Sunday, December 5, 2010

Treating Childhood Illness in a SHTF Scenario Part 1

One of the things people told us they wanted to see in this blog when we asked them, was practical homesteading tips. This week, I'm going to be posting some practical instructions on healthcare in situations where the Shit Has Hit The Fan (SHTF).

I'll start with childhood illnesses. The worst thing about being a parent has to be sick kids. Having children lowers the bar on what constitutes an emergency. The same symptoms which, in an adult, would result in popping an ibuprofen and going back to bed, often induce panic when in a child. Not without reason; we are programmed to react this way both by genetics and culture. Unfortunately, our culture also programs us that only “experts” can take care of these problems. Hence we depend heavily on pediatricians and emergency rooms to simply give us psychological first aid—a hand pat and “Don’t worry Mrs. Alexander, it’s just a virus”.

I don’t intend to cover the preparations for chronically ill children, or injuries; both of those subjects require discussions all their own.

In these posts, you’ll find how to treat everyday symptoms of illnesses that are usually minor and will take care of themselves if, given proper at-home treatment. For the purposes of these posts, we’ll assume that the SHTF scenario is a temporary one; think hurricane, earthquake or ice storm.

Modern medical care is three to ten days away—this might as well be forever when you have a sick child. In a true collapse situation, these suggestions would still hold true, but that’s outside of the scope of what I want to talk about here.

In this series, I’d like to discuss how to make illnesses easier to bear for mom, dad and children and also how to prevent a minor illness from becoming life-threatening.

Stomach problems
Stomach aches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea will often accompany emotional distress, especially in children. Most of the time, it resolves on its own and requires no treatment. Encourage the child to eat and drink water as tolerated.

If vomiting continues for more than an hour, or diarrhea occurs more than twice, its important to begin to treat for dehydration. Don’t wait for the child to show or complain of symptoms.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the most common cause of death in children is dehydration.

Dehydration is caused most often by diarrhea or vomiting which can be traced back to emotional upset, viruses, spoiled food or contaminated water.

In the majority of cases, if the child is given adequate fluids, their immune system can take care of the rest.

In order to help the body retain the fluid, it should be in the form of oral rehydration solution. This is available commercially as Pedialyte, in dried package form (probably most convenient for the medicine cabinet or bug out bag) or one can make one’s own. Find the recipe here:

Whatever formulation you use, give the child one teaspoonful every fifteen minutes until vomiting subsides. In cases of diarrhea, feed to child as much as they will drink in small sips.

Remember that this is not intended to stop the vomiting or diarrhea, but to keep the child from drying out. The symptoms will stop on their own.

For an infant, breast milk is considered a clear fluid, and nursing should be continued at all times, even during the initial rehydration process.

The oral rehydration solution can be given in between breast feedings. This is an exception to the "no water for babies" rule, as the salts and sugars even in breastmilk are not the correct balance for rehydration purposes.

For non nursing babies, who are normally formula-fed or who eat solids, formula and foods should be stopped during rehydration and restarted as soon as the child is no longer showing signs of dehydration several hours later. Changes in formula usually aren't necessary.

The same goes for older children. Until the child is no longer dehydrated, other foods and liquids should be stopped.

Something to note, other "clear liquids" often used by parents or recommended by doctors, in the past are no longer considered appropriate for use in dehydrated kids.

Drinks to avoid include: water, soda, ginger ale, tea, fruit juice, gelatin desserts, chicken broth, or sports drinks. These don't have the right mix of sugar and salts and can even make diarrhea worse. NOT something one needs in a SHTF situation.

The American Pediatric Association does not recommend giving a child anti-diarrheal medication such as Imodium or Kaopectate. The reason is that over-the-counter medicines for diarrhea or vomiting can have potentially dangerous side effects. Vomiting and diarrhea are the body’s way of removing the toxins or the bacteria from the digestive system. Appropriate fluids to support that process are the key to treatment.

When the child’s stomach has settled, bland foods such as applesauce, crackers, rice or toast can be offered.

For stomach ache, with or without other symptoms, often the child’s instinct of staying still is the best treatment. If they are not hungry, don’t try to force food. If they are hungry and food is available, allow them to eat. Most serious abdominal illnesses include lack of appetite, so hunger is good sign.

In the case of more serious stomach problem like appendicitis, one might to see some vomiting but diarrhea is unusual. Commonly the most prominent symptom will be pain that begins around the belly button then moves to the lower right. The stomach will often be hard and sore to the touch.

Until medical help becomes available, let the child rest quietly—they will be disinclined to move anyway. What will happen is that the body will attempt to wall off the infection. Lying still encourages this.

Under no circumstances, should one give a laxative to a child who is experiencing persistent abdominal pain.


Joanna said...

Thank you for this primer. My mother always took us to a doctor the moment we looked sick. I have little confidence in my own ability to assess routine ailments.

I found your comments appendicitis surprising. The first sign I had that something was wrong was an extensive episode of diarrhea, less than twelve hours before the first vomiting, and less than thirty-six hours before nick-of-time emergency surgery. Because of my own personal experience, I had assumed that diarrhea was a common early symptom for appendicitis.

Ceredwyn said...

It's not unlikely that the diarrhea was actually caused by something unrelated like a virus. Then the appendix became inflamed as a result or something like that.

In appendicitis, the digestive system will shut down, making diarrhea unusual (although not unheard of, obviously).