In Texas, former big league pitcher Micah Bowie needs an oxygen machine to live, and that requires power
By DAVE SHEININ | The Washington Post | Published: February 18, 2021
On the third full day without power for the Bowie family of New Braunfels, Texas, a kindhearted neighbor in a 4x4 Jeep Cherokee drove up their iced-over driveway and delivered a gas tank containing five gallons of fuel — enough to sustain the Bowies' borrowed generator for another eight hours or so. That, in turn, would keep the machine that pumps seven liters of oxygen per minute into Micah Bowie's lungs running well into Wednesday night.
What happens after that? How long will the power outage last? How long can they go on like this? Those were questions Bowie couldn't answer.
"I'm not going to lie," he said over the phone Wednesday afternoon. "I'm getting a little freaked out."
The crippling winter storm that caused widespread power outages across much of Texas beginning Monday morning had millions of people, by Day 3, approaching the line between inconvenience and mortal danger. Nearly 3 million customers in Texas remained in the dark as of Wednesday afternoon, with temperatures hovering at or below freezing. At least a dozen deaths have been blamed on the storm and the resulting outages.
But for Bowie, 46, a former pitcher who spent parts of six seasons in the major leagues from 1999 to 2008, the situation was dire from the first moments the power went off, around 2 a.m. Monday. Bowie suffered a ruptured thoracic diaphragm from a medical implant in 2016, and he has required a constant stream of oxygen to stay alive since. So he was lucky he was awake when it happened. Had he been asleep and not noticed the power cutting off, he could have died.
He quickly got himself attached to a portable tank that kept the oxygen flowing, but later that morning, with the power still out, Bowie's family — wife Keeley and son Brody, 19 — went to fire up their generator only to discover it wouldn't work. Like many across the state, the Bowies had been caught off guard by the power outage.
"Hurricane Harvey passed within 30 miles of us," Bowie said of the Category 4 storm that devastated much of Texas and Louisiana in 2017, "and we never lost power."
The rolling blackouts, Bowie said, have been sporadic and unpredictable: "Five hours off, 30 minutes on, two more hours off." To save fuel in the generator for Micah's oxygen, the Bowies aren't powering anything else in the house — including the heat.
Whenever the power suddenly comes on, they spring into action. Brody turns off the generator to conserve fuel. Keeley cranks the heat up full-blast, in hopes of getting the house warm before the next outage. Everyone charges their cellphones.
At night, Keeley sets alarms to go off every hour because if Micah's oxygen flow suddenly stops, it could kill him in his sleep.
The process has been harrowing. Micah estimates he was down to one hour's worth of oxygen at one point, and his oxygen levels have "bottomed out" a couple of times. But the option of calling an ambulance has no appeal, because of the risk of contracting the coronavirus in a hospital: Bowie's doctors have told him he is unlikely to survive a bout with covid-19. He has barely left the house in the past 12 months.
"I've only been out a few times," he said, "and never around people."
And so, starting with the discovery of the malfunctioning generator Monday morning — and continuing indefinitely — the Bowies have been at the mercy of their network of friends and neighbors. A member of their church loaned them a generator. Others have procured gas to power it.
"A couple of times," Micah Bowie said, "it was like, 'What are we going to do?' I was literally running out of air. And then people came through for us. They're my angels."
On Wednesday, when they were running low on gas again and Keeley didn't think she could make it to the gas station in their front-wheel-drive car, she put a call out on Facebook: "We are going to need more gas for the generator . . . So if you have gas to spare and live close to us please let me know!" Within minutes, they not only had the five gallons from a neighbor but additional donations from two other families.
"God does things in a big way and is showering us with blessings through this storm!!!" she posted in a Facebook update later Wednesday. "Keep praying and stay safe and warm. So much love [heart emoji] to all keeping my Micah alive!"