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 April 4

by Karen Purze

When my dad was on hospice, medical equipment magically appeared at our home. First there was a hospital bed and a wheelchair. Later, there was an oxygen machine. Like a baby, it made strange noises and came with very few operating instructions. “Does anyone in the home smoke?” asked the man who dropped it off. When we said no, he said ok. “Make sure you don’t let anyone smoke in here,” he said as he pulled a “flammable” sign from a packet. And with the “installation” of this machine, my dad became “electrically-dependent”.

Surely there was some more training at some point, but I don’t remember talking much about what to do in a power emergency. An oxygen tank was delivered with the machine, and I think I was shown how to change it somewhere along the line. But if the power really had gone out, I don’t feel confident that we would have known what to do or how to handle the situation.

We really should have had a better plan in place in case of an emergency. Over 2 million people in the Medicare population alone (4.7% of all Medicare recipients) are dependent on electricity to power everything from ventilators, at-home dialysis machines, IV pumps and BiPAP machines to wheelchairs and bed equipment. And that doesn’t include people who use this type of equipment who aren’t on Medicare, or others who use medicine that needs to be refrigerated. That tells me there are a few others out there who may need a plan for a power emergency.

Here are some tips on how to prepare for a power emergency if you dependent on power for your health and well-being:

Make a backup plan Call your equipment provider to see what they recommend. Perhaps extra supplies or battery powered alternatives are available for your equipment. Your doctor may also be able to help you determine acceptable options for managing during a power emergency. If you’re still not comfortable with the options, consider investing in a generator.

Contact the authorities First responders want to know who is vulnerable in a power emergency, and most modern dispatch and records systems store this data by residence. Call your local police or fire department to find out how they assist families with special needs in an emergency. (It may also be helpful to know what they do not do so you can prepare properly.) Power companies also keep track of vulnerable customers and often prioritize service restoration for these households.

Practice If there is a special procedure that might be necessary during a power outage (like changing an oxygen tank, or replacing a battery), practice it. And teach your family how to do it for you, in case you can’t. This is especially important if the equipment is new and unfamiliar.

Buy a flashlight Candles really aren’t going to be your best option if you have oxygen running. You may also need a few other supplies if the power is out for more than a few minutes. Make an emergency kit with the supplies you’ll need if you’re on your own for a few days.

Let that sink in. On your own for a few days. It’s not out of the question, especially in the case of a natural disaster. Is that an incentive to make a plan for a power emergency? I hope so!

Take Care,

Karen Purze

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About the author

Karen Purze is the author of Life In Motion: A Guide for Gathering Life’s Vital Details, a workbook to help people get their affairs in order. She is currently working on a memoir about her caregiving experience. Sign up for the Life in Motion Guide newsletter to be the first to hear more!

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