Communion Of Dreams


Looking back: Being prepared.

While I’m on a bit of vacation, I have decided to re-post some items from the first year of this blog (2007).  This item first ran on December 29, 2007.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As I have mentioned previously, I enjoy shooting. And I carry a concealed weapon (legally – by permit and where allowed by law) pretty much all the time. This isn’t paranoia, just a simple recognition that we live in an unpredictable and sometimes dangerous world. That same mindset applies to preparations for any kind of small-scale disaster, whether natural or man-made. If you live in the Midwest, you understand that power outages occur due to weather (tornadoes in Spring, Summer, and Fall, ice-storms in Winter), and that you may need to be self-reliant for days or even a couple of weeks. I’ve long abided by the Scout motto of “Be Prepared”, and while you wouldn’t find a years worth of supplies and a generator cached here, we could manage pretty easily for a period of a couple of months. That’s not too far off what is recommended by both the government and independent health agencies. As I’ve discussed, the onset of a pandemic flu may well cause a disruption of normal economic activity for a prolonged period, and I cite such a disaster as the background for Communion of Dreams.

Anyway, in an accident during one shooting trip this fall I managed to slice open my right thumb pretty well. I had ridden out to the family farm where I usually shoot with one of my buddies, so didn’t have my car, which contains a fairly complete first-aid kit. And, as it turned out, my buddy didn’t have any kind of first aid supplies in his car. We improvised a bandage from stuff in my gun cleaning kit, and things were OK. When I got home, I added a real first aid kit to my ‘range bag’, and didn’t think much more about it.

Then, a couple of weeks later I was back out at the farm with my BIL. We were walking the border of the property adjacent to a state park and marking it as private, since a lot of people don’t bother to keep track of where they are and we’ve had a lot of tresspassing. At one point down in a secluded valley my BIL and I paused for a breather, and just out of curiosity I checked to see if I had a signal for my cell phone. Nope. Hmm.

Now, it was nice weather, just a tad cool and damp when we set out. But it was November, and the leaves were slick in places where a fall could easily result in a twisted knee or a broken bone. I got to thinking – if I were on my own, what did I have with me that I could use in the event of an emergency? Oh, I had plenty of stuff in my car – but that was the better part of a mile away. What did I have on my person?

In truth, I was in better shape than most people would likely be in such a situation. I always have a Leatherman multi-tool on my belt, a small LED flashlight on my keychain, and a pistol and ammo. But still, since I don’t smoke I’m not in the habit of carrying matches or a lighter, I once again didn’t have any first-aid items, et cetera. I had stuck a small bottle of water in my jacket pocket, but that would hardly last long. I could probably cobble together some kind of splint or impromptu crutch, but it would be a challenge to get out of such a situation on my own.

When I got home I got to doing a bit of research about emergency survival kits. Google that, and you’ll come up with about 30,000 hits to sites offering everything from bomb shelters to equipment for first responders. Not particularly helpful. I decided to take a different tack, and started to think about what I wanted to have in a kit small enough that I would *always* have it with me. I set my goal for constructing a kit which would fit into an Altoids tin, since that is small enough to easily slip into any pocket.

This problem has been tackled by others, and there are actually some such small kits for sale that’ll run you upwards of $50. I looked over the commercially available kits, saw what others have done to solve the problems inherent in such a project, and came up with the following:

kit02a.jpg

What you see there is:

  • Surgical Mask (can also be used as a bandage)
  • Fresnell lens for magnification or starting fires
  • 20mm bubble compass
  • Single-edged razor blade
  • Suture pack (curved needle mounted with suture thread)
  • Band-aids & steri-strips
  • Antibiotic packet
  • Emergency whistle
  • Superglue (repairs, fabrication, wound sealant)
  • Mini-lighter
  • Cotton tinder tabs
  • Water purification tablets (can also be used as antiseptic)
  • 30′ of Spiderwire (15 lbs test)
  • Safety pins
  • Small ziplock bag for water
  • Cash
  • Painkillers
  • Benadryl (anti-histamine, sedative)
  • Anti-diarrheal tablets

Yes, it all fits in the Altoids tin. Just. It is not entirely satisfactory, as I would have liked to have a large piece (say 18″x24″) of heavy-duty aluminum foil, a couple of garbage bags, some lightweight steel wire, maybe some duct tape or heavier cord. But it is a pretty good start – any small kit like this is by necessity an exercise in trade-offs. (Edited to add 06/01/08: I wrapped about 15′ of 24ga steel wire around the mini-lighter in a single layer, tightly wrapped.  Takes up almost no additional room, and will be easy to unwrap for use.)

In searching out the items I wanted (difficult to find items linked to my sources), it became clear that in some cases I would spend more on shipping for some of the components than I would for the actual items. So I made one such kit for myself, and another half dozen to give to friends. That got the cost down to under $10 each (not including the cash, obviously).

Your best survival tool in any situation is your brain. But it doesn’t hurt to have a few advantages in the form of useful items close at hand. With this small kit, and what I usually have with me anyway, I am reasonably well prepared to deal with most situations that I can envision. And I thought that since I went to the trouble to construct it, I would put the information about it here for anyone else who might have some use for it.

Jim Downey



“If we have a pandemic, pray hard.”

One of the ‘front page’ writers at Daily Kos is very much concerned about public health issues, and preparations for a pandemic or other public health emergency.  He’s also one of the people responsible for the Flu Wiki.  He had a good post up today at dKos about how this issue is playing out in the current presidential election.  In the discussion of that post, there was one comment in which the author said this:

Our Emergency Rooms are in Chaos Now …

…without a pandemic.

We are in no way prepared for anything out of the normal. Republican misrule has mazimized corporate profits in medicine while minimizing social welfare benefits. Unprofitable activities like emergency preparedness have gone wanting.

If we have a pandemic, pray hard.

I am not a person of faith.  I don’t write about that much here, though if you follow any of my links over to UTI, you’ll certainly see what I have to say about religion there.  So the thought of praying for help in a pandemic would never occur to me – I would much rather do something practical to prepare for such an emergency, like getting our hospitals ready.

And I don’t think that the author of that comment is saying that we should only rely on prayer – just expressing some exasperation with the current situation, the current mindset about what role hospitals play in our society.  Daily Kos is, after all, a blog devoted to electing progressive democrats and pushing liberal values like a good universal health system.

Anyway, first consider how prepared you are for a possible pandemic, earthquake, whatever.  Personally.  You have to take responsibility for yourself and your family.  As I have written before, there are a lot of good resources with excellent information on what steps you can take to insure your own survival in an emergency.  And then investigate what steps you can take to help your local government, your community, to better prepare.  It is a very complex problem, and they will likely welcome your help.  This will be a step I will likely be looking into in the future, now that our care-giving responsibilities are done and I am recovering.

If prayer is important to you, then by all means, pray.  But that shouldn’t stop you from doing what you can to also prepare in more tangible ways.

Jim Downey



Who will die?

Well, we all will, unless there’s some sort of miracle breakthrough in medicine or technology. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Rather, I’m talking about something anyone who has thought about it much has probably already assumed is true: that in the event of a large-scale pandemic, procedures will be put into effect by medical authorities to determine who will be treated and who will be allowed to die.

This is called triage. And to the best of my knowledge, for the first time such procedures are being publicly put forth as being applicable for all hospitals in the US, in recognition that it is better to have consistent and uniform criteria already in place before a disaster hits. The May issue of CHEST, the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), today carried a supplement titled Definitive Care for the Critically Ill During a Disaster. From the press release on the ACCP website:

(NORTHBROOK, IL, May 5, 2008)—In an unprecedented initiative, US and Canadian experts have developed a comprehensive framework to optimize and manage critical care resources during times of pandemic outbreaks or other mass critical care disasters. The new proposal suggests legally protecting clinicians who follow accepted protocols for the allocation of scarce resources when providing care during mass critical care events. The framework represents a major step forward to uniformly deliver sufficient critical care during catastrophes and maximize the number of victims who have access to potential life-saving interventions.

“Most countries, including the United States, have insufficient critical care resources to provide timely, usual care for a surge of critically ill and injured victims,” said Asha Devereaux, MD, FCCP, Task Force for Mass Critical Care. “If a mass casualty critical care event occurred tomorrow, many people with clinical conditions that are survivable under usual health-care system circumstances may have to forgo life-sustaining interventions due to deficiencies in supply, staffing, or space.” As a result, the Task Force for Mass Critical Care developed an emergency mass critical care (EMCC) framework for hospitals and public health authorities aimed to maximize effective critical care surge capacity.

So, is this just good public health planning? Well, yes. But it is also very sobering to read the following:

The proposed guidelines are designed to be a blueprint for hospitals “so that everybody will be thinking in the same way” when pandemic flu or another widespread health care disaster hits, said Dr. Asha Devereaux. She is a critical care specialist in San Diego and lead writer of the task force report.

“When”. Emphasis mine. Not “if”. The news report goes further:

Bentley said it’s not the first time this type of approach has been recommended for a catastrophic pandemic, but that “this is the most detailed one I have seen from a professional group.”

While the notion of rationing health care is unpleasant, the report could help the public understand that it will be necessary, Bentley said.

Devereaux said compiling the list “was emotionally difficult for everyone.”

That’s partly because members believe it’s just a matter of time before such a health care disaster hits, she said.

“You never know,” Devereaux said. “SARS took a lot of folks by surprise. We didn’t even know it existed.”

Again, emphasis mine.

I’ve written many times about the possibility of widespread flu or some other kind of pandemic. Partly this is just because such a catastrophe sets the stage for Communion of Dreams. But more importantly – and this is even part of the reason *why* I wrote Communion of Dreams – is that I don’t think that people give this matter nearly enough thought.

It is good to see that the public health authorities are taking this step. And I was heartened to hear about it on NPR as I started to compose this post. Maybe it will prompt people to stop and think for a moment about what they themselves should be doing to prepare for some kind of pandemic or other disruption. Because I bet that almost no one you know is actually ready to ride out such an event – and by the time you hear of a pandemic starting, it will be too late to get everything you will need to increase the chances of you and your loved ones surviving. This is not fear-mongering; this is taking some reasonable precautions – the same sorts of precautions that have lead to the development of this new triage plan. If you want to know more, check out the Flu Wiki (where they also link to this resource).

Yeah, we’re all gonna die. And I can easily imagine disaster scenarios where I would not want to live. But I sure as hell don’t want to die needlessly from something I can avoid, or ride out with a little advance prep.

Jim Downey



Being prepared.

As I have mentioned previously, I enjoy shooting. And I carry a concealed weapon (legally – by permit and where allowed by law) pretty much all the time. This isn’t paranoia, just a simple recognition that we live in an unpredictable and sometimes dangerous world. That same mindset applies to preparations for any kind of small-scale disaster, whether natural or man-made. If you live in the Midwest, you understand that power outages occur due to weather (tornadoes in Spring, Summer, and Fall, ice-storms in Winter), and that you may need to be self-reliant for days or even a couple of weeks. I’ve long abided by the Scout motto of “Be Prepared”, and while you wouldn’t find a years worth of supplies and a generator cached here, we could manage pretty easily for a period of a couple of months. That’s not too far off what is recommended by both the government and independent health agencies. As I’ve discussed, the onset of a pandemic flu may well cause a disruption of normal economic activity for a prolonged period, and I cite such a disaster as the background for Communion of Dreams.

Anyway, in an accident during one shooting trip this fall I managed to slice open my right thumb pretty well. I had ridden out to the family farm where I usually shoot with one of my buddies, so didn’t have my car, which contains a fairly complete first-aid kit. And, as it turned out, my buddy didn’t have any kind of first aid supplies in his car. We improvised a bandage from stuff in my gun cleaning kit, and things were OK. When I got home, I added a real first aid kit to my ‘range bag’, and didn’t think much more about it.

Then, a couple of weeks later I was back out at the farm with my BIL. We were walking the border of the property adjacent to a state park and marking it as private, since a lot of people don’t bother to keep track of where they are and we’ve had a lot of tresspassing. At one point down in a secluded valley my BIL and I paused for a breather, and just out of curiosity I checked to see if I had a signal for my cell phone. Nope. Hmm.

Now, it was nice weather, just a tad cool and damp when we set out. But it was November, and the leaves were slick in places where a fall could easily result in a twisted knee or a broken bone. I got to thinking – if I were on my own, what did I have with me that I could use in the event of an emergency? Oh, I had plenty of stuff in my car – but that was the better part of a mile away. What did I have on my person?

In truth, I was in better shape than most people would likely be in such a situation. I always have a Leatherman multi-tool on my belt, a small LED flashlight on my keychain, and a pistol and ammo. But still, since I don’t smoke I’m not in the habit of carrying matches or a lighter, I once again didn’t have any first-aid items, et cetera. I had stuck a small bottle of water in my jacket pocket, but that would hardly last long. I could probably cobble together some kind of splint or impromptu crutch, but it would be a challenge to get out of such a situation on my own.

When I got home I got to doing a bit of research about emergency survival kits. Google that, and you’ll come up with about 30,000 hits to sites offering everything from bomb shelters to equipment for first responders. Not particularly helpful. I decided to take a different tack, and started to think about what I wanted to have in a kit small enough that I would *always* have it with me. I set my goal for constructing a kit which would fit into an Altoids tin, since that is small enough to easily slip into any pocket.

This problem has been tackled by others, and there are actually some such small kits for sale that’ll run you upwards of $50. I looked over the commercially available kits, saw what others have done to solve the problems inherent in such a project, and came up with the following:

kit02a.jpg

What you see there is:

  • Surgical Mask (can also be used as a bandage)
  • Fresnell lens for magnification or starting fires
  • 20mm bubble compass
  • Single-edged razor blade
  • Suture pack (curved needle mounted with suture thread)
  • Band-aids & steri-strips
  • Antibiotic packet
  • Emergency whistle
  • Superglue (repairs, fabrication, wound sealant)
  • Mini-lighter
  • Cotton tinder tabs
  • Water purification tablets (can also be used as antiseptic)
  • 30′ of Spiderwire (15 lbs test)
  • Safety pins
  • Small ziplock bag for water
  • Cash
  • Painkillers
  • Benadryl (anti-histamine, sedative)
  • Anti-diarrheal tablets

Yes, it all fits in the Altoids tin. Just. It is not entirely satisfactory, as I would have liked to have a large piece (say 18″x24″) of heavy-duty aluminum foil, a couple of garbage bags, some lightweight steel wire, maybe some duct tape or heavier cord. But it is a pretty good start – any small kit like this is by necessity an exercise in trade-offs. (Edited to add 06/01/08: I wrapped about 15′ of 24ga steel wire around the mini-lighter in a single layer, tightly wrapped.  Takes up almost no additional room, and will be easy to unwrap for use.)

In searching out the items I wanted (difficult to find items linked to my sources), it became clear that in some cases I would spend more on shipping for some of the components than I would for the actual items. So I made one such kit for myself, and another half dozen to give to friends. That got the cost down to under $10 each (not including the cash, obviously).

Your best survival tool in any situation is your brain. But it doesn’t hurt to have a few advantages in the form of useful items close at hand. With this small kit, and what I usually have with me anyway, I am reasonably well prepared to deal with most situations that I can envision. And I thought that since I went to the trouble to construct it, I would put the information about it here for anyone else who might have some use for it.

Jim Downey



Flu? What flu?

It’s been a little while since I’ve written about our old friend H5N1 – the “Avian Flu” virus. Partly this is because I like to keep my posts varied according to topic (which is a nice way of saying my attention wanders a lot these days). Partly, though, is because the mainstream media pays little attention to the threat of this flu virus as a general rule. Which is curious, given the potential threat it presents and the amount of governmental effort going into tracking and preparation for a possible epidemic/pandemic. Even if you take the cynical view that our news is event/entertainment-driven, you’d think with the release of I am Legend, the latest adaptation of Richard Matheson‘s SF novel of the same name, would be a natural tie-in to news about the flu.

Because yes, there is indeed news about the flu:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – International health experts have been dispatched to Pakistan to help investigate the cause of South Asia’s first outbreak of bird flu in people and determine if the virus could have been transmitted through human contact, officials said Sunday.

Four brothers — two of whom died — and two cousins from Abbotabad, a small city about 30 miles north of Islamabad, were suspected of being infected by the H5N1 virus, said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl in Geneva. A man and his niece from the same area who had slaughtered chickens were also suspected of having the virus.

Another person in a separate case who slaughtered poultry in nearby Mansehra, 15 miles away, also tested positive for the disease, he said.

And if you saw either this diary on the front page of Daily Kos yesterday or check out the Flu Wiki, then you’d know that the situation is even potentially more troubling. From the Daily Kos diary:

See Flu Wiki’s Sunday wrap-up for the week’s documented human and bird cases, courtesy of the wiki volunteers who track cases around the world – helpful to CDC and WHO and other public health officials as they do their work (more than a few have written me that they stop there to get the morning news – this is netroots activism applied to public health!). Not only are there new human cases scattered throughout Asia (including Pakistan, Burma, China and Indonesia, all of whom are less than than transparent about internal news), there are also new bird cases of H5N1 in Germany, Poland, Russia, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia (and the hadj is soon, 1.5 million pilgrims expected).

Now, I’m not claiming that it’s the end of the world. Or even the end of what passes for civilization. But I do find it somewhat curious that this reality gets so little press attention, even when there is an obvious entertainment tie-in that can be made to the latest big-budget post-apocalyptic movie. Odd.

Well, when I do get back around to trying to find an agent or publisher for Communion of Dreams, at least I’ll be able to point to the ongoing threat of a pandemic flu that exists. Provided, of course, that the pandemic isn’t already underway.

Jim Downey



Fear the Zombie Amoeba

You’ve probably seen it – the media is filled with reports of the brain-eating amoeba which has killed six. Here’s a sample:

PHOENIX – It sounds like science fiction but it’s true: A killer amoeba living in lakes enters the body through the nose and attacks the brain where it feeds until you die.

Even though encounters with the microscopic bug are extraordinarily rare, it’s killed six boys and young men this year. The spike in cases has health officials concerned, and they are predicting more cases in the future.

“This is definitely something we need to track,” said Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational waterborne illnesses for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better,” Beach said. “In future decades, as temperatures rise, we’d expect to see more cases.”

Scary, eh? And tying it to climate change makes it even moreso.

But explain to me why this is more frightening than the 8 new cases of Ebola reported in Congo. The Ebola hemorrhagic fever family of viruses have no treatment, no vaccine, a mortality rate up to 90%, and are easily passed from person to person.

Or why six people dying from swimming in lakes is worse than the 65 people who have died already this year from H5N1, according to the FluWiki. This influenza virus (and related variants) is considered to be the most likely cause of the next global pandemic.

Oh, never mind. I know why – because it’s here in the US. And it eats brains. And it is an easy connection to the effects of climate change. And because it is new. Fear sells, as I discussed in comments in this post a couple of weeks back.

But really, either Ebola or H5N1 are a much greater threat, as any public health official or doctor will tell you.  They just don’t have the cool name of “Zombie Amoeba.”

Jim Downey



It came from outer space…

Fulfilling about 2/3 of all Science Fiction tropes ever created, it seems that there may be a connection with the impact of a meteorite and a mystery illness in a rural Peruvian village:

LIMA (AFP) – Villagers in southern Peru were struck by a mysterious illness after a meteorite made a fiery crash to Earth in their area, regional authorities said Monday.

Around midday Saturday, villagers were startled by an explosion and a fireball that many were convinced was an airplane crashing near their remote village, located in the high Andes department of Puno in the Desaguadero region, near the border with Bolivia.

Residents complained of headaches and vomiting brought on by a “strange odor,” local health department official Jorge Lopez told Peruvian radio RPP.

It wasn’t a little thing, either – it left an impact crater reported to be about 100′ wide and 20′ deep.

Now,  it remains to be seen whether this is anything more than a simple case of mass hysteria.  I mean, if you’re some llama herder and a big damn fireball lands outside your village, it’d be pretty easy to get a case of the vapours over it.

But that don’t mean that it isn’t possible that there’s actually something to this.  Panspermia (or more narrowly, exogenesis) has some fairly solid evidence behind it, enough to suggest that it is possible that there is some form of life capable of surviving coming to Earth on a meteor.  And, if that form of life is similar enough to us, it could become a problem.  A problem our biology might not be able to handle.  One that would make a pandemic flu look like a nice little summer cold.  One that generations of SF writers have speculated about.  Except that in this case, it might actually be true.

Frightened yet?

Jim Downey

(Via BoingBoing.) 



Over 5,000
September 12, 2007, 8:50 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Book Conservation, Feedback, Flu Wiki, Promotion, Publishing, Writing stuff

Brief note – thanks, I think, in large part to folks from the Flu Wiki, I’ve had over 600 downloads of the novel in the last 36 hours or so.  That puts the total downloads over 5,100.

I guess I really should get off my butt and contact some agents again.  Too bad I’m exhausted – my MIL had a rough night of it (I was on call), and I have a backlog of conservation work to catch up on.

But I thought I’d share the good news.  Maybe more later today – right now I need a nap.

Jim Downey



Flu Wiki
September 11, 2007, 1:19 pm
Filed under: Flu, Flu Wiki, Government, Health, Pandemic, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, Society

Another post today – there’s a Flu Wiki which may be of interest to folks who read this blog.  From the site:

The purpose of the Flu Wiki is to help local communities prepare for and perhaps cope with a possible influenza pandemic. This is a task previously ceded to local, state and national governmental public health agencies. Our goal is to be:

  • a reliable source of information, as neutral as possible, about important facts useful for a public health approach to pandemic influenza
  • a venue for anticipating the vast range of problems that may arise if a pandemic does occur
  • a venue for thinking about implementable solutions to foreseeable problems

Looks like a great resource, and since someone on the related forum was kind enough to post a link to Communion of Dreams as a “SF novel about post-pandemic world”, I thought the least I could do is return the favor.  Because sure as hell, we’re going to get hit by a pandemic flu one of these days, and the more resources people have available about how to cope, the better.

Jim Downey