Health, Wellness and Hygiene
Much of this Emergency Preparedness program has revolved around storing, stocking up on, and purchasing items that will potentially be necessary for any myriad of emergency situations we might be faced with. The problem is, we do not know if, when, or what will befall us. Is our threat an earthquake? An Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP)? War? Social disorder and collapse? Maybe you live in tornado, hurricane, or tsunami country? Regardless of the situation, if something happens, there will be some drastic changes that we will be forced to deal with. Nights will be darker; summers will be hotter; winters will be colder; manual labor will be more common; life will be dirtier; travel will become more difficult; stress levels will be higher; in general, things will just be harder compared to what we are used to now. Whatever the threat, we are all going to be forced to use our best judgment and pursue the direction we feel most comfortable with.
Certainly one of the most important things to consider during an emergency is your food and water supply. And for this reason, we have been addressing weekly food storage modules since the beginning of this program. I hope you are not completely ignoring these. If so, it’s never too late to start stocking up on some of the basic everyday items you are already using. But if you store nothing else, at least start with some water and work your way up from there.
The topics I want to discuss for this emergency prep module are Health, Wellness, and Hygiene. These 3 items are absolutely crucial to your preparedness as well as your well-being. We’ll get right into it, discussing Hygiene first.
The last module we covered was Sanitation and Waste, and hygiene is a continuation of that. Proper sanitation, as well as personal hygiene habits will have a great bearing on how well you hold up in a major emergency. Let’s talk about a few aspects of personal hygiene.
We find great comfort in our routines, and during times of stress, it is a good idea to try to stick to our routines. Many of these routines revolve around items that should be considered when storing emergency prep supplies. Some of these items have already been covered and include toilet paper, bar and liquid soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, dishwashing liquids, and garbage bags. Other items that should be addressed are:
Toothbrushes, toothpaste, and dental floss are important for keeping your teeth clean and healthy. A disaster is a horrible time to have a toothache (Ever see Castaway?). Toothpaste will keep for a long time, and even without it, straight water is better than nothing. Baking soda and water can substitute for toothpaste and even dipping a wet toothbrush in kosher salt will do the job.
Shampoo and conditioner are nice to have, and since they too keep for a long time, why not stock up a bit? Even a less expensive brand that is on sale would work just fine.
Deodorant is not necessarily one of those items you can’t live without, although your close-quarter living companions might disagree with this. A stick of deodorant seems to last, on average, about a month. Since they store well, you might as well grab a few extra next time they go on sale.
Feminine products such as sanitary napkins or tampons are also an important staple. In addition to their intended use, sanitary pads are very valuable in a first aid kit as a dressing for heavy bleeding. In case of a more extended disaster scenario, consider having some reusable cloth menstrual pads as well. What you decide to store is up to you, but don’t overlook the need to address this topic.
Don’t you feel so much better after a nice shower? Showers help reduce stress and provide much-needed comfort which will in turn provide us with the mental boost necessary to help us cope with difficult situations. Not to mention, there is no better feeling than being clean. While showering might be a little more difficult, with a little bit of creativity, you’ll come up with something. Even when the power is out, it is possible to be clean and comfortable. The first thing to consider is the water source. If possible, try to avoid using your valuable drinking water for your bathing. But, this may be unavoidable. If there is an opportunity to catch rain water, do that. Your house gutter system already channels all the water off of your roof to a few downspouts. All you need are a few buckets or barrels to capitalize on this. When water is scarce, a simple sponge bath with a washcloth will work just fine. Baby wipes with a little added water will accomplish the same thing while avoiding additional laundry. Tubs or large containers have been used to bathe entire families throughout history. Traditionally the father would bath first. Followed by the mother, then the children, oldest to youngest. By the time the littlest child had an opportunity to bathe, the water was pretty dirty. And thus the old saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Gravity showers and pressure garden tank sprayers work as well. If the thought of all of this scares you, a few days out camping is all you’ll need to get a little more comfortable.
This might be a little tougher than the shower issue. But remember, people have been washing clothes for hundreds of years without electric washing machines and dryers. Our kids probably would be just fine wearing the same thing over and over, and that would probably get you through a short-term crisis. But if the crisis outlasts your clean clothes, you’re eventually going to have to address this issue. There are several options here.
The old-fashioned tub method has worked for many years, and will continue to work if needed. Ideally, use 3 tubs: one for washing and two for rinsing. Agitating in a plunger fashion works as well. You can also use grandmas (or now probably great-grandmas) washboard method.
The “sailors” method also works, but with a few modifications, unless you actually do live on a ship. Apparently some sailors used to put their dirty clothes in a black plastic bag with water and soap. The black bag took advantage of the sun to heat the water and the motion of the ship would agitate the wash. Of course you are going to need to mimic the motion of the ship. This might not be a bad idea for large blankets, comforters, and sleeping bags.
Drying clothes will be much easier. Remember all that rope you have stored? Just make a clothesline. Make sure you time your clothes properly. The sun contains damaging UV rays that can be hard on clothes. At the same time, those same UV rays will help disinfect. So maybe leave your kitchen towels or reusable cloth diapers out a little longer.
Health could be defined as the absence of both physical and mental diseases. Not long ago I crashed on my mountain bike and suffered some pretty deep cuts and a fair amount of “trail rash.” Fortunately, nothing (outside of my ego) was broken. After a little hydrogen peroxide, some triple-ointment antibiotics, a good supply of band-aids, and a bit of chastisement from my wife, I was good to go. Everything healed just fine because I was able to take proper care of my wounds. But without proper care and supplies, those cuts could have easily gotten badly infected. Simple things that we easily deal with today like the common cold and minor cuts and scratches will be much more difficult to deal with as medical supplies become more difficult to get a hold of. The earthquake in Haiti is a classic example as it was followed by a horrific cholera outbreak which killed thousands of people and hospitalized hundreds of thousands more. It would be a good idea to have a good supply of band-aids, ointments, antiseptic creams, hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol, wraps, etc. already on hand as running to the pharmacy or the afterhours care facility may be difficult or impossible.
Don’t forget your commonly used OTC medications. I’m not going to go into details on which medications you should stockpile as you are the only one that can answer this question. But suffice it to say, keep a good supply of the medications you and your family commonly use on hand. Be sure to include vitamins and supplements as well. It is recommended that a 365-day supply of vitamins or vitamin/mineral tablets or capsules be stored for each family member to help compensate for possible deficiencies in the diet due to a lack of variety of foods, and because of vitamins lost during food processing, storage, and preparation. Shelf-life of the average vitamin is about three to five years if stored in a cool, dry and dark location. Despite careful food planning, women may still need an iron and calcium supplement, particularly if they are pregnant or nursing. Storage of iron and calcium should be carefully considered. And don’t forget your prescription and specialized medications. Some people will really struggle without certain medications, such as insulin, inhalers, heart meds, etc. Whatever your case may be, talk to your doctors and ask them if it is possible to have a one month or so supply on hand, and include this as one of the items you will grab on your way out. If your medications can go a year or so before expiring, you could keep the necessary supply in your 72-hour kit/bug-out bag and just plan on recycling them every 6 months.
As a side note on my bug-out bags, I keep all the items that have expiration dates all together. This includes food and snacks, batteries, medications, lotions, sprays, etc. I make sure I write all the expiration dates on an index card and keep that card with each pack. So every 6 months when I update my kits, I’m not having to completely pull each kit apart reading the expiration date on each item trying to decide what needs to be replaced. I just grab the zip-loc bag(s) that have my “expiration” items, look over the index card, and update as needed. Makes the semi-annual updating of the bug-out bags so simple. I also update these new expiration dates in my home manual. Remember that module?
Wellness could be defined as the state of living a healthy lifestyle. This is one area that differs from all other aspects of emergency preparedness in that you don’t shop for and store wellness. And you can’t say, “I’ll do it later.” Wellness is a daily endeavor that should be a habit. It is living a healthy lifestyle. It is exercising appropriately. It is eating right. It is taking care of yourself. And all of this translates into your ability to handle the individual demands of an emergency. If you are not capable of handling yourself in an emergency, how are you going to take care of those that may depend on you? Taking proper care of yourself will ensure you will be up to the task of taking care of others as well.
And a final note on wellness as it pertains to Emergency Preparedness. Much of emergency preparedness is having the right supplies on hand. Wellness places an emphasis on knowing how to use these supplies. After all, what good is a compass if you don’t know how to use it? Simply owning a fishing pole does not make you a fisherman. And 500 pounds of wheat will not ensure you do not starve. There is an aspect of wellness that extends far beyond each one of these modules. As you prepare for emergencies and decide which supplies you have on hand, make sure you know how to use these supplies. Make sure you know how to set up that new tent. Make sure you know how to operate your generator, and make sure you know how to use your heaters, stoves, and lights. Introduce your kids to going without a few of the niceties that they are so used to. Try this: Shut off the power to your house for a day (and night). Force them to use their flashlights that are stored as part of their bed kit (remember that module?). Get them used to the dark. Teach them that this is not the end of the world. Occasionally camp out in the backyard. This is a fun summer activity, and it is a very educational winter activity. Don’t be afraid to test your ability to stay warm. You might learn a little something you hadn’t previously thought about. Practice cooking on a camp stove, or over a fire. Get your kids used to the basics. Try living off of your food storage for a day, or even a week. You’ll quickly learn which food storage items you prefer and which ones will probably never get used. If nothing else, this will build confidence in your ability to handle various situations as well as your confidence in your equipment and supplies. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.
As a final thought, when we buy emergency prep items, we tend to research them out, reading reviews, making sure these items will stand up to the task for which they were intended. We want to know that they are durable and will last. Basically, we want to know that we are buying the best version out there. Wellness demands that we apply this same scrutiny to ourselves. Will we be able to handle all the demands that life gives us? How well will we hold up in difficult situations? Physically, Emotionally, Psychologically, Spiritually even? Do we know how to use our food storage? How to use our emergency equipment? Are we the best version of ourselves that we can be? If not, what do we need to change? Make sure you are as capable as the equipment you buy. As you review old modules and continue forward with new modules, make sure you are proficient with the items you choose to buy. The aftermath of a major disaster is not the time to realize you are not as prepared as you thought.