Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Time To Line Up A `Flu Buddy'


I've just gotten off a Teleconference call with the CDC, and while I'll post a link to the audio file when it becomes available, I can tell you the CDC is now warning that it is not a matter of if COVID-19 will begin spreading in the United States . . . it's a matter of when.
Granted,  we don't know what that will look like - or how bad it might be - but the  message coming today from Dr. Nancy Messonnier is that now is the time for everyone; government agencies, hospitals, businesses, and individuals to prepare. 
Since  Dr. Ian Mackay and Dr. Katherine Arden wrote quite effectively about preparing for a pandemic earlier today (see So you think you’re about to be in a pandemic?), I'll touch on the need to have one (or more) flu buddy.

COVID-19 admittedly isn't flu, but influenza is about as close of a corollary as we have right now, and as individuals, we are going to be dealing with it as if it were pandemic influenza.  And that means - for many of us who will only have mild or moderate illness - we'll have to be treated at home by family or friends.
All well and good if you live with someone who can act as a caretaker, and who isn't sick at the same time that you are. 
But 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 spent 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.

Which is why, starting about 12 years ago, I pitched the idea that we should all have - and be - flu buddies.  Simply put, a Flu Buddy is . . . . 
Someone you can call if you get sick, who will then check on you every day (by phone, social media, or in person), make sure you have the food and medicines you need (including fetching prescriptions if appropriate), help care for you if needed, and who can call for medical help if your condition deteriorates.
Those people who care for others, like single parents, also need to consider who will take care of their dependents if they are sick.

After the 2009 pandemic, I expanded this idea into having - and being - a `Disaster Buddy' (see In An Emergency, Who Has Your Back?).  Someone who prearranges to help a friend, relative, or neighbor during a personal or local emergency.
In return, you could rely on them to help you if you needed it. It only works if it is reciprocal.
My `flu buddy' and I discussed the logistics of how we'll deal with this pandemic over the weekend. We'll stay in daily contact with one another by phone.  If either of us run a fever, or develop symptoms, we'll up that to a call twice a day. 
While we won't unnecessarily expose each other to the virus, if either one of us becomes ill enough to need physical help, we'll visit each other at least once a day to make sure the other has what they need.  We'll use surgical masks, and hand sanitizer for personal  protection, and be as careful as we can.  
The time to have this type of conversation with friends, relatives, and neighbors is now.   If you don't feel comfortable actually caring for someone who is sick, you can at least promise to check on them daily, leave `care packages' at their front door, or even call an ambulance for them if necessary.
This is also time to update and print out a 1-page (or wallet-sized) medical history on yourself, and all members of your family (see Thanksgiving Is National Family History Day) in case you need to see a doctor who doesn't have your medical information.  
Frankly, having (and being) a `Disaster Buddy’ to friends, neighbors, and relatives should be part of everyone’s family disaster plan.  Three years ago, I had to evacuate due to Hurricane Irma,  and my disaster/flu buddy took me in for 5 days no questions asked. 
Although the government can do a lot during a pandemic, some of the simplest and most effective things we can do involve taking care of one another. 
While some people invest in a stockpile of freeze dried food, or buy the latest survival gadgets, and think themselves prepared . . . I can assure you that having people you can really depend on in an emergency is the greatest prep of all.