Reason to Rejoice

I’m grateful that an incident last week that could have been a calamity instead had a happy ending. And in tough times like these when good news is hard to come by, it’s especially meaningful.

It was a few minutes after 9pm when my cell phone rang and I saw that it was my daughter, Valerie, calling. Hmmm”¦I wonder what the news on the other end of the line is going to be; she’s only had her driver’s license one week and this is exactly the time she should be in the car and driving herself home from her tumbling class.

“Mom,” I can tell already there are tears. “The car won’t start.” We’ll, that’s a little puzzling since it was working fine when she left, but since I was afraid that she was calling to tell me about a crunched fender”¦or something even worse, if the only thing wrong with the car is a dead battery, I feel like I’ve been given a gift.

But wait, there’s more.

“And I dropped my arm and it rolled down the storm drain.” She can barely choke out the words. I thought maybe I had misheard what she said over my cell phone. “You dropped your arm in the gutter?” I heard her answer “yes” in between sobs. “Dad and I will be right there,” I answered.

Let me pause here and fill in some blanks. Valerie has worn a prosthesis on her left arm since she was six months old, so in our household, seeing her plastic arm lying on the floor or wedged in between the sofa cushions is not anything out of the ordinary. Just like people often can’t find their keys, she sometimes misplaces her arm and there is a frantic rush to find it before she leaves for school. “Mom, do you know where my arm is?”

Losing her prosthesis around the house is not uncommon, but losing it down a city drain”¦that was unusual. Since we had fairly substantial rainfall that week, I was imagining her arm surfing the tide of runoff on its way out to the Petaluma River.

When Steve and I arrived on the scene, we picked Valerie up from the gym and circled around to where the car was parked on the street. The poor kid was so upset. She explained to us that she tried to unlock the car with the remote but because the battery was dead (she had left the headlights on) it wouldn’t unlock. Then she tried to unlock it with the key but it was dark and she was flustered and that’s when she dropped her arm. She prefers to drive without her prosthesis so she wasn’t wearing it, but was holding it along with her gym bag, purse, and keys, when it slipped out of her grasp and rolled into the drain.

When we bent down and looked into the drain with a flashlight, I was expecting to see her arm sticking out of a foot of really gross, wet trash like the sewers they show on “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel.  Perhaps Petaluma has exceptionally clean drains because when we looked in, the only thing in there was her arm lying on a slab of wet concrete.

Unless I suddenly turned into Elastigirl there was no way I was going to be able to reach it because of the angle and depth of the drain. However, there was a concrete disk right above the storm drain and we could see that if we could pry that open, we could get to her arm.

Steve jumped into action with a plan: he would go home and get a crowbar while Valerie and I stayed with the car and waited for AAA to give us a jumpstart. AAA was there within minutes. The car started right up and Steve was back shortly after that with an armful of tools to retrieve the arm.

By now, we all felt like the crisis had passed. The car was idling, confirming that all that was wrong was a dead battery, and we felt confident that with persistence, we would reunite Valerie and her arm. In fact, the humor of the situation ““ trying to extract a prosthetic arm from a storm drain at 10:00 at night ““ was becoming apparent.

But we still had to lift up the concrete cover”¦and it wasn’t budging even with help from the AAA tow truck driver. Figuring that there has to be some 24 hour emergency number for the Public Works Department, Valerie and I left Steve watching over the arm and we went home to make some calls.

Apparently after hours calls to Public Works are routed to the Police Department. The gal who answered the phone was great; she took my information and responded as if she handled calls about lost prosthetics all the time. After putting me on hold for a moment, she told me the fire department would be there shortly. I relayed the message to Steve.

Within about 20 minutes, Steve walked in the door and he was not empty-handed. He said three wonderful firefighters showed up with some really serious tools and in no time, popped off the concrete cover and pulled out Valerie’s arm.

So to Capt. Kevin, Engineer Greg, and Firefighter Blake from the D Street station, thank you. You have made a friend for life.

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