By NCH Healthcare System CEO & President Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, FACP, FACR
Staying healthy, no matter what is happening in our environment, can be challenging particularly if we are stressed by nature in the form of a hurricane.
Fortunately, Southwest Florida has been spared for over a decade from major destructive storms, but no one can completely predict our upcoming season’s events. What we can and should do is be prepared. Knowing we are ready is comforting. More importantly, preparation will bode well for a better outcome should we be challenged by a hurricane or other disaster.
In the aggregate, many stressors can be overwhelming. Breaking down the potential for aggravation and destruction into smaller pieces will be easier to manage. The old metaphor, “You can eat an elephant one bite at a time,” also applies to hurricane stress.
With the above in mind, let’s review four major areas for hurricane stress with an eye to controlling the aggravation and anxiety as well as securing a safe outcome.
Having a good supply of your regular medications with adequate water and food along with a safe place to sleep—all high and dry—will probably save more lives than any other preparation. Resupply after a hurricane may take at least a few days for common items such as water and food. Prescription drugs may take longer as the supply chain and delivery systems are specific and secure.
Southwest Florida’s hurricanes move over our region in hours typically. Injuries happen before the winds start when people hurt themselves while buttoning-up their homes and businesses. After the storm, the injury rate and ER visits resume as well-intentioned homeowners exceed their abilities while cleaning up, subsequently causing accidents. At this time people have been worried and sleep deprived. Even when not stressed, some would not be capable of the work needed. Roof falls, chain-saw accidents, and back injuries are all common during clean-up.
An underestimated real stress is the mental anxiety and uncertainty caused by a potentially new experience if you are a recent arriver to Southwest Florida. Or even if you have been through hurricanes in the past, you are older now, thus not as tolerant of the hassle and troublesomeness of a change in your daily pattern of life.
With modern communications our media keeps us informed. But watching the developing pattern of an approaching storm, with the added “hype” of trying to get slow or non-responders moving, can have the unwanted and paradoxical effect on normally prepared citizens of “making us crazy.” We can overreact, lose sleep, stop eating or over-eat, and generally be miserable rather than keep a good perspective. A healthy attitude towards preparation and response as well as an optimistic outlook will make a storm experience less formidable.
Once the storm is upon us, being with others whom you trust will make a world of difference. Having a like-minded group of prepared folks with you could make riding out the storm almost enjoyable. Really, this is not a party but rather a mutual support system, as no one is as smart, strong, or resilient as all of us together. Having clear communications among the group, a secure nest to hunker down in, and some simple activities to occupy your mind will help you save energy for the recovery post storm.
Healthcare systems across Florida do mock drill for hurricanes. NCH has complete redundancy on both our campuses—Baker and North Naples. We generate our own electricity and stock up pre-storm with medicines and supplies. We also have large walk-in freezers and refrigerators which we fill with food to carry us through at least a few days. We also open our emergency command center which communicates and cooperates directly with the County Emergency Service. Within both hospitals we have two full teams of nurses, physicians, and support staff. The teams rotate in twelve hour shifts, always providing a well-rested team to care for patients. We do not perform elective surgery and do try to lower the census before the hurricane to have excess capacity after the storm. However, we deliver babies, stop heart attacks and strokes, and do all other emergency care needed, just like any other normal day.
First, breathe a sigh of relief; then assess the damage. At this point, unless there is a life threatening environmental situation, take your time in starting the clean-up and getting back to a normal life. Obviously, follow directions from our hurricane public safety officers to avoid an accident.
Everyone will have an interesting story about what just happened. Sharing experiences by talking about the stresses and how we handled ourselves will help everyone recover from the unwanted hurricane experience. Helping a neighbor who might be frail or in need is also the right thing to do at such a time. You can help everyone including yourself live a longer, happier, and healthy life by having the right attitude and being hurricane ready.