As those of you on the East Coast are well aware, Hurricane Irene has just slammed into our towns and villages. In New York, the last time we felt the sting of a storm this bad was way back in 1985 when Hurricane Gloria came to town. I was eight years old then and still had one more year of ignorant bliss until my JRA took hold. Now, though, we have survived another natural "disaster," and the cleanup stage has begun. Unfortunately, like at least 20,000 additional residents in my immediate area, I have no electricity and probably won't for another day.
Where I live we tend to lose power if a strong breeze blows. Because of this, I was not surprised when the electricity did finally cut out for good at 4am on Sunday morning. What I was surprised about is the fact that most of the rest of my neighborhood had no power either, and that includes several traffic lights that, as I write this, are still not functioning. Estimates are that the power will not be fully restored for five more days. It amazes me that basic utilities can be disrupted for so long with so little effort. Yes, we had some strong gusts, and there are one or two big trees down on every block, but overall the damage was nowhere near as bad as it could have been. If a truly large storm or other serious natural disaster hits or we suffer another attack like 9-11, I shudder to think where people like me would end up.
As I sit here in the dark, writing this column on my iPad, I only hope that I will be able to finish the piece before the battery runs out. Not only that, but I am also concerned that if power is not restored very soon, the Kineret injections that I have stored in the refrigerator will warm to a point that they become unusable. At night, it's even worse. Stumbling around in the dark with only a candle or a flashlight to guide me does not fill me with confidence that I won't fall. If I injure myself badly, not only will my disease be severely worsened, but with the state of affairs as they are, I may not even be able to get an ambulance here for hours.
All of these concerns are part of a bigger issue which I have slowly come to discover over the last few years. You see, people like me — those of us who are ill and rely on modern conveniences and monthly prescriptions to keep us going — would be cut off at the knees if society as we knew it stopped functioning normally.
Now, the last thing I want to do is fill this column with hyperbole and use it as a scare tactic. I cannot stand when the news media does that, and I would never want to be a party to it. What I do want to do, though, is illustrate to you how important it is that people like me who suffer from serious afflictions prepare for any eventuality, and that includes a disruption of society at large.
Now, I'm not talking about stockpiling cans of beans and jugs of water in your basement. If water and food are in short supply, then getting your Advil will be the least of your concerns. What I am talking about is making sure that several aspects of your life have, in essence, backup plans in place in case of emergency. This includes providing for your medication, any medical aids or devices you need, and, most importantly, lodging. This may sound like too much to prepare, but it's surprisingly easy and non-invasive.
First, if the worst happens, shipments of medication will probably be extremely hard to come by. If transportation gets shut down like it did on September 11, 2001, even for a week, you might have a delay in filling your prescription. Because of this, every month, I put a few pills aside. Pharmacies generally allow you to fill your scripts three days before they are due, so that should give you the extras you need. Before a year is up, you will have one whole month's worth of medication set aside. This is especially important with pain medication since it is a controlled substance, and will be the first thing to go if the system breaks down. Even if the country's infrastructure never collapses, you'll still have a buffer to protect you. When I had to fight my insurance company for a prescription they wouldn't provide, the two months of medicine I had stockpiled was the only thing that kept me going. I would have been out of luck otherwise.
Providing for any medical aids or devices you use can be more difficult, but it is far from impossible. If you use a cane, walker, bracers, or other device to aid you in movement, you should acquire a secondary pair or unit. Yes, I know these items can be very expensive, but you can often find them at a discounted rate on the Internet, and there are also places that offer used units for a reduced amount. It may seem excessive to provide a backup for a cane, but when you need it and it isn't there, you won't think so.
Lastly, you should make sure you have a place to go if you need housing. Those of us who rent apartments or lease houses know that our landlords can decide at any time to kick us out. Even if there is a lease agreement, if a catastrophe occurs and the owner wants you out, it's going to be hard to fight him or her. Having a place to go, be it a parent's or sibling's house, can put your mind at ease. Even if something as simple as an emergency surgery were to happen, you might need a place to stay where you have help on hand, should you need it.
As I said, I don't want to panic anyone with this column or infer in any way that I think the worst is yet to come. It's just that I've realized over the years that being prepared is something that anyone who is chronically ill has to take seriously. Even in everyday life, when you have a disease there are things you must do to prepare for going to the food store or taking a car trip — this is the same idea, just on a grander scale. The current blackout has reminded how thankful I am that I have enough batteries, medicine, help, and refrigeration to prevent my own catastrophe from happening.