Unfortunately, two years ago, I suffered a wretched illness– the worst form of West Nile virus, with accompanying encephalitis and spinal meningitis. I went from being a perfectly able person to an imperfectly disabled person overnight. I thought it might be helpful to others who want to be prepared, and yet are suffering from many inabilities, if I shared my experiences in trying to overcome the challenges. As I started to write to you, I found that there was so much to share, it made sense to break this up into sections. This first section is a little history on what happened to me, though your situation may be vastly different, and then I focus on how I took up organic gardening again. If inspiration truly hits me, I’ll continue the series. I hope this is helpful.
The good news is that I lived through West Nile viral neuroinvasive disease, even though there were several touch and go moments where I felt as if I was an observer in the hospital room, in between moments where everything was black, gone, void. I am sure the prayers of my wonderful, Christian family flooded heaven with requests for mercy. God heard, and I was given more time on this earth. I tried to go back to my former life once released from the hospital, but stuff just wasn’t working right. My body ached from head to toe, my mind remained in a fog, and my short-term and long-term memory were shot. I couldn’t remember what I had done and what I hadn’t done. I could not keep things straight. I couldn’t organize my thoughts. I felt in a constant state of panic. Oh, and the exhaustion… please let me sleep, please. Sometimes when I awakened out of a dead sleep, I couldn’t remember where I was, who I was, or what day it was. My heart would beat really hard, I would reach deeply into my memory banks, and I’d remember to breathe slowly to calm down and wait until I could remember. The additional problem was that my husband was disabled from a stroke years before. He could not take care of me. He was in a constant state of panic, watching me suffer and wanting the old me back. His stress manifested in frustration, which translated into anger, then avoidance, and finally neglect. He could not process what had happened in a normal, adult way. His heart was good, but his actions were not. But wait! There’s more. Two months after I was released from the hospital, our youngest son came home from the military disabled. He needed help. I recall one evening when his pain level was unbearable, asking him to lean his body onto my back as I grasped his arms over my shoulders and helped him walk to the car while my husband started the engine in order to take him to the VA hospital. While they were in the emergency room, I crept back into the car and slept as if I had just run a marathon. We were a family in crisis, and prepping was the last thing on my mind.
My body and my brain have not fully recovered, and my autoimmune system was destroyed. While I have not “filed for disability” and will not, God willing, ever need, God willing again, to rely on a government program to sustain my family or me, I remain a shadow of my former self. While a miracle may occur, and I’m not barring God’s timing, I have had a hard time accepting that I cannot do what I used to do. Simple things, like washing and drying my hair, housekeeping, grocery shopping, gardening, doing the laundry, walking the dog, baking, canning, and organizing the pantry are all painful and exhausting. In the last two years, I can say that I have learned to cope with the after effects of West Nile that led to a number of auto-immune deficiencies, including a blood disorder and several muscular skeletal disorders. I can say that my husband has learned to accept and cope much better, even though some days and weeks are a real trial for us both. Our son has managed to become fairly self-sufficient, with excellent care– both physical and psychological– from the local VA hospital. My wonderful and large family visits often, in order to help with those things we just can’t do and to comfort and cheer us on. What would we do without them!?! I have spent a great deal of time and energy on being angry. I am finally getting over that hump of disappointment and have been able to encourage both my husband and our son. By some miracle of God, I have been able to keep my job through all of the disarray, which I can only attribute to God’s mercy and protection. I have a work-from-home technical management job, so I am able to avoid the physical demands of commuting and showing up in an office. I can work early or late and on weekends, if I need to do so to catch up on my work. I can schedule in a nap when I need one. I make copious notes so I don’t forget things. I am slow to respond and slow to get things done, but I’m doing it. The joke in my family is that I had so many brain cells prior to becoming ill– more than any normal person needs– that my reduced professional output is still above average. I pray that’s true. In any case, I see God’s hand of protection upon us.
I only share this small snippet of our lives in order to discuss the changes I had to make as a now “disabled prepper”. I hope, in sharing my experiences, that if you are disabled, this will encourage you to do some things you thought you could not do. Remember, you can only do one or two things at a time, take your time, and rest a lot in between tasks. If there is someone in your life, a family member, or a friend, who would enjoy participating in the task, by all means invite them over for the fun.
Let’s start with this year’s organic garden. We have a third of an acre, but the most I could do this year was plant seeds in a dozen or so containers that I could easily reach to water on the back porch. Our property is on the side of a gently sloping hill, so I could not make it, without a lot of difficulty, up to the gardening area. I started the garden early, indoors, by ordering peat moss trays and a large supply of organic heirloom seeds through Amazon and SeedSavers. (Note: It’s worth it to become an Amazon Prime member if online shopping becomes a way of life. You get free two-day shipping to anywhere in the continental United States.) It was a simple matter to plant seeds in the trays, which I kept on a table in the sun room, for easy watering. I had to sit while doing it, and it took a number of days to plant seeds in four trays of peat moss pellets. When it was time to transplant the plants outside, I chose to shop at Lowe’s for additional supplies, but Home Depot would have worked as well, or any store that offers an excellent variety of gardening supplies with either no shipping cost, a reasonable cost, or “pick up at store” options. There is a Lowe’s near my home, so I chose to “pick up at store”. I purchased large, plastic, pots that were light enough that I could easily move them when they were filled with soil. I could push them where I wanted them with my feet. I purchased organic potting soil and tomato stakes. Once I made the online purchase, I received an email notification that my purchase was ready to pick up at the Customer Service desk. I printed my online receipt and drove to the store. The transaction only consisted of verifying who I was, and then the Lowe’s employee loaded my car. When I got home, my husband was able to assist me, along with a dolly, in moving my supplies to the backyard patio. If I had not had someone to help me unload my car, I would have opted for home delivery and a friend’s help to set up the potting area. I sat in a chair on the patio, with one pot at a time between my knees and a bag of soil at my side. I slowly filled the pots with soil, one scoop at a time, until the bag of soil was light enough for me to lift and pour the rest in. I slowly transplanted seedlings for kale, spinach, cilantro, jalapeño peppers, bell peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, cantaloupe, two varieties of lettuce, and a small herb garden of oregano, sweet basil, and arugula. I chose the organic Square Foot Gardening soil, because it is densely rich in organic nutrients, which allowed me to sow more seeds into a smaller area. It took me all day long to do this, and I was completely exhausted when finished. I think it would have taken a non-disabled person, or the former me, just a couple of hours. My small garden has yielded plenty for my small family this summer. Picking a few vegetables at a time is very easy, and I have to say, the kale was the sweetest kale I’ve ever tasted. I have been seed saving as well for next year’s garden. My husband discovered that the food grade, 5-gallon buckets at Lowe’s are a fraction of the cost of pots and are easy to move. It is just an idea to keep in mind. He drilled a few holes in the bottom of each bucket for drainage. When the tomatoes fully ripen, I am going to attempt to can. I will call one or two of my daughters to help me, when that day comes. Anyone who has done a canning marathon, as I did in the past, knows how much time is spent on your feet at the sink in preparation. I won’t be able to do that by myself. Now that I know I CAN DO THIS, and surprisingly enough my husband is much more interested in gardening now that he helped me do this, I am going to expand next year’s garden. I won’t be able to hoe and sow, but I can pot!
I can also sprout! I purchased a sprouting kit  through Amazon and was able to start a healthy and delicious sprout garden on the kitchen table. I quickly learned that the plastic trays that came with the kit were completely impractical and took up a lot of space. It’s better to sprout using glass jars that have been thoroughly washed and sanitized. Sprouts do not need lots of sunlight– a common misconception. They need filtered light, and some sprouts like being in the dark. They need fresh water daily (rinsed and drained) and air (a mesh or cheesecloth covering on each glass jar). Search “sprouting” online, and you will find a myriad of resources about sprouting. You can also purchase an e-book about sprouting  from Amazon. My favorite sprouts are: alfalfa sprouts, mung beans (great for Chinese stir fry), and garbanzo beans. Sprouting is easy and fun; when you are feeling hum-dummy about not being able to get out and do things, turn to your garden or sprouts. Sprouts are delicious on sandwiches and on salads or just eat them plain. One of the things I noticed when I became unable to do the things I used to do, is I stopped eating healthy because I was in pain and exhausted. I turned to eating crackers as a mainstay. As a result of the inactivity, I put on 30 pounds in a year and a half. Ouch. Sprouting and growing a vegetable garden is a wonderful way to maintain a healthy diet, and you would be surprised how delicious the fruit of your labor is!
- Make use of online purchases and home delivery when needed.
- Have someone help you set up a gardening area close to the home with a table, chair, and shade.
- Use rich organic potting soil for denser planting and higher yield.
- Use organic heirloom seeds, and learn to save seeds.
- Purchase food grade buckets without lids, as an inexpensive and light weight alternative to pots.
- Make sure the hose is easy to use; a nice nozzle or shower-type head is a must, if you can’t lift a watering can.
- Harvest vegetables daily, as much as you can eat, or blanch and freeze for later.
- Ask for help, when the harvest requires canning; exchange free food for assistance.
- Start sprouting for fun and health.
- Plan ahead, take each task slow, don’t overdo it, and enjoy yourself!