John O'Connor
John O’Connor

We humans tend to be creatures of habit. Most of us like to develop daily routines and stick with them. This approach has its benefits. It saves a lot of time that would otherwise be wasted sorting out mundane matters.

But every now and then an unexpected jolt completely upends our rhythms and rituals. It can be the first time we see Dad putting his car keys in the fridge. Or the call from a loved one at the hospital. Or the meeting with the boss inviting us to seek new career opportunities. It’s at moments like these when we really discover how fragile and uncertain life can be.

As a nation, we collectively shared one of those experiences last week, when Hurricane Sandy had her way with New York, New Jersey and the surrounding Northeast region. The damage is still being tallied, but it’s fairly horrific.

So far, at least 98 deaths have been linked to the storm, and it’s a safe bet the number will surpass triple digits. In New York City, 40 people have already been found dead. Half of the New York total is from Staten Island, which was overrun by what witnesses described as a wall of water.

Among the Staten Island dead were two brothers, aged 2 and 4. They were literally swept from their mother’s arms after her car stalled in rising waters.

Then there’s the economic cost. The people who do this for a living are still tallying the property damage, lost business and extra living expenses related to the storm. But by one estimate, the final number will surpass $50 billion. That would make Hurricane Sandy the second most expensive storm ever (after Hurricane Katrina). Even today, hundreds of thousands of people are still without power. Many more have waited hours in line for the privilege of buying some gasoline – when they can find an open station.

Remarkably, the long-term care sector has been largely spared. So far, there have been no reported resident deaths or injuries. That’s not to say there haven’t been a few close calls. According to published reports, at least five New York skilled care facilities received orders to evacuate residents. Many others lost power and the use of back-up generators when lobbies and basements flooded. Residents had to be moved from the Waterview Center Nursing home in Cedar Grove, NJ. That’s because the facility’s roof blew off Tuesday morning.

Yes, Hurricane Sandy has left destruction everywhere in her wake. But most of the mess will eventually be cleaned up. It won’t be long before those of us spared life-searing scars will be back to our normal routines. And we’ll likely stay in those established comfort zones – until the next jolt reminds us of just how powerless we really are.