6 Tips for Surviving a Hurricane Evacuation When You're Chronically Ill
Two major pieces of who I am are that I am chronically ill and I’m a Floridian. I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, cranio cervical instability, autonomic dysfunction, depression and anxiety. I won’t bore you with the laundry list of diagnoses I’ve wracked up over the years, but these diagnoses have caused me not to be able to tolerate the cold or change in seasons. I love my flat, warm climate and home with no stairs. That’s why I made the choice to move to Florida a couple of years ago.
First, I would like to say that I am truly blessed and lucky. While I went through the evacuation for hurricane Irma, my home only sustained minor damages, mainly to the outside property. My heart goes out to those who have lost everything in Harvey and Irma.
There are people in my area who are still without power and it is now going on three weeks later. I can’t imagine living without air conditioning, a refrigerator or the simple ability to keep your food and medicine cold for such a long time. Some areas have had such bad flooding that sewage is leaking into people’s yards and homes. Locally in Southwest Florida, we had major flooding just two weeks before Irma hit. Our evacuation in Florida was the largest in US history. Hurricane season runs from June first to November 30th. Here are some suggestions for those with chronic illnesses that I learned during my evacuation.
1. If officials are talking like it’s going to happen, get ready early! I know this is hard for us with anxiety. Sometimes we think maybe if we wait and watch, the situation will change and then we won’t have to exert ourselves. This isn’t the case with hurricanes.
One problem I had was with my family’s car. It had just died right before we were to leave. When I called to reserve a rental car, I was made to think everything was OK and they would have the car waiting for me. Aside from needing a vehicle that was trustworthy enough to get my family out of the danger zone, we also needed to have space for my two large dogs and cat, plus my wheelchair. I called the next morning, worried there wouldn’t be gas in the rental (stations near my home and all over Florida and Georgia were out of gas) I was informed by the company that during a state of emergency, rental companies do not honor the reservations. You just have to go in and cross your fingers that they have something – and hope it has gas in it.
2. Have a place you plan to go and plan ahead (when possible) with reservations or a family to stay with. Traveling doesn’t top the list of favorites for most chronically ill people. When you don’t know where you’re going and you spend hours driving and searching the internet, calling and stopping, begging for a place to stay, it only add to the stress. Stress mixed with chronic illness often equal pain.
3. Pack your essentials and have them easily accessible in the car/plane. Do you always rely on an ice pack or heating pad to keep your pain to a dull roar? Pack that bad boy! Find a travel version like ThermaCare heat wraps or the headache hat.
Have your meds and a drink close by at all times. It’s important when preparing to have a first aid kit with items in it that are specific to your needs and the needs of your family. For example, my dog has issues with allergies and his paws, so I packed Betadine and Vet Wrap. These are items we both can use, since I have an adhesive allergy, the Vet Wrap sticks to itself, not skin – or fur.
A small pillow or two and a blanket can help more than you’d think after 10 hours on the road. Pack a small bag or bucket, just in case. You never know when pain, car sickness, or nausea from eating in the car and random restaurants will cause a sudden urge to puke while on the highway. Take a small pack of baby wipes for cleaning up on the go. Rest stations and bathrooms of gas stations are so overcrowded during these times. Things aren’t the cleanest, so be prepared with some wipes and hand sanitizer.
4. Keep a brief medical history, list of medications and surgeries with you. You’ll need this in case you need care in a new town that doesn’t have access to your records. Your doctor will most likely be closed due to the state of emergency. Any records that you decide to leave behind should be kept on flash drives. If it’s on paper, they should be placed into water proof bags and put up on a high shelf in a closet or closed room.
5. Have food you can eat with you. Many of us have food allergies or sensitivities. Eating away from home can be very frustrating to downright deadly for those with anaphylactic reactions from their food allergies. Pack things like picnic meals, gluten-free crackers, jerky or nutritional high protein drinks like Ensure or Boost. The nutritional drinks really come in handy for getting your calories in if it’s hard for you to eat a full meal or if it’s hard to find food that’s safe for you. We packed two coolers with food, drinks and lots of water. Another helpful option for those with celiac or gluten sensitivity is the app Find Me Gluten Free, which tells you what’s available in the area you’re in.
6. Comfy clothes for the environment you will be going to and coming back to. Are you going up north and live in southern Florida? Might want to ditch the flip flops and shorts for some comfy yoga pants or leggings and easy to wear shoes. Those with dysautonomia have trouble with the temperature changes and having a couple layers to dress in will help your stressful trip be a little better. Remember to have clothes for coming home too. Make sure to have sturdy shoes in case your property has downed trees or water, a rain jacket, sunscreen and bug spray.
Lastly, try to keep a sense of humor and adventure! I know this is hard to think of when you’re hearing 24/7 reports of how your town is about to be pummeled by a category four hurricane, but it’s a must. When I was finally able to sit down outside of the car, I made the decision to turn off the news. We decided there was nothing we could do. We were safe. We had the most important things with us and that’s what mattered most. You can replace items in your home or even your home, but not lives.
I started using the term “hurrication” and actually started to enjoy the adventure we were on. The dogs got to explore new surroundings. I learned that not all hotels have generators, but I planned ahead and went prepared with a mini grill and hotdogs. That way, when the area you think you’re safe in goes black, your family still has food and a way to cook it. So many in the surrounding areas of the hotel and gas stations we went to were all in the same boat. It helped to have kind strangers offer us coupons at the store or input as to where we might find gas or hotels. Kindness goes a long way in these stressful times!
When you come home from your evacuation, there will likely be a lot of work to do. People will ask if they can help. Take them up on this! Good neighbors are worth their weight in gold. My community has come together to help each other with coolers of ice, chainsaws and man power to cut up and clean out the millions of downed trees. Some invited people into their homes so they could charge their cellphone. Other neighbors offered frozen bandanas to people with dogs or cats who were hot from being without electricity. This experience has really taught me the value of family and the importance of being prepared when living in a hurricane zone.
I hope those of you reading this never have to evacuate your home. I know that sometimes you have to get out very quickly and may not be able to take the things I’ve suggested. Talk with your family ahead of time, have a plan and know that even us spoonies can handle the worst, if we just pull together and take a few steps to make it easier on ourselves.
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