Thursday, February 7, 2008

Chapter 5B

The original government and private sector recommendation to prep for 3 days to 2 weeks has proven to be grossly inadequate. While those two groups eventually started saying "at least two weeks," too many citizens turned a deaf ear, or were content to say "we always have two weeks of food in the house." For those families that did add 2 weeks of supplies to their normal household grocery inventory, they maybe had a month of food in the house total. They are now beginning to run out of everything; certainly all convenience and snack foods are long gone from their cabinets. Meals are becoming a monotonous mix of the dregs left in the pantry.

Some of the most distressing posts appearing on the forums are questions on how to deal with family and neighbors who did not prep. Each person will have to decide that for him or herself, but there are no easy answers.

Almost a month ago, we got word from WHO that 20% of a town in India had fallen ill with avian influenza. At the same time, it was discovered that a remote village in Nepal was also being decimated by avian influenza and some areas of Indonesia, Vietnam and Egypt are suspect. Then came Mexico City. As some had predicted, WHO elevated the pandemic alert from level 3 to level 6 overnight. There was no warning given; no chance for leisurely last minute prep run.

Since dear husband and I both work in the education field, our schools
closed down immediately upon the pronouncement of level 6. We bolted the doors, intending to SIP with the supplies we have on hand. I'm comfortable that we can ride this out - if we can avoid getting ill. With our various health challenges, getting the flu would be a death sentence. In addition, we also have to consider that our ferrets are just as likely to die if they get the disease as we are so we are trying to be extra cautious (our ferrets are our children!).

I had prepped a lot in the food area, sometimes over the objections of dear husband. "Don't you think you have enough of that?" he would demand. This caused a lot of stress between us, even in good times. He is also a fussy eater. It's been very hard for him to adapt to eating from our stored foods. I am fine with eating whole foods and being a vegetarian if necessary however my husband wants meat and potatoes at least once daily.

I'm to the point where I don't care if he eats or not since he's being such a pain. However, he's also diabetic and when he doesn't eat and take his medications, his blood sugar can rise to 400 or more, causing severe problems. I'm doing my best to make food seem like it's the things he likes, even if I have to fry things in lard to get the flavor he wants.

I tried to think of every possible contingency when I was prepping. We agreed that we would buy for us and only us since the two families next to us never wanted to hear about our "prep now" attitude. From prior conversations, we suspect that the older couple across the street from us had adequate supplies to tide them over and they are very competent gardeners to boot. We've seen them out and about on their property, tending to chores and seem to be comfortable with SIP.

But the two neighbors on either side of us have young kids and didn't garden nor lay in any supplies. It now appears that they have run out of food. Since I was known for sharing extra lasagna, fresh berries or canned jelly, these families have started coming over, knocking on our door and begging for something to eat.

Husband and I had agree - no sharing. But how can you turn away people who are your neighbors - and who have kids?? If we all survive this pandemic, can I honestly look them in the eyes knowing that we could share some of our supplies and make them more comfortable?

Last night my dilemma was suddenly interrupted by the sound of someone rattling the front door knob. Even though all the curtains are drawn, I froze. Who is this person? "Should I respond or pretend I'm not at home?" was all I could think. Just when my fear was getting into high gear, I heard footsteps walking away. I retreated to my room to get the shotgun - just in case. A few minutes later I heard the the back door knob rattling. With the faint moonlight, I could tell that is was not any of our neighbors. They scaled our 6 foot tall fence and probably wouldn’t have stopped until they were inside the house. I racked the shotgun and prepared for the worst when something must have scared the intruder off. They took off at top speed and I heard them clamoring over the fence and the thud of them landing on the other side. Then the quiet slap-slap-slap of running shoes on asphalt fading
down the road.

My thoughts returned to my neighbors. Do we share?

In Scott and Sissy’s area, some very slow restocking is occurring in the grocery stores, but selection is no where near the quantity and varieties as prepandemic. There are very few fresh items available, despite a large harvest occurring in some parts of the country; those harvested foods are being held in the communities where they grew. Fuel costs have made it difficult for the corporate mega-farms to operate their machinery. This problem is even worse for the small, independent farmer. Harvesting has also been affected by the fact that infections and deaths have hit migrant worker communities disproportionally high; as did the early closure of the US-Mexico border. There is too much labor for too few laborers. Some small farms offer "U-Pick" opportunities rather than see the food rot in the fields. Few of the mega-farms have yet reached that point. In fact the large corporate farms have chosen to hire security to prevent hungry people from swarming their fields. Most farms exist in rural areas which makes transporting even small amounts of produce difficult.

Even if the food distributors wanted to, large-scale transportation options is a catch as catch can proposition. Many of the independent truckers are out of business or not taking on long hauls away from their home base. Many companies that maintain their own trucking lines have had to halve their fleets. Fuel costs alone make putting a truck on the road prohibitive.

When restocking of grocery shelves does occur, the prices are outrageous! Who wants to pay $8 for a gallon of fresh milk?! Chicken products and eggs were really cheap for about a week due to fear of infection, then they disappeared from the market and haven't been seen since. A loaf of the cheapest store-brand bread is going for over five dollars. Sissy is now glad that Scott thought to buy all of those eggs because they are probably the last fresh eggs their family will see for a long, long time. It’s nothing but dried milk and eggs from here on out for most everyone, if you have managed to stock up on them prepandemic.

To address shortages and potential hoarding by black marketeers, federal and state governments quickly order grocery stores to impose quantity limits and only allow so many patrons in the store at any given time. Some grocery chains have closed stores in favor of consolidating what stock they can in central locations. Closed stores mean fewer employees to pay and less security to invest in. Due to the food riots that occurred in places like New York City, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles the stores that are still open have hired security guards and some of these guys are real bruisers. Screw up, cause a scene, and you'll either be forced to the end of the line or thrown from the store all together. And like bouncers, they keep tabs. Mess up once and you are on their list forever.

Speaking of bouncers, even in the midst of a pandemic, some businesses continue to thrive ... bars, nightclubs, and strip joints. You would expect businesses such as these to be the first to fail, but they continue to suck the life out of the people who frequent these places as a form of physical and mental self-medication. Prostitution has also continued to flourish, but instead of cash, the transaction price is given in cans of food, ounces of drugs or number of cigarettes. Due to this risky lifestyle, the "Corpse Crew" – a hazmat team set up to collect cadavers found on the street – routinely picks up several bodies each night from street corners and alleys known for their drug and prostitution problems. And not all of the deaths are flu related. Violence is particularly rampant in this level of society, even more so than prepandemic.

Because of their preparation Scott and Sissy are doing considerably better than those that didn't prep and those that only prepped for a couple of weeks. At this month’s inventory, Sissy realizes they are using some items too quickly – snack foods, sodas, paper plates – and she begins stricter rationing of their supplies. Even so, just to make certain that not every item of a type is used up before planned, Sissy takes at least one of everything and hides it in several storage boxes that she duct tapes closed. This reminds her of a scene in the book Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank where the main character hides a small cache of items in the house only to forget he had done so. Sissy thinks instead of forgetting where she hides her "survival rations," she is more likely going to obsess about ways to never have to use them.

Sissy is still able to keep in contact with a lot of their extended family and friends located around the country fairly regularly; the news isn't always good. There have been several illnesses and some deaths. There are also several people that they haven’t been able to contact at all. As blessed as Scott and Sissy feel about their own choice to prepare well beyond recommendations, they are as concerned for their family and friends who chose not to accept the challenge to prep at all.

One of the earliest shocks they faced was the death of her cousin’s son; it came several days before the pandemic was officially declared. The young man was away at a prestigious northern university. He was one of the first of his family branch to even go to college, and he was doing it on a full academic scholarship. Everyone was very proud of him and had high hopes for his future. The cousin talked to her son one morning and was making arrangements to have him come home, just to be on the safe side. The next morning she received a call from the school administration; he and his three roommates had been rushed to a local hospital. Two days later the boy died in the middle of a fever induced seizure. It happened so quickly. It was nearly impossible to believe that a healthy young man could be gone in just a few days, all because of the flu.

Even though mail is becoming less reliable, it is still the primary mode of communication for many people. Sissy got a letter in the mail today from one of her family members that live up north. It had been delayed at some point and is already a couple of weeks old as she reads it. She feels so bad she tries to call her right away but the call won’t go through. She leaves her an email, but she discovers once again that email just isn’t the same as hearing the voice of the one you so want to reach.

Dear Sissy,

Just a quick letter to let you know we are doing OK so far. It has been a few days since we heard, at least "officially" that the pandemic has started, and cases are spreading in the United States. So far it appears that the casualty rate is very high. I have heard of at least 120 deaths in the U.S., with so many more reporting to hospitals, seeking treatment for their symptoms that the true numbers are not known, but the hospitals are already suffering the initial onset of collapse. So far I have not heard of anyone recovering yet. It's too soon I guess.

I had felt "the coming" for at least two weeks, due in part to watching what was happening in the world and on the flu sites. Dem and Monotreme had already started to "sound the alarm," so I was alerted before the majority of my fellow citizens had a clue that anything was going on. The reports of a strange sickness had surfaced in the news, but testing results had to be completed and no one was announcing what they thought it might be or that the pandemic had begun. I had already done my last "oh my God" trip into town and had picked up the items from my "Last minute Run List." I was still ahead of most by at least four days, before things really started to deteriorate. People looked at me funny, over a week ago, when I checked out with my baskets full of dog food, Clorox, batteries and fresh produce. They wouldn't look at me funny now. The world is not the same place anymore it seems.

As you remember we recently moved into our new home. I know we made the right choice. Way out in the country, a windmill for auxiliary water, 5 miles of dirt roads will definitely cut down on excess traffic. We are still strangers in the "neighborhood." Unfortunately, we haven't been here long enough to be "part of the landscape" and our neighbors, though pretty scarce, will still see us as "outsiders." I don't expect any of them to be asking for my help or vice versa, if it should come to that.

The good news is, since gasoline (when available and it is close to $7 gallon today I saw on the local news), is cash only, and supplies are already severely depleted, not a lot of people will be out driving around for the fun of it, or even out of necessity. By the time that most people thought to go and fill up their tanks, prices were already rising and stations were running dry, before the news even got "bad." Other parts of the world are already much more entrenched in the "battle" with the flu than we are it seems, and are already suffering severe worker shortages. No workers to load the ships, no ships it seems. I’m not sure yet how much that will affect us, but it can’t be good.

Who was it that thought credit cards would continue to work? Fortunately, I have managed put away a couple of thousand in cash, in small bills, over the last couple of years, although I haven't had to use any of it yet. My last trip into town was before the PANIC buying struck. From watching the news, it appears cold hard cash still has a way with people, and for those with cash, they are still able to buy some of their purchases, as there are always those willing to make a buck out of other people's fear or suffering. Even if they are selling their own supplies at ten times the original price, there are those that simply don't have cash. Even the very well off found that their credit isn't helping their situation. The banks around here ran out of cash days ago. Everyone who didn't prepare are simply out of luck. Bread, water, milk and any sort of battery are totally gone from the stores though and I doubt they will be getting in any major shipments anytime soon. It appears that during the panic buying, the credit card systems were overloaded and it was slowing check-outs at the grocery stores and other stores, to the point that the
managers said purchases had to be either cash, or a check with two forms of ID Most have since quit accepting checks as well. Some stores have simply shut their doors as they didn't have anything left to sell. So far, food stamps are still being accepted at the few places that do have some supplies. It seems that some with food stamps are better off for once than those with credit cards.

Around here the local news has suspended all regularly scheduled programming and is following the story of "The Great Pandemic" as they are calling it. Even the broadcasters are starting to sound scared. People rioting, police barricades, shooting in the streets, all of my worst nightmares are coming across the television in living color. Most of the coverage is not suitable for young children, but they don't even bother to try to temper what they are showing. The "officials" seem to be avoiding reporters so they are "interviewing" anyone they can find. I can tell you, I am scared.

The bad news for me is I called my three kids away at college over a week ago, with my "get home" speech. It is the week before finals and they said that they couldn't leave now, or the entire semester would be lost. I begged, I pleaded but they rationalized that there have only been a few isolated cases reported in their area, and that they would be fine for another week or so. "Mom, don't panic, everything will be fine," they said. The only thing I can do is hope that they are able to avoid any contact with the virus, until they are willing and able to leave. I haven't slept at all the last three nights, and spend my time sorting my supplies and deciding what I will use first and why. While my kids are waiting to finish their finals, they did agree to pack up their belongings and be ready to leave. I did take a little reassurance in that they could leave at a moment's notice.

They did manage to get an extra 20 gallons of gas in containers, after my initial phone call, before all hell broke loose, to bring with them, so they don't have to stop for gas on the way home. At least I hope that it will be enough. They are all planning on driving home together, the three of them, and they have one of their vehicles totally gassed up and parked, so it will have a full tank when they are ready to try to head "home." I only hope that the extra 20 gallons of gas will be enough to get them safely home to me. They are about 10 hours away by car, and they don't have the most fuel efficient vehicle. It is a truck though, so they should be able to bring a lot of their belongings home with them, IF they are able to get out, before a feared quarantine of their area is put into effect. They all have bikes and have them loaded in the back of the truck, so they won't be totally on foot, if something happens and they can't finish the trip by car. My worry is constant and incessant.

My husband insists on going to work every day, which is only adding to my concern and worry. If the kids were home, I simply wouldn't allow it, but since it is just me, I won't put my foot down until the kids make it back. I'm not worried about my health, but once the kids get home, I plan on keeping them from their Dad, until I am certain that no one is carrying the virus with them. Once they get home, and if my husband still insists on going to work, I plan on putting together food and water for him, and an air mattress, and he will be asked to stay at his office, until he is willing to come home for the duration. I have been thinking a lot about that as well, and think that if it reaches that point, to where he is willing to admit defeat, and the boys are home at that time, I will separate him in an old camp trailer that we have at our place, until I am sure that he is free of the pathogen. Hopefully, the kids will make it home and they won't be carrying anything with them, or everything I have done and planned will be for naught.

I tried unsuccessfully today to get on the Internet. No service available. I feel like my lifeline has been cut. No e-mails, no news I feel like I can count on. I'll keep trying. Cell phone service is also becoming jammed. "Please try your call later." I've only gotten through to my kids once in the last four days. They don't even have a land line. I wonder if there is a pay phone close to them, that they would think to try?

So much to worry about, but so far, I am not able to enact any of my well laid out plans. With the kids not home, and husband going to work everyday, I guess I just have to wait. So far, none of the school systems have actually closed, although I have heard a lot of discussions on the news about such things.

Everyone seems to be waiting until things deteriorate further. What is the matter with everyone? Don't they realize what is going on? God, I can't wait for finals to be over. I'm certain the University is waiting for the break to decide what their course of action will be. No one seems to be really ready to just quit living their stupid, mundane lives. Don't they see what is important? Most still feel that they won't get this "Pandemic," hell they don't even understand what it is and most don't really understand yet, that they could die during this. That their kids could die! Why weren't we more prepared? I feel like I know too much and only wish I was like "everyone" else...still "knowing" that things will just return to normal in a few days, and watching the crisis unfold on the news with an idle fascination. Many have still done NOTHING! There is a part of me that is hoping that it will all just go away, but I keep the television on 24 hours a day, and so far I haven't heard any positive news at all. Just more of the same type broadcasts...more people becoming infected, techniques for hand washing and limiting exposure, to use a mask or not...Don't panic, everything will be fine. The doctors and scientists have everything in hand. I think I am going crazy now. It is just a dull background noise now to me. Waiting is the worst part...watching and waiting.

If only my kids would come home, I know I would be fine...

Your Cousin

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