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Monday, October 31, 2011

The Kindness Of Strangers

So I walk into our bathroom, I don't remember why, did I have to go to the bathroom or was I going to get something? I don't remember... but what happened was that I stepped into the bathroom and I heard this noise, this sort of gurgle, gulping noise, and I stopped. And thought, what the hell? I stood there and listened and then I saw the toilet bowl was filling up, on it's own. Filling up to the top. I stood there and watched it, sort of amazed for a minute, but it was nearly overflowing, so I ran to grab the plunger, but the minute I have the plunger in hand, the toilet is overflowing onto the floor, so I grab the rug and my shoes which were there on the floor and throw them into the hallway, and I take the plunger to the toilet and then I hear another gulping, gurgling belch and it's tub. Water is coming out of the tub drain into the tub. I step back, horrified, I step back. It's as if the bathroom has come alive! Even Ripley, who had followed me into the bathroom, flees in terror.

I am not a plumber. Bob used to handle that stuff. I am pretty handy, I mean, I can replace an electrical outlet, put in a light fixture, I even once hung a ceiling fan--though that still wobbles a bit, but plumbing? That's a mystery to me, so I am pretty much freaking out. So I run to Bob, who is in his hospital bed, and I blurt out the problem and he looks at me and says, calmly, "Oh well."

A lot help that is.

I grab the phone book. It's a Sunday and I'm thinking there's probably going to be an extra charge for work on Sundays and I have visions of dollar bills flying down the toilet, literally.  And, crap, how are we going to afford this? but I'm flipping though the yellow pages and I see an ad for plumber which says "no extra charge for weekends or holidays" so I call them.

They tell me they will send someone out within 2 hours. While I wait, avoiding the horror scene in the bathroom, Bob and I run through his leg exercises in bed and do his range-of-motion right arm exercises and I realize I need to trim his fingernails and as I'm doing that, the plumber arrives.

The plumber is a nice young guy who actually introduces himself and shakes my hand, which is sort of unusual, for a plumber. I show him the bathroom and tell him what happened and he says he thinks the sewer line is clogged. He asks if there is a sewer access cap outside. I am thinking what? He tells me it's a white round cap, usually in the ground near the house and I'm thinking I've never seen anything like that, I mean, Bob and I painted this whole house a few years back so I've pretty much had my hands on every crevice and cranny outside, but I don't remember that... but we go searching. All around the house. And we find nothing. So he starts to dig.

Sometimes, he says, the cap in on the pipe underground. And if he can find the cap, he can run a roto-rooter through it, otherwise he'll have to take the toilet off and that will cost extra. So, he's digging and hits a pipe and digs around it and lo and behold, there's a pipe but no cap. And he continues digging and uncovers the pipe, which is a 90 year old terra cotta pipe and it has two huge gaping holes in it.

It doesn't look good. It looks, in fact, like our sewage has been pouring right into the ground. He digs around the pipes and through the two large hand-sized holes, he pulls out clumps of tree roots.

He says, "You've got to replace this pipe."

I gulp, "How much is that going to cost?"

And he says, "Well, we have to run a camera through it to see how much pipe needs to be replaced, but just this part will cost about $1500 and if they have to go all the way to street you're looking at $4000 or more. I can send a guy with a camera tomorrow, that part will cost $390.00"

And I'm thinking: oh shit.

He says, "We take credit cards or we can finance it, if you have good credit."

And I thinking, oh shit again. Because of course we don't have good credit, not after all these medical bills, etc. and our one credit card that I've managed to hang onto is nearly maxed...

I say, "Our credit is shot. My husband had a stroke last year and all these medical bills are after us..." and I start to cry. Right then and there. I hate to admit it. But I can't help it. I am standing there looking down into this stupid hole on the side of our house with a pipe with two big holes in it and I start to cry. Because honestly, I don't know what to do.

He tells me that his mother just had a stroke and she's in rehab. So he certainly understands, because he has power of attorney and the medical bills are enormous. That he is one of 11 children, and everyone in the family has gone broke just trying to pay for his mother's rehab.

He says, maybe you can get a handyman out here to do it cheaper, the pipes could be "patched" with concrete, but he (the plumber) can't do a "patch" job because that would get him fired.

He says, he'd be happy to run a roto-rooter through, see if the rest of the pipe can be unclogged first, there's certainly a tree root problem here but the pipe would then have to be patched somehow and who knows the roto-rooter might break through the old pipe down the line..... But he could do the roto-rooter and that would cost $250.00 but there's no guarantee it would work. No guarantee and it might make things worse. And I could hire someone else to patch the pipe.

I say, sniffling like an idiot, "I have to think about this." Because even $250.00 is a lot of money for us. Especially with no guarantee. And where would I find a "handyman" to do this. I look toward the house, where Bob is inside, in his hospital bed waiting for me and I'm thinking, god damn it, Bob, you're supposed to be well and out here and handling this stuff!

We stand there a few minutes staring at the hole in the ground and the old broken pipe.

Then he says, "Is there a Home Depot nearby?"

And I say, "Yes."

He says, "You run to Home Depot and get some Quickcrete and a 5 gallon bucket, and I'll run the roto-rooter through, and I'll be real careful not to break the pipe and if it doesn't work, I won't charge you, but if it does, I'll patch the pipe with concrete and that will get you by for awhile. I'm not supposed to do this, so don't tell anyone. I could lose my job. Maybe my license."

And I did. I run to Home Depot, all the while praying to the roto-rooter gods that the pipe doesn't break. And he did, run the roto-router through, which unclogged the old pipe. And he patched it with concrete, all the while as he worked, we exchanged "stroke stories", his mom, my Bob. And he only charged me $200.00 and we hugged each other when he left.

Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.


barbpolan said...

Yes, yes, yes - At times, strangers have been kinder than some of the people I know. I'm so pleased that you found a plumber with a kind streak a mile wide - his mother raised him right.

Anonymous said...

It appears the good Lord sent you an angel in plumbers clothing. What a wonderful man to do what was right, rather than "follow the book". I hope the plumbing holds up for years for you. Caring1 (Dan)

Linda Cooper said...

What a wonderful plumber!

My daughter had a bad plumbing issue when remodeling her 100 year old house. No way she could have paid either.
She got an elderly retired plumber through "Age and Opportunity" and the he charged a much reduced rate and basically sent her to the store for supplies and showed her what to do so she did most of the work and running around. He dragged it on for a couple days and told her a ton of stories about his younger days and enjoyed several meals with her.... and gave her a real education about plumbing so she has a better idea how to do some fix ups.

I didn't mean to get long winded .. my point was you can try and find the number for your equivalent of a seniors work center for handi-man or professional help for next repairs or builds.