One of the biggest challenges we’ve had to face is the lack of professional healthcare. I mean, we don’t even have access to WebMD to self-diagnose! Fortunately, the police acted quickly enough and were able to protect the pharmacy in town. That’s been quite a godsend to many of us. One of the three pharmacists who worked there lives here in town and has been working double shifts trying to keep medicine up with demand. We also have a few experienced nurses and even a dental technician, but no doctors, no surgeons, no dentists, no medicine expert. The EMTs we have are great with patching up cuts and scrapes, but all of their training has been concentrated on stabilizing a patient to get them to a hospital for treatment, not so much on actual long-term medical care.
We had a pretty severe flu outbreak about a month ago. They were doling out various over-the-counter medicine to those who needed help with symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, and such. Not much they could do about fighting the actual bug. I’ll tell you, the stomach flu is infinitely worse when indoor plumbing isn’t an option anymore.
As might have been expected, the first few weeks of the crisis brought a lot of injuries as people tried to figure out how to properly use things like chainsaws and hand tools. While no one lost a leg, as far as I’ve heard, there were a couple fingers lopped off, several heart attacks, and quite a few infections that resulted from cuts and punctures not being treated properly.
Dental issues have also been cropping up a fair amount. Several people had been fighting off various and sundry cavities and mouth infections even before the crisis hit. They are doing the best they can down at the new makeshift clinic, but antibiotics are being used only in the most severe cases. Once our supply of those medicine is gone, we have no way to get more, so we’re rationing it out based on priority.
Just about everyone who was on life-saving medications, like heart medicine or even insulin, is gone now. There are a few who are lingering, but I don’t think they’ll last much longer.
Taking Care of Medical Needs
One of the most critical elements of any long-term survival plan is to account for medical needs. This goes beyond that small first aid kit you keep in your glove box. That will work great for small cuts and scrapes, but the longer a crisis goes on, the more likely it is that people are going to need help with more serious injuries and illnesses.
Like any other aspect of post collapse life, you are going to be pretty much on your own when it comes to providing for your medical needs. While we would all love to have a couple of MD’s within our survival group, that likely won’t happen for most of us. And while we might dream of having a fully stocked emergency room at our fingertips, odds are pretty good that any in the area will have long since been looted and picked clean.
All the supplies on the planet won’t do you much good if you don’t know how to use them properly. I’m not saying you need to go out and enroll in medical school tomorrow morning (though if that’s a feasible option for you, please feel free). However, there are a few different avenues worth exploring to increase your medical knowledge and skills.
Many technical colleges offer courses of interest within their emergency medical technician (EMT) programs. Even if you have no plans to pursue that career path, the training and knowledge will be very useful. If you lack the funds to pay the tuition, look into auditing the classes. Some schools allow students to attend certain classes, even take the exams, without receiving an actual grade, certificate of completion, or credit toward a degree. Typically, this is done in exchange for a reduced class fee. For our purposes, getting the knowledge is more important than getting a piece of paper certifying you were there.
If it is a large school, you might even be able to just sneak into class and observe, soaking in the information unobtrusively. When I was in college, we did this from time to time to get a feel for whether we’d like a certain professor or class. Granted, that was at a fairly large university, where one more face in a crowd of several hundred wasn’t too obvious. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
Even basic first aid training through the Red Cross or another similar agency will teach you how to properly treat a wound, set a broken limb, and other valuable skills. Do yourself a favor and seek out this training at every opportunity.
While medical training is something that should ideally be gained through hands-on, or at least face-to-face, experience, you can pick up a fair amount simply through studying various books. Even if you have extensive training, it is a good idea to put together a medical library of sorts. Bear in mind, though, the importance of actually reading these books, rather than just sticking them on a shelf in case you need them someday. It is only through reading and studying the texts that you’ll not only learn skills to treat illness and injury but know which books are best to consult in certain circumstances.
Here are some books in my own medical library:
US Army Special Forces Medical Handbook
by Glen C. Craig (Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 1988)
The Survival Medicine Handbook: A Guide for When Help Is Not on
by Joseph and Amy Alton (Doom and Bloom, 2nd edition, 2013)
PDR for Herbal Medicines
by Thomson Healthcare (Montvale, NJ: Thomson Healthcare, Inc., 4th
Where There Is No Doctor
by David Werner, Carol Thuman, and Jane Maxwell (Berkeley, CA:
Hesperian Health Guides, revised edition, 2013)
Where There Is No Dentist
by Murray Dickson (Berkeley, CA: Hesperian Health Guides, 2012)
Every year brings a new edition of the vaunted Physician’s Desk Reference, also known as just PDR. This guide to prescription medications is a great source for determining what specific drugs are used for, which should not be used together, and other critical information. However, given the expected lack of prescription medications in a post collapse world, this particular resource is perhaps secondary to the ones listed above.
I also have various and sundry textbooks for nursing programs and emergency medical tech courses. Most of those I’ve picked up for spare change at thrift stores. You can also purchase used books in these and other fields right at university and technical school bookstores, though they’ll likely be on the pricey side. Shopping for specific titles online could save you a few bucks.
It is important to have actual hard copies of these books and manuals on hand. While e-books are often cheaper, and they certainly don’t take up valuable shelf space, you can’t count on that Kindle or other e-reader being accessible to you weeks or months after the crisis begins.
Of course, in addition to the training and texts, you’ll need the tools with which to work. To better understand what might be needed, let’s first talk about the most probable injuries and illnesses that will befall survivors.
Lacerations and contusions are going to be very common. Given that many, if not most, people are not used to working with their hands and engaging in manual labor for long periods of time, there is bound to be a learning curve. Along the way, cuts, abrasions, and bruising will occur with regularity. Any open wound, no matter how slight, needs to be bandaged and take proper medicine to prevent infection. Today’s healthiest adults still cannot compete with the immune systems of those who lived years ago. For better or worse, we live in something of a bubble today and generally aren’t exposed to all the germs our forebears were. As a result of this rather sterilized existence, we fall prey to infections easier. Until our immune systems get back on track, so to speak, we need to provide as much assistance as we can.
Expect to see a fair number of sprains and strains. Again, people are going to be much more physically active than they may have been in the past, and their bodies won’t be used to it. Cutting firewood, for example,
for those who aren’t accustomed to it, brings with it the possibility for lower-back and shoulder injuries, as well as those incurred from accidents.
Depending on how things shake out with your security plans, there is also the possibility of gunshot wounds. These are problematic at best, and bring with them the risk of life-threatening infection. Any sort of puncture wound causes germs and bacteria from the surface of your skin to be driven into the body.
When you have a group of diverse people living in close quarters for long periods of time, you may see infestations of lice and such crop up. All it takes is for one person to have a few nits at the beginning of the crisis and, within days, the entire group is itching and scratching. Do everyone a favor and stock up on the appropriate remedies.
You can also expect to see burn injuries here and there due to the increased use of open flame for cooking as well as light. Hopefully, the majority of those burns will be minor. Those who do get singed will be thankful if you’ve stocked up on burn cream ahead of time.
As for illnesses, you’ll see a number of instances of digestive problems as people’s diets change. On top of that, as we’re forced to resort to actual face-to-face communication rather than relying upon e-mail and text messaging, we’re going to be in contact with more viruses and diseases. Couple that with the fact that hygiene won’t necessarily be high on many people’s priority lists and you’ll see contagious illnesses, from the common cold to the stomach flu, spreading quickly through any group.
Now that we have an idea of what to expect, let’s look at some supplies to have on hand.