Last time, we talked about how to set up a well-planned sick room in a bug-out camp or if staying in place. Now, let’s talk a little about the medic. How does the medic avoid becoming the patient? As a caregiver, what can you do to protect your health?
Most medics are concerned about contracting infectious disease, most of which will be respiratory in nature. I placed respiratory infections in the “hygiene-related illness” section of our book “The Survival Medicine Handbook(tm)”. Why? Because most infectious respiratory disease could be minimized by good “Respiratory Hygiene“:
- Sick Individuals should cover their mouth and nose with tissues and dispose of those tissues safely.
- Use a mask if coughing. In many countries, it is considered a sign of social responsibility to wear a mask if sick, in consideration of the health of others.
- Perform vigorous hand sanitation before and after contact with your patients. Warm water and soap for 30 seconds will do, or at least use hand sanitizers even if you think your hands are clean.
- Get those gloves on! Use nitrile gloves if you’re allergic to latex.
- Keep your sick patients at least 4 feet away from anyone else who does not have the same illness.
- Use appropriate disinfectants (next article) to decontaminate all work surfaces.
- Maintain isolation in your sick room (last article)
We’ll talk about disinfectants and other useful items in our next article, but the above advice is only useful to prevent you from becoming sick. It’s not meant to keep you, the healthcare provider, well. Below are the standard recommendations (in bold type) by the medical establishment for caregivers to maintain wellness in normal times. These are followed by my comments for survival situations:
Eat a balanced diet. Not too hard to do in normal times if you put your mind to it, but not easy to do in tough times even with a reasonable variety and quantity of food storage. Just make sure you DO eat, it’s easy to forget when running from one patient to another.
Get plenty of rest. Foregoing that 3rd cup of coffee may do it for you in good times, but don’t be surprised if you can’t 4 winks, not to mention 40 winks, in a survival situation. Someone is SUPPOSED to be up at night to keep watch for intruders and to watch the sick and injured.
When you are actively caring for the sick, your other duties for the group should be suspended if you have enough people to handle part of your workload. Tired people don’t have the best judgement, and it’s wise for your group to prevent you from becoming a zombie.
Exercise. A half-hour in your aerobics class at the gym may be the ticket for you in normal times, but, unless you are Superman/woman, you will probably be exhausted just from the activities of daily survival, not to mention caring for the ill and injured. Be certain to know the difference between exercise and stress. Exercise prevents heart attacks, stress causes them. You’ll probably be active enough just doing what you have to do to keep it together (if things have truly fallen apart).
Manage stress. Stress today could mean a half-hour of overtime or biting your nails over the most recent episode of “Game of Thrones” or “Walking Dead”. In the uncertain future, don’t be surprised in you consider your most stressful times in your previous life to be “The Good Old Days”.
Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to set aside a short period of time during the day where you can obsess about all the bad things that are happening. Set a specific time for it, and when that time expires, stop thinking about it and do something else. Stay active by performing chores
and other important duties, especially those that keep you in contact with your fellow human beings. This might help keep your mind off the fact that it’s all gone to heck.
Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. These vices are unhealthy now, and they will be unhealthy later. It will likely be difficult to find or manufacture these in troubled times; therefore, some people might actually wind up healthier in some ways, unless they turn to sniffing glue or other third world recreational drugs. Simply put, tobacco robs you of stamina, and you’ll need to be in shape if things go South. Alcohol and drugs rob you of good judgement, and you (or your patients) are unlikely to last long if you’re drunk or high.
Visit your doctor for regular check-ups. Pretty good advice even for young people in normal times. In bad times, YOU will be the doctor, survival medic, so keep as close an eye on your own health as you do on those you’re responsible for.
Take a break from caregiving. Conventional wisdom says that it’s reasonable to accept that there is a limit to what you can do as a caregiver. You may feel overwhelmed by the tasks you are required to perform. This is true in both good times and bad times. In bad times it’s worse, as laxity on your part can contribute to the demise of someone you love.
Although you may not be able to go on vacation in a power-down scenario, you MUST plan out times during the day when you can collect you thoughts or, maybe, not have to think at all for a little while. There are few circumstances where you will be required to be physically by
your patient at all times. Take some time to clean up, change clothes, and talk to people who aren’t delirious with fever. There are relaxation techniques like meditation, massage, and yoga that might be helpful, as well. Make sure your patient has a way to let you know that you or your substitute is needed (any noisemaker will do).
Most of the other advice I have seen concentrates on collecting phone numbers of police and fire departments, emergency rooms, and other things that might be just plain inaccessible in tough times. I’ll bet, however, that you, dear reader, have some useful advice to add to my modest proposals above. If so, feel free to comment!
Bottom Line: If you can take an active part in keeping your family healthy in these types of situations, you’ll have a head start on just about everyone else in town.