Emergency Preparedness with a Chronic Illness

Patient Expert

As I write this, hurricane Sandy is gearing up to hit the Northeast part of the US and Canada and all those stories of a Frankenstorm are more than a bit unnerving. Every talking head on every channel is telling us how to prepare. There is video of boarded-up windows, long lines of cars headed out of coastal areas and empty store shelves, but not a lot of information about preparing for an emergency when you have a chronic illness or other type of medical condition.

Getting ready for a potential emergency such as hurricane Sandy involves planning ahead in several different areas of your life. Some of your plan will be the same as your healthy and able-bodied neighbors, but you will also need to make plans that specifically consider your RA.

Emergency Kit

Everyone should have an emergency kit that is updated on a regular basis. This kit will help you survive on your own until the worst of the disaster is over or until officials or relief workers can come help you, if necessary. Usually, it is recommended that you have enough supplies to last you and your family at least three days (72 hours). The kit should include 1 gallon of water per person per day - half for drinking, half for cleaning, cooking and sanitation. There should be a store of nonperishable food, flashlights with extra batteries, candles and matches, a first aid kit and a battery-powered or handcrank radio. Don't forget to include food and water for your pets, as well. FEMA's website has a list of additional items that should be in your kit.

If you have a chronic illness or other medical condition, make sure that your kit has at least a three-day supply of your medication and any medical supplies you use. Keep the medication in the original containers from a past prescription that shows both the name of your doctor and your pharmacy. If you take opioids for chronic pain and have signed a treatment agreement that outlines a specific way to take your meds, it can be difficult to set extra medication aside. This could not just impact your pain levels during an emergency, but also put you at risk for going into withdrawal. Talk to your doctor about how to make sure your emergency kit includes the medication you need.

If you have chronic pain that affect your ability to use your hands, include a battery-operated can opener in your kit such as the One Touch to make sure you can open the cans of nonperishable food!

Preparing Your Home

When the weather forecasts promise lots of rain and wind, your first step is to make sure that fallen leaves aren't blocking important areas. Clear window wells, outdoor stairwells and your eavestroughs so that water can flow freely. If you have a storm drain by the curb in front of your house, make sure that's cleared of leaves, as well. Keep an eye on the trees on your property - are they healthy or do certain branches look like they're ready to snap off in a strong wind? If you have patio furniture or decorations that could turn into projectiles in the strong wind, put them inside.

Make sure you have a phone that works. Cordless phones rely on electricity to work and cell phones run out of battery. As well, cell networks can get overwhelmed in emergencies. During the Northeast blackout of 2003, I was very happy that I had a basic phone that just plugged into the phone jack. Without it, I wouldn't have been able to get in touch with anyone.

If there's advanced warning of a situation that could turn into an emergency, make sure that everything that needs charging is fully charged. This includes your cell phone, toothbrush, laptop and if you use a mobility aid, most definitely your wheelchair or scooter. Keep a charged car battery in your home to power wheelchairs, scooters, or other motorized equipment. Talk to the company that services your equipment for tips on how to manage during a period of no electricity.

Support Network

Does your condition mean that you need help during an emergency? Set up a support network swell in advance. Talk to your family, friends, neighbors and service providers so you have backup in case of emergency. Make sure that several people you trust have a key to your home and a plan about how they can help you.

If you have mobility problems, investigate which shelters are equipped to deal with these issues. This can include being accessible and having access to a power source to charge scooters and wheelchairs. Know how to get there. Most areas have a disability-specific emergency preparedness plan for people with disabilities and this could be particularly helpful if you have limited mobility. You can find more information about this topic on the CDC website.

Hunkering down for hurricane not knowing what's going to happen is unnerving, but at least we've had time to get ready. Other emergencies, such as the Northeast blackout in 2003, can happen without warning. Making sure you're prepared can help you get through the experience.

To all our friends who are affected by the storm, please stay safe. Take care of yourselves and if you can, check in on your neighbors.

Lene is the author of the award-winning blog The Seated View