Stayin’ alive

A kidney dialysis/transplant diary

Stayin’ alive in other ways

My mom and I had to evacuate our apartment Tuesday due to impending floods in Cedar Rapids.  I’ll fill you in more later, but for now will post the story I filed a few minutes ago with GazetteOnline.

By Kathy Alter


CEDAR RAPIDS — Sometimes you become part of the story. This is one of those times.

My mother and I evacuated our first-floor apartment in the 1300 block of 5th Street NW Tuesday evening. Since both of us have physical handicaps, we rented a room at the Heartland Inn in Southwest Cedar Rapids.


We weren’t a novelty here for long as other flood displaced Cedar Rapids residents started drifting into the motel. As I sit here Saturday morning, using the motel’s lobby computer, nearly every one of the motel’s 113 rooms is occupied by one — usually more than one — flood victim.

 Some are still wandering teary-eyed and shell-shocked, unable to comprehend what’s happened to their homes and their lives. The mood isn’t exactly somber, but it is subdued. Clusters of people sit under the lobby canopy, gathering for the comfort of other humans in the same boat and to grab a cigarette since the motel is smoke free.

 Angie Douglas, whose address was 385 16th Ave. SW, said her mother’s home was a block outside the 500 year flood boundary but they were evacuated Thursday when water started climbing into the basement.

 She was in the breakfast room at the motel this morning checking the Gazette want ads “for someplace cheaper. We can’t afford this much longer.”

 She feels, she said, at a loss as to where to go from here. “I don’t even know who to talk to” to find out how extensive the damage is to her home, but she expects it will be overwhelming. In jeopardy in the basement were “the furnace, water heater, washer and dryer, freezer and all my belongings because that’s where my room was,” Douglas said.

The family of four has two dogs and six cats. All have been temporarily housed with other family members and friends, Douglas said.

 What is she hoping survived the flood? “Pictures of my kids when they were young.”

 Her mother has owned the house for 27 years, but plans to rehabilitate it will wait until a damage assessment can be made. She’s trying not to worry too extensively at this point. “At least, like my mom says, we’re all safe and the animals are safe.”

 The Heartland Inn is, of course, much busier than usual. They will curb services such as laundry beginning tomorrow in an effort to comply with the city’s plea to conserve water, said guest services/front desk clerk Shantel Bronema.

 The Inn is doing well on keeping food on hand for their “free breakfast,” though they had to make an extra run this morning, Lisa Mullen said.

 Mullen normally works at the Heartland Inn in Coralville, but was evacuated from her job there Saturday. She lives in Cedar Rapids “on the Northeast side so we’re one of the lucky,” Mullen said.  She came in to this Inn to help with the overflow of guests.

 Seeing the widespread flooded areas from her drive on I380 left her awestruck. “It’s just devastating. It’s indescribable.”

 Tom Harmer, 53, who lives at 335 13th Ave. SW “between L and M streets and 15th and 8th avenues close to the city barns and in a kind of a hollow,” evacuated his home Wednesday. Their home was nearly washed away in the flood of 1993, he said, and they have slowly rebuilt and added to their home.

 “We never took vacations,” Harmer said. “Our house was our vacation.”

 He and his wife, Elizabeth, and two of the couple’s adult children lived in the home. So did two cats who are now in the care of his oldest son and his wife. “She’s allergic to cats and she still offered to take them,” he said with a look of wonder passing over his eyes.

 They had about 5 hours to try to rescue some of their belongings by bringing them to a higher level in the house. Harmer admits he’s an electronics nut and said he and his family members were able to move the electronics equipment to the top level of the 11/2-story home, but he’s still not sure if it is safe.

 The items with “sentimental value, the memorabilia,” Harmer said, “was all on the first floor.”

 After the 1993 flood, Harmer said, “it took a long, long time” to get the home habitable.  He knows he will have to face rehabbing the house again. “I don’t think we have any choice, honey. We still owe on a second mortgage,” he said, the pain obvious in his eyes.

 He’s concerned, too, about how active a part he can take in the work ahead. “I have peripheral artery disease. One time up the stairs and I’m done.”

 He is,  he said, “thinking about tomorrow but living for today.” He’s smiling and dispensing hugs and good wishes to other evacuees here. The cheer seems welcome.

 He and his wife, Elizabeth, have lost the security they once felt, he said, his eyes again wincing with pain. “We’ll be worrying day to day if we’re going to be flooded.”

 Ashley Lungstrom, 21, has not only herself to worry about but relatives battling floods in Wisconsin, too. Though she and her roommate were forced to evacuate their apartment on K Street SW and had to move 7 computers and the associated accessories, she at least didn’t have to worry about small family treasures. “Most of the stuff with sentimental value I left with my parents in Fort Atkinson (Wisc.) So far, my parents aren’t in danger of flooding.”

 When she talked with her landlord last, “the water was halfway up the first story and a basement wall had caved in.”

 A student at Coe College, she works in the college’s computer department. Her plans “right now are to wait for the flood to mellow out; go back to work, if it’s available.” If work isn’t available, she said she’ll be volunteering to assist with the flood clean up.

 On the personal side of the story, my mother and I are both safe.  We took very little with us and moved very little out of harm’s way for two reasons: We’re both very limited in what we can do physically and we, after consulting the citizen hotline, didn’t anticipate the flooding would be as severe as it likely has been at our ground-floor apartment.

 Two friends from The Gazette, Janet Rorholm and Cindy Hadish, stopped to assist us evacuate Tuesday. I told them we could not worry about what was in the basement because there was no place to take it. Besides, we’ve been in the apartment for 15 months and have needed only one thing from the basement in that time. That indicates to me that it is less than important to our daily living.

 I am concerned that we may have lost many of the family pictures hanging on the walls, and we had many, many treasured photos.

 Getting across town for my 3-times-a-week dialysis treatments is likely to prove a challenge and once there, the unit itself is in disaster mode which means treatments will only be 3 hours long until further notice.

 So far, I’m lucky that I can get to treatments and that the center itself was not flooded. Celebrate the small things, I guess.

 Ironically about the only thing saved was my community knitting projects; 7 hat and scarf sets for KCRG-TV9’s Coats for Kids; three baby sweaters and 80 squares completed for an afghan requiring 120 squares for the Pine Ridge Reservation in the Dakotas. Cindy Hadish, seeing them lined up on our living room couch, gathered them up and said she’d keep them safe for me — probably at work — until we have a place to take them back.

 We will survive, but it’s going to be difficult starting all over again.


Another evacuee here, after we’d talked a bit, said “God never gives us more than we can handle.” That’s comfort, but feels a little thin at the moment. 


June 14, 2008 - Posted by | kidney

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