Dealing with Diabetes and Weather Emergencies

Dr. Fran Cogen Health Pro July 19, 2012
  • It is one week later and I am relieved to be working on my home computer. In fact, I am relieved to to be in my house without sweating or watching Knickers’ endless panting. If you were not aware of the Washington area’s latest natural disaster, I will get you quickly informed. On Friday evening, June 29, residents in the midAtlantic region were treated to an uncommon weather front defined as a derecho.

     

    What is a derecho?


    According to the infamous source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, a derecho is a “widespread, long-lived, straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast moving band of severe thunderstorms. They travel quickly in the direction of movement of their associated storms with sustained wind that increases in strength behind the front, generally exceeding hurricane-force. The derecho is a warm-weather phenomenon that occurs in the summer especially during June and July in the Northern hemisphere (exactly) and can occur as frequently at night as during the daylight hours.”

     

    Why am I discussing this little known wind and rain phenomenon?


    I was “on call” for the diabetes program during the storm and its aftermath on the weekend. It was extremely stressful for the hospital staff, outpatients, and inpatients due to the electrical havoc that ensued. Many areas of the region were stripped of electricity and the derecho also disabled the major telephone services’ ability to have communication via telephone and fax. It was difficult to contact families and hospital staff via phone and I finally had to use text messaging on my cell phone! Because of the lack of electricity, there were grave concerns about insulin becoming denatured and thus ineffective. (One pediatric practice had to bring all their vaccines to a community hospital to avoid having to toss all vials.) I was desperate to contact all families who needed help; I hoped that all calls would somehow get through via the hospital paging system. Finally, by Saturday afternoon, the hospital operators and I had a system in place to get back to patients. Fortunately, very few of our families got into trouble, but it was incredibly stressful for all.

     

    Personally, I was multitasking. I was fielding calls from the hospital and dealing with a huge tree that fell on my roof (I am grateful that there was minimal damage). While my tree specialist was cutting down the tree from my roof, I was providing insulin adjustments and communicating with Children’sNationalMedicalCenterresidents about the inpatients. I was unable to leave the neighborhood due to trees and wires blocking the streets. Of course, there was no electricity and my cell phone was losing charge, which required me to get in my car and charge my battery repeatedly.

     

    All in all, our families were prepared.

     

    Why?


    Our team has constantly reinforced disaster preparedness since 9/11. Having redundancy of supplies is essential, as is some method to keep things cool (that was an incredible challenge). A generator may not be a bad idea for families that require medicines to be cooled. However, knowing how to work a generator is essential. One family on my block with access to a generator was saved by a battery operated carbon monoxide detector that went on at 3 am the day after the derecho hit. The rescue squad arrived and blew out the harmful gases from their home and no one in the family was harmed.

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    My power finally came on after the Fourth of July fireworks at 11 pm. Never was I so grateful to see my porch light welcoming me home.

     

    Here is the most important take home message.

     

    BE PREPARED!

     

    1. Make sure you have enough food supplies and drinkable water for several days  for every family member (including pets).

    2. Ensure that your health records (or copies) are on hand.

    3. Have all available medications in a safe place. In terms of insulin, your

    current vials or pens do not need to be refrigerated (35.6 ̊F – 46.4 ̊F), but can be stored for one month at room temperature up to 84 ̊F (a problem this last week since temperatures were higher than 100 degrees farenheight). Your diabetes-related supplies should be on hand at all times including insulin vials, syringes, pens, pen needles, glucose meter, strips, glucagon, lancets, glucose tablets, and extra batteries.

    4. Have extra medication and supplies available in the workplace, at school, daycare, and if possible, in other family members’ or neighbors’ homes.

    5. Keep labels on all prescriptions.

    6. Program the phone number of your healthcare team into your cell phone

    or have the number immediately available.

    7. Inform all family members of a potential meeting place outside of the

    devastated area in advance.

    8. Provide a contact phone number outside the area code (even another

    state) to inform others that you are safe or need help.

    9. Make sure that you have supplies in your car. Make sure you refresh your supplies and that you do not become complacent.

    10. Consider a generator (and know how to use it).

    11. Think ahead of time what to do in case of the unexpected.

     

    And be prepared to act.