Since Hurricane Katrina hit with its horrible result, we have become a nation of caregivers. Instead of taking care of one or two elderly loved ones, groups meet to figure out how to take care of dozens, hundreds, even thousands, of mostly displaced people to help them get back on their feet. It is a major project, and it is so very necessary.
While most of us will never face such a devastating disaster, chances are we will face at least one disaster of varying degrees of magnitude in our lifetime.
When I was taking care of Dad after Mom died, I had a very few minutes to prepare before a mesocyclone hit. I didn’t know it was a mesocyclone; I thought it was just one tornado. Instead, it was like a huge tornado about 7-8 miles wide with little tornadoes inside it.
Like most people, I hadn’t prepared for an emergency -- and almost paid the price. In fact, I hadn’t even thought about an emergency.
Dad had suffered a few strokes and was confined to his hospital bed because he couldn’t stand. There was no way my daughter-in-law and I could carry him down the stairs to the basement and relative safety. We needed to move his hospital bed into the hallway away from windows. We pushed and pulled, then ran into a stumbling block – a card table filled with things needed to wash him and do other things to take care of him. I decided to tip it over instead of removing the contents. There wasn't time for anything else.
It seemed forever before we got Dad to a safe place. We stood there beside his bed, listening to the horrible wind and things hitting the house. We couldn’t see outside because there was too much dirt in the air. I wondered why the tornado didn’t leave. I thought they came and went fast, but that storm didn’t. Finally the wind started to subside, then I realized it was also pooring rain. The electricity was off, and Dad’s electric bed was in an upright position. He couldn’t stay that way very long so I asked a neighbor to help lay it down.
That frightening experience taught me how important it is to be prepared for an emergency. But you know something? Even with this harrowing experience, I didn't do anything to prepare for another emergency or disaster for a long time.
I am just like so many other people. We so seldomly face a life-and-death disaster that we forget how important it is to prepare for one on the outside chance that we will face one. We play the odds of disaster, or just get busy with our lives. But when we do face one, doing a little preparation beforehand makes such a big difference.
In my recent column, "Disaster Planning is Essential for Caregivers
," Katie from Des Moines asked about planning for a disaster. She lived in Des Moines in 1993 when the floods took away the city water supply. She didn't want to be unprepared again. We all should adopt her attitude and try to be prepared if a disaster should strike.
Disaster preparation isn’t really difficult. It doesn’t take long to copy your important papers and store them, along with those of your loved one. It doesn’t take long to verify what insurance will cover in a disaster. It doesn’t take long to gather together in one place extra canned food and water (don't forget a manual can opener!), first aid supplies, medicines, flashlights, a battery-powered radio, extra batteries, extra clothes and blankets, an extra set of all your important keys, credit cards, eyeglasses, toothpaste and other personal items you may need, and extra supplies for your pets.
As you buy new supplies over time, use the ones you have stored previously. It doesn’t take long to make a list of people you want to call and those you want to check on. It doesn’t take long to make a plan of action for the time a disaster hits you and your loved one. It does happen, as we've seen.
During a disaster, remember the plans you've laid out. But above all, make sure you and your loved one are safe. If you need to evacuate, don't wait -- evacuate. Don’t hold onto things and risk your life or the life of your loved one. "Things" can be replaced, people can't.
Now, this final thought: When a disaster of the magnitude of Katrina strikes, we are all touched by the help needed and given. It is needed. But just remember this: every family caregiver -- struggling to balance care and the rest of life year round -- deserves recognition and support. It is a selfless, ongoing act that is extremely difficult. I applaud all of you. You deserve it.