The Thanksgiving of 2014, we spent 30 hours with a foot of new snow and no power. I found myself cooking Thanksgiving dinner on the grill and everything went pretty well. I did notice, however, that even with the stress and anxiety that having no power causes (including having to put my ice cleats on every time I went out to the grill), I didn’t experience any breakthrough pain and actually felt pretty good; not something I would have expected with this situation. Of course, if the power outage would have lasted longer, I might be telling a different story. All in all during this period of time I was exceptional. So, why the better outcome result this time? Could it be because we were prepared?
I believe it is important to remember that people with persistent pain have more needs to be prepared for when a power outage or some other emergency befalls us. Stress and anxiety are never our friends. Here are some lessons learned I wish to share:
- Have a generator available, if possible. We don’t since it would require rewiring our electrical box. If you do have one, be sure you know how to use and vent it properly (make your carbon monoxide detector is working too).
- Have an alternative source of heat available if your heating is powered by electricity (even oil furnaces use electric blowers). We have a fireplace insert and heat primarily with wood. The heat doesn’t reach downstairs (where our granddaughter’s room is so they spent the second night with their other grandparents). If you do not have an alternative source know where you can go – family, friends, or shelter – and go. This goes for hot weather power outages as well; there are usually cooling shelters, friends, family, and public places where you can take a break from the heat—extreme temperatures can kill. Don’t be stoic!
- Let there be light! Have a supply of flashlights and lanterns available. The flashlights are where I know to find one and woe to any who do not put them back (the girls each have one by their beds). Portable lanterns are getting better and brighter. Be sure to have a supply of batteries as well. I strongly discourage the use of candles or even oil lanterns. Fire is an all too easy risk.
- Have extra water on hand! Those of us with well water will lose our supply when the power goes out; those on “city” water may lose it at times. There are other occasions as well when you may lose water (or it may be contaminated) so having a backup supply is important. I know for earthquake preparedness they say one gallon of water per day per person for two weeks, however many of us do not have a place to store that much. I try to keep on hand 1 gallon of water per person plus at least one flat of bottled water for drinking. Washing down medication from smaller bottled water is easier than trying to pour water into a cup from a gallon jug in my opinion. We have used snow melt for washing, flushing toilets, etc. With the pollutants in the air, I am not found of using it for drinking.
- If you have a gas or propane stove for cooking, yay! Those of us with electrical stoves and ovens muddle through. I do use a camp stove in the house for heating water (I need my tea) and making coffee (having an old time percolator and some ground coffee is a help here). For short periods, this isn’t a problem – no falling to temptation for heating the room or long cooking times as that is the way to carbon monoxide poisoning. I use my gas grill if needed and possible. Don’t forget to have extra canisters of propane available. Using a charcoal grill makes it easy when the temperatures are below freezing, so having charcoal, lighter fluid and matches/lighter in your emergency supply is needed.
- Keep a supply of non-perishable foods on hand (and a non-electrical can opener-one that is easy for hands with pain to use).
- Although it is not very environmental friendly, this is the time for disposable dinner wear. I actually keep a bag at the ready with plates, bowls, cups, and utensils. The fewer dishes to be washed the better.
- If you live anywhere where ice storms are possible, having ice melt or a bag of cheap, clay kitty litter on hand can help to lay a safe walking path as long as the weather is not in the subzero ranges for an extended period of time. If you live in areas where ice is a frequent visitor, invest in at least one set of ice grips (trax or cleats-are other names) and use them. Falling on ice is never fun and frequently serious. They go over your shoes or boots and are a royal pain but well worth it. If you have trouble putting them on (hands hurt or have neuropathy) make a plan with someone else to help you get them on. Of course if you get caught unaware, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to crawl; I’ve done it.
- Stay charged. Most of us rely on cell phones. We actually have our land line through the computer so if the power is out it forwards calls to my cell. There are nifty chargers to get for your cell (and other mobile devices). They are inexpensive. Just be sure it is charged before the power goes out! If you have a charger for your car, you can warm the car (good for its battery life) and recharge your phone at the same time.
- Having a month’s supply of medications on hand as recommended by most emergency preparedness guidelines is close to impossible. Unfortunately, nowadays most insurance companies and federal regulations don’t allow that for controlled medications, such as opioids. Therefore, you can’t get ahead at all. If you know of a storm coming try to make sure you are not near running out. If refills are needed, talk to your pharmacist about a refill plan. Restock your over the counter medications to at least a month supply. Check your medication list to be sure it is up to date and you have several copies available. Include your pain management plan on that list along with emergency contacts.
- If heat or cold therapies are part of your pain treatment plan, invest in some chemical warmers and/or coolers to have on hand. Others with persistent pain use them when a heating pad is not practical. I was looking at reviews for the hand and body warmers and some people even use them for feral cats on bitter cold nights (they are that good)! I have even seen a fleece scarf with “warmer pockets” as well as blankets. For cold treatment there are “instant” cold packs. There are heating & cooling creams and patches that can be used, too. Don’t forget your warm socks!
- You might invest in a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio. Tablets and computers won’t be able to pick up radio or TV without WiFi.
- If you live by yourself, ask a neighbor, friend, or family member to agree to check on you regularly if the power is out. During the Ice Storm of ’98, Maine didn’t lose a single older adult or person with disabilities (and remember pain is an unseen disability) as a result of the storm. We personally were without power for 9 days (others less and others more). People took folks in who did not have heat and neighbors/friends checked in on each other regularly to make sure all were managing and safe.
My mother grew up in a sod house on a farm and would always complain to me that “people don’t know how to live without electricity anymore”. I don’t believe that is truly the problem, rather our lives are intertwined with electricity; when it is not there we have to make do as best we can. I know readers may have tips they are willing to share. Please do.