The time has come, my little friends, to talk of other things. Of ships, of sails, of ceiling wax, of cabbages and kings.
In other words, it’s time for the SEWER POST!!!
(Aren’t you all dying with anticipation?)
Last Thursday night, around 7:30 PM, there was a knock on our door. When I answered it, one of the neighbors said they were having problems with their plumbing, and asked if we would please refrain from flushing toilets and using water for an hour or so, until they could get the sewage to drain out of their basement. I happily agreed (and gave him my deepest sympathies), and we went back to watching our TV show. Later, I put the kids to bed, and upon tuck-in, I noticed that Hannah’s purple blanket was saturated. She and Anthony had been playing downstairs unsupervised, and his pillowcase was also wet. (They were making forts. Why they couldn’t have used the dozen blankets and pillows we already HAVE down there is beyond me.)
I stripped the pillowcase, grabbed her blanket, and demanded to know why it was so wet. She told me she’d dumped a cup of water on it (again, why?), and some of that must have gotten on Anthony’s pillow. I figured I’d throw them in the washer, and when I got to the bottom of the stairs, the dirty towels I had thrown down there were wet. So was the carpet. I turned around with the laundry still in my arms and stomped back upstairs to find out exactly how much water was in that cup, and how far it spilled. I got nothing but the big-eyed blink, as in “Mommy, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
As I walked back down the stairs and into the laundry room, I noticed that the carpet was extremely wet. So wet, in fact, that I left bare footprints in it that rapidly filled up with what I THOUGHT was water. I flipped the light on in the laundry room and saw that our drain had backed up as well, and the cement floor was wet. It looked like clumps of wet feathers had been scattered around, and I assumed that when they flushed the sewer out of our neighbor’s house, it caused water to back up into ours. I loaded the washer, started it, and squish, squish, squished to the bathroom next door to make sure the kids hadn’t left the faucet running.
And no, I still didn’t realize what I was standing in. (Clearly, I’m not the sharpest crayon in the box.)
It wasn’t until I saw how many things were wet that I started investigating further. A paper bag full of outgrown clothes practically fell apart when I picked it up, so I threw those soggy clothes into the washer, too. At the bottom of the bag was a small yellow puddle, and it was at that precise moment that I realized our sewer had backed up too, and what I had been splashing in was water and who-knows-what-else.
Which also explained the smell.
I practically ran up the stairs to the tub so I could scrub my feet.
Kenny came home from work about that time, so he walked downstairs with me (now wearing protective foot coverings!) to check out the damage. Everything in the laundry room was wet, from one end to the other, as well as around and under the stairs. The hallway was puddled, big brown streaks had come up through the shower drain, and my office/craft room was wet.
I didn’t even know where to start.
We called my neighbor to see if we could borrow his shop vac, and his wife suggested we call Disaster Kleenup instead. Kenny walked to the end of the street where a crowd had congregated, and they added our name to a list of seven other homes that had been affected. They told us someone would clean it up for us, and that they were on their way. (By this time it was about 10:30 PM.) While I went downstairs to see what could be salvaged (not a lot), Kenny walked up and down the street knocking on doors and gathering information for the disaster crew.
Just after midnight, someone knocked on our door. I watched him throw hoses down the stairs, do a quick damage assessment, pull on some heavy-duty rubber gloves and fire up the vacuums. He worked for three hours, hosing up, scrubbing, rinsing, disinfecting, cutting out carpet and making dozens of trips up and down the stairs with bulging black bags of our ruined belongings. I had to move furniture out of the way. (Kenny slept through most of it, as did the kids.) There was no time to sort anything. If it was ruined, it went into a bag. If it was salvageable, it got thrown into the center of the room for further (future) inspection.
It was surreal. I’m not sure if it was the experience itself, or doing it at such a late hour, or a combination of the two, but I felt like I was watching myself from outside my body.
Our cleanup guy (I later learned his name was Allen) left our house just after 3:00 AM and promised to come back the next day. After three solid hours of working, he still needed to do the laundry room, but we had to move out the Rubbermaid crates of kids’ outgrown clothes and two utility shelves full of food storage before he could continue.
I staggered upstairs and fell into bed.
The next morning, I made the kids put on a pair of shoes and come downstairs to see what had happened. (I knew that if I told them, and then declared the basement off-limits, they’d be sneaking down there at every turn.) They were equally fascinated with the bare cement floors and horrified by the thoughts that they could have been down there (eeeew!) when it flooded, and after a little bit of exploring, they were happy to come back upstairs and get ready for school. Once they were gone, I settled Hannah and Anthony in front of a movie and went downstairs to tackle the laundry room, which is where we store(d) a good majority of our stuff.
I worked all day long, carrying crates up the stairs so they could be hosed off and disinfected. Kenny took the day off, but went in for a sales appointment in the afternoon. He called me shortly after getting there, and I could hear the guys mocking him in the background, about how “s*** happens!” and what a “crappy” situation we were in. The jokes got old after a few minutes, so I told Kenny that anyone who wanted to continue the jokes were welcome to, but then they were also welcome to come and help me clean. It shut them up right away, darn it, so I had to continue working solo.
It was about 4:30 PM when Allen and his crew came back to clean the laundry room, and I still didn’t have all of the food moved out. The six of them loaded up box after box and moved it into the newly-bare family room, and then sprayed the room thoroughly. (The smell of disinfectant is still so strong, it makes my nose burn when I go down there, and it’s been almost five days.) As a final act of mercy, they pulled up the unaffected-but-still-disgusting carpet in the family room, as well as the sodden stuff on the stairs.
(They were unprepared for the stairs… we were ALL unprepared for the stairs. Who in their right mind uses an entire box of roofing staples on EACH stair? Really? It took my dad and my brother four hours to pry out the staples that ripped through the carpet, and there were thousands of them. THOUSANDS. The cleanup guys took at least ten times that amount in the carpet when they pulled it off, so I’m roughly estimating we had close to 50,000 staples in our 12 stairs.)
My sweet dad brought us Arby’s for dinner, and my sisters stayed to help me peel soggy sewer labels off my food storage, mark their contents with a permanent marker, and dip them in a bleach solution. The best thing they did, though, was provide moral support. By the end I felt exhausted and defeated, and they were wonderful to lift my spirits.
I learned some things from this experience, and I think I’ll share them in closing. Before I do, let me just say that if this EVER happens again, we’re moving to a one-level home.
With an outhouse.
Kemi’s sew(p)er realizations:
- Sometimes blessings come in unexpected ways. For example, there was no way we could afford to remodel our basement, and now we’ll do it on the city’s dime. New carpet, new drywall, new paint… it’s going to be wonderful. Eventually.
- When you’ve lived in a house for nearly five years and you still have boxes that are unpacked, it’s probably best to go through them or toss them ASAP before they soak up diarrhea and you’re forced to toss them anyway, without getting to look inside first.
- Nothing smells as good as a freshly-disinfected laundry room. NOTHING. (I don’t care what you say.)
- I will never again freak out when my toilet overflows. At least I know where it came from. (Or from whom.)
- I love the empty echo of my laundry room so much, I hate to put the crates of clothes back in there. Tears may be shed.
- We have WAY TOO MUCH crap in our house. Not sewer-crap (anymore)… stuff-crap.
- Your family has to love you an awful lot to play in sewer-infested spaces.
- You can never have too much antibacterial soap in the house. Nor can you use too much after an experience like this one.
- Having your sewer back up will get you out of jury duty, or at least get your call-date pushed back two weeks. (Thank you, Third District Court clerk!)
- Having someone else do all the cleanup makes the situation suck just a little bit less. Okay, a whole lot less. Had I been left to my own devices, I’d still be down there trying to blot it up with paper towels.
- Budget-breaking Cherry Garcia ice cream tastes even better after a disaster like this. (PLEASE take my word on this. Don’t try to experience it for yourselves.)