Earlier this summer, my kids developed poison ivy. Upon investigation, we found a healthy patch of the stuff in the back corner of the yard, right next to the swing-set. As my husband is highly allergic to poison ivy, it was my job to pull up and discard the patch before the kids got into it again. Precautions were taken by wearing long pants and gloves. Afterwards, my clothing was immediately removed and washed. During my shower, I scrubbed down with Dawn dish soap, but it didn’t matter. Within a week I had poison ivy rash up and down both arms and on the trunk of my body.
Now as Survival Moms, we like to think we’re prepared at home for many medical problems, and most of us just aren’t the type to call the doctor at every sneeze or rash, but two weeks later, I had exhausted every home remedy and my eye started to swell shut. I knew the poison ivy was winning, and I turned to my health care provider for a steroid treatment. After I started feeling better I started to evaluate the experience. These are a few strategies that I think can be applied to any minor medical issue or injury.
Educate yourself about poison ivy
The very first thing I did was read up on poison ivy. What were the common symptoms? What was the usual progression or stages of the illness? What were some uncommon symptoms? This way, I was prepared for what was coming, both for my kids and myself. Now, we had plenty of access to Google searches, but I also have several books on my shelf in case we had not. These including Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook by David Werner and Carol Thuman, and NOLS Wilderness Medicine by Tod Schimelpfenig and Joan Safford. These books cover injury and illness situations where there is limited or no medical care available. But I also have an older copy of Mayo Clinic Family Health Book that I found at a library sale. It is more focused on visiting the doctor, and using modern medicines. Having the variety a great selection for home reference should be a must.
Find out the danger signs
During my searches, I also made notes of the most serious symptoms, or when it might be time to call a health care professional. For poison ivy, some of those symptoms included difficulty breathing, poison ivy rash spreading to private places on the body, or eyes swelling shut. That way, I was prepared to instantly recognize if the illness I was dealing with had taken a turn for the worse, and I could act immediately. If this was a SHTF scenario, I think this would be the most crucial step. Sometimes health care is not available in an emergency situation, so you’ll want to think through whoever or whatever you can to be on standby for extra help. Possibly a neighbor with nurse’s training, or locating an epi-pen or other “advanced” treatment, depending on the illness or possible danger signs.
Learn Home Remedies
As poison ivy is an affliction that generally runs its course in a few weeks, the goal is often to alleviate the suffering. To this end, there were a number of home remedies that I came across including exposure to sunlight, various essential oils, vinegar and baking soda, and Dawn dish soap. Another book on my shelf that is full of old time advice (and just plain fun to read!) is The Encyclopedia of Country Living: The Original Manual for Living off the Land & Doing It Yourself by Carla Emery.
TIP- Did you know that you can use birch trees to relieve the symptoms of poison ivy? Find out how!
Treat The Symptoms
You might not be able to determine an illness, exactly identify the stage it’s in, or discuss it in medical terminology. One thing I’ve learned the last couple years looking into natural and homeopathic remedies, is to always just treat the symptoms. It’s actually a fascinating concept, because we’re so used to getting a specific diagnoses and attacking a certain illness. But the mind-set shift to treating symptoms instead of The Disease (whatever it may be) is in my opinion, a crucial one to make for Survival Moms. If medical care isn’t available, you just have to do your best to treat yourself or your family. Treating symptoms, rather than worrying about exactly identifying the illness, seems like the perfect strategy for a time when medical care may be limited. In fact, that’s exactly what our great-great-grandmothers did. There were poultices for the chest, and for infection. They couldn’t explain scientifically why or how these worked, but they knew they did.
TIP- In an emergency preparedness scenario, liniment-making is a good skill to have in order to provide extra comfort for burns and sunburns, strains and sprains, and injuries from accidents or trauma. Learn how to make these liniments to help sooth poison ivy and others ailments.
Recognize when you need to seek medical attention
Remember that list of “danger signs” from above? Keep those handy and constantly evaluate whether you or your patient has actually started showing these signs. For my poison ivy, those signs were having a rash on more than a certain percentage of my body, and having my eye swell shut. Acting quickly would be even more essential in a time of limited options!
Re-evaluate your medical supplies
In our case, 4 out of 5 people in our family came down with at least some poison ivy rash in the same month. I feel like I have a wide variety of first aid supplies, and am generally ready for almost any common illness or injury. But I only had 1 bottle of Tecnu poison ivy wash on hand, 1 extra tube of itch cream, and no Calamine lotion as an alternative. True, at least I had this base covered in our first aid supplies. But we exhausted these supplies within days, and there clearly wasn’t enough for extended treatments, had medical help not been available for some reason. So now my goal is to go back through these supplies and increase quantities of what I have on hand, up to enough treatments for 5 people.
TIPS- Do you have all that you need in your medical supplies? Look at your family, where you live and potential hazards in your area. Plan accordingly. Here are 23 supplies that many people overlook.
Plan to get tough if SHTF
Maybe its not a grid-down situation. Or you just don’t have medical insurance, maybe you’re out of town and you don’t want to or can’t seek medical care right away. Sit down with your family and talk through what you’re willing to “tough out” if someone gets sick or injured. Discussing things like this in normal times, when everyone is calm could reduce a lot of stress later on when everything seems to be falling apart and you have a sick or injured person.
Treat your patients with care and compassion
The most surprising lesson for me personally, though, was how miserable I was. Although my kids had mostly healed by the time my poison ivy became critical, I understood first hand how much pain and discomfort they had been in. I’m certainly the type of parent to encourage my kids to buck up, and we don’t tolerate a lot of whining and crying in our house. Even so, I understood better after my experience that anyone who feels sick may feel worse or differently than you think they do. Next time they’re sick, I do plan to give them a little more compassion, and try to find additional methods of pain relief or comfort. (Still no whining, though!)
Keep in mind, of course, these are general lessons that I personally learned from my experience, not actual medical advice. But these strategies could be applied to any illness or injury. You might even be able to run through these steps in a matter of minutes if something happens at your house.
Why don’t you take a few moments this week to re-evaluate the quantities of your first aid supplies, or read up on a common ailment?
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Anita Morrill lives in Central Iowa with her husband and their 3 homeschooled kids. She considers herself an “urban farmer” with chickens and gardens right in town. Anita also teaches history at a local community college, and recently earned her Ham radio license.
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