Caregiving and emergencies: not the best of times, decidedly

As a hospice social worker in Florida one of the things that was vitally important with every new family, we took on service was emergency planning. The same for California families and fires and earthquakes. When the planet doesn’t cooperate, you need a plan.

Sooner. Not later.

I watched from the sidelines as we discovered a family abandoned a patient in the line of a wildfire and saved themselves- and the dogs and cold beer- but left the patient. They flagged down a firefighter on their way out of the mobile home park to tell them they left a bed bound “loved one” (funny way of showing it…) in the home. And they were not going to go back. There were no ambulances available. No police units. Ultimately a paramedic pulled his own truck out and they loaded the patient into the bed and got her to safety at a shelter.

That’s dramatic, but not all that unusual. We are told by our cities and states to be “ready” for emergencies. Have enough gas in the car. Money in case banks are closed. Water. Ice. Pet food. People food.

But what about those who are caregivers and have someone in their care they cannot evacuate without help? Or have too much equipment? What if the power goes out? (And it will). Here are some ideas to ponder and to put into play now. Not later.

  • Meds- I realize pharmacies do not do extra prescriptions. Have copies on your phone so you can get them in case you evacuate. The written script and a pic of the bottle with the number visible. (And a phone charger please))
  • Water. Lots. Distilled too if you have an oxygen concentrator. I keep mine in the spare bedroom closet. Stacks and stacks. And frozen too. Coolers are handy and clean in the garage.
  • Shoes. Yes, I said that. I am in California. Glass breaks in earthquakes. But hurricanes break glass too. Sturdy shoes in the car and under the bed.
  • Gas line shut off tool. A map of where the power and water enter the house.
  • Window protection for Florida. Hurricanes send things flying. And when you are a caregiver, you may not get out in time, so be ready. In my old house the only safe room was the bathroom, which was tiny, and a hallway. We rode out hurricanes in that hallway during chemo. Mattresses on the floor.
  • Battery or solar radio.
  • Generators if possible. If you are in an area with natural gas, there are now generators you can attach to the gas line. That means no gasoline needed. Solar operated ones are also very nice but need sunshine.
  • Oxygen tanks, with keys, if your loved one has a concentrator. And if you evacuate you will need tanks where you are headed. That makes for an exciting evacuation. Be careful driving please…
  • Pet supplies and pets.
  • Kids should also not be forgotten, and with their favorite toys for comfort, favorite t shirts, favorite jammies.
  • Your own meds. Your own comfort kit.
  • Chocolate (yes, I said that).
  • Gas in the tank

Before an emergency:

  • Notify your local utility provider that you are there and need power for medical supplies
  • Notify them if loss of AC will cause harm to your loved one
  • Ensure your loved one has an ID bracelet, and an ICE contact in any cell phone you provide them.
  • Make sure you have something in your wallet that notified EMT’s if you are found away from your loved one that you have a caregivee at home who needs checking on.
  • Make sure you have any advanced directives in the car. In an emergency you may not be able to get to them electronically.
  • Be sure to have a week’s worth of food items that can be maintained for your loved one that meets their current needs. Remember, that changes. If you had sandwich stuff and they are now pureed food, you need to change it out.
  • Exchange numbers with neighbors. Tell them who is in your home. Find out who they have. Create a neighborhood connection system.
  • Make sure your mail delivery people know if you are leaving- so if you do not take in the mail, they will know to look for help.
  • Have a phone tree with friends and family done now. It’s helpful in case things change anyway- and it is vital in an emergency.
  • A family gathering place after an emergency needs to be identified so family can find you.
  • Identify who will come and help if you need to evacuate. If there is not help, then locate it through your city or community. They have plans in place.
  • Identify what must go with you. Your computer? Passwords? Pictures? Documents? Take pictures of all of them and store them in the cloud.

Caregiving can feel lonely and isolating. Sometimes just identifying all the people who will help, even if city employees, makes a caregiver feel safer and more in control. Having plans in place and things done early makes for a smoother moment when things go wrong. I live on a hillside area that is prone to fires. We have had two this year so far, one so close the fire retardant gave us a pink overspray to match my hibiscus. I am responsible for my mom who is a senior with dementia. We have a call tree, caring neighbors, and plans in place. Even if two of three of the primaries are away, we can still reconfigure.

Three years ago, in our old home I was one of two neighbors at home when a fire got so close our backyards were burning. The other neighbor and I divided up the pets we knew were home, the pictures to be taken from walls of kids and parents and started the call tree. We were, more fortunately, interrupted by three water drops. That was the same home where I was a caregiver for two wives before they each died. Those plans counted. Those connections counted. The best part of that story is that the one neighbor I was left with that day was the one almost everyone mistrusted. But that day he stepped right in. Emergencies can make things change and happen. Remember that but plan ahead.

Caregiving is exhausting, and planning is hard- but when it is done the stress it relieves is a burden lifted.

Go take care of things. There is another storm brewing, and we have fire weather coming. And we had earthquakes this week. Let’s all be ready.


Photo by Lukas Rychvalsky from Pexels

We jump every hurdle with  you. Let’s start today.