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How Many Days Before You Give up Hope When SHTF?

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When you consider the events that preppers all over the world seem to prepare for, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, government collapse, economic collapse, rioting, hurricanes and on and on – if you are honest, you have to contemplate how you will act when faced with death. When whatever situations we are storing supplies for happen, inevitably in the worst disasters there will be death. There always is. In the most disastrous to us personally, it will be people we know and love.

I think all of us fear that possibility in the back of our minds and we deal with that in some ways by prepping. The more prepared we are, we figure, the less we have to worry about anyone we care for being adversely affected by disaster. That is the whole reason behind prepping, right? It is and while I can’t think of a better defense against bad things happening, still we all know they will. That is if we are being honest.

I say that again because I think some of us aren’t truly grasping the enormity of a situation that we would collectively call a SHTF. We have a pretty cavalier attitude about it sometimes and illustrate our plans to pick bad guys off at 300 yards before they can sneak through the woods to harm our women and children. We talk about repelling the worst of society and stocking away enough provisions to feed a platoon of highly skilled friends for years but are we just kidding ourselves and walling off discussion of something we all fear? Are we avoiding conversations that we may need to consider now that involve the very real prospect of death?

Giving up hope

I was prompted to write this article after listening to a podcast interview of the author Sheri Fink who has written a book entitled, Five Days at Memorial. In this book, she describes the events during hurricane Katrina that happened at Memorial Hospital. The podcast where she was interviewed and described in shocking detail the events that happened was incredible to me. You can listen below.

To cut to the most compelling story, one which you may already know, many patients were found dead in Memorial Hospital immediately following Katrina and there were charges that they had all died from lethal doses of drugs. Mortuary workers eventually carried 45 corpses from Memorial, more than from any comparable-size hospital in the drowned city. I won’t ruin the podcast or the story for you. It’s tragic on many levels, but the point that stuck out to me was that for all intents, these people in this story only lasted 5 days after a SHTF event before someone gave up.

I am not debating the various sides to the story, that is something you can do if you like. What is incontrovertible is that this one hospital lost power and utilities really on the day after the hurricane passed through. Only 4 days really after that, decisions or circumstances led to the death of 45 patients. In an ecosystem ostensibly set up and more than capable of preserving life in normal circumstances, death still happened in only 5 days after a loss of power.

Memorial Medical Center

How long will you last without power?

Some of you may be reading this and thinking that these patients were very sick and near death anyway. They couldn’t possibly survive without power running their various systems. The heat was intense (reports are over 100) and if a lethal combination of drugs was administered to them, that is merciful.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

OK, so if that is your argument, place yourself in that same situation. The power has gone out for 5 days in the summer due to some force outside your control. Now add to that, your toilets are filling up with sewage and your mother who is nearly bed-ridden is feeling the effects of age and her ailments more so in the heat. Are you going to put her out of her misery? Would you wait another 5 days? A month? How long would you last?

These questions I am posing, I honestly don’t have the answers for myself, but it did start my wheels turning. At its most basic, in this story, for the people in this hospital, this was a power outage. Yes, it was more chaotic than that, but the water didn’t push them from their location. They were dry, not counting the sweating they must have been doing and still with all their training, despite the Hippocratic oath… people were dying after only 5 days. This was in a hospital. What will happen everywhere else with people who aren’t trained to preserve life?

What could I do any differently?

The story of what happened in Memorial hospital reinforced for me just how quickly our society will unravel in a true crisis. After only four days’ critical patients in hospitals died. You have to expect similar things in nursing homes, assisted care facilities and regular homes or apartments of senior citizens everywhere if they are dependent on medicine or power to survive. Now add people who are on prescription medication (at least 60% of Americans) or who are bed-ridden, confined to an electric wheel chair type of device. Sure some of these people can survive without medication, but many will not be able to. What will be the scale of death with a larger event that takes power out for months or years? How many people will die when the power goes out and all of the ability to refrigerate food is gone? What will happen when there is no more air conditioning and temperatures raise higher and higher without any relief? When the bodies start to pile up, what will you do?

Will you be looking at ending the suffering of your family? The people you have been entrusted with caring for? How long will you be able to last before you give up and say to yourself, I am making them more comfortable?

Stories like this prompt me to action in a couple of ways.

Many dead were found in the chapel.

Many dead were found in the chapel.

Refocus on prepping – Even if this is National Preparedness Month, hearing real life stories like this motivate me in a way that no stupid national declaration could ever do. These people were in a hospital so their lives to a great extent were in the hands of the medical practitioners, but you will likely not be in a hospital. Do you have supplies to last if the power goes out for 5 days? Do you have enough food and water for 30 days? Can you last longer than that? Have you ever experienced that much time without power?

Have redundant power sources – Additional backup power for me is a luxury, but for people who need this to survive, it’s a different story. I have several alternative sources of power from small solar panel systems to generators and power inverters. I have enough to get me by but not in sufficient amounts and not for long. Unless you have a significant source of solar power, in the worst disasters anything will eventually run out. Generators will run out of fuel no matter how much you store.

Consider medical issues – My family is all healthy but our extended family has a couple of people who require prescription medicine daily. Two are diabetic and I need to work with them on both acquiring more supplies just in case and to my previous point, making sure they have a way of keeping their insulin cool. Does your family have medical needs that you can handle if the power doesn’t come back on?

Remember what SHTF really means – SHTF isn’t really just some cool letters we strung together to sound hip. It is an idea that should conjure the worst scenarios in our mind. If we truly do live through a SHTF event, we can expect miserable conditions. This won’t be like the movies. People will die and tragedy will be in our faces, on our streets and impacting people we really know.

Plan to survive – Above all else, my motivation for prepping is that I plan to survive and I am taking as many people with me as I can. It is important to remember that well after I am forced out of the comfort of my office chair. When all hell breaks loose, that is when it matters and everything I have planned for up until this point will need to be put into action.

Don’t give up – I realize that at some point preserving life is no longer feasible or wise. I can’t say what I would have done in the case of the people in New Orleans for sure, but I do hope I would have been able to last longer than that. Suffering is never fun, but we were never promised a life without suffering. I will try to hold on as long as I can and do what is in my power to help others. That is all any of us can do.

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  • Linda S

    I, too, tire of hearing conjecture from arm-chair Rambos about all the heroic moves they have planned. I have, however, lived for several years without electricity on a ranch way up in the Rockies. The difference? We could always get in a truck & drive to town if we needed to. We had propane & gravity-fed water system. Not the same as SHTF for sure. I’m 70 and way past fearing death. However, I worry so about my very large extended family. If I’m not around who’s going to tell them what they’re doing wrong? lol Seriously, a well written article addressing a topic needing attention. Thank you.

    • Aubryn

      I own a small farm in WA State. We teach practical survival skills to anyone who will listen free of charge; everything from growing your own food (veggies, fruit, nuts etc) to canning, drying, preserving, cooking and heating without power, living off grid, sanitation without power: showering, toilets, laundry etc. Using hand crank generators and well pumps. We are doing all we can to pass on these simple skills that we commonplace for our grandparetns born in the 1800’s-this is how we cope with what we see as inevitable.

      • prepperpat

        Aubryn, we live in Wa too. Where are you all and when do you offer your tried and true skills classes? Do you care to list your contact information?

        • Aubryn

          Contact me on twitter @aubrynathome

    • Thank you very much Linda!

  • Tom

    We all have a normalcy bias. An aversion to the things we fear. We should explore this dark side as well as we can. This is how we grow and learn. For example, I did. It want to see that terrible video of the young boy that was beheaded recently. I did because I did not want that to have that kind of power over me. It was shocking and terrible. But what I gained in understanding of the type of people who do these things maybe helps give this boy’s death meaning. It empowers me and strengthens my understanding and resolve. Maybe it is true that the company only thing we have to fear is fear itself?

    • Interesting you should say that Tom. I personally have avoided most videos like that because I tell myself I don’t want to become immune to seeing death and evil. Maybe there is something in what you have described.

      • Tom

        Something as truly horrible as ALL of these unimaginably cruel acts, might make us numb to the truth. If we sat around and watched them day after day, I think our emotional side would shut down as a defensive mechanism. But if this level of cruelty is new to our understanding, we need to know in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS what is happening. I can “replay” what I saw… I don’t like that I saw it, It will always be disturbing, maybe even a bit haunting. It SHOULD have this affect / effect on us. But I do “understand” these acts much better now. “Not seeing them” and avoiding their affects / effects, does not make them “go away” if you know what I mean.

  • 1johnnyp

    My question is, “What does a community do with all the bodies? Bury them, burn them, stack them and leave them or just leave them where they fall? The spread of disease must be considered, I would think.”

    • Paul

      If at all possible bury them. Flies spread disease along with runoff from rain. If you can, add lime to your supplies for use on the dead and for your outhouse. If you have the fuel then burn them and then bury the remains. Worst case, hall the bodies away and dump them on their own turf.

  • Javelineer2

    To answer the author’s question: I will never give up, but I will demand to be left behind if I’m putting my family at risk. Some readers already know there are worse things than dying.

    Using the Katrina storm Memorial hospital situation is anecdotal and misleading. We don’t know the condition of those patients, but we do know that because they were hospitalized that their illness was life threatening. That literally means they cannot survive without hospital care, meds & technology. The example plays on our emotions….What if is was your mom?

    The injections were merciful and a definite step up from abandonment and left to die. You should second judge after you’ve survived the same situation and been forced to make the decisions.

    We have family members who won’t survive 1 week without meds & A/C, so it’s a fait accompli when SHTF arrives with a duration of 1 week or more. There are two questions then, Do they want to suffer and try to make it through the crisis? Do we want them to suffer and for how long?

    • Aubryn

      Excellent point-thank you for making it. Emotional manipulation I find repulsive. Unfortunately it is what drives prepper sites for clickbait and for sales.

    • Not sure if hundreds of witnesses interviewed counts as anecdotal, but I concede it isn’t a bulletproof example of my point. I frequently use events like this to start a discussion though. Sometimes, my articles end up in different places than where I started, but that is what got me inspired to write this time.

      I think I also tried to steer clear of judging anyone, but used this again to illustrate a point. I wasn’t making the article about the doctors, just using their circumstance as an example. Not sure abandonment was the only other option besides euthanasia either. The doctors were rescued themselves the next day…

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts.

  • christopher

    I think the problem with Katrina & hospitals was communications. If you have no idea when help will arrive, whether its 2 hrs, 24hrs or 2 weeks or never, that puts a tremendous strain on decision making what little staff that courageously stayed. The hospital staff have families also. Knowing what is going on helps you to make those critical decisions (and they will be hard decisions). Do you have patients begging to be euthanized? will the power stop all pain meds for patients that need it? What if you kill them and 2-4 hrs. later help arrives. Do you risk ruining your life with lawsuits & guilt for the rest of your life? A lot of hospitals now have stations have included Amateur radio in their disaster plans. Will a doctor know how to get the system up and operate it? is the disater local or nationwide or worldwide..it all depends.. humans have a strong will to survive. I think poorer countries will do better in worldwide shtf than USA, since they already live without all that technology and less dependent.

    • BigGaySteve

      1/3 of cops abandoned their posts during Katrina. Those who stayed behind in the hospitals with no power/ water/ air conditioning were massively understaffed. The state government wouldn’t allow out of state health care workers to practice under their out of stat licenses, meaning the out of state nurses that volunteered to help were not allowed to even take blood pressures.

      • christopher

        I know this is when I decided to get serious about prepping. i had always been pretty prepared, but Katrina (from the residents to local level to gov level) failures really opened my eyes. I was nowwhere near the area or involved in anyway,but just watching it on TV when people wouldnt leave after being told to, then seeing them expecting gov just to come in and save them. it was a eye opener!

  • John Watchman

    I have not read the book, but I recall the local and national news reports. First off, the electrical generators were stupidly located in the basement and were ruined the first hour the waters rose over the levy system. Secondly, many staff members abandoned the patients before the hurricane struck, and thirdly, help couldn’t be brought in in a timely manner due to the animals living in the near by government housing projects shooting at the Evac helicopters and fire department rescue services. It took national Guardsmen and US soldiers with weapons to secure the area before help could arrive.

    • BigGaySteve

      Even crazier was the family of the 600lb man who needed an electricity powered machine to breath suing for him dying. No one is going to bag someone 24/7, and evacuating 600lbs of babies takes priority over one 600lb man.

      • John Watchman

        Agreed. He didn’t become morbidly obese by eating salads. His family is also to blame in their complicity in feeding him to death. And if we looked into it, we would most likely find that the government aided in his death by supplying him free food without any requirement of work.

  • Huples

    It’s not if but when. If you have very frail people with you in shtf can you put them to death painlessly? If you have terminal radiation sickness can you end yourself before the several days of agony?

    For those diabetic relatives get them to go vegan and exercise now. No bs Pat it works. Just got my 60 year old cousin off oral diabetic meds by getting her to Ho near vegan and exercise an hour a day.

    The hospital was a classic example of bs. None of the patients families came to help but they certainly were happy to sue

  • EgbertThrockmorton1

    I’ve seen many people over the years, “lose hope” because of the compounding of their personal situations. While each of us is (thankfully) quite different, yet, quite similar in many aspects of our non-impaired thought processes, “hope” I believe wanes and expands depending in each of us, on our personal support network.
    None of us, can make it entirely upon our own with little or no human contact, or without a devout belief in some sort of higher power or Deity.
    That is my personal subjective belief. Others differ strongly with my personal belief system, and that is fine with me.
    We each bear the responsibility for our own mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, financial well-being. I think the “loss of hope”, is one of the most horrible experiences one can have, and I believe it comes to all of us, at least one or more times in our lives, dependent upon our personal environment, attitude, and what we ingest to mask the symptoms that contribute to a “loss of hope”.
    I personally feel far better than many of my neighbors, not because of my arrogance, but, because my wife and I choose to, at least try to mitigate personal and regional or national disasters, we KNOW come to all of use, regardless of where we live. It rains on all of us, some of the time.

  • John D

    Great article. Understanding the importance of power, and knowing that fuel for a generator will eventually run out, I’ve built a substantial off grid solar system. I also have significant spare parts and components stored in a Faraday cage. Your article correctly points out that electricity does much more than just keeping the lights on. With my system I can keep a chest freezer running, and have some ability to control the temperature during weather extremes. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand the value of those things. Sure, without access to replacement parts, my system may eventually fail, but I’m sure It’ll far outlast systems that depend on fuel for a generator. Assuming that I have survival skills, such as growing crops and preserving food, alternative medicine and staying healthy, and weapons for protection, I don’t see myself giving up early on. I wrote about my system in TPJ a while back, and many of the comments were negative: It’s too expensive, and what will you do when you need parts, were among the most common comments. It seems to me that a good percentage of preppers just prepare for short-term emergencies, a 90-day supply of food for example, but with little or no consideration for staying comfortable and healthy.

  • calamity janet

    Excellent article on a topic that very few, even in the prepper world, contemplate to any degree. When things really fall apart, so too will our medical care system. Modern medicine has made it such that most of us live to a ripe old age. What will become of us when antibiotics are no longer available? The average life expectancy will drop to 30-40 years. Mothers will return to a time when they knew they would bury one-third of their children.

    Read some history books on disease, the staggering death rates, and how governments react to the situation. The Great Influenza by John Barry and The American Plague by Molly Crosby cover not only how people in general reacted to disease and death everywhere, but also–just as importantly in my opinion–what local and national governments did to downplay (and thereby exacerbate) the problem.

    • BigGaySteve

      Even more notable was that before the smallpox vaccine the mortality rate for white people was still in the thirty percent range, but when mestizos hit 11% mortality with H_N_ they claimed white people were genociding them.

    • Thank you so much!

  • Kenneth Thrash

    Last year we bought a propane fuel generator. In addition to our propane tank used for heating in winter from local gas provider, we also have several 5 gal tanks and since Dad used to fly hot air balloons he still has 4 larger tanks too. For that reason I convinced him we needed a propane generator rather than a diesel or gasoline powered one. Easier to store and doesn’t degrade like some other fuels can. Gone without power twice for 5 days, both from tornadoes. Last time was in 2011. In this situation, you know people are working on it and will get it back as quick as they can. It will be entirely different if goes down in a SHTF situation where you won’t even know if that is happening. Mostly though, I worry about my Mom and her need for insulin. There is absolutely nothing I can do for her if we go extended time after a collapse of some type and she runs out. That is my biggest fear. Only yesterday I learned about a plant, pata de vaca, that I’m going to have to look at more closely as something that may help her.

  • Huples

    Could we get Clinton to write an article on how not to quit even when you are dead? Sorry. Way off topic Pat.feel free to delete but I could nay resist

    • Why would I delete that???? 🙂 I don’t delete comments regardless of who you are roasting. Even me…

  • Bolofia

    Pat, You’ve written a great article that should motivate people to examine two aspects of “giving up hope.” The first is giving up hope on yourself, the second is giving up hope on family members. An important question for all to ponder: If you give up hope on yourself, how will that affect the survival prospects for loved ones that are likely depending on you in a SHTF situation? Just my view, but if you are willing to give up on yourself, giving up on others is much easier.

    • Great point Bolo. I have written about that side too in contemplation of some family members I have that simply would not be able to bug out on foot regardless of the situation. Granted each person should be able to choose how they go out and many on here have voiced similar thoughts about how they would urge their family to leave them and go. Any way you look at it, decisions like this aren’t going to be easy.

      Thanks for reading!

  • SurvivalPunk

    I had no idea about the events at memorial. Thanks for sharing. Which reinforces my belief that if you are on a maintenance medication you need to be doing anything you can to get off it as quickly as possible. For the short term at least get a backup supply. For the long term you NEED to get off it and get healthy if you want to survive.