For three scary weeks in late August and early September, the Caribbean and parts of the southern US were hit by three strong hurricanes: Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Several of Crescendo’s Patient Ambassadors were affected by the hurricanes and had to evacuate.
Extreme weather events, including hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and more, can be stressful regardless of your health condition. However, the stress that RA patients experience is a little different because of physical limitations they may experience with their condition. Three of our Ambassadors who were impacted share their experiences and advice they have for other RA patients who find themselves in similar situations.
Stacie lives in Plant City, Florida, near Tampa, where the eye of Hurricane Irma came within a few miles of her home. Although she safely evacuated to relatives in Ohio, a lot of her concern centered around the potential lack of communication, not only with her husband, who stayed behind as a First Responder but also related to her medical information. “For the first time ever, I printed all of my medical records, which I usually access online,” she said. “I also filled 30 days’ worth of prescriptions so that I wouldn’t find myself without my treatments. Even though I was evacuating the area and get my prescriptions from a national pharmacy, I wasn’t sure that my prescription information would be accessible via computer after the hurricane hit Florida.”
Beth added, “Many times medications to treat RA aren’t normally stocked in a pharmacy and can take several days to procure once an order is placed. It really is a good idea to make sure your supply is adequate for during and after the event.”
Beth, who evacuated from Corpus Christi to San Antonio during Hurricane Harvey, said, “It was one of the most stressful times in my life. Before the hurricane hit, we already were dealing with difficult conditions related to a move. My body is very sensitive to weather, so when the storm started coming in, I began feeling a lot of joint pain, chest pain, and migraines. We had to evacuate and live in and out of hotels, sometimes without electricity, with my husband and three small children for a period of three weeks. The stress exacerbated my flares.”
“What I found most helpful was stepping back to keep things in perspective, taking care of myself and asking for help when I needed it. I kept a positive attitude by living moment by moment and being grateful for what we had,” Beth continued. “I felt such a strong bond of support from my RA community, both the Crescendo Patient Ambassador Community and my local Arthritis Introspective community. We were in constant communication, checking in on each other, texting each other, messaging on Facebook. We all deal with it and understand in a way that those without RA can’t. Even though we don’t see each other on a day-to-day basis, we are family to each other.”
Stephanie agreed noting, “Our bodies respond physically to the stress we are experiencing, and we can’t control that. All we can control is our attitude, knowing the flare will be over eventually and do our best to take care of ourselves – mind, body, and soul — during this stressful time.”
“We had to drive from Miami to Orlando, normally a four-hour drive that took us 11.5 hours during the evacuation. The stress, the sitting in traffic – it took a toll on my body, but what was hardest for me was accepting my physical limitations knowing they impacted my husband. We were predicted to have 13-foot storm surges, and I knew that my RA would not allow me to climb onto a roof and stay there if we were to need a helicopter rescue. I wasn’t physically able to do as much as I wanted to help prepare. So I found different ways to contribute, helping my husband stay awake as we drove, being silly and taking selfies to keep things light and positive. Thinking positively makes all the difference.”
Below is a list of tips from Stacie, Beth and Stephanie for RA patients dealing with extreme weather events:
· Prepare medically: Make sure you have copies of your records and an adequate supply of medication
· Take care of yourself: Make sure you are eating well, resting enough and taking lots of breaks, whether you are preparing for the weather or dealing with damage clean-up
· Stay positive: Find small things that are going well
· Find ways to contribute: Everyone can do something, whether it’s gathering contact information, being the point person for all your family is doing to prepare or carrying a pillow
· Ask for help when you need it
For more tips from the Arthritis Foundation, check out this blog prepared for RA patients in advance of Hurricane Irma: http://blog.arthritis.org/news/preparing-hurricane-irma-arthritis