You Have to be Your Own Safety Net
Just a Plain Old Afternoon
I got home and she was on the couch, neck deep in a Netflix binge. Clearly she’d been there most of the day. The house smelled stale, I opened a window.
Then I noticed the ice pack she had on her ankle. She jabbed at the remote, paused her movie, and, shockingly enough, put down the smartphone for a few minutes. I said, “Oh Honey!” to my grown daughter and asked what had happened.
She had been long-boarding (a form of skateboarding). She showed me the road rash, raw and painful in awkward places. This was the second sprained ankle in about eight weeks. The first time, we used a kitchen stool as a crutch to help her walk into the urgent care. I asked her if she wanted to go again, to make sure her ankle was not broken. She decided against it. Her friend’s mom who is an RN had already taken a look. My daughter said she cried when the pavement and dirt had to be dug out, and again when her wounds were trimmed and cleaned.
I brought her fresh water, a couple ibuprofen, and reminded her to keep her wounds clean. She said, “I don’t think I can go to work for a while.” Her job requires her to be fit and on her feet. At least this time, we had crutches and an an ankle brace ready to go.
I walked into the kitchen, started up dinner with the fresh greens I’d brought home. Gave my little guy a bowl of carrots and broccoli to tide him over until dinner. Measured out his evening antibiotic as he’d come down with strep throat over spring break. I’d planned on a stay-cation where we’d take my new AWD vehicle to semi-wilderness. I planned to give my grown son my old car – it was high time he had something reliable and because it was a mom van, it might come in handy one day so I didn’t want to give it up.
Anyway, while on spring break, I realized that my little guy was sick when he didn’t want to clamber up hills and explore the place. He was running a wicked fever so we went to the doctor – and sure enough, we’d have to stay home for 24 hours until he wasn’t contagious, and once he was fine, we went to museums and the zoo instead of the woods.
He was feeling much better by the time my girl sprained her ankle this second time and had some difficulty understanding why the entire 10 days of medicine had to be completed so it wouldn’t be only the weakest bacteria that were killed, but the strongest ones too.
I thought about how lucky we are my daughter has a support system, even in a normally functioning society. I thought about how if she were completely on her own and had kids counting on her, how different the situation would be. I thought about how potentially catastrophic an event like this would be, especially in a job where if she doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid. This is not all that uncommon these days, even in relatively high paying contract positions that are used to control cost in the corporate world. When working in an arrangement which is contingent upon attendance, you have to be your own safety net. There are no unemployment benefits if one loses a contract or simply cannot work.
This isn’t an attempt at a big social statement. It’s just a reality – if my girl didn’t have a good support system with friends and family, she would be in a much bigger world of hurt than just being stuck on the couch in some pain, watching Netflix and texting with everyone she can think of to maintain some sort of social life. We talked about how risk and reward must be weighed against the broader consequences. As it is, she can shrug, feel embarrassed, give her employer a call, and hope they hold her job. They did, and even offered her some much lower paying sit down chores which she will take as soon as she can use her hands reasonably well.
But then I ask you to think about the true and mundane series of events I wrote about above if it were TEOTWAWKI. Firstly, the only reason any of my family should be on a longboard in that world is if there is a clear, urgent need and the risk is outweighed by whatever mission someone is on.
Second is to re-state the point that You Have to be Your Own Safety Net. This is regardless of the state of the world. Help may or may not come when you need it, but it’s not a good bet. Better to plan that there is no help coming; sometimes it’s not.
And last, for entirely frivolous reasons and because I just have to find a way work this observation in somewhere as a jab at the zombie movies and shows I really enjoy, my girl has been told in no uncertain terms that tank tops and shorts are patently inappropriate attire during a zombie apocalypse no matter how supremely cute she may look or how warm the summer day. She’s been made abundantly aware that she’s to make a break for a sporting goods store and get herself into a shark bite suit at the very least. (no, I’m not too worried about a zombie invasion; I have the same opinion of female superheroes who wear stiletto heels while sprinting through the mud…Serious? Not.)
Anyway, to dissect my initial story to identify what would be much, much more difficult in TEOTWAWKI, I’m just going to make a list of categories of things I’m grateful for by examining my true story above. In my current situation, the story is no big deal and could easily be considered a non-story. In another situation, it could have been deadly for more than one person.
- Netflix and opening a window. This represents having a safe place to lie around, be excruciatingly bored and heal. We’re safe enough right now to do that. In a different world, it’s well worth considering how to create and defend that. Would I have the luxury of opening a window? Of having a window? Of having a defensible space?
- Ice pack. Would be hard to find unless it were the dead of winter. One might be able to find cool water or a mountain stream but it definitely wouldn’t be the same thing.
- Smart phone. Communications would be important. It might be good to have a plan with loved ones that doesn’t rely on tech and can be used when a note pinned to a wall is not a good idea.
- Urgent Care, RN, Ibuprofen, Doctor, Antibiotics. At the very least, even in a normally functioning world, first aid is an important skill to have. Storing a reasonable supply of medicines is appropriate in my mind too. When my grown kids were little, I couldn’t afford doctor bills so studied herbal remedies and nutrition based health. I developed a philosophy that everything I served had to have the most, “Food in the food,” as possible. My family doctor at the time was incredibly helpful and spent lots of time answering my questions about healthfulness – I highly recommend finding a physician that is motivated by keeping you and your family healthy and who sincerely enjoys answering your questions.
- Fresh water, cleanliness. This is required just to live for both hydration and for hygiene – especially if one has a wound. Just being smelly is not life threatening, having bacteria in a wound certainly is. I have water stored, but also have backed up with different filtration systems. I figure if one system didn’t work as well as I’d like, I could use the others. And I’m certainly not going to try to clean someone’s deep gash with duck pond water. Gross is gross, even in TEOTWAWKI, for good reason.
- Fit. Although I don’t think it’s necessary to be obsessed with fitness (maybe because I’m not although I enjoy activity), it’s an asset to be as healthy as possible, regardless of one’s situation.
- Crutches and an ankle brace. I think it is important to have things like this around as well as to know how to make them. Yes, I could have made her a crutch the first time I took her to get her sprained ankle checked, but the kitchen stool worked fine to get from the car to the door of urgent care. And, no, there is no way I could carry her for much of a distance – she’s half a head taller than me and much heavier because she’s really athletic. No sense in me getting hurt too by trying to drag her around (although I would if I had to).
- Dinner, greens, carrots, broccoli. Having the knowledge and means to produce fresh food is important (as well as knowing how to grow drought tolerant fresh food!!). I have a garden, but even having something small on a windowsill would contribute to everyone’s health. Having a well stocked larder and knowing how to replenish it is a really good idea too. Additionally, knowing what wild greens are edible is invaluable. I know a bit and could feed us in season, but should really take more time with it.
- AWD, reliable vehicle. My transportation is by no means the ultimate in TEOTWAWKI vehicles, but all the same I like it a whole lot and chose it with care – I don’t look freakish when driving around as I don’t especially want to stand out as the neighborhood kook, although that’s for others to say if I am or not. My old mom van has room to spare and would be useful if the kids and I wanted to form a caravan to get out. There are so many potential things to think about if evacuating, but my current vehicle has some advantages I like. Other things to consider would be if we could maintain it ourselves. It’s nice to have a mechanic in the family. Both the grown kids chose to do the work to graduate early from high school in order to take some time before college to pick up some practical skills to compliment their academic ones. It is also good to plan to have enough fuel, and how to keep things running for as long as possible. And, what to do when all that runs out.
- Museums and zoo. Now, I know that having an education is not a strict survival thing but I believe that if young people are given a good education of whatever kind, it helps grow mental muscle – which we’d all value and need. Education does not mean we all need to become uber science geeks (although that’s super cool). To me, an education in the ways of the natural world is equally valuable and important and is now recognized as one measure of intelligence. I also know that it’s fundamental to the human condition to acknowledge the transcendent, the exquisite – through art or faith or social connection. Without those things, people can quickly lose their minds and behave in ugly ways. In a TEOTWAWKI situation, it would be important to know how to soothe one’s own head in order to see the world for what it was and continue to function regardless.
- Support system and work. It would take much more work than my family is used to just to stay alive – and we’re all hard workers by nature. There would also have to be an agreement of mutual support if someone were sick or hurt just so everyone could make it.
I had no intention of making an exhaustive list here of the planning required to survive if absolutely everything fell apart. If someone is looking for that, it’s well worth the time to read the archives here as I’ve found them to be both thought provoking and useful. This was just a reflection on one single afternoon in my current life and how it would compare to a survival world.
I guess it’s also a reflection on gratitude. For what we’ve built and for what we have now.
Do you have stories of things in your life that were minor, but that in a serious enough situation, you’d have hoped you’d have planned for?