My family just went through an outbreak of the flu. At least I think it was the flu – aches, coughs, fevers, the works. If it wasn’t the flu, it was close enough not to matter.
It started with my wife getting a sore throat on February 26. It lasted for nearly two weeks for her, and eventually spread to all the kids. I seemed to be immune, at least until Sunday, when their puny germs finally overwhelmed my superior immune system.
But before I fell victim, I had the experience of being nursemaid to my entire family at once. Aside from being a lot of work, it got me thinking about what it would really be like to be faced with a pandemic illness.
I’m pretty convinced that a global pandemic is almost a mathematical certainty. Somewhere, right now, something is cooking in some Third World petri dish of a village, where pigs and chickens and humans all live in close contact. I’m not knocking the people there, or the culture, but biological facts are hard to dispute, and viruses seem to thrive in the environments those setups provide. And once the right genes are mixed and matched and packaged up in a nasty little protein coat, it’s only a matter of time before someone carries it onto a plane and starts what could very well be an extinction event for us.
So that’s the sort of scenario I was imagining as I was busy nursing my family back to health. Needless to say, nobody was in serious danger of dying from this particular bug, and we didn’t even have anyone pick up a serious secondary infection. But it still was instructive to have one person taking care of four. Here’s what I learned.
- Resupply. That was my biggest time sink, and would likely be a huge issue in a real pandemic. Four sick people demand a lot in terms of “sickie supplies.” Yes, a lot of what they “needed” was strictly comfort items. Raw red noses benefit from lotion tissues, and I wanted to make sure they had an ample supply of traditional foods – chicken noodle soup, pudding, ginger ale, etc. Granted, a lot of that could have been in my stores, and probably should be from now on – maybe not the pudding, though. But some stuff we needed is hard to keep around – cough medicine being the primary example. We don’t use it that often, and it goes fast with four people sucking it down every couple of hours.Trips out into the world during a pandemic would be a bad idea, but might be unavoidable. Isolation seems to be your best bet – if you can shelter in place, not venture out, and keep the cooties at bay, you stand a much better chance. But if you do venture out, you’re going to need some…
- Personal Protective Equipment. Back in the early days of my prepping, while the panic was still washing over me at regular intervals – I recall waking up from a sound sleep one night and telling my wife, “We don’t have any pickling crocks! What are we going to do?” – I laid in a pretty good stock of PPE. Nitrile gloves from Costco, and N95 respirators and Tyvek bunny suits from Home Depot. My thought was that I might need to venture out, and a supply of masks would be a first line of defense. I didn’t really intend to make a shopping trip in Tyvek, but still, it seemed like a good idea to have some on hand.I didn’t bother with PPE for my frequent trips out, obviously. The social barrier to behavior like that is really high, and it would take a pretty serious event to lower it. But once it does lower, I expect it’ll quickly be considered bad manners to be seen without PPE in public. It might even be a shooting offense. PPE works both ways, remember – not only does it keep you from breathing in floating nasties, but it keeps cooties from going airborne in the first place. Show up on my doorstep without some protection? Not a good move.
- Quarantine. Nobody was sick enough that I felt the need to isolate them. Plus, they all infected each other so quickly that there was no point. But I can see a pandemic making that necessary. I can’t imagine what an agonizing decision that would be. But if you know a virus is raging out there and it’s killing 80% of its victims, and someone in your family is showing signs, what choice would you have but to isolate them? Can you in good conscience expose everyone in the house? Knowing the odds, would the infected person want you too? I sucks to think about such things, but prepping ain’t just about growing your own food and learning how to can. It’s about thinking the darkest possible thoughts, and having a powerful enough imagination to wargame the unimaginable.
- Telecommuting is da bomb. I have a whole post planned on the power of telecommuting in the prepper lifestyle, but just a few quick words. I generally work from home three days a week, with the other two days being spent basically wasting time with meetings and “face time.” But I can easily justify sacrificing those two days, especially when there’s a chance I might have something communicable. That’s what I did when my family was sick, and it was great because is allowed me to take care of them and still get my work done. In fact, they were sleeping so much, and feeling so weak, that I had very few of the usual workday visits from them, and I was much more productive as a result. In a real pandemic, though, imagine how powerful it would be to have a way to make money without exposing yourself to infection. That’s why I call telecommuting my “prepping secret weapon.” More on that soon.
- Got Antibiotics? Short answer – nope. I keep meaning to make a purchase of fish antibiotics, but I never get around to it. APB friend Brother Harold recently related a story about a run-in he just had with Group A Streptococcus, and for want of an $8 bottle of FishMox, he had to shell out $130 for a prescription. Yeah, I know – taking fish antibiotics is a little on the iffy side. But ask me how long I’d hesitate to dole some out if someone in my family started showing signs of a secondary infection in a pandemic situation. Secondary bacterial infections are the big killers in most influenza cases, by the way.
Those are my lessons learned from this trip into mini-pandemic land. Everyone pulled through, and we managed to not spread our misfortune to any friends or family outside the house. I did finally succumb myself, about a week after everyone else was starting to feel better. Even then, I was only down and out for two days, where everyone else was out for a week or more. Guess I’m just lucky that way.