It is shortly after midnight when I am awakened by the shrill beep of the backup battery at my bedside.
As my brain struggles to emerge from of a deep sleep, a shudder runs through me. That sound can only mean that our power is out again.
We live in rural Idaho, a beautiful place teeming with wild critters (most of whom are actual animals) and nature. But sometimes nature betrays us here. And when it does, it's often the spring storms that plunge us into the dark. Twice this month, wind and rain have taken out our power.
And because our adult son Kevin has depended on a ventilator to sleep since his spinal cord injury in 1997, a power outage is a big problem for us. After his accident left him paralyzed from the neck down, Kevin was initially completely vent-dependent. But he surprised the medical world by regaining much feeling and movement. After two years of needing the ventilator for every breath, he was able to wean off for all his waking hours. He stills goes back on the ventilator at night. Without it, he can't sleep.
In the beginning, every power outage panicked us.
It meant "bagging" him by hand with the same type of ambu bag used by emergency personnel until the electricity was restored. After he could breathe on his own, it meant staying awake until we had power again.
Over the years, we bought a couple of generators in an effort to find a way to let Kevin sleep in an emergency. These were cumbersome and loud. We graduated to deep-cell batteries and a pure sine inverter with which to keep his equipment safely running through the outages.
But an outage meant someone had to know how to switch everything over to battery power. Even with short-term battery backup until we got the other equipment in place, it was still cumbersome.
So Kevin began researching solar power. He did all the research himself, consulting with techs and combing through reviews and YouTube DIY videos. He spent hours learning how solar power works and the best system to safely power sensitive medical equipment.
It took him two years to assemble the needed supplies. He and his father brainstormed how to set up the system for the most efficient and safe conversion of sun power to electricity. They made the system off-grid so there would be no possibility of dangerous feedback to the power lines.
Hello, Idaho; nature calls.
Recently the system was finished, and before we even had a chance to take it on a test run, nature provided the opportunity. When the power flickered and died shortly after midnight. Kevin's dad Aaron, who stays up every night to ensure Kevin's safety on the ventilator, made the changeover to the solar-powered battery with a couple of switches.
To our relief, the system worked perfectly. Kevin stayed on the ventilator all night, and by the time he got off it, the system had already recharged the batteries, so they were ready for another night.
This week, it happened again.
Once again, the system performed without a hitch.
Kevin has made a couple of additions that now allow him to safely charge his smaller devices, such as his phone and touch-pad, directly from the battery bank.
This morning, I'm grateful for a son who has taken intelligent charge of his own safety. I'm grateful for a husband who was willing to be his hands and feet in building the system. I'm thankful for the opportunity to watch them work together for a common goal. I'm inspired by this example of caregiving at its purest, as I watch a father assist his disabled son reach uncommon goals.
Tonight, other trials may keep me awake. But Kevin's independent spirit has made it possible to sleep better, knowing he will.