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).
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.
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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