Karalyn Huxhagen looks at helping new parents, particularly during trying times and natural disasters

Parenting comes with lots of advice, books to read, YouTube to watch and a thousand tales from family and friends. Like Google you have to sort the wood from the trees and, as a first-timer, this is really hard to do. There is no manual to tell you what is fact or fiction.

So where do they go for help? Local pharmacists are available lots of hours every day of the week. Just a word of caution in that the advice that I now give after having children is a little more tainted with reality than the advice I gave as a non-mother clinician.

Right now post Cyclone Debbie I am seeing the following:

  • Stressed parents;
  • Heat exhaustion;
  • Blisters, sunburn, cracked lips;
  • School sores;
  • Burns from sap from foliage;
  • Gastroenteritis-food poisoning, contaminated water, no sewerage;
  • Insect bites that are festering and growing to cellulitis quickly;
  • Urinary tract infections;
  • Fungal infections;
  • Uncontrollable itch-heat, living conditions, humidity; and
  • Scratches, cuts, broken limbs.

The stress of living without bare essentials such as power, water, telephone, internet and sanitation is trying for the best of us, let alone for new parents. I have customers telling me that their pregnant partners are sleeping in the car as the heat at home with no power is driving them insane. Affordability of hotels and hostels are beyond most of my patients.

As a pharmacist I have supplied medications to help with the maladies. I have called Medicare to gain access to Medicare numbers, as you cannot apply for disaster relief without your Medicare number and for some that card is buried or lost. I have given direction to the nearest disaster relief centre and supplied medications on credit, as that is what you do when the world has had a severe tilt.

First-time parents and parents to be are full of apprehension and concerns. Right now they are even more vulnerable as their basic living assets are compromised.

On the first day of the cyclone, a lady walked into the pharmacy and said, “I am contagious but I need to talk to you”. Her husband had been in the day before to ask for help. This lady is 20 weeks pregnant with their first child and is covered in chicken pox. Two doctors had dismissed her early spots as not being of concern and then on Sunday morning she was covered in spots which were in her throat, hair and private areas. The GP on duty had sent her in for calamine lotion!

I isolated her in the consulting room and then gave her my undivided attention. Here we were with a cyclone about to blow us to the other side of the universe and she was in pretty bad shape for a pregnancy at 20 weeks. Apart from the risks to her and the baby how would she cope with the itch and spots with no power for air-conditioning or fans?

I gave her my best efforts for controlling the itch and how to minimise scarring and damage to her body. I recommended that she attend the hospital and ask for a review by the paediatrician. The hospital at least had power and cool air!

This is just one example of first-time parents that come through the door. Another young mother had a blood pressure of 210/130 and a pulse of 90. She had pushed her pram in the heat to the pharmacy as she felt really unwell. After a long sit down in the cool, it was not much better and she was sent for a GP consult.

Right now as a pharmacist all I can do is be either at the end of a telephone giving advice or working in the pharmacy when I can actually drive safely to it! I redirected the pharmacy telephone to my mobile when I left on the day of the cyclone. There have been many calls and I have done my best to support the community around me. Sometimes for a new mum and dad, or an about-to-be mum and dad, all you have to be is the voice of reason and calmness.

Cyclone Debbie’s legacy will be a long journey and there are many people hurting badly. As community pharmacists it is our role to be accessible and to give as much as we can.