Adventure in Peter Cooper, step by step
I’m an 83-year-old wheelchair-bound amputee with serious chronic medical conditions. My domestic partner and I have lived in a seventh-floor apartment before, during and since hurricane Sandy, with the exception of a week right afterward.
All PCV personnel were immensely helpful throughout the storm and its aftermath. My personal unsung heroes are Security Officers Royster and Jean-Pierre (first names unknown). I hope they the recognition they deserve. Here’s the saga:
After two days and a night with Sandy sans lights, phones, power, water, heat or a working elevator and only one other family left on our floor, and a few others anywhere in the building, it seemed time to leave. When my daughter-in-law and nine-year-old granddaughter appeared unannounced after traipsing up the seven flights to the apartment invited us to share their family retreat two hours upstate, I was grateful and overjoyed to accept – but unfortunately gave little thought to the logistics that would be involved in getting there.
Miraculously, our car was bone dry on First Avenue even though the cross streets had been a wind-driven flood the night before. In preparation, my partner, in her sixties, walked down and then up the seven flights many times to load up the car with necessities, including my heavy medical paraphernalia—for the trip and our projected stay of uncertain duration.
Then it was my turn. Security at the gate said that two officers would be dispatched to get us out of the apartment and the building. Shortly these gentlemen — the said Officers Royster and Jean-Pierre — arrived, having climbed the entry stairs and the six remaining flights to our doorway, one a young beanpole, the other fifty-ish and husky, a single narrow-beam LED torch between them. They were, and remained, pleasant, polite, all-business and, considering their mission, in remarkably good humor.
First, they rolled me in my wheelchair out of the apartment to the pitch-dark stairwell. After some consultation about which of them would hold the chair high with me aboard, while walking backward down the stairs (Royster started and a flight or two later they switched positions), we began the tediously slow descent. To keep synchronized, they chanted “step” before moving down each step, then paused a few seconds to rest before the next.
Perched aloft, feeling very unstable with every wobble and tremble of the chair, worrying about my elevated center of gravity, and constantly in fear of plummeting headlong down the black concrete abyss, I clenched the wheelchair arms tightly but somehow also managed to swing the feeble light with which I’d been entrusted up, down and from side to side like a spastic night watchman. But from them there was never a complaint or grumble, nor an expressed doubt about getting me down safely. On each landing we paused about two minutes to regain strength, breath and faith.
During one such pause, we heard footsteps descending from above. Seconds later out of the blackness appeared a couple well-known in the building. I asked whimsically as they rounded the corner, “Why didn’t you take the elevator?” The beam accidentally and momentarily crossed the man’s face. “Why don’t you just get that damned light out of my eyes,” he answered mirthlessly, moving around and on down past us. With them presumably out of earshot, my partner turned to the officers and explained, “You’ve just met the building A-hole.” They nodded and we resumed the trek.
Our procession continued in fits and starts. The heavier officer started sweating profusely even with my partner now carrying his uniform coat. We continued inching tediously and perilously to the main floor and then down the entryway stairs, finally reaching terra firma and facing the soggy outside.
After those 20 minutes or so (that for me seemed like at least a couple of hours) of being terror-stricken, I exhaled, never more relieved and grateful. Of course, they wouldn’t accept any material token of my thanks, politely demurring with “Just our job,” and initially were even reluctant to part with their names.
My everlasting thanks, guys. You are the best.
Joe Lobenthal, PCV
Recovering emotionally from Sandy
As we celebrate the holiday season, PCV/Stuy Town continues to rebuild following the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.
While management has been very responsive in repairing the physical damage from the hurricane, it is also important to not overlook the emotional or psychological scars, which may remain.
As a psychologist involved in disaster mental health services, I believe it is critical to recognize that we all experienced a traumatic event. While our complex may not have suffered the immense devastation of other parts of the city, the impact of the storm continues to affect our lives.
Research indicates that although 70-80 percent of individuals recover normally after a disaster, 20-30 percent of people experience mental health problems post-disaster, such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. Oftentimes these individuals suffer in silence, since most others have moved on with their everyday lives. Therefore, it is important to note changes in your functioning or mood, or that of loved ones.
If you or anyone you know feels overwhelmed—reach out.
1-800-LIFENET is a free, confidential help line for New York City residents.
Have a wonderful holiday and don’t forget to be kind to your neighbors and to take care of yourself and loved ones.
Richard Orbé-Austin, PhD