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Medical Adventures and SHTF

As you know, I’ve been absent for a while and I’d like to share with you a bit of what happened and how it would play out in an emergency scenario. 

In January 2014, after having tried unsuccessfully for 2+ years and being told it was impossible, I became pregnant. Almost right away there were issues. I started bleeding heavily and was told I had miscarried. We ran some blood tests and my hormone levels weren’t going down so the doctor scheduled an emergency ultrasound to be followed by a dilation and cutterage (d&c) to remove the failed pregnancy. The tech at the ultrasound place asked if we were dating the pregnancy and sadly I replied that no, we were confirming my miscarriage. To our surprise, the baby was still there, heart beating and jumping around. The problem was not the baby, it was a huge sac of blood between my uterus and the placenta. This is called a subchorionic hemorrhage and can be very dangerous, so I was sent to the top high risk obstetrician in the city. The blood, it turns out, could do a few things; it could grow and disconnect the placenta thus ending the pregnancy. It could stay as is and not allow the baby room to grow. It could bleed out or it could re absorb. In any case, I wasn’t allowed to lift more than 5-10lbs, raise my heart beat or sweat or do anything strenuous. I continued to bleed until I was 17 weeks pregnant. 

At my 13 week tri-scan, I screened positive for neural tube issues. The baby could be missing its head and/or part of the brain, could have an open spinal cord such as spina bifida or could end up having Down syndrome. The doctors encouraged me to think of my options because there was the chance of miscarriage, stillborn or no quality of life. I chose to keep on and get more tests. After rigorous testing, it was determined that baby was healthy and I had screened positive due to the extra blood from the hemorraging. 

At 23 weeks (1 week before viability here), the baby had stopped growing. At this point I was at the high risk clinic about once a week so we listened to the heart beat and booked yet another ultrasound for the baby. If he still wasn’t growing, we’d need to get him out of there and into the NICU. Thankfully, he put on an oz between visits. 

Then, as if this wasn’t enough fun, I developed gestational diabetes at 30 weeks. I was expecting this as I had it with my previous pregnancies but it showed up late this time. This meant a huge diet change, multiple blood tests a day and 4 shots of insulin into my abdomen a day. My doses kept changing because the way the baby was reacting to the sugars and insulin. 

Because of how high risk I was, the doctors encouraged labor as much as possible. I endured 3 painful membrane sweeps, ate ridiculous food  and tried every old wives tale. Nothing worked and the little guy stayed where he was. Turns out he was transverse (so across my belly instead of head down). I then, very hugely pregnant in the middle of August with no a/c, had to do all sorts of crazy yoga poses etc to get baby head down. I wasn’t allowed to go past my due date and my OB booked an induction for the day of. I could be called in anywhere from 6 am to 10 pm but if not by noon, it probably wouldn’t be happening. I of course couldn’t sleep so was wide awake by 6. No call. Took my big kid to school for 9. No call. Finally had early dinner at 4, with still no call. At 5:30 I was rushing to the hospital with bad cramps and broken waters. Around 5 hours later I had my boy. He was healthy but with low blood sugars so the NICU was still an option. Finally they let me go home after two nights and then it was me and a newborn and my big kid.

I was supposed to take things “easy” after child birth. Yeah right. Landed myself back in with the Dr because I was hemorrhaging from too much strenuous activity (aka taking care of the household). Finally, everything got sorted and I thought life was back on track. 

Fast forward to February. Baby H was now 5 months old and the rest of us had adjusted to the new addition fairly well. Around the 21st I had a stomach ache but attributed it to the crappy dinner we had eaten to celebrate a birthday. But it didn’t go away all night. By morning I was fine but anytime I ate, it hurt within an hour again. So I thought I had a stomach flu, which was going around anyways. By the 24th I called the Dr because maybe I had something viral? It was a yucky stomach bug but I didn’t think much of it. Saw the Dr on the 26, she palpates my stomach but I had no pain response etc so she prescribed me pills for acid reflux but ran some blood tests just in case. February 28 I got a call before the Dr office even opened telling me I needed to go to the emergency room.

In the emergency room they told me my pancreas had shut down, my liver was almost pooched and my gallbladder was definitely shot. I had several blood tests, ultrasounds, an MRI etc. Turns out I had a gallstone stuck in my common bile duct. I should have been in excruciating pain but I have a high pain tolerance (which the Drs have said before). The other patients with the same problems were taking morphine. I only took anti nauseants because I wasn’t allowed food for 6 days. On the 5th day I had an endoscopy where they stuck a camera and tube down my throat, through my stomach and cut a hole in my bile duct to push the stone into my intestines so I could pass it that way. Well the stupid stone got stuck on the camera and I have it to this day (it has been named Herman by one of the nurses). I immediately felt better and my toxic blood levels dropped significantly . On day 6, I had 4 incisions made into my abdomen and they pulled out my gallbladder and repaired a hernia that I had no idea was there. It was around a 5 hour surgery. Finally, I was allowed to go home and have my kids again!! This emergency room visit that my Dr had said would take a couple hours had turned into the hardest week of my life. The Drs then dropped the bombshell on me that I couldn’t lift 10+ lbs for a month or I could pop the hernia right back out or rip my stitches. They expected me to somehow be a mum and basically not move. My mother showed up twice a day to move the baby from the bedroom to the living room and back. I could barely nurse since I was able to lift him (or be on my sides). I lasted two weeks before I started lifting him (which out of 4 wasn’t too bad for stubborn old me). 

My most recent medical adventure (besides of course the regular sort of flus, colds, childhood illnesses and mastitis) has been a breast cancer scare. So far the results have been negative (ultrasound, antibiotics etc) but we also have no answers. 

Sorry for the long explanation, the point is: if the shtf, I probably wouldn’t have survived most of this. I have medical training but I certainly not a doctor. Even my surgeons were stumped, I had a 4mm stone blocking my duct and I felt fine. I was literally dying and had no clue. After my gallbladder went through pathology, was told there had been a 9cm stone in there as well. So think like a grapefruit or just shy of a softball. My gallbladder could have easily ruptured. How do we prepare for this? I might have been able to (poorly) perform the surgery on someone else but there’s no way I would have a diagnosis without blood tests and imaging. 

My best answer I suppose is to make sure yourself or someone in your group is medically trained in some form and to keep everyone at peak health through diet, exercise, proper sleep and regular doctor visits. 

Reusing your own soap

A lot of us have soap in our stocks, its a great thing to have around. In a SHTF situation, hygiene is paramount. Soap is generally cheap, but here’s a way you can save a bit of money.

I personally own a soap business (www.alchemysoapworks.com) so I have a lot of soap scraps around but you can do this using the little slivers that are left at the end of the bar.

Grate or break down your soap into smaller pieces and place them in a bowl.

soap scraps in bowl ready for our next step

Put your bowl over a pot of warm water (double boiler). Do not let the water boil, as this gets your soap too hot. If you are using all bar soap (not glycerine soap) you may have to add a little bit of water to your bowl.

Be careful, the bowl and the soap will get hot. Melt the soap down and mix it together.  When it is all melted, its time to take it off the heat.

Bowl of melted soap

Carefully pour your soap into molds. I have professional molds but this isn’t necessary at all. You can use milk cartons, silicone muffin tins, just about anything. (tip: if you want to make soap for barter or giving away PSHTF, pour your soap into ice cube trays.)

Once your soap is hardened (this can take anywhere from a couple hours to a couple of days), take it out of your mold and cut it into desired shapes and sizes. If you’re having trouble getting the soap out, you can pop it into the freezer for ten minutes and let it get cold, it should come out easily after that.

“poc” soap, ready to be wrapped.

It may not be pretty and it may be a blend of a lot of scents, but its soap, its functional and it was free.

To keep your soap for long periods, consider using shrink wrap or putting it into zipper plastic bags. If you used glycerin soap, it may develop a ‘dew’ or ‘sweat’, this is normal and does not affect the function of the soap.

 

Tips for Keeping Up Morale

Life post-SHTF will be very different than what we are used to. Different, harder, crueler and probably nothing like we expect it to be. We will have to deal with boredom (which can be a killer). People in the same environment for extended periods with a loss of privacy, a lack of hygiene, emotional issues, not to mention food fatigue and the digestive problems this can bring on will definitely need something to keep their minds off of things.

All of this is enough to bring anyone down. It is important to keep morale high. Boredom can lead to depression and depression can lead to a loss of will to live. This obviously is counter productive to our survival plans. So:

Give people a job to do, establish a routine. I’ve said it before, people thrive on routines. When you know what to expect and what your day looks like, it makes it easier to deal with.

Make sure you have entertainment. Books, games, decks of cards, coloring books for the kids, anything. If you don’t have a physical source of entertainment, put on a play, sing some songs or have a talent show.

Learn some skills that are fun and productive. Knitting or crocheting (which can be done with whittled sticks and plant made fibers!) can produce clothing, wash cloths, blankets and even nets for fishing. Wood working can make utensils (for eating and cooking), bows and arrows for hunting and improve your shelter!

Include some goodies in your preps. Candies or chocolates, stored in cool dark locations, can last almost indefinitely. (PLEASE do not throw out chocolate that has gone white! As a former chef I can tell you that it is NOT mold! It is called bloom and it is the fat in the chocolate separating. You can eat it as is or you can melt it down and mix the fats back in.) For the adults: a small bottle of your favorite liquor might be more to your taste. Or add a case of your family’s favorite soda to help ease the transition.

Above all else, never give up hope!

Hair in Emergencies

I’d like to thank Sandy for pointing out the hair aspect of a SHTF scenario.

Personally, I plan to either cut my hair very short or shave it to cut down on the possibility of lice, fleas and other parasites that might like to live in it. This might not appeal to you and then, if you do it, what happens when your hair grows back?

Well, you can keep it short or you can try and keep it clean. I have bottles of shampoo put aside just in case but I also keep small sample size bottles in our bug out bags. I can use them or there is always the potential for barter or just giving away to those that might be in need.

An easy way to keep your hair clean (well, cleanER) is to use a dry shampoo. This is great for conserving your precious water supplies as well.

To use a dry or waterless shampoo, put the powder in your hair, let it sit a few minutes and then brush it out.

A simple recipe is just using corn starch or baby powder (I’ve also used arrowroot powder) mixed with a few drops of essential oils – citrus is good for absorbing oils, tea tree is good for deterring bugs and lavender is anti-septic and anti-bacterial.

You can also keep a few hairbrushes and hair ties in your preparations as well as some razors if you decide to shave your head or to barter with.

Commonly Overlooked Preps Part 2

Here’s part two of the list I posted earlier.

Soil – I know people that have tens of thousands of seeds but no soil. What happens if you have to plant inside? Or if the soil where you are is too sandy or too much clay? A couple bags of decent quality potting soil are a good idea to keep around. I recently got 10 20 liter bags of soil for $10.

Pets- please don’t forget your four legged friends! Make sure you have food and water put aside for them. You can put aside a couple of bags of kibble that your animals usually eat but you can also make your own dehydrated pet foods. I have also begun to see dehydrated animal food at the specialty pet stores. Just remember if you’re using dehydrated foods to have enough water to rehydrate. Which brings me to the next point.

Water – Yes, most of us have enough to drink but a lot of preppers have dehydrated foods. You need to consider how much water these things will take to rehydrate. What about gardening? There’s really no way to calculate how much water you would need for gardening but using a rain barrel can offset that. But keep in mind, there could always be a drought and if you’re counting on a garden as a large part of your food you better have a back up plan.

Garbage Bags – most people plan to burn their garbage, which is fine. But how about disposing of a body? You don’t necessarily want to be handling that. Or if you have lice, you can bag your clothing and bedding for a couple weeks to kill the lice. You can also use it for quarantine purposes. Make your ill person strip down, bag the clothes and get them into something clean. How about blacking out windows? Using a heavy duty garbage bag taped over windows can help to hide any light showing through (you may have to double up though)

Commonly Over Looked Preps

As I talk to more and more people about their preparations, I’ve noticed some things that a lot of them seem to have over looked. (This, of course, is no judgment on them). Here’s a bit of a list of the ones that I’ve noticed over and over.

Entertainment – there is no way I can express how important this really is. It doesn’t matter if you have 30 years of food and water in your location, if you have nothing to do, you WILL go stir crazy. Put a book in your back pack and have everyone in your group do the same, or stock up your retreat location with some books you’ve never read. You can get books cheaply at garage sales or for free on websites such as freecycle.org. Get a deck of cards or some board games. If, for whatever reason, these things are not feasible for you, make a routine as soon as possible in the situation you’re facing. People thrive on routine. (example: wake up, make breakfast, check traps, have lunch, tend garden, make tools, etc). The last thing you need to deal with in a SHTF situation is cabin fever.

Oven mitts/Pot holders – almost everyone I’ve spoken to has the plan to cook over fires but none of them have oven mitts or pot holders to protect their hands. While this isn’t necessary and there are tools that you can fashion out of sticks to do the same thing, pot holders will protect your hands from the burns that you ARE going to get. You can get a pot holder at a dollar store or use a bandana or scrap of fabric.

Burn care- this goes with the pot holders. People will get burned; a lot of people are relying on fire to cook, clean and heat. There will be burns. I see the med kits people have and most of them focus on cuts or illness. While living in a SHTF scenario, yes, there will be a lot of cuts too but burns require care to prevent infection. Get a tube of burn ointment and bandages or whatever your preferred method of burn care is and have lots of it! (I use straight lavender essential oil for burns, more on this in a later post).

Water additives- it is easy to get diet fatigue when you’re drinking nothing but plain, sometimes boiled, tasteless water. I recommend, especially for those of you with kids, that you stock up on some additives such as Kool Aid, Crystal Light or whatever your favorite drink crystals are. These don’t take up much room and can add a sense of normalcy to your situation.

Again these are just some of the things I’ve noticed and I’m sure I’ll add to the list. Make sure you think of how you’re going to survive and all things required if you had to start from scratch. A big part of prepping is planning!