My Last 12 Hours

When changing the smoke detector battery threatens your future

Kate Bracy
Crow’s Feet


Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

The Noise

7:30 p.m. Anne and Kate hear a loud, startling *BANG* close at hand. Agree it must be fourth of July neighborhood hoodlums. Thirty seconds later, smoke detector starts chirping. Loud. Annoying. Every eighteen seconds. Kate pauses TV streaming (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and says, “Crap. I think the 9-volt battery exploded in the smoke detector. It happened once before in my den.”

Kate goes out into living room and listens. Smoke detector in question is the one just below the vaulted ceiling. Anne estimates height at approximately 12 feet. Kate inquires regarding whether they own an appropriate ladder for changing aforementioned battery. Anne says that while they used to own such a ladder, they no longer did. She postulates having given it to son-in-law, the roofer.

After an adequate period of swearing, Kate asks what should be the approach. Anne is stumped. Kate thinks about trying to sleep with piercing chirps occurring at regular 18-second intervals throughout the night. Another period of swearing follows. Kate calls friend who is handy. He wisely allows his voicemail to pick up. She calls brother on east coast. He wisely allows voicemail to pick up. Another period of swearing follows.

Anne calls son-in-law, who does not in fact have the ladder as suggested earlier, and can’t leave baby to come help problem solve. He suggests calling nonemergent number for fire department to see if they can help and/or flipping breakers in circuit box to see if one turns off the chirping.

The Breakers

Anne calls nonemergent fire department number. They wisely allow voicemail to pick up. After another suitable period of swearing, Kate agrees it’s time to try flipping breakers one at a time to see if one will shut up the detector.

Close up of circuit breaker box
Image by author

Unfortunately, breakers are in small apartment occupied by Kate’s Dad, who is already in bed for the night. Anne offers to go over and start the process of breaker-flipping. She states that the breakers are inaccurately marked, and it is on her to-do list to mark them properly. She has, in fact, started an Excel spreadsheet to do exactly that. She postulates that this might be the time to check which breakers are connected to which rooms and label them accurately. Kate gives Anne a very dark look and agrees to plan. Anne excitedly goes off to print off her excel spreadsheet. She loves this sort of project. Kate just wants to sleep through night, but sees the wisdom of accurately labeled breakers.

Anne takes spreadsheet and goes over to apartment. She wakes Mr. Bracy and explains situation. He says, “Do whatever you need to, Kid,” and rolls back over in bed.

Anne and Kate turn on all lights in apartment and house and Anne stands at breaker panel, beginning process of identifying and labeling respective breakers. She makes notes on excel sheet, Kate reports which rooms are affected by each throw of a switch, and whether it silenced the *&^%$ smoke detector.

Breakers are woefully labeled, misleading Kate and Anne many times. Anne and Kate switch places so Kate can flip breakers and Anne can stand in kitchen with excel sheet and make notes. Eventually, Anne begins to disagree with Kate regarding what each breaker does. Kate joins Anne and sees very confusing excel sheet with many notes, cross-outs and duplicate listing of breakers. Both agree that since Lyme’s Disease, projects handling multivariate elements are no longer Anne’s strong suit. Kate suggests picking up this project in the morning. Anne agrees. Kate goes to pour water to take medicine for headache. No water. Pump not working.

After appropriate period of swearing, Kate goes back to circuit breakers and checks to see that all are flipped to “on” position. Yes. All on.

The Pump House

Kate and Anne go to pump house to explore possibility that there is a “reset” for the pump. By now it is very dark, despite recent summer solstice. Kate opens door to pump house and is met with smell of rat urine. She questions Anne regarding why they are paying for pest control. Anne is terrified of rats and replies from a distance. Kate looks into pump house and all the various gauges and badly organized groups of wires. She does not see a reset button despite bravely searching in nooks and crannies amid rat feces and dangerous-looking “capped” wires.

Pump house wiring as perceived by Kate (Photo by Benjamin Recinos on Unsplash)

Now there is a smoke detector emitting siren-like yelps and no running water. Kate doesn’t like the direction the evening has taken.

Anne and Kate discuss merits of new pump house and firing pest guy. Decide that if they have to call electrician or plumber in morning, they will do so. Anne goes to her room, puts on c-pap and sleeps soundly. Kate goes to her room and self-hypnotizes for an hour until she falls into light sleep, but dreams all night of various versions of faucets dripping water with loud piercing drips at 18-second intervals.

The Ladder

In the morning, Kate goes out to see whether, in fact, there might be a ladder with which to reach shrieking detector. Indeed, she finds one neatly hanging outside on shop wall. (How like Anne to store it thusly. How like Anne to forget having done so.)

Photo by Jenn Simpson on Unsplash

Kate brings ladder to house and Anne suggests power washing it before placing on white carpet. Kate states she thinks this unnecessary and will put sheets down to prevent soiling carpet. Together they maneuver 15-foot ladder into living room. Kate places sheet on floor and towel on top of ladder to avoid staining either carpet or wall. Anne says she thinks it was a mistake not to wash ladder. Smoke detector shrieks. They place ladder against wall and move couch to support it so it doesn’t slip away. (Kate has visions of friend’s mom who fell off her back porch just prior to retirement, and became quadriplegic. Kate would like different retirement than quadriplegia offers.)

The Solutions

Kate climbs ladder toward offending detector. Kate is terrified of heights and knows that Anne cannot climb ladder. She gets 2/3 of the way up ladder and hears whimpering. It is she. She climbs down ladder and breathes deeply several times. She and Anne reposition ladder and Kate makes sign of cross and tries again. This time she reaches detector and successfully unscrews it from high wall. As suspected, there is an exploded 9-volt battery inside, which is pried out and replaced. Kate climbs ladder again and installs the now blessedly silent detector without incident.

Cartoon of woman reaching up to adjust smoke detector
Image by author with Befunky photo editor

Kate and Anne carry ladder out to shop. On returning to living room Kate notes that the white carpet now resembles the floor of a deciduous forest in autumn. The ladder had been stored outside for an extended period. She makes mental note to tell Anne (at some future moment) that she was right about power washing the ladder.

Now that the original problem is solved, Kate turns to the no-water pump dilemma. The house is beginning to smell vaguely like the pump house since toilets have not been flushed in many hours. She starts with the circuit breakers. Announcing that she and Anne are going to finish up their project started the night before, Kate watches as her dad suddenly has an urgent need to get on his scooter and tend to the raspberry bushes.

After forty-five minutes of re-testing circuits and Anne correcting, once again, her Excel sheet, Kate and Anne successfully map the circuit breakers in both boxes. Kate further studies the breakers, and after a quick review of right versus left, determined that one breaker is still in the off position. As luck would have it, it is the one supplying the rat-infested pump house with electricity. Voila!! Running water and no electrician bill. Victory indeed.

Image by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

The Return to Ordinary World

After vacuuming the leaves in the living room and flushing all the toilets, Kate settles down to have some breakfast.

Kate is hoping her neurons will have sufficiently settled from the day’s events by the time grandson Silas sweeps in at three. Anne quietly sets the bottle of Valium next to Kate’s plate, and goes off to color-code her circuit breaker spreadsheet.

Rural aging-in-place: Not for the timid.

Breakfast plate with eggs, toast and grapes. Orange Juice, coffee and pills beside plate.
Image by author