We did everything right in our planning -- packing wisely and well in advance; arranging for a reliable pet-sitter;planning to leave for L.A. on Monday in order to avoid the worst of the holiday traffic; setting the alarm so we could be up pre-dawn for a 6 a.m. departure.
We prepared for bed early on Sunday night. Bob went into the bathroom to take a shower and came back looking puzzled.
"I can't get any hot water," he said. "Maybe the pilot light's out in the water heater."
He threw on a robe and we went out to the chilly garage. There was no pilot light. We tried repeatedly to re-ignite it. Nothing. I went online for an informational video from Roto-Rooter on how to get a pilot light lit. We had been doing the right thing. I decided to call Roto-Rooter for emergency service.
"We can send someone out," the operator told me. "But it will be several hours before he can get there. You're really out in the sticks. The technician will be there about 1 a.m. Is that okay?"
Sharp intake of breath. "Yes," I said at last. "We'd really appreciate it."
I told Bob that he ought to go to bed and get some sleep since he was driving the first leg of our journey while I could catch up on sleep in the car as he drove. He nodded and went into the bedroom, closing the door.
The technician, Brian, showed up right on time, just after the water heater began gushing water, flooding the garage. It didn't take long for him to ascertain that we needed a new water heater. What? Our first water heater in Los Angeles lasted 18 years! The second was still going strong when we moved after 11 years and counting. This one was only four years old! "But the water here is so corrosive,"Brian said. "It's quite common for water heaters to fail after three or four years. We could install a new one for you later today -- or whenever you'd like."
After awakening Bob for a quick consultation, we decided that the new water heater would be installed in a week, after our return. Brian gave us a date and time and left about 2 a.m. after draining what was left in the defective water heater.
I went to bed for three hours of fitful sleep, arising with Bob at 5 a.m. By 5:45, we had packed the car and pulled out of the driveway. But two blocks into our 500 mile journey, Bob turned around. "I think I need my warmer coat," he said, shivering in the early morning chill.
When we walked into the house, we were greeted by our young female cat Sweet Pea, who was whimpering and limping. I called the emergency vet line. She couldn't be seen until 8:30. Bob and I looked at each other and made an instant mutual decision: we would delay our long-anticipated trip for a day to take care of business.
We arranged for the new water heater to be installed that afternoon. Bob admitted that the pressure sore on his (bony) rear end was bothering him and he made a doctor's appointment while I took Sweet Pea to the vet.
The most tightly wound of our four cats, Sweet Pea usually screams and hyperventilates for the duration of the 15 mile journey to the vet's office. This time, the screaming stopped after just a few blocks and she lapsed into profound silence. I jiggled her carrier to make sure she was still alive. There was a yowl of protest. Reassured, I drove on.
The various crises were easily resolved: salve for Bob, rest for Sweet Pea's sprained foot and a new water heater was installed by 3 p.m. We enjoyed hot showers that night and got a sound sleep before heading off Tuesday morning.
We not only felt more rested, but also a bit wiser. Our experience had taught us several important lessons, such as:
The importance of listening to one's body. Bob admitted that he had been experiencing significant discomfort for several days before our planned departure, but put off going to the doctor because he didn't want anything to interfere with our travel plans. Getting medication and reassurance from the doctor that his condition was not serious helped him to enjoy our trip even more.
The importance of taking action rather than procrastinating. Taking care of the water heater as soon as possible minimized our discomfort and inconvenience, giving us hot showers to return to after a very long journey home. We were thankful that we had had the heater replaced before we left.
The primacy of family -- and all creatures in the family -- over well-laid plans. Seeing Sweet Pea in pain was the deal breaker for our original travel schedule. We couldn't leave her like that. We didn't want to shift the responsibility of seeking care onto the pet-sitter. Sweet Pea, who is terribly afraid at the vet's, needed to nuzzle into my arms during the examination. We owed her that. And one night lost at our ocean-side inn was minimal compared to her well-being.
The importance of gratitude -- even in challenging times. As we got ready to head out Tuesday morning, we were overcome with feelings of gratitude about how fortunate we had been. What if the water heater had flooded the garage while we were gone? What if we hadn't returned for Bob's coat and noticed that Sweet Pea was injured? What if Bob's discomfort had increased and necessitated emergency care in California instead of with his regular doctor here?
Running through the various alternative scenarios, we found ourselves giving heartfelt thanks two days before Thanksgiving as we hit the road -- newly carefree and anticipating good times ahead.