Perhaps in the nature vs. nurture debate, it is going to turn out that people worried about emergency preparedness are just born that way. Certainly, I have tried for years to persuade many of my skeptical friends that having, say, some extra food on hand or some means of personal protection, or even a backup source of energy greater than an extra D battery, is just plain common sense. What I have experienced in response to my well-intentioned suggestions are rolled eyes, turned backs, and closed minds. I’ve pretty much despaired of ever making even the smallest dent in their evident disdain; I figure maybe it is just the way they are, like a law of nature or death and taxes. Maybe, but then again, maybe not. I’ve recently found that there just might be reason for the smallest sliver of hope on my part; for at least a select few, there may be a way to coax out some common sense. Let me explain.
My youngest daughter lives in downtown Los Angeles and dates a boy who is predictably “left coast” in his attitudes– negative towards guns, prepping, and pretty much anything or anyone to the right of Hillary Clinton. I try to avoid talk of politics and religion when I’m around him, if only because, given the state of things, who needs more stress and conflict in his life? However, when I called her several months ago to see how her job search was going, I found them together and somewhat shaken by their most recent earth tremor. This particular one had not been terribly destructive, especially by California standards, but “it went on and on and on, and I thought it never would stop!” moaned my daughter. (I wanted to say, “If you live in downtown LA, earthquakes would seem to be the least of your worries”, but I was a good father and bit my tongue.) What bothered her boyfriend most was that in one particular area north of them, gas and electricity had been cut off for a rather long period of time. “If the ‘big one’ ever occurred, what would we do if that happened to us?” he exclaimed to my daughter. “No lights, no water. How would people react?” I thought I might be hearing one of those “mugged by reality” moments.
“How about putting a case of bottled water in your apartments, or maybe a case in each of your trunks,” I suggested. He agreed that sounded like a good idea. What I had not known was that his mother and her boyfriend had just recently been returning home to San Francisco from visiting one of his siblings. Their car had broken down at night in one of those “God-forsaken” parts of California that people back east don’t even know exist. They had not died of hypothermia because the man had left, by accident, some blankets in his trunk. Putting survival items in the trunk now seemed like the very definition of good sense to the boyfriend.
I knew I had to act fast. “When is your birthday?” I asked. It turned out to be just a couple of weeks off. (It was obvious to me at that moment that God was on my side.) “How about I send you something you can keep with you or in your car to help out if need be?” “That would be great!” he exclaimed, but honestly that might have been more a factor of someone caring enough to give him a present than any particular safety concerns. I rushed to Amazon, bought a good quality carabiner keychain, a compact whistle, the tiniest LED flashlight I have ever seen, and a small magnesium fire starter. I hooked them all together and threw in one of those credit card survival tools to boot. Now people online will argue back and forth ad infinitum about the pros and cons of the smallest piece of survival gear, as if the fate of mankind hung in the balance. Frankly my dear, in this particular case, I didn’t give a care if this was a particularly good set of tools to carry on a key chain or not. I had bigger fish to fry. The door had cracked open, and I needed to get an attractive-looking foot into it before it slammed shut.
What next? How do I exploit this opening?
Now when I am trying my best to convince acquaintances of the need to prepare by talking about electromagnetic pulses, biological and chemical weapons, or even attacks on the electrical grid, I am usually met with something akin to a yawn and “yeah, yeah, like that is ever going to happen”. Like the “black swan” metaphor of risk fame, if it hasn’t happened yet people find themselves incapable of even conceiving the possibility.
However, that response (or more properly, non-response) won’t do when the subject of pandemics is raised. Pandemics are real. They’ve happened in the remote past, the less distant past, and in the recent past. It is (almost) impossible to argue that they won’t happen again. Plus, unlike our hypothetical chemical attack, everyone has “seen” the flu– personally and up close. Mention a flu epidemic and the first thing people visualize is their pathetic and suffering selves, wrapped in blankets wishing they were dead. Influenza happens.
Then I realized, there it is. If we want to start people on the path to understanding the importance, not to mention the necessity, of emergency preparedness, you first must address a perceived need.
As an aside, it is interesting that this issue of convincing a “non-believer” has been addressed by Christian philosophers since almost the very beginning of the faith. “Believe, and the rationale will suddenly make sense,” the theologian says. “I’m not going to believe, until it makes sense,” replies the non-believer. As St. Augustine said, nobody ever believed what they didn’t first think was rational. Pandemics are rational.
So the remainder of this article discusses the Pandemic Emergency Kit I assembled for my daughter, and by extension, her boyfriend. It is designed to meet three (3) goals:
- Treat the infected individual,
- Keep the caregiver healthy and free of the infection, and
- Support both of them for a period of at least thirty days, while meeting and travel bans are in effect.
The kit is based in large part on a paper written by Dr. Grattan Woodson, MD, FACP for his own patients. I included a paper copy of this article in the kit, since it contains a lot of diagnosis, treatment, and explanatory information. I added my own twist, based on a paper describing a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study into the use of Elderberry syrup (Sambucol®) to treat flu patients. The study specifically looked for immune system response to viral pathogens (cytokines). The conclusion of the researchers was that formulations of Sambucol® activate the immune system by increasing cytokine production. I’ve listed another study below that can be referred to by anyone caring to do so.
Goal 1 – Treat the Infected individual
The treatment of influenza has progressed very little in the last hundred years. We do have anti-viral drugs, such as Tamiflu®, but it is a prescription medication and, if not administered within the first two days of the infection, is pretty much useless. As several Internet writers have noted, it usually takes one day just to realize you have the flu. So in a flu pandemic, are you realistically able to get an appointment, see your doctor, get to a well-stocked pharmacy, and administer the drug, all within the time limit? Not likely. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough to be concerned about with trusting to Tamiflu®, it turns out that it is not that effective, even when you do meet all of the above conditions.
So the treatment (and hence the kit’s contents) are going to be pretty much the standard things your mother used to use– keep the patient comfortable, push clear liquids, and don’t let them infect others.
The kit’s Goal 1 contents include:
A basic fluid solution to be mixed from the following:
General items for comfort:
Over-the-Counter items for treating symptoms:
Essential equipment for measuring and recording progress and mixing the basic fluid solution:
- Kitchen measuring spoons and cups
- Electronic thermometer
- Blood pressure cuff
- Notebook and pen or pencil
Dr. Woodson’s paper talks about using all of the above, including the protocols for making and administering the basic fluid solution. The suggested quantities are enough to treat one person. They could easily be scaled for larger groups. Again, the modest goals of the kit were based on willing adoption, not optimal quantities.
My particular addition for treating the viral infection was:
The Sambucol® website has a “Most Frequently Asked Questions” section that I also printed out and put in the kit. The suggested adult dose for periods of immune system stress is one tablespoon four times per day. Since we will want to treat both the patient and caregiver, we need enough for 30 days for two people. This was the most expensive item in the kit, but even then it was not unreasonable.
Goal 2 – Keep the Caregiver Healthy and Free of the Infection
The Sambucol® need for the caregiver was taken into account as part of the patient’s treatment kit. (The dose is lower– two teaspoons four times per day, for the caregiver.) The primary items needed now were to prevent the spread of the disease, which can be spread through both the respiratory and digestive tracts.
The kit’s Goal 2 contents:
Non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers have not been shown to be effective against influenza virus strains. However, I did not include hand sanitizer in the kit, since they already use the stuff by the barrel.
Goal 3 – Support Both of Them For a Period of at Least Thirty Days
This was the most problematic, since the topic of food storage might potentially set off alarm bells of prepping. (Some have super-sensitive hearing in this area.) So instead, I relied upon expediency. Alright, they probably have enough in the house for two adults to eat for 5-7 days, so I went with seven days that they’d eat– not eat well, mind you, but eat. The sick person will definitely not be eating much during the illness, so taking these two points together we have already met the dietary needs of the patient. I went low again in figuring a one month’s supply of food for the caregiver, basing it as I did on 1200 calories per day. I thought survival bars, peanuts, and beef jerky would be adequate. Okay, it is not haute cuisine, but nobody’s going to die of starvation with that. Whenever I visit, I plan to drop a few items in the box.
I understand that my solution for Goal 3 probably was not sufficient, but my point here was not perfection; it was adoption. I only was trying to address pandemics, not other situations, which I hope they, one day on their own, will also recognize as representing threats.
I have discussed my pandemic kit with various friends, and I have found a surprising lack of push-back about the contents. “Not a bad idea” or “Would you write those down for me” are the most often heard responses. Some folks are never going to change, and I just have to accept this. They figure the government would never let a pandemic happen in the first place and, if somehow it did, that same government would take care of all of us. Unfortunately, I do not have a kit for that way of thinking.
So, where do things stand now? The kit has safely arrived and has been stored in the back recesses of the apartment’s hall closet. They seem genuinely appreciative. We’ve even discussed some alternative scenarios they might encounter. They’ve told several of their friends, a few of whom have asked for more information. So at least, at an implementation level, my idea seems to be bearing fruit, and I think it may also be starting to have another effect. The two of them are coming back east to visit with our extended family this summer. Her boyfriend has asked me take him to the pistol range.
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