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Post-Grid Hygiene Considerations

February 11, 2019

Originally Published in two parts, February 2014

 

 

Hygiene (noun)

1: A science of the establishment and maintenance of health.

2: Conditions or practices (as of cleanliness conducive to health.

–Merriam-Webster Dictionary (from merriam-webster.com)

Hygiene (noun)

1: The science that deals with the promotion and preservation of health. Also called hygienics.

2: Conditions and practices that serve to promote or preserve health: hygiene in the workplace; personal hygiene.

–Oxford English Dictionary (from thefreedictionary.com)

 

Thou shalt have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad: and though shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee.

–Deut 23:13-13, King James Version, Holy Bible

Further, there shall be an area for you outside the camp, where you may relieve yourself. With your ear you shall have a spike, and when you have squatted you shall dig a hole with it and cover up your excrement.

–Deut 23:13-14 Jewish Study Bible

(According to the JSB, this rule is covered in greater detail in the Dead Sea Scrolls’ War Scroll and Temple Scroll. –J.M.)

But it will come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statements which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee; and overtake thee…

…The Lord shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew, and they shall pursue thee until thou perish.

–Deut 28:15-22 King James Version, Holy Bible

But if you do not obey the Lord your God to observe faithfully all his commandments and laws which I enjoin upon you this day…

…the Lord will make pestilence cling to you, until He has put an end to you in the land that you are entering to possess. The Lord will strike you with consumption, fever, and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew; they shall hound you until you perish.”

–Deut 28:15-22 Jewish Study Bible

It’s no secret to long-time readers that I’m not Christian (nor am I Jewish). Regardless of your faith, or lack of faith, in any particular form of divinity however, the fact is, modern science has pretty well demonstrated that the Mosaic hygiene laws are a pretty good place to start when considering what hygiene in primitive conditions should look like. One of the “interesting” (?) historical side notes of the schism between Christianity and Judaism, following the life and death of Christ, is the belief of Christians that defilement comes from within, rather than from external sources. While this is undoubtedly true from a moral standpoint, one has to wonder why, if the external defilements were unimportant, God spent so much time in the Laws of Moses emphasizing them…

The hygiene consequences of this aspect of the doctrinal schism between Christianity and Judaism were not immediately apparent, since Christianity initially developed during the Roman Empire, with highly developed sewer systems, aqueducts that brought water to the Empire’s cities, and a near-religious emphasis on socialized bathing. With the collapse of the Roman Empire however, we see that the decay of the Roman infrastructure lead to a serious decline in the hygiene—and thus the health—of people throughout Christendom. Bathing was no longer emphasized. On the contrary, it’s pretty well-established in the historical record, that for medieval Christendom, bathing was a once-a-year event, if that (even many non-historians have heard the story of the nun that went to her deathbed, of old age, and took pride in the fact that the only part of her body that had ever been washed were fingertips, when she genuflected with Holy Water).

Combined with sewage being simply dumped in the streets of large urban areas, dead bodies sometimes being left to rot for days or even weeks, and other normal practices that both we—as a modern, largely scientific culture—and the ancient Jews—for thousands of years—consider not only unhygienic, but also pretty much totally fucking disgusting, this inevitably resulted in a somewhat steep price that we now know as yersinia pestis: The Black Death.

One of what I consider the most interesting scenes in contemporary cinema occurred in the 2010 Russell Crowe rendition of Robin Hood. When Crowe’s character, Robin Longstride is sitting at the table with Sir Walter Locksley, the scene opens with a couple of “cute” little mice crawling across the food on the table. While obviously disgusting to most modern Americans, what many people fail to realize is—this was the NORM at that point in history. Yet, anyone who had actually read (granted, not a common ability at that point in history…but you’d think the priests—as one of the educated classes of European society at the time—would have at least considered it…) the Books of Moses would consider this an abomination.

Had people remembered and practiced the Mosaic Law of considering rodents “unclean,” they might have spent more time and effort making sure there weren’t mice and rats running wild through their homes, and across their food. This would have—if not prevented the Black Death—at least seriously reduced the effects thereof. Yersisia pestis, you see, is spread from rodents to humans through two vehicles: being bit by an infected rodent…or being bit by a flea that was infected by previously hosting on an infected rodent.

These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind.

Leviticus 11:29

The point of this is not that I’m Jewish, nor that I’ve suddenly discovered “that ol’ time religion.” It’s certainly not to denigrate Christianity or any other faith. Rather the point is…good hygiene, even in primitive living conditions, is not some obscure, specialized skill known only to special operations soldiers.

While hygiene, when considered in light of the definitions that began this article, can cover a very broad spectrum of considerations, for our purposes, we’re going to look at it in one consideration…how to stay alive, at least long enough to die from enemy action, rather than from illness.

This means, a) how can we prevent the propagation and spread of disease, and b) what can we do to protect ourselves specifically.

One thing that must be considered, in the context of this blog, preparedness, and post-SHTF, grid-down scenarios, is whether by “camp hygiene,” we mean life on patrol, living out of rucksacks in a patrol base, or the more general primitive living to be expected with grid failures, while still living “indoors.”

First Things First….Drop Your Preconceived Notions

The first thing that must be done (and this is probably becoming a tiresome refrain by now, if you’re a long-time reader of this blog) is that you have to get rid of any preconceived notions. The fact that you intend to “bug in” and stay home does NOT mean you’re going to be able to comfortably use your toilet and bathtub. The fact that you live alone with your family on an isolated mountainside in the American Redoubt does not mean that you won’t have to deal with many of the same hygiene issues and crises that urban and suburban dwellers will (as an example…I’ve been told by several medical professionals, ranging from M.D.s to 18Ds, that the highest concentration of giardisis within the US can be found in area where Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada meet).

One benefit of living in the modern world, even in the event of total socio-economic collapse, is that while technology may go away, or retreat in accessibility, knowledge won’t. You may not be able to go to Cabela’s and buy a new Katahdin water filter, but if you know that boiling water is a scientifically sound method of water purification—and you practice it religiously—then not having the cool-guy gear doesn’t matter…you can work around it, because you’ve focused on software instead of hardware.

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

While modern Americans—especially amongst some of the neo-primitive, dirty, smelly, hippie types—sometimes debate the health benefits of NOT bathing every day, I’d say it’s fair to claim that the vast majority of modern, middle-class Americans do not subscribe to the medieval belief that bathing robs the body of natural protections of diseases. I shower at least once a day, and generally twice a day—once after PT, and once before bed. If I don’t do PT until shortly before bed, then I might only get one shower in a day (I do feel obligated to admit, since we are now off-grid, and use rainwater catchment for our water source, that while sponge baths/combat baths still occur basically daily, daily showers are a thing of the past, with no real harm). One of the more disturbing concerns I hear voiced by many people in regards to preparedness, is the fear that they won’t be able to shower twice a day…or even once per day.

Remembering that I’m not a scientist, and certainly not a biologist, here’s my take on it….while bathing daily can do a damned fine job of killing off micro-organisms on your body that might be harmful, it’s equally effective at killing off micro-organisms on your body that are beneficial. Additionally, there is the fact that most soaps dry your skin out. While that’s not a major issue when you have lotions and balms readily available with a quick trip to Wal-Mart, dried, flaky, itchy skin can cause health issues in itself.

While we all spend lots of money stockpiling things we believe we might need post-crash, and hopefully include lots of hygiene items amongst them, unless we’re totally fucking deluded, we have to acknowledge that there is a finite amount of material goods we can stockpile. Instead, we have to look at ways to deal with primitive living when the modern conveniences run out (and in many ways, they are conveniences, not necessities). Our ancestors, from the pioneers that fulfilled Manifest Destiny, all the way back to the pre-Christianization tribal societies had a way to deal with these issues…in the Jewish faith, this was the Mosaic prescription for bathing before Shabot (the Sabbath).

If you’re living in primitive conditions, but have the facility to allow it, bathing even once a week can provide many of the benefits of daily bathing…as long as you follow some other prescriptions for cleanliness.

The simplest method of preventing the spread of disease is one we learn as young children—assuming our parents are even moderately intelligent: wash your damned hands. Before you eat, after you eat, after you urinate or defecate, before and after you handle food…and certainly before and after dealing with bodily fluids from someone else (“modern” science caught up to the Judaic law on this subject in the mid-nineteenth century, when a Hungarian physician, named Ignaz Semmelweis noticed a particularly vast difference in infant mortality between two different birthing wards in the Vienna General Hospital. The ward with low mortality was dedicated to birthing with mid-wives. The other, run by physicians, was adjacent to a morgue. Apparently, the Doc noticed that doctors would conduct an autopsy, then immediately go deliver a baby…without even washing their hands…Sadly, I’ve actually heard of this…and read more than one report from .gov sources, that this kind of utter stupidity still goes on. Not that doctors are performing autopsies, then births, but doctors and nurses not scrubbing in before going to work on pediatric cases…I’ll leave it to health care professionals to address that).

Obviously, there are limits to how much soap a person can stockpile….except, even in Moses’ day, people knew that animal fats, hardwood ashes (lye), and water made soap. Worst case scenario, even simply rinsing your hands off in clean water is better than nothing.

One of the biggest health care issues we in the preparedness culture have to deal with is the apparent ability of common illness pathogens to develop immunities against “antibacterial” soaps and cleaners. This has led some people to abjure cleaning or washing as frequently, and others to actually promote exposing themselves to minor pathogens intentionally, in the hopes of developing a resistance to them. I certainly don’t get my knickers in a twist when my kids gets muddy, or even when they play in cow shit. I’ve been known to giggle like a schoolgirl when I see a kid (yes, including my own), eating dessicated animal shit, like a dried out cow patty in the pasture, and go into my “Ah, she’s just building immunities!” spiel (to be clear though, we DO actually stop our kids from eating animal dung, when we see it. It’s still funny as shit though…..see what I did there?)

My kid still bathes once a day. I still bathe once a day. My wife still bathes once a day. When we lived primitive, on the side of the mountain in Idaho, last winter, in the uninsulated shed? We bathed once a week. Hauling water from the creek, in quantities large enough to take even a decent sponge bath, was a pain in the ass. None of us got sick.

I’ve gone weeks without bathing or showering, out of necessity. At the same time however, I always made it a habit, if I were going more than a couple of days without an actual full-submersion bath or shower, to wash the grungies out by using a wet rag and soap to wash those areas of the body most likely to harbor and encourage bacterial growth. What do bad bugs like in a home? Warmth, moisture, and darkness.

So, where do we wash up to take care of those, when we don’t have the luxury of a full-on bath? Places that are warm, moist, and dark, duh. Your armpits, your crotch, the crack of your ass, and your feet, are good places to start. I would hope it goes without saying….wash your face first, and your hands after, preferably with clean water.

And, in the spirit of levity….

A working-class guy is using the urinal in the bathroom at a restaurant when a distinguished looking fellow, in a tailored suit walks in and uses the other urinal. As Joe is walking out, without having bothered to wash his hands, Mr. Hoity-Toity looks aghast at him.

Didn’t your mother teach you to wash your hands after urinating!?”

Naw…but my daddy taught me not to piss on my hands!”

It’s not piss on your hands I’m worried about, when you’re cooking the camp stew (okay, it IS, but not solely…). WASH YOUR DAMNED HANDS!!!

 

Next to washing your hands and bathing, one thing that infantrymen and backpackers should learn from the very beginning, but all too often don’t, is the importance of dry, preferably clean, clothing to hygiene and survival.

There are a couple of considerations here:

1) If your clothes are dirty and wet, and it’s cold outside, you’re begging for cold-weather injuries, ranging from “mere” immersion foot/trench foot, to full-on hypothermia and death.

2) If your clothes are dirty and wet, and it’s warm outside, your clothing is a breeding ground for bacteria and other do-nasties.

3) If your clothes are just dirty, but dry, they will be wet and warm as soon as you start sweating from exertion. On top of this, is the fact that the dirt fills in the air spaces in between the fibers of the material, robbing it of insulative value. On top of this, what is often overlooked is the fact that dirt molecules in the cloth cut, tear, and abrade the fibers of the clothes. This reduces the life-span of the fiber and clothing.

Ideally, in primitive conditions, washing your clothes means using a washboard, soap, and hot water. Somewhat less ideal, but still acceptable? Washboard and water, period. The old-time backpacker’s remedy of rubbing and beating the clothing on stones while alternately dipping it in the running water of a creek is easy on the environment, and pretty effective at getting the clothing clean. Unfortunately, in a grid-down situation, where replacing your clothes is going to labor-intensive and expensive, at best—if not impossible—it should also be pointed out that it’s really, really, REALLY fucking hard on the clothing itself.

In the short-term of a patrolling situation, you can get away with a lot of unhygienic practices—not washing, wearing dirty clothes every day, not washing your hands before and after you eat, and a host of others—as long as you have the ability, when you return to a more permanent base of operations, to get cleaned up, put on clean clothes, and dose up with antibiotics if necessary. In a grid-down scenario, these may not be as readily available as options. Your “patrol” might be a two or three-month “bug out” evasion. Your “base of operations” might be a pretty primitive encampment in the woods, because your house and neighborhood was burned to the ground by bad people. The veterinary antibiotics you stockpiled in anticipation may not be available, either because you didn’t stockpile enough, they ran out or expired, or they got stolen.

What is the lesson? Hygiene isn’t some sissy concern of soccer moms, that tough-guy supermen can ignore. Simple solutions of course, are not readily available.

In Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TC3), we have a saying, “Sometimes good tactics are bad medicine and sometimes, good medicine is bad tactics.We have another one too though, “The best medicine on the battlefield is fire superiority.”

The decision of how much hygiene you HAVE to practice, in order to maintain good health must be balanced and weighed against the need to maintain good tactics. So, taking a full-submersion bath, once a week may not be possible. Washing your clothes regularly, so you always have clean, dry clothing to put on, might not be an option. So, we make compromises. We wash what we can, when we can, in the form of “combat showers,” washing the nuts, butts, feet, face, and hands. If we can’t wash our clothes, we lay them out in the sun to dry, allowing UV rays from the sun to help sterilize it and destroy/kill microbes, recognizing that the risk of disease and illness is a more grave concern than the damage to the clothing. It might be difficult to replace your bad-ass multi-cam ACUs, but it’s a lot easier to replace clothes than it is to replace a trained shooter, let alone a husband and father.

Shittin’ and Grinnin’

The first verse from Deuteronomy cited at the beginning of this article lays out the rule of shitting in the woods hygienically. If you shit, bury it. This is simple woods-living 101. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every swinging Richard needs a tri-fold entrenching tool, or the Cold Steel Spetsnaz shovel in his ruck. One for every two men is arguably enough. If you’re with your Ranger buddy, you can take turns using it. If you end up separated from your Ranger buddy, and don’t have the shovel? It sounds heinous, but use your fucking knife to dig a hole, if you have to (although, personally, I recommend cutting a stick and digging with the stick instead).

Dig the hole, squat and shit, wipe thoroughly, and then bury it all. If you don’t have toilet paper? There are probably ten times as many brown shirts rotting away in landfills, with the bottom one-third missing, than there are experienced infantrymen in the US Army. Alternatively to cutting your t-shirt off, you can do as my brother-in-law did on a hiking trip with his girlfriend, and end the trip missing a sock…(in the interest of intellectual honesty, I’ve done this too…..)

One alternative I have used is to keep two one-gallon ziplock bags, one of them crammed full of scrap cloth, cut into handy sizes. Shit goes into the empty bag, until it can be buried somewhere more secure, along with used rags that I wipe with. If I’m camping in a well-used populated area, with lots of other campers, but no Porta-Johns, this is actually my preferred method. In classes, I just carry some toilet paper, because I’m a lazy fucker like that…and my wife gets pissed when I toss the feces-filled ziplock in the trashcan at home.

When you’re done burying your crap? WASH YOUR HANDS!!!!

If hygiene can be defined as the science and actions needed to prevent the spread of illness and disease, then a modern understanding of illness and disease clearly demonstrates that our health and fitness is a critical aspect of personal hygiene. In some ways, it can be argued that these are at least as critical to personal longevity as staying clean, or getting clean is. There’s a reason a fit, 19 year old infantryman can withstand living conditions that would put those of us more….ahem…advanced on the age scale, under a moving Greyhound Bus.

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11 Comments
  1. SharpsShtr permalink

    Along the line of this post, the Frau and I have found it amazing that some of the big left coast cities have apparently forgotten the perils of human waste in the streets. The disease outbreaks have all ready started. I’ve had coworkers telling me that they’ve seen people squatting down on the sidewalks and dropping a load as people walked by.

    Seriously, how hard would it be for them to put Porta Potties on the street corners and keep them clean?

    • You (foolishly) assume that the dregs of society, who can show no aptitude for following society’s norms in any other way, will suddenly “come to Jesus” and use a Porta-Potty as designed, contrary to all experience and wisdom on the subject.

      What they will do is move into the Portjohns as shelter (seen it first-hand), and turn them into little plastic pestilential hellholes on every street corner.

      The Porta-Potty Solution is what the First Sergeant used to call “Good initiative; Bad judgment”.

      The way to clean to the streets isn’t to put porta-johns on them, it’s to get unsanitary wastrels off them. By any efficient means, including front-loading garbage trucks scooping them up in droves like in Soylent Green. (Protein cracker rendering optional.)

      If they could follow rules, because they weren’t crazy/alcoholic/drug-addicted, or all three simultaneously, they wouldn’t be living on the street in the first place.

      The idiot powers-that-be who fail to heed medieval wisdom on public health have their own reward, but so do their constituents.

  2. Garry F. Owen, Trooper permalink

    5 Fs of field hygiene
    Fingers
    Flies
    Food
    Fluids
    Feces
    Keep them in mind and a way to deal with them to improve hygiene

  3. Yeah, and that’s not just the east coast. Seattle and San Fran too. Huge outbreaks of communicable diseases in these places. The rot has caught up with us. A family member and life-long democrat recently fled Seattle because they don’t feel they have control of their own lives there any more. Homeless can squat, move into your house, defecate, do drugs, panhandle, live on the side-walk, put tents on your lawn, and the responsible and law abiding tax payers are told to shut up and color. So much for “we the people.” Bad things aren’t coming — they are here.

  4. Fred permalink

    FM 21-10-1 (Field San & Prev Med)

    Not as sexy as some of the post-apocalyptic masturbatory fantasy fan-fiction out there, but it should help ya from getting a case of the atomic squirts!

    It’s the little things that’ll get ya…

  5. Mike permalink

    Disease will get you faster than the effects of enemy weapons.

    I rolled with 15th MEU (SOC) during the invasion of Iraq in ‘03. Between Umm Qasr, An Nasiriyah, and Kut, we were obviously better equipped and better trained. We had better hygiene. Even so, you couldn’t escape flies. They were everywhere, dead bodies, on livestock, in the sewage in the streets, in our shitters, in every endeavor of men, they were there. A lot of us lost A LOT of weight due to vector borne illness. Dysentery. I lost 20 or more pounds coming back to the boat, and our ship’s crew were astonished at how bad we looked coming back aboard.

    Discipline in maintaining your health as an individual and as a group, is just as important as knowing how to employ your weapons. Hearing about that Fox News anchor who’s proud about not washing his hands is positively nasty. Wash your hands, use soap.

  6. Peripatetic Commenter permalink

    It’s almost as if … nah it couldn’t be, but damn, it sure looks like those religious strictures were designed by someone who knew about disease vectors and stuff for a SHTF situation.

  7. Oregon Hobo permalink

    If you’re opting for the luxury of a felled tree over which to sling your ass(es), leave a few sturdy branches sticking straight up. Even if you don’t have a toilet paper roll to hang upon said branch because you gave the last one to the woman, it’s nice to have something to hold onto so you don’t have to worry about falling backward. That means not having to lean so far forward, which in turn decreases the likelihood of dribbles down the back of your junk. It also eliminates any need to balance yourself by swinging your feet (with your pants wrapped around them) backward into the danger zone. You’ll especially appreciate the difference when your digestive tract is in trouble and explosively purging evil spirits.

    If none of that is convincing, think about how much you’re looking forward to pulling your youngest from the pit.

    Happy trails!

  8. Waepnedmann permalink

    I recall that disease killed more soldier’s during The Unpleasantness in the Southern States than enemy action.
    The black,troops sent to police the swampy southeastern on the Atlantic seaboard during Reconstruction were particularly hard hit (IIRC causulty rates exceeded 50%). The powers that be thought that the blacks were genetically better suited to that hot humid climate.

  9. Oldshooter permalink

    I have recently been looking into the possibility of switching to use of a small portable bidet. It’s supposedly easier on your butt if you are tender there for some reason (like getting the “runs”), and it avoids the need for carrying paper, cloth scraps, or, God forbid, resorting to leaves or (gasp!) corn cobs. I remember using budgets while living in Europe, and while it seemed strange at first, it wasn’t bad once I got used to the idea. There are pint/quart size ones available on the internet that seem feasible and are pretty cheap.

    • Oldshooter permalink

      Not “budgets” damnit – “bidets!” My phone, which is apparently monolingual, persists in “correcting” whatever I type.

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