I’ve found over the years that when things go wrong, stuff tends to happen fast.
A couple of nights ago, my mom decided to throw out a quart and a half of leftover cole slaw taking up room in the fridge. The problem began when she decided it would be a good idea to put it down the garbage disposal in the kitchen sink…and you guessed it, the drain clogged solid.
I figured it wasn’t the biggest deal in the world, but I haven’t needed any household work done in a few years and didn’t have a current reference for a local plumber, so after seeing nothing of note on craigslist I tried Nashville Citysearch, the online reviews site that’s served me well several times before when researching local businesses. Sorting the results by ratings, I was a bit surprised to see that the hoary old standard Roto-Rooter was about the highest rated service and contributors mentioned they had very competitive prices, so I gave them a call. I was a bit leery since I’ve found many times that Big Name outfits weren’t as satisfying to use as smaller companies that tend to be leaner, meaner and more efficient, not having a well recognized name supporting them, but…what the heck.
To their credit the service fellow showed up within a half hour. He took a cursory look at the sink, retrieved the power snake from his vehicle, and got to work. 15 minutes later, the job was done, the drain was clear and he’d replaced the snake in his truck. Then the fun began.
My mom asked him to look at a faucet in the bathroom that had developed a bit of a drip. Sensibly, he asked me where the water cutoff valve was for the house and I pointed out its approximate location on my front lawn. Unfortunately, it seems to have been a bit overgrown by some nearby junk foliage that the fellow who does our lawn cutting was supposed to have cut back this summer, but didn’t. The fellow looked for the valve for a couple of minutes, then gave up, retreating to the bathroom. I figured he was simply going to examine the offending faucet and proceed from there.
I figured wrong.
Two or three minutes later I heard a yelp of dismay from the bath, followed by the unmistakable rushing sound of a large amount of water suddenly let loose. “Pipe let go!,” he yelled, and came tearing back to the living room. “I gotta find that shutoff!,” he cried, heading for the lawn again. Under this much stress I doubted he’d see the cover for the shutoff valve even if it was in plain sight, and followed after him, feeling pathetically useless as I rolled along in my chair. By the time I got to the street he was already running back to the house. “There’s gotta be a cutoff in the basement!” he exclaimed over his shoulder as he rounded the corner and I turned to follow, trundling along. Dumping an emergency situation on someone with my kind of disability is a bad idea, not only because I move so infuriatingly slow but because as I’ve mentioned before, trying to digest new information is tough since MS steals my brain’s RAM, to use the computer analogy…I could feel my brain locking up like an obsolete computer asked to multitask. If this man had asked me, I’d have told him that there were no valves in the basement; it’s a part of the house that was added well after it was built. As it was, I could only return to the living room to wait…remember, I haven’t been able to get to the basement for years since I lost the ability to walk, much less deal with stairs. My mom hadn’t been idle, thank goodness, she’d fetched a plastic garbage container from the kitchen as soon as she heard the guy holler and was now collecting and bailing water that was geysering from the broken pipe under the bathroom sink.
After several minutes, the man emerged from the cellar looking defeated. He asked me how he could gain access to the affected pipe and I informed him he’d need to get there via the crawlspace under the house. He headed that way and a few minutes later the sound of the water stopped…he’d found the cutoff for the water to the bath.
Still overwhelmed by the situation, I went in search of my little cat, Vya, who’d disappeared in the fracas, worried that this guy might have let her get outside in his frantic haste. I didn’t find her outside and assumed she was hiding from the commotion somewhere…at least I hoped she had. She did in fact reappear later, cautiously emerging from the cellar where she’d been hiding like a soldier who’d been in a firefight coming out of a foxhole.
I returned to the living room and was surprised to find the service tech already going over paperwork with my mom. He’d just charged her $250.00 just to clear the clogged drain, and had prepared an estimate of over $900.00 to repair the broken pipe! He then packed up and left, promising to return on Monday to do the work. Uh huh. For my part, I was so tipped over from the assault of the mountain of data needing processing that I headed for bed, where I collapsed for almost 9 hours, only getting up late in the evening last night. I know, it sounds like I’m a wuss, but try not to judge too harshly, that’s the effect of overloading someone with the cognitive issues brought on by MS.
You’ve probably heard stories of unscrupulous workmen taking advantage of the elderly or disabled…I do believe I just experienced that. Looking back today after some rest that allowed my frazzled mind to calm down, everything that transpired seemed just a wee bit contrived. That workman shouldn’t have touched a suspect water line without locating and using the cutoff for the main water supply…his actions were entirely unprofessional. I don’t doubt that that piece of old galvanized pipe was old and weak, but I’d replaced that faucet myself just a few years ago when I was only beginning to be affected by multiple sclerosis and hadn’t had a shred of trouble. I’m going on instinct and have a sneaking hunch that this workman saw an opportunity to generate a nice lucrative repair job and went for it. The fact that he immediately presented my mom with a huge bill for his 15 minutes’ work in clearing the clogged drain as soon as the emergency was contained but the overall chaos was ongoing supports that suspicion, too.
This has been a real learning experience. I postponed the scheduled ‘service’ call for Monday with Roto-Rooter and obtained a recommendation for a smaller local firm from my new ally Caleb who’d visited the night before with his wife, a service they’d used themselves before. Even with his praise for this company, I plan to take my time and assess each step before proceeding, and won’t allow such a situation to develop again.
I plan to have a nice chat with the manager or owner of this Roto-Rooter franchise, too. $250.00 for fifteen minutes of relatively easy work? Really? I’ve never encountered a home service of any sort that can charge $1000 per hour…at least not a legitimate one that doesn’t finish that hour with a ‘happy ending,’ anyway!
Whew. You can see why I’ve given healthy people the advice I’ve learned about the hard way over the last several years: never, ever become disabled. It does cramp the lifestyle.
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