Two people are asleep after a very, long and good but exhausting day.
Two cats lay at the foot of their bed: each respectively warming the feet and calves of their human charge.
Suddenly, a piercing noise slashes through the air.
One of the people sits bolt upright.
The other curls into a ball.
J identifies the noise as the fire/smoke alarm: the new mandated ones that are the latest thing-- hardwired into the electrical system of the house, and connected together.
Surprised and frantic, J realizes that now ALL of the detectors are going off because if one alerts, they all sound.
From J's perspective, the noise was scary at first, then irritating and it made his ears ring a little bit. It wasn't pleasant, but he could handle it.
These are not your "normal," annoying beeping machines. No.
These are decibels above that.
These are not clanging bells that can be refuted with hands over your ears, or pillows, or earplugs.
These are louder than a ship's clangon, as loud or louder than a bullhorn.
These are distractingly, disorientingly, ear-drum bursting if you're over exposed loud.
I cannot handle it.
J found me curled up in a ball, not able to hear him clearly or speak to him well.
I didn't even realize that I was crying until the noise had been stopped for a few moments.
Until he'd gotten the ladder from the garage, climbed up to reach them on our 10.5' ceiling heights;
Until he'd opened the cover and removed the unit from the hard wiring in the wall;
Until he'd had to come back to each unit a second time to remove the battery because they were still going off even though disconnected;
Until then with the batteries bouncing next to the units, he'd taken everything OUT OF THE HOUSE to the garage in a bag because they were STILL holding a charge and pulsing.
All I could see were flashes of red and white. All I could hear was the ear-splitting noise and scream. All I could feel was PAIN.
Pain in my head, behind my eyes, in my jaw, in my throat.
Searing immobilizing pain down my spine.
I couldn't THINK.
I was unable to COMMUNICATE.
I was completely IMMOBILIZED by these alarms.
I couldn't hear properly for the rest of the night after these alarms went off, and my ears were still hurting/ringing/fuzzy the following morning.
And there wasn't even a fire.
What set them off was a small water leak in the basement that we would have found the next morning anyway. It set the combination fire/radon detector off when it got wet.
The worst part is, we had to pay for our electrician to come back, check over the system, and reinstall them. It's the law. It's the fire and safety code.
Except that I'm not safe.
I was outside the house on the front porch when he tested the units.
It didn't matter. I still cried, felt horrible pain, and couldn't move.
Even though I was three rooms, two doors and a porch away.
J and I don't know what to do about this, because if I'm alone in the house and there IS a fire, there's probably no way I'm going to be able to get out.
What if after we're married we have children and these alarms go off? How am I going to be able to save them and myself if I can't move or speak?
The only solution we can see, is that we're going to find an auditory specialist and have my hearing checked and diagnosed with hyper-sensitivity, or whatever this phenomenon of sound is. Then we're going to look for an alternate alert system that can be installed.
The problem is, that from what I've been reading, even the systems that vibrate under your pillow (for the hearing impaired) still have an auditory component-- and it's LOUDER than the "normal," units.
Smoke and fire alarms have been getting louder and LOUDER over the years.
J and I think is because there are so many false alarms --- in schools, office buildings... we're taught as children to line up quickly and quietly single-file to evacuate the building in case of a fire.
But can you remember a time in your school when there WAS a fire, and not a drill? I remember people enjoying fire-drills because we got to get some fresh air outside, and take a break. I remember the alarms going off so much in high school that we were told to ignore them (an impossibility for me... I've always been mildly disoriented, felt pain and cried). I know that frequently people do ignore them because they're a nusiance.
Therefore, louder and louder... but a smoke alarm at home used to be different from a siren at school.
The fire safety experts tell you to practice in your own home. To go over and over what to do in case of a fire-- have your own drill.
Let me tell you. If those alarms go off, it won't matter if I'm drill-team perfect on evacuation. I won't be able to move.
Or communicate at all.
I will be curled up in a crying, muscle tensed ball, feeling nothing but pain and seeing nothing but flashing white and red. I will be hearing Armageddon.
And right now, there's nothing I can do about it.
I hope the auditory specialist has a doctor's note and ideas for us.
I hope there's an alarm system out there that can calmly alert us at a NORMAL decibel level to evacuate the building-- a stern voice saying "There's a fire/hazard in the kitchen/front bedroom/office/back bedroom/basement/whatever. Please leave through the nearest exit as quickly as possible. There's a fire/hazard in the..."
Otherwise, we'll just have to live without fire and smoke alarms; which is a pretty scary thing to a couple who's wanting to have children some day. It's also illegal. All we can do is have them installed and then uninstall them after the electrician leaves.
It doesn't matter that I'm a musician, auditory learner, light sleeper and that I have always had sensitive ears and better hearing than most (higher and lower range). That's why this issue is mildly concerning. The real problem is...
I've been afraid to go to sleep and walk under the alarms.
I'm scared that a thunderstorm will set them off, that they'll go off again for no reason (they did this the first time they were installed, and again 3 months later, and again 4 months later...).
If I'm in a building other than my home, all I can do is hope that when I stop moving and hit the floor, someone will drag me with the rest of the single-filers out of the place to safety, because I sure won't be able to save myself. I just hope I don't block the stairwell and risk other people's lives too.
I'm frightened that if there IS a fire in our house, I won't be able to move. Not because I wasn't alerted in time, but because that very same alarm is going to KILL me if I'm alone.
Right now, there's nothing I can do about that fact.