Disasters and your health

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

January 2010

Nature's mega-calamities such as those depicted in the movie 2012 are off-the-scale unlikely. Smaller ones are not only likely but they occur fairly regularly. How well prepared are you from a health point of view if one should occur? Robust young folks can tolerate the inconvenience of a power outage that lasts a day or two but the elderly or anyone with a chronic illness might not. Would you have been ready for Hurricane Katrina if you lived in New Orleans?

The term convenience store refers to more than the local Seven-Eleven. It applies to the local pharmacy that is just a short drive away if you need a prescription refill. Things will get complicated if you can't get through flooded streets. During a prolonged power failure the pharmacy's checkout registers won't work and in the worst circumstance it might be some time before you can replenish the medications that you need.

In my lectures on travel and health I urge those who journey to exotic locales to have the medication that they will need for the entire trip plus an additional 20 percent. After all, natural disasters can occur anywhere and airline strikes are not unheard of.

In a prolonged emergency you may not need medicine but you will need water.

High temperatures and old age are an often-deadly combination and even young bodies can become dehydrated quickly. If you don't have at least two days' supply of water for each member of the family — one gallon per day per person — put it on this week's grocery list. The contents of unopened store-bought containers of water will last for at least six months. Keep them in a cool, dark place; there is no significant risk of a health problem from plastic bottles.

Most households have a box of band-aids and a tube of antibiotic ointment in the medicine cabinet but how will you deal with a more serious cut or a broken bone? The local emergency department might as well be on another continent if you can't get through a blizzard or an ice storm. An Internet search for home first aid kit will bring up millions of entries but the first couple will yield a list of the items you need.

Except for the water, these lifesaving basics will fit in a shoebox and will cost a lot less than the shoes. Don't put it off.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.