Sunday, November 09, 2014

Home Alone . . . With The Flu

flu box 2

My `under-the-bed’ flu kit


# 9301


Although you can never really know what kind of flu season lies ahead, early indications are that the H3N2 virus is leading the pack and that a new strain – not covered in this year’s vaccine – may have an impact (see A `Drift’ In A Sea Of Influenza Viruses). 


Years in which H3 viruses dominate often produce more severe flu seasons – particularly among those over the age of 65.

Like many Americans, I live alone.  It is a demographic trend that has been increasing for decades. A couple of years ago the Census bureau reported that 1 in 4 households had just a single occupant - greater than at any time in the past century.

Currently, more than 32 million Americans live alone (see chart below), and while many of those are younger people who are waiting later to get married, a side effect of our longer lifespan and high divorce rate is that many of these single households are held by those over the age of 65.


Whether we live alone by choice or by happenstance, we all share a common vulnerability.  If we get sick, or injured, there may be no one around to notice, or to help. 


As a paramedic I saw a significant number of people who lived alone who either died, or spend miserable hours or even days incapacitated and unable to call for help, due to an illness or accident.


Another vulnerable group are households with only 1 adult, and minor children.  This too is a growing demographic, with more than 5 million households falling into that category.  If the adult falls seriously ill, then even more are potentially at risk.

In 2007, I suffered my last serious bout with the flu that laid me up, delirious and unable to move, for about 24 hours. I described the experience HERE, and since I live alone, it inspired me to take steps in case it ever happens again.


First, and perhaps most important, I’ve moved my cell phone charger to my beside table.  My phone now goes with me when I retire at night, that way I can call for help if ever the need arises.

A sensible precaution for anyone of my years.


Second, I made a simple under-the-bed flu kit (see photo at top of blog). In a small plastic box, I keep:


    • A couple of pouch Sports drinks (rehydration)
    • A bottle of acetaminophen
    • A bottle of expectorant pills
    • Imodium pills
    • A thermometer
    • Throat lozenges
    • Surgical masks for me to wear in case I have to call for help or have visitors.


As a result of this little `flu-life adventure’, I also began to promote the idea of having – and being – a `flu buddy’ in this blog. Particularly for those who either live alone, or are the sole adult caregiver in a household.


A `Flu buddy’ is simply someone you can call if you get sick, who will then check on you every day, make sure you have the medicines you need (including fetching Tamiflu if appropriate), help care for you if needed, and who can call for medical help if your condition deteriorates.


While various governments floated the idea of having a `flu friend’ or buddy during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the truth is, influenza kills tends of thousands each year – and so this should be a yearly reciprocal arrangement – not just something you arrange for during a  pandemic.


About 5 years ago, I reworked this `flu buddy’ idea into a more generic `Disaster buddy’ concept (see In An Emergency, Who Has Your Back? ). The idea of setting up a `mutual aid’ agreement with a friend, relative, or trusted neighbor is the same – just expanded to cover more than just an illness. 

We live in uncertain times, and frankly, I can’t imagine not having a disaster buddy or two.  No one likes to impose on a friend, of course. But if you’ve already established a `disaster buddy’ relationship  – one that is fair and reciprocal – it shouldn’t be considered an imposition.

Now - before a disaster occurs - is the time to sit down and talk to your friends, family, and neighbors about how you will help one another during a personal or community wide crisis.


For more on increasing your level of preparedness, a partial list of some of my preparedness blogs include:


The Gift Of Preparedness – 2014 Edition

When 72 Hours Isn’t Enough

An Appropriate Level Of Preparedness

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