Another Mental Exercise, or Is It?

Masks

When the Ebola news first started to dominate the alternative news media, and the mainstream media, I kept my eye on it, but mostly kept the idea of a pandemic out of my mind. Mainly, because we’ve had previous false scares before, whether it was the bird flu, SARS, etc, and nothing much came of any of them.

Over the last few nights, hubby and I discussed the possibility of a pandemic, given how things were going, and asked ourselves a very prudent question. What if this is it? What if this is the end game? Are we fully prepared?

The obvious answer is no, no one can ever be fully prepared. Sure, we live out in the boonies with neighbors rarely stopping by. We have many emergency supplies in place including water, food, animal feed, self defense, medical supplies, the list goes on and on. After over seven years of full time prepping, you tend to get to a place where you become somewhat comfortable. The down side to this is that you risk becoming complacent. But the up side is that you’re not out panic buying because you think “this is it”. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve definitely had our share of panic buying. We’ve made more than our share of prepping mistakes. But, after so many years of living a preparedness lifestyle, you’re left with the big ticket items that you’re slowly saving up to afford. And that’s where we’re at. So when the news about Ebola started to hit the netly news, we very calmly discussed the situation and decided to see where things go.

We did make some provisional plans. There’s one major item that we’d like to purchase, and for which we have been slowly saving up. But we just don’t quite have enough cash as of today. So we asked ourselves, how urgent is this item, and should we use a credit card to make up the difference?

money

We don’t like debt. As a matter of fact, we already have more debt than we would like in the form of student loans. Formal education helped us to accumulate our wealth of knowledge that we sometimes appreciate. Except when paying those bills; then we question our choice to go to college. But that is a long topic for another day.

Anyway, we remained calm until the news hit that the third person on US soil to test positive for Ebola traveled on a flight with 132 others the day before, and she HAD a fever during the flight, AND she was given the green light by the CDC to travel. I know all the hype about how the virus can supposedly only be contagious when symptoms are present, but in this case, symptoms were technically present. At the same time, viruses easily mutate, so it’s a grave assumption that the virus had/has not already mutated to the point that she could have been contagious even with a limited fever.

So we panicked, but only slightly. Then we had a serious discussion on the implications of the Ebola situation.

My husband and I both have educational backgrounds in microbiology and molecular biology, and have both worked in health care related fields. We also both agree that the whole idea that the virus can be contained in standard hospitals is ridiculous. Trying to contain this using anything less than specialized infectious disease facilities is going to allow the spread of the virus into the general population. The potential for human error is simply too great. The evidence thus far only serves to support that conclusion. This is especially true if the virus becomes truly airborne, or even if it is “merely” contagious via suspended droplets. Preventing the spread of infection is also dependent on the capabilities and meticulousness of the staff members who are near the infection. The observations of both my husband and I are that only people with specialized training and equipment are going to be meticulous enough and protected enough to prevent the virus from spreading. The average health care worker is neither trained nor equipped to prevent this from spreading.

microscope

I have just a quick story to tell you, and then I’ll get to my point: back in the days before I was a homesteader, I was a full time college student working for my college preparing biology and chemistry labs for several classes. One of the procedures we had was to dispose of bacteria filled petri dishes via heat and pressure in an autoclave. This meant we threw the completed bacteria experiments into bio-hazard bags, then placed the bags (opened) in the autoclave. It was important to make sure the bags were opened so as they did not build pressure and explode in the autoclave.

One day, our autoclave broke. This was actually a common occurrence as our autoclave was beyond it’s expected expiration, but the school never seemed to have funding for a new autoclave (tens of thousands of dollars for the size we needed). These items are expensive after all. So we were waiting for the repairman to come to repair our autoclave. In the meantime, we had to dispose of our bio-hazard waste before we got dinged by regulators for holding on to them for too long.

We called our local waste disposal company and got a contract for them to come by once a week and pick up our bio-hazard waste, and as instructed, collected our petri dishes in the same bio-hazard bags. But rather than leaving them open, we tied them in a knot so that nothing could escape the bags.

The disposal professional arrives on day one, and as I’m working away making new petri dishes, I hear something come out of his mouth about holes. So I look over my shoulder, only to witness this bio-hazard disposal “expert” grab a pencil out of a pencil jar, and use that to poke holes in the bio-hazard bag, then replace the pencil, back in the jar with the other pencils and pens. I imagine the purpose was so that the bag wouldn’t build up pressure in their autoclave. However, the whole procedure of properly disposing bio-hazard had just been breeched by the process of contaminating the pencil, then all the other pencils and pens in the jar. Not to mention that the process of puncturing the bio-hazard safety bag made the bag no longer safe, and probably also aerosolized some of the microbes into the lab.

I of course voiced my concerns to my boss, who jokingly implied that we only work with level 1 and level 2 bacteria, so not really a big deal. (Except that some of them were pathogenic and infectious.) We were just going through the motions of properly disposing of them so we wouldn’t get dinged by regulators. Apparently the important factor here not being student/faculty safety, but not getting dinged for failure to follow protocol. Sadly, I witnessed the same pencil event occur week after week until our autoclave was finally repaired.

So this is the event that I always look back to when I think of following proper protocol in dealing with proper disposal of bio-hazardous materials. We hire professionals to do their job right, and in turn, they use methods that are not part of protocol. The desk upon which the jar of pencils was sitting was shared with six other employees, none of which would have known about the incident had I not been there to witness it. Of note, my boss never instructed me to decontaminate the pencils and pens. I ended up choosing to do so myself out of concern for the safety of myself and my fellow co-workers. At that point, I had learned enough about bacteria and fungi to respect their ability to potentially be harmful. But that took common sense and competency on my own part.

So here we are years later, facing the threat of Ebola, and the predominant prevention strategy being employed is reassurance that everything will be just fine. Move along people, nothing to see here, the situation is under control. Except I’m not seeing a lot of common sense or competency present during this current Ebola outbreak.

So, our decision was made: this Ebola scenario, to my family, constitutes a potential emergency. We’re going to make our major purchase out of concern that this may be our last opportunity to do so. Hindsight is 20/20, and we don’t want to look back and kick ourselves for not taking action. Even if this turns out to be another false alarm, it is usually better to be safe than sorry. There are obviously many potential negatives whenever a potential emergency such as this arises. But the upside is, there are few things better to light a fire under your butt and shake you out of your complacency than a potential emergency – even if it turns out to be a false alarm.

This is not to say that such a decision is what is right for your family. Everyone’s situation is different. We look at it this way, even if it is just a false alarm, then worst case scenario, we have one additional bill to pay per month, with a little bit of interest. In the long run, we might be paying more for the item than if we were to keep saving cash. But in the long run, it is also one more item checked off our list, and also our last item to get to a point of being largely self sufficient. This gives us time to recover financially, and start saving up for the next item, which would be nice to have, but isn’t a necessity.

So while this may just turn out to be a good mental exercise, it might also turn out to be the real thing. Only time will tell. Sometimes having something light a fire under you motivates you to get creative in how you’re going to accomplish what you need to accomplish with the resources that you have available. There have been lots of fires, both real threats and false alarms, that have kept us going for the last seven years. While prepping seemed slow going at first, we are finally able to watch a pandemic hit, and not worry that we are not prepared enough, even though we could always be more prepared. And that is not a bad place to be. Prepare rationally, calmly, systematically, but without complacency. As I once read, “it is not about getting prepared, it is about being prepared”. You can take advantage of fires, both real as well as “fire alarms” to motivate the preparedness of yourself and those you care about.

About Paylie Roberts

Paylie Roberts is the author of the recently published non-fiction book Memories of Poland, Lessons From Growing Up Under Communism. She is also the author of two novels: Bugging Out To Nowhere, and Life After Bugging Out. She has a Bachelor’s degree in biology, and lives with her husband, two German shepherds, and various livestock, somewhere between the Cascade Range and the Rocky Mountains.

View all posts by Paylie Roberts

One Response to “Another Mental Exercise, or Is It?”

  1. Rick Cox Says:

    Thank you for your insights Paylie. I will offer some additional considerations for folks to consider.

    – Virtually all the people who’ve contracted this disease (outside of the locals in the afflicted nations) have been healthcare workers trained in bio-containment, decontamination, and similar skills. They went to the areas in question to fight this virus, were trained in how to do so, and yet still got sick. This suggests that this bug is hardier than we’ve been told and far easier to contract than what we’ve been led to believe.

    – I just learned that Scotland has it’s first case. A healthcare worked just returned from the afflicted areas who may have been symptomatic while on a flight to London and a connecting flight to Scotland. The person was identified shortly after arrival in Scotland and is isolated, but that leaves 2 flights and 3 airports (at a minimum) with the possibility of others being exposed to Ebola.

    – The example above of the Hazardous waste tech punching holes in the sealed bags is an excellent issue for all of us to consider. What other, similar, issues that could result in the spread of Ebola; ever seen how morgue workers treat bodies when they think no one is looking? The bodies tend to bounce, which could compromise the integrity of the body bag and such. Will Ebola victims be buried or cremated? Either offers more ways for the virus to escape due to Human error. Another potential issue, who maintains the filters keeping the virus from escaping aircraft, hospital isolation facilities, etc.? Are the filters the correct type? When were they last changed? Are there any gaps?

    When thinking about these issues just remember – the game is “you bet your life”, how much are you willing to risk?

    Reply

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