My husband, Chuck, and I have always wanted to start homesteading. After thinking about it for a while, we decided to go for it. We bought our own land seven years ago, and it was the best decision we have ever made.
Homesteading can be a dangerous proposition, even when done in perfect health. “Ordinary” medical emergencies will happen. Due to the physical work involved, it is just too easy to break bones or suffer from some other serious injury. So if we know a medical situation is going to occur eventually, what can we do in the meantime to be prepared?
I could write an entire book on being physically down for the count over lengthily periods of time on a homestead. I’ve experienced it personally with my husband. Chuck went through different medical emergencies for almost two of the seven years we’ve been on our 200-acre homestead. Back in 2014 he was completely out of action for six months after his second artificial knee failed. This was due to an ancient injury. Back in 1972 he twisted his leg while jumping out of a helicopter. This did not leave much skin to hold his upper and lower leg together (see photo).
He had to have his right femur replaced at the same time. He was stuck back in a full leg brace recently for four months after he tore all the ligaments of his left knee in late September. Between these physical injuries and several heart-related episodes in between, he’s been at severely reduced capacity and completely immobilized for months.
Here are 11 important lessons my husband and I have learned while going through these medical emergencies on our rural homestead:
1. If it’s a life-or-death emergency and you live in a rural area, seriously consider driving the patient to the hospital yourself.
This is a personal decision that needs to be discussed with family members in advance. We live 30 minutes away from the nearest hospital, and it would have been at least 60 minutes (probably 90) before my husband would have arrived by ambulance at the ER following his heart attack last year. Instead of calling 911, it made more sense to just throw him in the SUV and bring him in myself, saving at least 30 minutes. I’d certainly do the same if anyone here showed any sign of stroke.
Every second certainly counts in these situations. In our case, it might have been deadly to wait for any professional help to arrive. But again, this is a personal decision to be carefully contemplated far in advance. I would never try it in the event of a back injury, compound fracture, or physical impalement of any kind.
2. Reserve a closet for all your medical supplies.
“A place for everything and everything in its place” is an old country saying that is especially appropriate for medical emergency equipment.
Following our experiences, the closet in our house is now fully equipped with a trauma crash cart, all equipment for immobilizing limbs, crutches, a walker, a cane, a booster toilet seat with built-in hand rails, disposable urinals, no-rinse body wash, and no-rinse shampoo.
Our crash cart on wheels has 18 clearly labeled drawers to organize surgical gloves, QuikClot sponges, a tourniquet, gauze pads and tape, pressure bandages, a blood pressure cuff, antiseptic and irrigation essentials, various splints, and others.
I think the little drawers are very useful for keeping each item in a specific location, unlike the more typical first aid grab-and-go duffle bag that we keep on top of the cart for use outdoors.
We’ve grabbed that cart a couple of times each year for various minor boo-boos (cuts, wasp stings, etc.) and occasionally for more serious episodes. It’s nice to know it’s always ready for bigger disasters.
You will do very well when your gear is thoroughly organized and when you take the time to learn how to use each item.
Learn as much as you can, and make sure that everyone on your property knows at least basic emergency first aid. It won’t help if everyone stands around looking completely lost when your onsite “medic” is the one who is injured.
Related: DIY Dollar Store First Aid Kit
3. Make sure two different neighbors know your property.
While you are away, you need to have someone check on things and tend your animals in a pinch (if you have any). The ideal situation is to have two different neighbors to ask for help.
Why two? Because it seems to me that one neighbor will always be out of town, recovering from their own injury, or tending to a sick family member. Two is one and one is none when the critical unexpected times come.
Also, I suggest you discuss this with them in advance and offer to trade. If anything happens to you, call us and vice-versa. That sort of arrangement offers a degree of comfort to everyone concerned.
4. Make a checklist.
Checklists are worth their weight in gold and more. That’s why the military, police, pilots, emergency responders, and other professionals rely on them. When a leg snaps or a heart attack happens, you might have to leave your property unattended for several days.
You will most certainly have your hands full in the immediate response phase. Trust me, the patient won’t be the only one in shock, and your brain won’t be working properly. While waiting for the ambulance or your neighbor, your checklist will do the thinking for you.
Our list includes securing pasture gates, filling all the troughs and waterers to the top, locking up the poultry flocks with enough food for three days, throwing enough hay into the sheep paddock to last for three days, separating the livestock dogs into different yards so they won’t kill each other over food but are still able to drive off predators from all directions, unplugging electrical appliances, and grabbing the Hospital Go-Bag (very different from a BOB; a small one with photocopies of ID and med cards, any meds, underwear, toiletries, ear plugs, eye masks, a printed list of phone numbers, perhaps a favorite book).
Related: 5 First Aid Skills Every Senior Should Know
5. Always have several weeks’ worth of homemade soups and meals in your freezer.
When a medical emergency happens, you will be too busy to cook for a month or two. Proper nutrition is critical for a recovering patient and the caregiver. Keep in mind that immobilized, bedridden, or even limited-duty patients are going to need more fiber than usual to keep the plumbing moving smoothly (limited movement = constipation in almost all cases), so plenty of beans, chili, lentil and pea soups, oatmeal, and high-fiber crackers will help.
Any kind of tissue or muscle injuries will greatly benefit from the collagen in homemade bone broth. Serving soups, gravies, and sauces made with it at every meal will certainly prove to be worthy. These heat-and-eat real foods are always great, no matter what the circumstances are. Just be careful to replenish with freshly made ones so that there’s always several weeks’ worth in the freezer.
6. Always keep at least two weeks’ worth of animal feed around.
In case of a medical disaster, it won’t do you much good to ask friends or neighbors to feed your livestock if you don’t have the necessary supplies ready to go. Again, this is common homesteading sense. Any number of unforeseen incidents could stress your supply chain, so having more than the “just in time” logistics system that modern establishments rely upon is just a wise practice.
7. Always make sure you have enough wood.
If you burn wood to cook or keep warm in winter, very seriously consider keeping enough split and carefully stacked firewood in elevated outdoor racks to last you three years. This will be your insurance in case you have to skip a year’s harvest altogether for medical reasons. So much firewood obviously takes a lot of room, yet these long stacks can double as fences, windbreaks, or even animal “traffic control” schemes in strategic areas around the homestead. More is always better when it comes to firewood.
Related: How to Get a Year Supply of Firewood for $10!
8. Consider building a ramp leading to the entryway.
Recovery time following an injury or medical emergency can take weeks or months, so you may want to set up your homestead with some structural suggestions in mind when everybody is still healthy and active.
For example, if your house has any steps up to the door, it would make sense to build a ramp. Anyone using crutches, a walker, or a cane will have an easier time navigating the entry. That same ramp will certainly prove its value for wheeling in carts of groceries, firewood, and so many other heavy items.
It could be the only route to getting an injured person safely out of the house without physically picking them up or dragging them down steps (which I’ve unfortunately done a few times). This is definitely a dangerous option, plus the patient feels bad over the indignity as well as the inconvenience.
9. Replace your bathroom shower stall with a 4’x4’ sloped tile floor.
Ours has safety grab-rails securely mounted on the walls, a dual shower head (with a hand-held shower head option), ceiling-mounted rods to hold up shower curtains, and enough room for a caregiver to provide assistance, if necessary.
This kind of walk-in shower arrangement has roughly the same footprint as an ordinary shower stall but can easily accommodate someone in a leg cast or brace. It is also instantly accessible to anyone requiring crutches, a walker, or a cane.
Traditional showers can be deadly, so it’s really worth the effort and expense to put in a walk-in shower. We also added zero-slip heavy-duty recycled tire mats and a couple of waterproof benches to sit on. This “wet room” cost about half the price of installing a walk-in bathtub, and it looks really cool too. Even though we’ll never sell this property and house, in practical terms, it probably boosted the potential sale value.
10. Find ways for the recovering patient to contribute to the workload in your homestead.
Most people recovering from medical emergencies on a homestead will get better in stages, and unfortunately, they will eventually feel guilty for not being able to do their part. Finding some ways for them to contribute to the workload, while still dealing with severely limited mobility, is perhaps one of the best ways to help them. Just make sure they do this only when they are ready and capable.
A couple of weeks following Chuck’s injury, we got a bar stool so my husband could perch on it in front of the kitchen sink while setting aside his crutches. That same afternoon I was shocked to see not just all the clean dishes, pots, and pans but also perfectly scrubbed counters and reorganized cabinets and drawers.
Everything within his very limited reach was obviously inspected, memorized, cleared out, scrubbed, and then reassembled. That took a huge load off the daily chores, and he was so pleased to finally be shaving hours off my day. A week later he was doing meal prep and making all the dog food. (We make ours from scratch.)
11. Have a safe place outdoors.
While recovering from a serious injury or illness, most people will miss spending time outdoors. Weeks before Chuck’s most recent injury, I was lamenting our lack of an enclosed yard, one our large livestock guardian dogs couldn’t get into. I wanted a space where we could just BBQ or smoke meats in peace outside.
We ended up building a protected place where anyone could relax without being smothered by large, overly friendly dogs; pushy, free-grazing sheep; or even our gang of posturing tom turkeys. By spending time here, Chuck was able to safely interact with the three oversized livestock dogs as well as the 36 sheep (which can accidentally kill people when they blindly stampede in panic, mostly caused in situations when the new livestock puppy loses his mind entirely).
More importantly, the People’s Paddock became my husband’s personal physical recovery space while allowing him to pitch in with outdoor chores for the first time in months. The photograph shows laundry he washed and hung out to dry after wobbling over uneven ground (excellent rehab carrying clean laundry in a basket then repeatedly bending down and stretching up to hang everything up while still wearing his leg brace).
It also shows three of our short-term firewood racks that he has taken charge of, including stacking and loading carts for wheeling into the house (an approved exercise that doesn’t involve bending his knees more than 45 degrees or directly lifting anything with his slowly recovering knee tendons).
Having our own homestead is definitely amazing, and we would never change it. But it does come with different injuries and medical emergencies. The best thing to do is prepare for these emergencies in advance, with eyes wide open.
There are many homesteading challenges that are a lot more fun than getting ready for a medical emergency or injury, but if you are ever faced with that frightening situation— either you, a friend, or a family member—you’ll be extra glad that you took the time to do what seems rather mundane now but may be vital to survival then.
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Very good and detailed post. It gives us all good points to consider, whether young or old.
When my husband had his accident and was paralyzed in a wheel chair for 2 years. We learned a lot that most people do not think about. After he regained use of his legs we proceeded to finish our house. First thing was to make sure all doors were 36″ for handy entry of wheel chairs and crutches. Second was handicap access to bathroom (shower stall, toilet, and drain in tile floor. Another thing was easy access in one entry door where car could get close to house.
That must have been the most terrifying two years of your lives, especially while knowing that few people ever recover from paralysis. Yours must be an awesome story indeed… and, yes, you sure were right to recognize the need for wide doorways. When we bought this 1970’s era house we had to buy a new refrigerator, only to find that we bought one that was far too wide to fit through the kitchen doorway! Standard measurements were a lot smaller back then, it cost some big bucks to rip out the old doorway with light switch wiring to put in a wider door. Thankfully, anything wide enough for a refrigerator is also wide enough for even large wheelchairs, so two birds died with the same stone on that project. Anyway, I’m so glad to hear that your husband went from wheelchair to completing your house. God bless you both.
Good post. Lots of meaningful suggestions. I especially like the crash cart. I am going to have to look for one. That is the ideal way to organize your medical supplies. I have bags and I am not impressed with them.
Back when I was a kid, there was no emergency medical service. If you were lucky, you got put in the back of a pickup truck or station wagon. If not, you were somehow bundled into the back seat of a small car with your broken leg or other injury and off to the hospital with horn blaring and headlights on. If you happened to run across a motorized police officer you might get an escort to the hospital. There generally was no E.R. and specially trained emergency room staff. The on-call doctor had to be notified that he was needed at the hospital or if there was a doctor in the hospital treating a patient, he got called down to treat you.
If the hospital was too far away, you got hauled to the local doctor’s office and he treated you in his office which was usually the front room in his house. His wife was his nurse and assistant. He had less medical equipment than the modern ambulance has.
All the doctors were general practitioners. Specialists were located in the major cities. The G.P. treated everything from broken bones to brain injuries.
Thank you so much, for this information.
Sometimes we are not in the best of shape.
Any ideas where I might find a similar 18 drawer cart?
Look at the big box craft stores, IKEA, and Harbor Freight.
I checked the Harbor Freight on-line catalog. There is nothing like it in their on-line catalog.
Look in artists supply store or online sites
Amazon, of course. Here it is: Seville Classics 15-Drawer Organizer Cart Black. $69.25. I quit there and didn’t check any further further investigation might reveal others similar carts. I did check Uline which is a shipping supplier in Los Angeles and they have a somewhat similar cart but it is over $600 and is just a tad out of my budget — a big tad.
I checked Ebay and was really excited when I found the Seville Classic cart for $55 & free shipping. On further examination, THAT PRICE was only for the 8 drawer cart. Darn! The best I found on the 15 drawer cart was $70 with free shipping. Check places like Habitat for Humanity ReStores and government/military autions and estate sales, too. Really like that cart idea…. 1 for human supplies, 1 for all the critter first aid supplies.
Today I checked the Container Store, a store out here on the left coast that sells all kinds of plastic and otherwise containers for all of your “stuuuuffffff” as George Carlin used to pronounce it.
They have a similar product. It has more flexibility than the Seville. You can choose how tall you want it, how wide you want it and what kind and size drawers you want in it. HOWEVER, you will pay a price for that flexibility. A somewhat similar unit with ten, 3 1/4 inch deep drawers without wheels will cost you $178.00. Wheels can be purchased for an additional sum.
So there you have it. Ikea is over 60 miles away, so I am not going to check to see if Ikea has a similar product.
The Container Store was on my way back from running another errand which is why I stopped there.
By the way, the Seville looks pretty good from here.
One last post on the topic: Monday afternoon I tried to amputate the forefinger on my left hand with a paper cutter. I was unsuccessful, however did manage to get part way through.
Have you ever tried to open a recalcitrant zipper while attempting to stem the flow of blood with a wad of paper towels with the only operative hand?
And then, when I finally got the zipper open, I found out that neither the bandaids nor the 4 x 4 pads were in that bag. Grrrrr! Went to Doc In the Box and got steristrips put on to close it up. All is fine.
As a result of that experience I resolved to follow the trail of the nifty drawer holder a little more rigorously than I would have otherwise.
Eureka!! Michael’s is having a sale on very similar items and it will probably break in their flyer this weekend. I purchased a 10 drawer, wheeled shelf unit similar to but not identical to the one in the article. Best part? It was only $30 plus tax. It isn’t sturdy enough for me to sit on while I attempt to one-handed bandage an injured digit, but it is plenty sturdy enough to hold ten drawers full of 3×3, 4×4, Phisohex, irrigation syringes, and other assorted medical supplies and it is narrow enough that If I want 2 of them, it won’t take up that much room. If I get 2, that will give me 20 drawers for the price of 15 from Amazon. There is a small variety of different types of such drawer arrangements. There was a wooden one that would be sturdy enough to sit on but it has fewer drawers but could be stackable.
I don’t know if they are on sale or if the prices shown are the regular prices but there is plenty of stock in my local Michael’s.
I was blessed to find a colorful 20 drawer cart on craigslist for $20.
It looks like recovery from covid 19 will be slow and hard. Moving critters into simple quarters few steps out if my frontdoor. Having to reconsider how to do what needs done.
Great article. Good insight. Thank you.
Great article with a lot of “AHA!” moments for me. While we don’t homestead, I still found a lot of wonderful tips anyone should consider if their partner becomes long-term ill or injured. Thank you for taking the time to relate your experiences!
Great post! Those of us in the Golden Years have also had to adjust and find creative ways to continue doing things. I really appreciate the open shower stall idea.
Just a suggestion, when planning your livestock areas, make sure that there is a way to put hay, feed and water in the pens without having to go inside yourself. Even small livestock can knock someone down or trample them, especially if there is a bucket of feed involved! And not everyone is skilled at handling and reading livestock, so having the ability to care for them without putting anyone else in danger is a blessing.
I also try to round off pasture corners so there is a curve instead of an abrupt angle that promotes pileups and more injuries. It takes a little extra planning, but has worked well for us. I also use curved areas in the small pens to create catch pens when it’s time to vaccinate or trim hooves.
Rounded corners are best for livestock pens. Temple proved that even though no one listened at the time. Just because she was autistic.
Great article with lots of food for thought! Nobody wants to think they won’t stay in perfect health for years to come, but one also never knows. BTW, my “nick” here, Black Swan, in the writings of Nassim Taleb symbolizes an unexpected major disaster.
We also have built a small corral, which we will henceforth call the People’s Paddock, which is good not only for people recovering from injuries, but for visitors who are unfamiliar with animals and don’t feel like being head-bumped by a playful 3-year-old horse who thinks the only reason humans venture out back is to play tag with large animals. It has a solid built-in bench, a table and chairs, and a tarp that serves as a windbreak.
Last month we had our deteriorating back deck removed, and after re-pointing the stone and repairing some squirrel-chewed boards under it, we will replace it as the author suggests with handicapped-accessible new deck and entryway to the sun porch. It will have at least one ramp suitable for either a wheelchair or a walker instead of one of the former sets of stairs. I’d also like it to have built-in benches, making a fall from a chair less likely for a frail elderly person.
I’m 63 now and DH is 69, but we don’t want to be forced out of the place and into (ugggh!) assisted living any sooner than we must.
We, too, have done some advance consideration of the options of calling for an ambulance vs. drive patient to hospital. We have concluded that we would save at most 15-20 minutes by one of us driving on these back roads rather than calling for help, based on where the ambulance currently resides. That assumes we can drive just as fast with no siren to turn on if we encounter a slow-moving car in front of us, or any other hazard out of the ordinary. Also, it assumes that the patient isn’t in immediate need of oxygen or CPR, which the driver can’t provide at the same time as driving. Add to these factors that the ambulance can also be calling ahead to the emergency room so that everything is in order and waiting when the patient arrives, and pretty soon our answer is that we’re going to call the squad. That isn’t everyone’s best answer, but my point is that thinking it through, as the author suggests, is an excellent thought.
Time for me to swim on…thanks for posting this valuable article!
Should you ever find it necessary to drive someone to the emergency room because unplanned for exigencies prevent a properly equipped emergency vehicle, turn on your headlights in addition to using your horn. You can flash your headlights by lifting the headlight stalk up or pushing it down, it varies with different makes of cars. That will momentarily flash the high beams without turning them on full. It usually is in the opposite direction to turning the high beams on. Each will have to experiment with their own vehicle to determine how to momentarily activate the high beams. It tend to attract the attention of the car you are attempting to pass. It may irritate some drivers because they don’t know why you are doing it and assume the wrong reason. Another factor to ponder.
You can drive with the emergency flashers on.
Black Swan, you made my day by renaming your Safety-Corral to the World’s Second People’s Paddock. I was kind of dubious about publishing any personal experiences or advice to the internet, but this was a happy experience after all without any trolls at all. Sounds like your People’s Paddock has all the elements of total comfort along with controlled access to your playful horse — and yes, it’s worth the hassle of building an deck ramp, I’m so glad we caught you before the new construction project begins. Those darn squirrels!
Good to know I might be helping you consider writing again! This article was just the kind of thing everyone needs to read, regardless of where they live on the preparedness spectrum. I agree with you that the freedom from trolls makes this a nice crowd to hang with online.
Heheh, the bushy-tailed tree rats are indeed a pain. Two days ago I saw an enormous red-tailed hawk watching our house, and I told him that squirrels are delicious free bird food. I hope he understood!
Great post, and I’m not against driving TO the hospital. But, remember to fully scope out your emergency services before committing to that plan. Many ambulances/fire departments have trained EMTs who will have comm with the MD. If they service your area, a 911 call will get you quality medical treatment faster than you can drive to the hospital. That is, IF they are available and not out on another call. Our route to the hospital passes at least two fire stations. If you’re committed to jumping into the car, your 911 call might direct you there instead of the hospital. Lots to consider.
My only suggestion is if you feel the need to drive someone to the ED it would be to notify 911 and have the rescue meet you enroute or you drive to where it’s housed i.e fire station, ambulance Corp after notifying 911 ..being an emt cardiac(1 step below medic) in a rural area I understand your need to save time but in a trauma or cardiac event it’s unsafe for you and the patient to travel by car..
Lots of great points here. When i was sidelined for a time with a broken leg, we learned just how unprepared we were to cope with suddenly being handicapped.
One thing i’d add regarding ramps is that you want to be careful about the angle. When i was crutching it, sometimes long ,shallow steps were easier for me than the nonstop incline of the ramp.
And yes, to the wanting to help out. I felt bad not being able to do anything the first couple of weeks and was surprised at how much energy went to healing. Left very little energy to do much else.
We were not on a homestead, but i found a lot of what was written true for us, as we were in a rural location.
I disagree with point #1. The rescue squad has on board equipment to access and start treatment. They can get to the hospital faster than you can.
Hi, Mamachu, if you have a responsive EMS service, then please go for it first. I’m the guy mentioned in the article. When my artificial knee failed and shattered the lower femur as a consequence, we did call 911. Response time was slow but they got here in maybe half an hour or so. While they had good attitudes, they were woefully unprepared. No splints, braces, or other equipment suitable for immobilizing a leg. Understand that while I’m a pretty tough old bird, every time that leg moved even a fraction it shot pain up my body like an electric shock. Had we had the equipment – braces, crutches, walker, splints – that we now have, the ride to the ER would have been done with less discomfort and quicker. However, this is purely anecdotal from a remote rural area we live in. If you have better service, then please go for it in an emergency. You’d be smart to do so. In any event, I hope you never have to make the call! Stay well and be safe.
I thank you for this article. I have several takeaways from it.
We live 30 minutes from the nearest hospital. I recently had a fall and dislocated my shoulder and had multiple fractures in 3 ribs. I had to call the ambulance and they snowed me as soon as I was in the truck and I woke up in the hospital.
I would like to suggest though, that when making the decision to drive to the hospital, there are many things that can happen on the way.
Once you leave the house, if the patient takes a turn for the worst, there are many places between our house and the hospital that doesn’t have cell service. Unless you track the mailbox numbers, you don’t have an address for where you are for the ambulance to meet you. Also, you can’t drive and treat a patient at the same time. It is easy for a serious injury or incident to go downhill in 30 minutes.
I was a paramedic up until a couple of years ago. Not all ambulances are the same, but there was very Little emergent care that could be done in the ED that I couldn’t do in the back of my ambulance.
Call 911 from your cell phone and verify it is mapped to your address so it pops up on the screen if you call and can’t speak. Give them any special notes to add to the database. (Turn left at the 2nd gate, Dogs don’t bite, someone in home is diabetic or on O2, whatever) this info can be forwarded to responders.
Visit your local ambulance base and talk to them about their capabilities and verify they are familiar with your address.
Just my opinion.
This article is invaluable to us living at a ranch a 20 minute drive to ER. Maybe you could do a follow up article on exactly what is on your crash cart and bag that would be universal, such as canisters of Boost for those needing 02 in emergencies. My husband would go into anaphylactic shock if stung by bees (which you might find in any large dead limb of our giant Cottonwood trees) so having epinephrine at home as well as in his pocket is a necessary item at all times.
Thanks so much for sharing.
This has been the best article I have read in a very long time. You were able to tell your story in such a way it painted a picture (even though you did add some pic’s) – I am no where close to where you and Chuck are with your homestead – but a good read like this helps me to be more aware in the area’s where I need to prepare. It would be great if you could do a blog or occasional writing on the practical stuff (like what you wrote about in this article). Good stuff!
EXCELLENT! We live inside city limits of a small city, so have no sheep or large dogs, but because our daughter is disabled, already have the ramps & handicapped bathroom. LOOVE the idea of drawers for 1st aid – much better than our multiple fishing tackle boxes!
Thank you for this contiuuing thread.
TEMPLE needs broader recognition.
Chris: Well done! niio
Great article! My dad was here when he had a stroke. We loaded my parents in the backseat and drove to town with the headlights on a flashing setting. 19 minutes to the hospital. Usual time for an ambulance to come was 30 minutes.
When my arm was broken we set it.
There is now a reservation hospital 1 mile away. Ambulance time 8 minutes average. Anyone can be seen there but to be in a hospital you have to go to either the small town 15 miles away or a big city 50 miles away.
My shower is a walk in with built in seating. If in a wheelchair the door and frame of shower front would have to be removed and a curtain added.
I but critter feed 6 months at a time. One neighbor helps out. Feeds critters, drives me to Dr et. Husband has Alzheimers. He picked up groceries and perscriptions when I was sick with covid 19. My hero! My regaining strength is slow so he’s still been helping out.
I would love to be able to converse with Chris because of my hubby and my condition. I absolutely loved this article and gleaned a good deal of information.