I live in Senior Housing and on the anniversary of this memorable 25-year old storm, my neighbors were reflecting on what they had been doing a quarter of a century earlier.

Marion remembers that she "ran out of everything."
Betty had five pounds of powdered milk in her pantry. She mixed it up, refrigerated it and sent out the message to the neighborhood that if anyone needed it, "please bring a container."
Jeanette, on a side street in Melrose, sat in her window and watched the skiers schushing to Main St.
Janet, on her way home from work, had to walk from Wellington Station to Malden Square when the "T" stopped running.
Rose said, "My house was like living on top of a mountain from the front door to the main street." She climbed down it and rode to work and home in a volunteer's jeep.
Norma worked for a doctor, so was delivered to her job by the local police.
Shirley, who lived near Redstone, remembers going shopping with a sled.
Another Rose didn't go to her job at Sears, but her husband had to walk to Melrose Square and Liggett's where he was Pharmacist and Manager.
Thelma walked to a local doctor's appointment. Her baby-sitting sister had to stay overnight.
Everyone agreed in summary:  "You got to know your neighbors!"

March 7, 2003

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