Over on the Problems sister page to this, I touched on some of the possible health-hazards ahead. Of course, there will probably be some that come from left field and blind-side us totally, and others that we expect and prepare for will turn out to be fizzles. That’s in the nature of futurology and health forecasting, so doubly likely!
Health is really the “Bandaids” side of the traditional “beans, bullets and bandaids” image of survivalism, but it’s always been a lot more complex than merely keeping some extra elastoplast in the cupboard. I know a lot of preppers who spend a lot of time, effort and money sourcing, acquiring and storing animal antibiotics (aquarium antibiotics, in particular) in case they need to fight infections after TEOTWAWKI (a prepper acronym – The End Of The World As We Know It). I don’t – for a start, I’m allergic to penicillin so that rules a lot of the more common antibiotics out for me; for a second point, antibiotics have varying effective lives and some of them even become toxic after they reach the end of their shelf-lives; and thirdly, many bacteria are becoming resistant to the current crop of antibiotics.
I prefer to take a slightly more holistic approach to infection than this. Firstly, I try to avoid picking infections up. I don’t spend much time in crowds of other humans (the most common source of infection with anything!), I make sure I get plenty of fresh air, sunshine, as wide and varied a diet as I can, wash regularly (particularly hands) and exercise regularly – these are all things that help promote a healthy immune system, so any bugs I do pick up, get picked off again smartly. I also study plant-based medicine – plants have had billions of years to fine-tune their arsenal of bug-zapping chemicals and, as yet, the arms race between plants and pathogens is even-stephen, so we humans can take advantage by knowing how and when to use herbal medicines to treat illness and injury. They have the additional advantage that no bacteria have as yet become resistant to them in the same way that they seem to become resistant to synthetic antibiotics. There are also plant-based insect repellents that can reduce the chances of being bitten by a disease-carrying insect – the vectors of lyme disease, malaria, west nile virus, plague and many more nasty experiences.
I do keep a small stockpile of prescription medicines – just a few months of my asthma meds, my daughter’s insulin and my mother’s blood pressure tablets. None of them have more than a 2-year shelf-life so there’s not much point trying to stockpile a couple of decades’ worth – it’s really more a safety buffer in case of bad weather, breaking a leg and not being able to get to the chemist to pick up a new prescription and minor things like that.
If I’m giving the impression that anyone could deal with raging gangrene with a cup of herbal tea, then I’m sorry. You can’t. But you can try to avoid gangrene developing in the first place by practising careful hygiene and using simple first aid and common sense to treat injuries before they become infected.
There are lots of very simple first aid strategies that don’t involve hi-tech medical intervention. Salt and cooled boiled water, for example makes a sterile and antiseptic wash for cleaning wounds. Vinegar treats wasp stings, sodium bicarbonate neutralises bee stings. I use lavender essential oil on cuts as an antiseptic because it doesn’t sting, is non-toxic and works very efficiently. Mustard mixed in warm water is an emetic for making people (and pets) vomit up ingested toxins. Garlic is an excellent tonic and anti-infective for the body. There are hundreds and thousands of such simple, old-fashioned and fool-proof things that we can use in place of expensive modern medicines, and sometimes they’re just as good and a lot cheaper. It’s well worth finding out if there’s a local herbal school that teaches short courses or runs weekend wild-medicinals ID rambles.
We do keep anti-bacterial handgel, both a big tub in the bathroom and smaller pocket-sized bottles for carrying with us. Hands get everywhere and it’s amazing how often we touch our faces after touching door-handles, work-surfaces, other people…. under normal circumstances, washing hands thoroughly with soap and hot water is sufficient to dislodge bacteria or virus droplets but when there’s “a bug” going around, we double up with a squirt of hand-gel to play safe.
Thin unscented bleach diluted 9 parts water to 1 part bleach is an effective disinfectant, too. Avoid any disinfectant that turns white in water if you have small furries around – phenols (the stuff that goes milky) are highly toxic to cats and rabbits, for example. (Another advantage of thin unscented bleach, which contains sodium hyperchlorite, is that you can also use it to sterilse water and make it fit to drink by adding 2-4 drops of bleach per litre of water. Why store something with only one use, when you could fill the space with a multipurpose item?)
I use the same common-sense approach to environmental stresses. In cold weather, wrap up warm, keep active, take your time to avoid accidents and be aware of the dangers (frostbite symptoms, hyperthermia symptoms and the risks of slippery surfaces, for example). Keep animals dry – most furry critters can stand cold provided they’re dry but, once they’re wet, their fur loses all its insulation ability and they’ll quickly succumb. Feed more (both you and the livestock) in cold weather – keeping warm takes more calories when it’s cold.
In hot weather, keep cool, take shelter through the hottest part of the day, do what needs doing in the cooler hours of the early morning and late evening. Stay hydrated, avoid letting the sun cook your brain and don’t lie about burning your skin to a crisp – as the Australian campaign advised, to avoid sunstroke, heat exhaustion and sunburn, slip on a shirt, slap on a hat, slop on sunblock. Make sure livestock and pets also have access to shade and plenty of cool water. Don’t water plants in full sun, by the way – the droplets of water act like magnifying glasses and your plants will be burned. Water in the evening, when it’s cool and there’s no risk of scorching the crops. That also gives the water a chance to soak into the soil rather than being evaporated from the surface.
After all this, however, I have to admit that health is perhaps the area of survival where hope plays the biggest part. You can try your best to avoid infections, accidents and environmental stresses and still get sick – but nobody yet has got out of life alive and everyone dies of something.