Moffitt advises patients who believe they will evacuate to a shelter during a hurricane to register for special needs disaster assistance with your county. The Sunshine Line is available for free transportation to a special needs shelter for those in need of transportation assistance. Moffitt is not a shelter during a storm.
A special needs shelter is able to care for people whose medical condition may require the use of electrical equipment, oxygen and/or dialysis. Shelter staff also has the ability to treat individuals with physical, cognitive or medical conditions who may require assistance from medical professionals. Keep in mind that while special needs shelters provide more care than a general shelter, they do not provide the level of care at a medical facility.
If you do evacuate to a special needs shelter, the American Cancer Society recommends meeting with the healthcare professionals on site immediately. It’s important to let the staff know you are a cancer patient currently receiving treatment. If you’ve just gotten chemo and have very low white blood cell counts, your risk for infections may be higher in a crowded public shelter. You may want to wear a mask while at the shelter to minimize exposure to germs.
Many shelters have nursing staff that can help get you to an emergency room. Seek emergency medical treatment immediately if you experience:
- A fever of 101º F or higher taken by mouth, or a temperature of 100.4º F if it lasts more than an hour
- Shaking chills or sweats (often goes along with fever)
- Redness, swelling, drainage, tenderness, or warmth at the site of an injury, surgical wound, or central venous catheter, or anywhere on the skin including the genital and rectal areas
- A new pain or one that’s getting worse
- Sinus pain or headache
- A stiff neck
- A sore throat
- Shortness of breath or cough
- Burning or pain when you pass urine or bloody or cloudy urine
According to the American Cancer Society, if you’re in an area where safe water and food may be a problem or injury is a risk due to the natural disaster, you may be asked to get shots for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, the flu, pneumococcus and tetanus. While these vaccines are safe and may be necessary, make sure the person giving the shots knows you have cancer and when you last had treatment. If you can, talk to your doctor or a local doctor before you get any shots. It’s very important that you do not let anyone give you a “live” vaccine unless a cancer doctor, who knows your medical history, says it’s ok. Vaccines like the flu nasal spray, varicella zoster (for chickenpox or shingles), measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and smallpox have live virus in them. (Please note, the flu shot is ok, only the nasal spray has live virus in it.) Sometimes the live viruses can cause serious problems for people with weak immune systems. Also, try to avoid close contact with people who have gotten live virus vaccines.
Though the storm will disrupt your schedule, it’s important to keep taking your medications on time. If you don’t have your medicines or know where they are, try to get in touch with your doctor, clinic or health insurance company.
ASCO recommends creating a waterproof supply kit before a storm. It should include items like your medications, wound care dressings, antiseptic spray, and other items you need for routine care. Put the contents in a re-sealable, waterproof plastic bag to keep them dry. If you have any liquids in your collection, such as rubbing alcohol or liquid medications, use a separate bag for those.
When creating a first aid kit in advance of a storm, be sure to keep low platelet and white blood cell counts in mind. You’ll want to stock the kit with dressings and antiseptics for cleaning wounds and medications for nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and fever.
Additionally, it’s important to:
- Protect yourself from germs by washing your hands with soap and water as often as possible. Scrub your hands for as long as it takes you to sing “Happy Birthday” from beginning to end twice. If you don’t have access to soap and water, ask for alcohol hand sanitizers (that are at least 60% alcohol) and follow the directions on the product.
- If there isn’t clean water or you don’t know if the water is safe, drink only bottled water or boil water for one full minute. Allow it to cool before drinking.
- Make sure meats are cooked thoroughly and fruits and vegetables are washed in clean water. Don’t eat cooked foods that have been left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Be sure to ask your doctor if there are foods you should avoid until you can get into permanent housing.
- Keep any cuts or wounds covered with bandages unless your doctor has told you otherwise. Use antibiotic cream every day, if you have it.
- Don’t share toothbrushes or eating utensils or cups with anyone else.
- Don’t get vaccinations unless a doctor who knows your cancer history says it’s ok.
- Bring clean bedding and towels to a shelter if you evacuate. Do not reuse anyone else’s towels or sheets.
- Bathe or shower as often as you can and use clean towels to dry.