Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away, and it is time to plan, prepare and purchase those critical must-have items – the emergency supplies!

My stockpiled pantry is usually flexible enough to accommodate surprise needs. You know the ones I mean : my sister comes to visit and she is on a sugar free, soy free, no fruit diet that started out Mediterranean, but now has changed to South Beach. Or, my Mom can only have non-fat milk, but she won’t drink it unless it is served from a Low fat milk carton. Even better, my nieces and nephews who were fine with eating broccoli just two days ago will now only eat pizza with the latest “hot” toppings. Finally there was the relative whose preferences in grains used to make bread changed from white flour to wheat, then successively changed to buckwheat, gluten-free wheat, and, last but not least, organic oatbran meal. Sure, I can handle all of that – usually.

This summer was a bit different: very, very busy. The weather was unseasonably cool and wet, which led to squash bugs invading our plot of organic zucchini, black mold spots on our organic tomatoes, and, of course, the occasional intrusion of wild rabbits and a young, hungry ground hog inside the fence surrounding the garden plot. There was a lot of garden maintenance, harvesting, and preserving to be completed. Additionally, a heavy storm blew some roof shingles off, so they had to be replaced, along with a chimney cap. There was the wasp infestation of the chimney, a case or two of poison ivy, medical issues and doctor’s appointments, and so on. In short, there really wasn’t much time available to go shopping for groceries. I shopped twice this summer and relied heavily on my stockpile to meet our daily needs. And it did, but by the end of summer, things were looking lean.

I live a real life, so it was at precisely this point that a surprise disaster struck our household. My lovely sister, who hasn’t been able to visit for a couple of years, decided to come out and help me get things ready for the holidays: party planning, menus, lists, baking, freezing, shopping for gifts, buying supplies to make toys and clothing, getting the entire family on the same sheet of music, so to speak, regarding holiday schedules and events. Sigh, the best laid plans…

She arrived on a late flight on a Saturday evening with what seemed to be nothing more than a dry, tickly throat. By the next evening, she was sneezing and coughing hard enough to literally rattle the windows. Over the next few days, her fever, sinus congestion and lung congestion worsened until she became a semi-delirious, walking cough machine: yery real, uncontrollable, full throated coughing.

To her credit, she spent the majority of the time resting in the guest bedroom and occasionally using the guest bathroom upstairs. But sickness can be lonely and tedious, so, from time to time, she would make her way downstairs to visit for an hour or two, coughing all the while. My DH became truly aware of the seriousness of the problem when he entered the downstairs guest bathroom a short while after my sister had finished using it and found a dried-on sputum splatter pattern covering the entire surface of the five foot tall by three foot wide mirror sitting above the bathroom sink. As he later described it to me, it resembled one of those big blood splatter patterns from a gruesome murder on one of those criminal investigation shows on TV.

I do love my sister very much, so out came the cold and flu supplies from my stockpile: thermometer with sanitary covers, 20 boxes of Kleenex, lined personal garbage cans, over the counter daytime and nighttime cold medicine (including diabetic formulations), cough drops, tea, basically the works. Meals were modified: Ham was transformed into an ingredient for homemade split pea soup and lentil soup, the veggie tray was blended into a hearty vegetable soup, and I made up some light whole wheat dinner rolls to provide some solid food to go along with the nearly continuous feed of soup to my sister. We also provided Ensure and Boost for quick liquid nutrition, as well as Gatorade and Propel to restore electrolytes – all from my stockpile.

Keeping things clean and sanitary became the other half of the battle, so my DH and I pulled out the stockpiled supplies of rubber gloves, disinfecting wipes, Lysol spray, Oust spray, toilet cleaner, and more garbage bags than we would ever normally use in one week’s time. There was also a great deal of laundry to be handled, requiring a special brand of detergent for sensitive skin for my sisters clothing, sheets, towels, blankets, etc. It was pretty much a continuous process of cleanup and decontamination every day. Mercifully, my stockpiled supplies were sufficient for the task.

Even though she was still sick the following Friday, my sister was allowed to board a cross country flight, and she made the long journey back to the west coast so she could try to be back to work the following Monday. Of course, over exposed as we were, it was about this time that my DH and I began to experience a dry tickle in the back of our throats. Having to spend the weekend thoroughly scrubbing and decontaminating the house only added to our misery. In terms of our health, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was the unbelievable amount of dried-on mucus we removed from nearly every surface in the house, both high and low, and even from my poor Pembroke Welsh Corgie’s fur. (It’s rare that he wants and enjoys a bath, but on that day he seemed genuinely thankful to have been cleaned up.) By Monday morning, both my DH and I were truly sick and made our way immediately to our doctor. Many prescriptions later, both he and I were following doctor’s orders to stay at home and rest for at least a week. Ack! Once again, my stockpiled supply of food, meds, and cleaning supplies saved the day.

I rarely think about stockpiling supplies for illnesses that a guest can bring into our home. But this season, it proved to be incredibly important. If you are interested in doing the same, a good source of information is the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. Also, most manufacturers of cold and flu medications and disinfecting supplies are offering coupons and discounts now through January. Consider stocking up on a few critical supplies, so that you can be prepared…before company comes for a visit!

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