Emergency Preparedness for People with Cancer

Flooded Street.jpgIn the past few weeks, devastating hurricanes and earthquakes have forced people out of their homes and away from their cancer care facilities, highlighting a need for better education and preparedness surrounding the medical consequences of natural disasters. Emergency situations such as a hurricane, earthquake, blizzard, flood, or blackout, are unpreventable and can drive a city into disarray in a matter of hours – but the more preemptive thinking and planning that people do prior to a catastrophic event, the better equipped they will be to respond. This is especially true for people with cancer, who must be particularly cautious during such times, as they are often more susceptible to infection or injury.

Follow these 5 tips to help minimize the harm that a natural disaster or public emergency can cause to your personal health:

Travel with Caution
Since extreme weather can cause travel delays both on roads and throughout public transportation, be sure to allow extra time to make it to your appointment safely. You may also want to consider staying in a hotel near the hospital to avoid hazardous commuting conditions before and after your appointment, especially if you’ll be in and out of the facility more than once within a few days. Some programs, such as the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge in Manhattan and Extended Stay America’s Hotel Keys of Hope help to alleviate the financial burden of traveling away from home to receive treatment by offering guest rooms for people undergoing cancer care. If you are uncertain about travel conditions, call Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian’s (WCM/NYP) emergency hotline at 212-746-9262.

Stay in Touch
If you are due for an infusion or injection during an episode of severe weather or other emergency, contact your doctor to discuss the risks versus benefits of finding a safe way to get to WCM/NYP’s treatment center, finding an alternative temporary treatment center, or possibly delaying treatment. In case you do need to seek treatment at an alternative facility, reach out to your insurance provider for help, and bring your insurance card with you to any clinical visits.

Know Your Info
Be aware of your exact diagnosis and disease stage, as well as where you are in the chemotherapy or radiation treatment cycle (if applicable). If you are a participant in a clinical trial, know the trial number, principal investigator (PI), and treatments involved. Should you forget any details pertaining to your medical records, you can easily consult Weill Cornell Connect, WCM/NYP’s secure online health connection that allows you to communicate with your doctor, access test results, request prescription refills, and manage appointments – anywhere, anytime.

Power Through Outages
Power outages frequently accompany extreme weather conditions, and it is vital to prepare accordingly. In the event that you cannot charge your mobile devices or access the Internet, you will want to have physical backup of important medical information, so record the names and dosages of all the medications you take, and keep copies of prescription slips that contain your health care providers’ names and contact information. Also note that some medications that require refrigeration may lose potency in temperature variation. In the event of a blackout, they should be replaced as soon as possible.

Pack the Essentials
Keep a first aid kit including basic essentials like extra bandages and gauze compresses, antiseptic wipes and ointments, over-the-counter pain relief medicines, and 3-4 days’ supply of any oral medications you may be required to take. Medication in its original container may be subject to contamination if exposed to flood water and is best stored in a sealable bag (Ziploc, for example) ahead of a natural disaster. Look to replace any medication that does not appear dry.

In general, but especially after severe inclement weather, be sure to communicate with your cancer care team if anything out of the ordinary happened (such as running out of medication or receiving treatment at an alternative facility) during the emergency episode so that they can update your medical records.

All of the physician practices at WCM/NYP have coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but even in the rare event that the outpatient center is closed, the emergency department will likely be open. In the case of a medical emergency, dial 212-472-2222 or 911.

Wishing everyone a safe fall and winter season!