I drove across the country to Oregon after I lost housing and four jobs, and my school and CF clinic closed in Southwestern, NY. Just six months earlier, I made the trip from my hometown in Arizona to New York. I was staying with friends in Oregon, and after arriving at the house and unpacking my belongings, I was starting to get the hang of things. I got a job at an amazing vet clinic in Pleasant Valley, had gone to get PFTs done an hour north, and my service dog, Jasper, and I were starting to breathe again a little.
In September 2020 I was working at the vet clinic. We had curbside service to prevent COVID at that time, so clients had to be checked in with their pets outside. We would meet outside the clinic to go over all information, then take the patient inside, and bring them back out when they were ready — lots of going in and out all day. One day, I could smell smoke from nearby forest fires every time the door opened. We were all wearing masks and protective equipment, of course, but the smoke was still there. As the day continued, I asked if my coworkers could take my patients back outside for me because the smoke was becoming too much for me to handle.
When I went home that night, five miles away from my clinic, I remember reading about the forest fires and how they were spreading and getting closer to the house. Though they were still about an hour from me, I was nervous and kept alerts on my phone in case anything needed to be done in the night.
The next morning, I woke up and smoke surrounded the house. I could not see the woods like I normally could, and the melody of wildlife was nowhere to be heard nor seen.
I checked my phone, and the fire was within 10 miles! I immediately packed up my vest and started packing a bag. Jasper and I needed to get out while we could!
My dad, who was in Arizona, called and convinced me that staying out was better. There were air filters and circulations in the house and the fires were closing in all around. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck surrounded by smoke in the car with my service dog.
I was unable to go to work because of the smoke. I had to wear an N95 mask in the house at all times, except for when I slept. I couldn’t really breathe in general, and the mask was making it worse. On top of that, my housemates threw a dinner party while ash rained from the sky. You couldn’t see even across the street and a lot of the smoke was making its way into the house as the caterers went in and out.
After three days of raining ash, and calling into work, the best thing to do was make the long trek from Eugene to Portland to get to hospital.
The smoke followed me north over the three to four hours it took to make the trip to Portland. It was the safest place for us. I packed up all the things that were most important as it was a very real possibility that the house would not be there when we come back. But I was blessed to be able to pack anything, let alone my dog and car. We drove to Portland with almost zero visibility, and arrived in a smoky haze atop the hill.
When we arrived at the Portland hospital, the hospital had smoke in it. Even with their air purifiers — the best there are — you could smell it everywhere. Jasper and I were admitted to the top floor, which was good. If the fire jumped the river we would be airlifted to Washington or Canada. We were close enough that we would be ready. I went on oxygen as soon as we got there. It was interesting to have “smoke clothes” and hospital clothes. I am single, so I am Jasper’s handler, his one and only — it's just us. So, we would go out three times a day so he could relieve himself. I would wear an N95 mask, another one over that, plus gloves. Keep in mind now it’s wildfires and peak COVID as well and we are in a hospital.
When we would go out, Jasper would get vested and get his shoes on. I would get gloved, masked, smoke clothes ready, and try to go as quickly as possible. When we would return to our room, he would get wiped down head to toe, shoes off but still vested but sprayed with essential oils. I would change out of my smoke clothes, wash up, and back on oxygen and IVs.
Although you could see nothing but smoke out of every window in the hospital, I felt so incredibly lucky and blessed! I had my service dog, a pair of clothes, and some choice items. Even if the fires engulfed the parking garage and my car was gone, along with the remaining items that I had moved across the country with now twice, I had my dog. He was the only irreplaceable item and he was all I needed.
Being at level two evacuation and hurrying to pack a bag and make it out in a car is an interesting feeling. All my belongings fit in a car, packed strategically. It's like Jenga and Tetris combined. However, being lucky enough to have Jasper safe and with me is all I could ask for.
After 10 days in the hospital, we were discharged. We needed to wait till the smoke cleared more in Eugene before we went back, and I had to continue taking precautions to protect my health. It was just another adventure to add to the year that was 2020 for us. This experience showed me that you can’t control the people around you, only the way you react to them. Seeing farms and homes completely gone really reinforced my belief that all you really need is what you can carry with you. You can replace belongings, but a life? That is irreplaceable. I am so very blessed that I still have Jasper and we have been through so much.
Interested in sharing your story? The CF Community Blog wants to hear from you.