pulmonary rehabilitation

I am fractious and grumpy when I first go to pulmonary rehabilitation at my local hospital.

This is because I have local hospital PTSD because of past treatment. However, there is only one hospital in my county.

I am anxious and tachycardic when I first arrive. I have sent patients to cardiac rehabilitation and to pulmonary rehabilitation, but it’s the first time I’ve gone. My doctor did not refer me until I ask her. I thought it up while I was talking to my insurance company’s chronic care person. You know you are desperate when you call your insurance company for ideas. The insurance company is motivated to pay for pulmonary rehabilitation because I am expensive. I have had loads of tests this year and cost a bunch of money. They would like me well. Me too. So yes, I qualify for pulmonary rehab by virtue of four pneumonias in nineteen years and this time a year on oxygen continuously and still part time now.

I have two people to help me. One is a respiratory therapist and the other a physical therapist. I am an unusual referral. Many of their patients have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and/or emphysema, usually from cigaretes, but also from things like asbestos or alpha-1-antitrypsin disorder or progressive muscular disorders.

They explain. There are 24 visits, over 12 weeks. I come in twice a week. I am weighed, they ask about symptoms, and we go to the small gym. It has three treadmills, three stationary bikes and three of those semi-horizontal not really a bike things. I pick the treadmill. After I describe my lung weirdness, that a fast heart rate preceeds hypoxia, they put a wrist pulse oximeter on me. Unlike the little finger ones, it can pick up heart rate and oxygen rate even when I am walking on the treadmill. My blood pressure and pulse is checked and I start the treadmill. I go slowly the first time. My heartrate is over 100 to start with, but that’s partly the PTSD reaction. I can slow my heart rate just by slowing my breathing and not talking, into the 80s.

Here is how I looked the first time:

https://www.reddit.com/r/FunnyAnimals/comments/zadptv/this_is_whats_happened_in_gym/

Ok, not really. I start walking on the treadmill and go for 30 minutes. Blood pressure and heart rate are checked mid way through. The only time I drop my oxygen level is when I walk AND talk and then I drop it to 87. I stop talking.

After the treadmill, there is another 15-20 minutes of “patient education” about the lungs. This is usually a video, discussion and handouts. They can have up to 3 people simultaneously. At first there is another woman, but she finishes her 12 weeks. She is still on oxygen. I am doing the treadmill without oxygen. “What is your goal?” asks the respiratory therapist. “I want to ski this winter.” I say. She blinks.

The patient education alternates with lifting hand weights. The physical therapist does that with me. There is a stretching session each time too. The weights are slow twitch muscles so that is easier for me to push.

On the third day on the treadmill, I start pushing myself. My heart rate before starting was 81. I get to 120. “Um, don’t push it further than that.” says the therapist.

“Why not?” I say.

“Well, the guidelines are that we’re supposed to not have the person exercising at a heart rate of more than 30 over their baseline.”

“Oh,” I say. I am at 40 over. I slow down a little, aiming for a heart rate of 115. My blood pressure is between 90 and 115 systolic to start with, even anxious, and goes up to the 140s or 150s in the middle of exercising. If I talk too much while I am on the treadmill, my oxygen level starts to drop. It drops the third time down below 88 and the therapist says, “Shall I get oxygen?” “No,” I say. “I just need to shut up.” I do and my oxygen level recovers.

I steadily improve on the treadmill. I can enter my weight and it will measure “METS”. I start out at only a few mets. My goal is as high as I can go. By week 8 I am pleased to be alternating walking and running and I am averaging over 8 mets. Bicycling takes 7-9 mets, and more if you race. I want to return to bicycling.

Then I get my flu vaccine. I feel terrible the next day and cancel my rehab. I see my doctor for a routine visit the next Tuesday and she gives me the covid booster. That hammers me. I go back to being tachycardic much more easily and my fast twitch muscles are not working again. I contact my cardiologist and primary, do I put pulmonary rehabilitation on hold?

I decide to go and I do not drop my oxygen. However, I get tachycardic much more quickly, I can’t get up to over 8 mets, and it feels truly terrible. And my muscles give me hell and hurt horribly for the next two days. I put pulmonary rehab on hold and wait and do slow twitch exercises. The working theory is that there are antibodies to my fast twitch muscles, so the vaccines have activated my immune system. Not just antibodies to influenza and covid, but also the ones that make my muscles not work and hurt. A fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue flare. I start sleeping 12 hours a day again, as I did when I got sick over a year ago. I am really anxious at first but there are no signs of pneumonia, I am not hypoxic, and it’s mostly muscles and fatigue.

After three weeks I return and do my last four pulmonary rehab visits. It hurts way more than the first 8 weeks and it is way more exhausting. I don’t like sleeping 12 hours a night. It could be worse, though. Some people have chronic fatigue where they have to lie in bed most of the time. I don’t have that, so I consider myself lucky. Mine is fast twitch muscles only. Presumably theirs is fast and slow twitch muscles. I have an annoying but relatively mild version of chronic fatigue.

I graduate from pulmonary rehabilitation. Many thanks for the help with my muscles! I want a wrist pulse oximeter, but they cost $700 and I dont’ really need it. By now I can tell when I have a fast heart rate and I can tell when I am getting hypoxic. It makes me goofy and silly, though I normally have that anyhow.

Many thanks to Jefferson Healthcare’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Department. And if you have had pneumonia more than once or long Covid, consider asking your doctor to refer you. It makes me much more confident about exercising and pushing myself and what is safe. And eventually these stupid antibodies will fall off the receptors again. I hope.

________________

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: fractious.

PS: The Rehabilitation Department was closed then open then closed then open during the last two years. They did not have many people when I was there. Get in soon, because there are limited spaces!

A Good Reaction 2

I am still working my way through my immune response to an influenza shot and six days later, my Covid-19 booster.

I am kicking myself a bit for having them that close together, but at least my immune system responds. I think my immune system takes a shotgun approach and raises ALL the antibodies, and since I most probably have some antibodies that attack my own tissues, it’s not terribly much fun. I’ve had to put pulmonary rehab on hold until my fast twitch muscles work again. They aren’t working and my slow twitch muscles are very pissed off and stiff at having to do double duty. If I do aerobic things, my rib muscles hurt for two days. THAT feels awful.

The good thing (ha.) is that I am having the antibody response but I do not have pneumonia. The working theory is that I have PANS and antibodies to tubulin. Tubulin powers muscles, including lung cilia. Their job is to clean any trash out that gets breathed in. I am at much higher risk for getting pneumonia while the lung cilia are on auto-immune vacation. I am mostly staying home and masking when I go out. A friend got exposed to Covid-19 and refused to test at day five. Well, ok for him, but he could be asymptomatic. So he’s not allowed anywhere near me for at least another ten days. I disapprove of his callousness towards me and others.

Tobacco also paralyzes lung cilia. When I was working I would warn smokers that they might cough more when they stopped smoking, because the cilia would wake up and clean house. “Hey! No one has swept here in years!” A year after quitting smoking, the lung cancer risk drops almost to that of a non-smoker, because those cilia clean house. Isn’t THAT cool?

I don’t know how long my fast twitch muscles will be screwed up. With the last pneumonia, it was nearly a year before the antibodies finally went down. I woke one morning with my slow twitch muscles insanely stiff and my fast twitch back but weak as a newborn kitten. My slow twitch muscles were yelling at my fast twitch: “Where have you BEEN? We’ve been doing YOUR WORK!!” My fast twitch were confused, weak and surprised. I could barely walk down my stairs that day.

Even so, I am lucky. I have a version of chronic fatigue, but because only my fast twitch muscles are affected, I can still do stuff while sick. The people who can barely get out of bed, my working theory is that it is both the fast twitch and the slow twitch muscles that are affected.

And then there are the brain antibodies. Ugh. The silver lining is that the antibodies make me a bit OCD and a bit ADHD, so I am organizing the house. I vacuumed the stairs. That sounds trivial except that I HATE the vacuum. I usually use this peculiar cat hair sponge thing on the stairs, but this time I got the vacuum out. I think organizing and vacuuming are hella funny symptoms of autoantibodies.

Here is a blog post by another physician, also about brain antibodies and encephalopathy. Brain inflammation.

https://www.potomacpsychiatry.com/blog/infectious-diseases-and-psychiatric-illness

Great blog post. And the NIH paper on multiple studies of encephalopathy:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6455066/

If I have the energy today, I may try to look up the trajectory of antibody rise and fall after immunization. My brain tells me somewhere between 6 weeks and 6 months, pulling old data from somewhere, but I took immunology classes when I was working at the National Institutes of Health (late 1980s) and in medical school (early 1990s), so there may be new information. Science changes. I am hoping for less than six months really, and meanwhile trying not to get pneumonia.

Blessings and peace you.

I took the photograph in 2021, while I was REALLY sick. Glow in the dark Zombies stealing the cat food. I have to entertain myself somehow when I have pneumonia.

A good reaction

The last ten days sucked but the results are probably good.

What? Wait, why?

I saw the pulmonologist week before last on Wednesday. Her office does not give the new Covid-19 shot but does give flu shots. I got my flu shot. It didn’t seem to bother me much except that I felt a bit tired and grumpy.

I saw my family practitioner on Tuesday, after my pulmonary rehab. For the first time I did not improve in pulmonary rehabilitation (12 weeks, twice a week). I also seemed to have a faster heart rate, up to 140 beats per minute, on the treadmill. My doctor had me walked and even going around the block, my heart rate went to 115. Weird, I thought.

My family doctor did have the new Covid-19 vaccine so I got that. The next day I was more tired and grumpy. On Thursday I lost ground on the treadmill and felt awful and my heart rate just seemed high all the time.

Oh. This is an appropriate reaction for me to two vaccines one week apart. What? you say. Well, when I get pneumonia (four times), I have a fast heart rate response, shortness of breath, fatigue and I feel grumpy and wired. The theory is that I have antibodies to the dopamine receptors, that turn the receptors ON. Dopamine can raise your heart rate. At the same time, I have antibodies to tubulin. Those antibodies make my fast twitch muscles not work right, as well as lung cilia. So: fast heart rate, treadmill is much more difficult, and I started sleeping ten hours a day.

This means my immune system is working. It is making LOTS of antibodies, which is what I theoretically want it to do, though I would rather not have the dopamine and tubulin ones. Just antibodies to influenza and Covid-19. However, my immune system seems to have PTSD and when it makes antibodies, it makes them to EVERYTHING. This makes me very tired, grumpy, screws up exercise and gives me shortness of breath and a fast heart rate.

How long will it last? I am not entirely sure. With infections, antibodies rise and then fall over 3 to 6 or more months. The naturopaths say that food intolerance antibodies fall in three weeks if you stop eating the offending item. I want my Covid-19 antibodies to persist for 3-6 months or more, flu antibodies as well, but I’d like the ones that give me a fast heart rate and shortness of breath to drop right away!

I guess I will find out. At least my immune system works, however oddly.

Blessings and peace you.

I took the photograph of the Great Blue Heron just after she took off yesterday. I am trying to catch more birds in flight! Mostly I catch parts of birds, the tip of a wing, or feet. I am really pleased with this one.

drkottaway’s werewolf theory

Papers about antibodies and immune system responses are proliferating. About Chronic Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, long haul Covid-19. We are near the tipping point of understanding vastly much more about the immune system, though understanding what is happening and being able to “fix” it are poles apart. You have to invent the germ theory before you can invent an antibiotic.

Allopathic medicine currently says that behavioral health disorders are caused by “neurotransmitter imbalances” in the brain. That’s a bunch of vague hooey, isn’t it? There is one mouse neuron that has been studied and has 300 different kinds of receptors for serotonin. Scientists blocked one and the mice acted obsessive compulsive. That was one kind of receptor. They are trying to figure out the other 299 and what they do in combination. Does this sound like we understand the brain? No, it doesn’t.

BUT there are papers about antibodies. Antibodies can mimic neurotransmitters, like dopamine, like serotonin, like adrenaline, like norepinephrine. Hmmmm. With multiple different types of receptors for each neurotransmitter, the antibodies could be specific for some receptors and not others. The antibodies could block the receptor, like the wrong key in a lock. Or the antibody could act like a key and turn the receptor on.

One barrier to understanding Long Haul Covid-19 and chronic fatigue as autoimmune diseases is that they do not cause a rise in the usual inflammatory markers. Those are the ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) and CRP (um, I forget — oh, C-reactive protein). This does not mean that there is no inflammation or that these are not autoimmune disorders. This means we have not found a diagnostic marker. Rheumatoid arthritis can be “sero-positive”, with a positive rheumatoid factor marker. Or it can be “sero-negative”, with a negative rheumatoid factor lab, but it’s still rheumatoid arthritis.

What does this have to do with werewolves? Great question! I am thinking about the adaptive advantage of making antibodies to our own neurotransmitter receptors. How could that POSSIBLY be an advantage? What it means is that when someone is very very ill, or very very stressed, or both, at a certain point the immune system starts making crisis antibodies. These cause neurotransmitter and other symptoms. Brain fog, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, muscle pain, fatigue and on down some very long lists. A recent study of fibromyalgia patients looked at 8 antibodies. One was an antibody to the GABA receptor. All of the patients had some of the antibodies, none of them had all of them, and they all had different patterns. So there is no marker and the neurotransmitter antibody could explain brain function changes.

Why werewolves? I am thinking of the old legends that are embedded in multiple countries and languages. Werewolves, demons, vampires, angels. My fourth pneumonia has left a problem: I can’t tolerate gluten any more. We did the antibody tests last week. I think they will be negative, because my gluten intolerance is relatively mild. I can have a tiny bit. People with bad celiac really can’t have any. I may have an antibody that is either a low level or one that has not been described yet. So with repeated infections, four pneumonias plus the exposure to my mother’s antibodies to tuberculosis in the womb, I now have what is looking like a permanent change in diet. This pneumonia started in March 2021, so it’s over a year. I had diverticulitis after that in August. I ate a piece of tempura two months later and thought, ooops, that has gluten! The next day I hurt in the same place as the diverticulitis and decided that I would stay well away from gluten for a while.

The adaptive advantage of having antibodies that change our diet or character or make us stronger or weaker would be to force us to change. To leave a community. To ask for help. To hide during a pandemic. To fight or be suspicious of everyone. Being a grumpy werewolf might save your life in a pandemic, as long as you don’t break any laws and eat someone. A friend likes the dark and hibernates and likes protein best: vampire or bear? I am not sure, maybe a vampire bear. Chronic fatigue seems to “save” or at least stop people from working 20 hours a day and driving themselves to illness. I am not saying that chronic fatigue is good or fun: but it might be adaptive. Brain fog and stiff muscles: zombies, anyone?

Can we do anything to prevent ourselves from getting these mysterious but probably autoimmune disorders? Yes. Lower stress. BUT WE ARE IN A PANDEMIC. Yes, but we can still lower stress. Here are three things to do:

  1. Do not work yourself into the ground, into illness, into the grave. Take breaks.
  2. BREATHE. A simple exercise to quiet the nervous system is to breathe in four seconds and out for seconds. You have to pay attention or count, unless you do it as part of facing a wall meditating, but it works. The veterans I worked with agreed that this works and they are not an easy crowd to please.
  3. LOLCATS or whatever makes you laugh. Sit under a tree. Throw rocks in the water at the beach. Play with a child’s toy with or without the child. (Remember to share.) Sit in a rocking chair and rock gently. Go for a walk, slowly, no ear buds. Listen to the birds. Watch the tops of trees move in the wind. This quiets the sympathetic fight or flight response and switches us to the relaxed parasympathetic. Do this every day at least once.

These all quiet the nervous system which in turn quiets the immune system.

But wait, some people are in a war zone or a disaster zone or an earthquake! Yes. Help them. Get them out. Send something locally or internationally. Give something to your local “buy nothing” group or Heifer or one of the groups in your town: Rotary, Soroptmists, Elks, your local Area Aging help group.

And that is Drkottaway’s Werewolf Theory, a work in progress, under study. I need NIH West. Contact me to start the fund drive.

____________

References:

Overview of fibromyalgia: https://www.verywellhealth.com/autoimmunity-neuroinflammation-in-fibromyalgia-5197944

Fibromyalgia as an autoimmune disorder: https://spondylitis.org/research-new/fibromyalgia-might-be-an-autoimmune-disorder-a-new-study-says/

They have given human antibodies from fibromyalgia patients to mice. The mice get fibromyalgia. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41584-021-00679-y

I took the photograph of Sol Duc today.

Covid-19, Long Haul and the immune system

“Whether immune-mediated secondary OCD could also develop as a consequence of COVID-19 poses a highly relevant research question to be elucidated in the near future [35, 36]. The first studies of their kind have demonstrated infection-triggered neuronal antibody production against various antigens in COVID-19 patients who were presenting with unexplained neurological symptoms [37].” from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-021-01700-4

Um, yes. It is looking highly likely that chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and Long Haul Covid-19 are all immune system responses. They are not simple at all. They can involve antibodies, cytokines and killer T cells and probably other things.

Antibodies: the difficulty here is that we all make different antibodies. It’s all very well to say that people with PANDAS and PANS make antibodies to Dopamine 1 and 2 receptors, tubulin receptors and lysoganglioside receptors, but people each make different antibodies. The antibodies can attach and block the receptor or can attach to the receptor and turn the key: act like dopamine, for example. Dopamine makes people tachycardic, a fast heart rate. If dopamine receptors are blocked, that could be a source for “brain fog” and feeling down.

Cytokines: I worked at the National Institutes of Health back in the 1980s before medical school. We were studying interleukin 2 and tumor necrosis factor for cancer treatment. Building 10 had mice on the north south axis and human patients on the east west. It was fascinating. Now I am reading a current book on the immune system. There has been a lot of research since 1988. Cytokines are released by cells and are immunodulating agents. They are a form of communication in the immune system.

Killer T cells: When antibodies coat a cell, there are immune system cells that kill and/or eat the coated cells. This is good if it is an infectious bacteria or a cell infected with virus, but it is bad if it is your own joint cells or your heart cells or, horrors, brain cells. In rheumatic fever, antibodies to strep A attack the patient’s own cells as well as the strep A cells. This is called “pseudo autoimmune” but I am starting to suspect that all the autoimmune disorders are responses to stress or infection or both.

So if you are still reading, you are saying wait, this is awful, what can we do about it?

Our understanding of the immune system is better than 1988 however… it still has a ways to go. I think that Covid-19 and Long Haul Covid are going to seriously accelerate the research in this area. Meanwhile there are some things people can do to “down regulate” or quiet down the immune system.

If antibodies are causing some of the problem, we need to quiet them down. With severe PANDAS in children, plasmapheresis filters the blood and filters out antibodies. However, the body keeps making them. Infection must be treated first, but then the initial antibody response lasts for 6-8 weeks. Then the body makes memory antibodies and cells to remember. With reinfection, the response lasts for 2-4 months and then subsides if the infection is gone.

Treat infection first. Then treat urgent symptoms, including urgent psychiatric symptoms. Then work can start on the sympathetic nervous system, quieting down to the parasympathetic state. This is not easy with Long Haul Covid-19 or chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia because people are afraid, confused, in pain, exhausted. I have written about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems here and here. Start with slow breathing, four seconds in and four seconds out. It takes practice.

I have been getting feedback at the pulmonary rehab. When I arrive, they take my pulse, 02 saturation and blood pressure. They put the pulse oximeter on and often I am up in the 90s. I slow my breathing and watch my pulse drop. One day I came in relaxed and my initial pulse was 71. When I was a little late, it started at 99 and came down. The therapist took it off when I got my pulse down to 90. We can check our own pulse, the number of heart beats in one minute, or a small pulse oximeter is about $30.

We can’t really “fix” the immune system with drugs. Steroids can quiet inflammation but they make us more susceptible to infection and raise blood sugar and cause multiple problems when used chronically, like osteoporosis. Plasmapheresis is expensive and requires specially trained nurses. Doesn’t a breathing exercise sound a lot more DIY and cheaper too? You got this. Practice, practice, practice.

Covid-19: Hope for Long Haul

I want to offer hope to the people with Long Covid-19. Having been through four bad pneumonias, with increasingly long recovery times, and now disabled for doing Family Medicine, I have experience to share. First I want to talk about chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.

I am a piler, not a filer. Including in my brain. I have been adding to the chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia pile since I was in medical school.

In residency a new patient questions me. “Do you believe in chronic fatigue?” he says, nearly hostile.

“Yes,” I reply, “but I don’t know what it is or what causes it or how to fix it.”

For years different causes were suggested. Often infections: EBV, mononucleosis, lyme disease. Some people didn’t have any infection. I did note even in residency that my chronic fatigue patients all had one thing in common: they were exhausting.

Does that sound terrible? They were all type A, high achievers, often super high energy. Often they got sick or crashed when they were working three jobs, or working 20 hours a day on their own business, or doing something that sounded insanely exhausting and unsustainable. And most of them wanted that back. “Ok, wait. You were working 20 hours a day, seven days a week, got sick and THAT is what you want to get back to?”

None of the chronic fatigue people seemed to be type B.

Eventually I read that one in ten people with ANY severe infection can get chronic fatigue.

Then I work with the U of Washington Telepain Clinic, on zoom. They start studying functional MRIs of the brains of people with fibromyalgia.

They use a thumbscrew. They put a measurable amount of pressure on a person with no fibromyalgia. The person reports 3-4 out of 10 pain. The brain lights up a certain amount in the pain centers on the MRI. The doctors can SEE it. Then they test the fibromyalgia people with the same amount of thumbscrew pressure. The fibromyalgia people report 8-9/10 pressure and they are not lying. The pain centers in the brain light up correspondingly more. So they ARE feeling 8-9/10 pain.

Is this a muscle problem? A brain problem? Or both?

It appears to be both. Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and other disorders with pain out of proportion to the physical findings were being called “central pain processing disorders”.

I thought of chronic fatigue as a sort of switch. As if at a certain level of stress or exhaustion or infection the body would throw a switch. And force the person to rest.

I wondered if the type B people just rested and got over it, while the type A people fought it like tigers. Which seemed to make it worse.

And now we have Covid-19. The study getting my attention is saying that 20%, or 1 in five people age 18-64, have Long Haul symptoms. Over 65 it is 25%, one in four. And it can happen in people with no preexisting conditions. Preexisting conditions or not, this sucks. The two biggest complaints are lung related and muscle related.

I have chronic fatigue following my third pneumonia in 2014. I might be just a little type A. I went back to work too soon (6 months after the pneumonia) and after a half day would crash asleep at 3 pm. For another 6 months. Now that I have had the fourth pneumonia and have been off for a year and been on oxygen, I feel better than I have since before 2014, even though I still need oxygen part time. Guess I was in denial about the chronic fatigue. NOT ME!

So, dear reader, learn from me and don’t be like me. The biggest thing that I have had to get through my thick type A skull is that when my body wants rest, I need to rest. This can be hella annoying, as my son would say. I have to pay attention to my energy level and decide what to do. And some of my precious energy has to go to things like laundry and paying bills! How very frustrating. My markers are energy level and also pulse. My pulse tells me when I need oxygen and when I am really sick. With the first pneumonia back in 2003, influenza, my resting pulse stayed at 100. My normal then was about 65. When I stood up, my pulse went to 135. It was EXHAUSTING to stand up. I had to rest half way up one flight of stairs. It was hard to walk two blocks to pick my daughter up from primary school. And I looked fine. Neither my doctor nor I could figure it out. I finally guessed that it was lung tissue swelling and hoped it would go down eventually. It did, but it was a full two months and my doctor partners thought I was malingering. I tried not to wish it on them. It sucked and I felt awful back at work, but my pulse had finally come down. We even did a heart ultrasound, but all it showed was a fast heart rate. My chest film looked “normal”, because the tissue swelling is throughout the lungs, so it cannot be seen on a chest xray. It was very weird, but I recovered. And all the descriptions of Long Covid sound like my lung swelling. Fast heart rate, difficulty breathing, muscle pain and terrible fatigue. Go back to the couch.

Go back to the couch and wait. Do what you have to but if your heart rate is over 100 when you get up, you have to rest. Otherwise you will prolong it. Seriously.

More later. Peace me and sending love and peace.

Anna’s hummingbirds can survive below freezing temperatures by slowing their metabolism at night, until it warms up in the morning. Talk about resting!

Lung swelling and long covid

I wrote this in 2017, about influenza. However, I think covid-19 can do the same thing. Part of long covid is letting the lungs really heal, which means infuriating amounts of rest and learning to watch your own pulse. Watching the pulse is easier then messing around with a pulse oximeter. The very basics of pulse is that normal beats per minute is 60 to 100. If your pulse is 70 in bed and 120 after you do the dishes, you need to go back to bed or the couch and REST.

From 2017: Influenza is different from a cold virus and different from bacterial pneumonia, because it can cause lung tissue swelling.

Think of the lungs as having a certain amount of air space. Now, think of the walls between the air spaces getting swollen and inflamed: the air space can be cut in half. What is the result?

When the air space is cut down, in half or more, the heart has to work harder. The person may be ok when they are sitting at rest, but when they get up to walk, they cannot take a deeper breath. Their heart rate will rise to make up the difference, to try to get enough oxygen from the decreased lung space to give to the active muscles.

For example, I saw a person last week who had been sick for 5 days. No fever. Her heart rate at rest was 111. Normal is 60 to 100. Her oxygen level was fine at rest. Her oxygen level would start dropping as soon as she stood up. She had also dropped 9 pounds since I had seen her last and she couldn’t afford that. I sent her to the emergency room and she was admitted, with influenza A.

I have seen more people since and taken two off work. Why? Their heart rate, the number of beats in one minute, was under 100 and their oxygen level was fine. But when I had them walk up and down a short hall three times, their heart rates jumped: to 110, 120. Tachycardia. I put them off from work, to return in a week. If they rest, the lung swelling will have a chance to go down. If they return to work and activity, it’s like running a marathon all day, heart rate of 120. The lungs won’t heal and they are liable to get a bacterial infection or another viral infection and be hospitalized or die.

I had influenza in the early 2000s. My resting heart rate went from the 60s to 100. When I returned to clinic after a week, I felt like I was dying. I put the pulse ox on my finger. My heart rate standing was 130! I had seen my physician in the hospital that morning and he’d gotten a prescription pad and wrote: GO TO BED! He said I was too sick to work and he was right. I went home. It took two months for the swelling to go down and I worried for a while that it never would. I dropped 10 pounds the first week I was sick and it stayed down for six months.

Since the problem in influenza is tissue swelling, albuterol doesn’t work. Albuterol relaxes bronchospasm, lung muscle tightness. Cough medicine doesn’t work very well either: there is not fluid to cough up. The lungs are like road rash, bruised, swollen, air spaces smaller. Steroids and prednisone don’t work. Antiviral flu medicine helps if you get it within the first 72 hours!

You can check your pulse at home. Count the number of beats in one minute. That is your heart rate. Then get up and walk until you are a little short of breath (or a lot) or your heart is going fast. Then count the rate again. If your heart rate is jumping 20-30 beats faster per minute or if it’s over 100, you need to rest until it is better. Hopefully it will only be a week, and not two months like me!


Feel free to take this to your doctor. I was not taught this: I learned it on the job.

I took the photograph, a stealthie, in June 2021, when I was still on oxygen continuously.

Covid-19: Approach to Long Haul

Covid-19: Approach to Long Haul

This is written primarily for physicians, but is for anyone to read. This is a working theory.

I am very interested in Long Haul because I was diagnosed with PANS by an older psychiatrist who worked exclusively with physicians in 2012. That was during my third flare. The evidence is mounting that Long Haul is an autoimmune disorder like PANS. I am sharing my approach to Long Haul based on both my clinic and personal experience.

Step 1. Validate the patient. Patients are terrified, understandably, to have something “like” chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, or are worrying that they are “crazy”. Evidence is appearing that Long Haul, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia are all complex autoimmune disorders with multiple antibodies. We do not yet have vast antibody tests. So the first step is to say that we believe patients and also that we can help. This is a very new and evolving field. I tell patients that it will change fast over the next few years. What I tell them today may change within a year as we get new information. If this makes them anxious, remind them of the Women’s Health Initiative and how that changed hormone therapy, and that cancer treatments keep improving.

Step 2. Lower stress and antibody levels. When we are high stress, cortisol and adrenaline go up and impair the immune system. The immune system is fired up and looking for something to do. Bacteria like strep A have evolved with us and have surface proteins that “look like us”. Our bodies make antibodies to the Strep A or Covid-19 and sometimes those antibodies attack us too, because our own proteins look the same. One way of lowering the antibody level is sweating. Hot bath or shower, sauna, hot tub, exercise. Support these and explain. A second way to lower the antibody level is to quiet the sympathetic nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic is the quiet, relaxed and laughing one. Where does the patient feel safe, relaxed, quiet? After my father died, leaving a complicated and messy estate with an out of date will, I did a Sudoku daily for a year. I realized that the Sudoku relaxed me because I could not solve the estate quickly, but I could nearly always solve the Sudoku. Stupid cat videos, rocking chairs, knitting, gentle walk in the neighborhood if it feels safe, a walk in a mall (without one’s purse if overspending is an issue) — how does this particular person relax? Teach the slow breathing: in for a slow count of five and out for a slow count of five. Or square breathing: in for five, hold five, out five, in five. Twenty minutes of slow breathing supposedly moves almost everyone from sympathetic to parasympathetic. It may take practice and feel unfamiliar: I have had a veteran say that it felt very very weird to relax and he was not used to it. He kept at it.

Step 3. Symptom picture. At present I am basing this on my own experience with PANS. This is my working theory. Antibodies can block receptors or “turn the key” and activate receptors. Buprenorphine does BOTH (though it is not an antibody): at lower levels it turns the key and at higher levels it blocks. I would ask specifically about five fields. You many well be able to come up with more.

a. Brain function. In my PANS, I have antibodies to dopamine that turn dopamine on very high. Other physicians assume that I am manic. I am not quite manic, but it certainly feels awful. I feel like I have been shot out of a cannon when I wake up, with the morning cortisol rise. For me, the caffeine in coffee calms me, and my assumption is that it displaces the anti-dopamine antibodies. Tea does not work. I quit coffee for seven years until the latest flare. Albuterol doesn’t work. Terbutaline does work. I don’t know about theophylline or adderall, I have not tried them. If someone has “brain fog”, I assume that they have blocker antibodies OR be sure to ask if they were different in the first 4-6 months of the illness. For me, the antibodies rise for about 2-3 months and then take 2-3 months to drop. I have a lot of fatigue when they finally leave and this time I could tell the day that the last antibodies “fell off” or dropped to my “normal” level.
For blocked people, does caffeine help? How about albuterol? Adderall, theophylline, SSRIs. Every person will have different antibodies. Treatment needs to be tailored.

b. Muscle function. My anti-tubulin antibody (I have PANS, remember?) shuts down my “fast twitch” but not my “slow twitch” muscles. Tubulin is what makes the lung cilia function, so presumably mine are paralyzed during a flare and that is why I get pneumonia. I am tachycardic, resting heart rate 100 and walking slowly or talking heart rate 135, so I get very short of breath. Both the lung dysfunction and antibodies that upregulate my dopamine receptors make me tachycardic. I think that the people who can barely get out of bed with chronic fatigue have both fast and slow twitch muscles blocked. They need validation and lower stress. With support, perhaps the antibody level can be lowered enough that they can function again. I also found that my muscles hurt when my blood sugar was up and that if I keep it low, I have minimal muscle pain. I do not know if this is true for other people.

c. Gut function. In PANS, there appears to be an antibody to lysoganglioside. I don’t understand it but when I am sick, I cut carbohydrates way back or I am horribly ill. I tolerate lactose but not fructose, sucrose or gluten. One year after getting my last flare, I can eat everything except gluten. With this round I figured out that rising blood sugar when I am sick makes me acidic. This in turn worsens lung function more, as my body automatically slows my breathing to balance the acidity. I found that taking bicarb before a meal helped tremendously. In the worst/highest antibody part of the flare, I eat fats, because anything else makes me ill. SO: what can the patient eat or not eat and support them. Food intolerances are on the rise. Ask if there are foods that they cannot eat and support them not eating them. They can go to a very restricted diet that works for them and wait three weeks. After three weeks, food antibody levels are supposed to drop. They can start adding foods back in, one every three days. I do not know if this will work in a bad flare, the antibodies may be too high.

d. Lungs: do a resting heart rate and oxygen saturation. Do a walking heart rate and sat. Then do a LOADED heart rate and sat, with the person carrying the equivalent of two bags of groceries or their toddler. If they are young, they may hold their sats, but if their heart rate jumps to 135, that is like running a continuous marathon. Try oxygen and see if the heart rate comes down. Sleep apnea testing is also highly recommended. If they are tachycardic with daily activities, of course they have fatigue! Rest. Patients can learn to check a pulse or have a pulse ox, but fingers and second hand are cheap.

d. Other. I am reading that the main complaints in Long Haul are fatigue, brain issues, tachycardia and shortness of breath. What else really bothers the person? Sound sensitivity, loss of the sense of smell. The first step in helping with this is to listen and validate.

Covid-19: long haul II

A few days ago my primary care doctor texts that she wonders if I have the autoimmune form of fibromyalgia.

Red alert. I have not heard about this.

I did a search last night and find this: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210701120703.htm.

Now, if you have been paying attention, you know that I was diagnosed with PANDAS in 2012, though Isuspect that it is really PANS. Both are autoimmune disorders. I also think that long haul covid is the same thing or something similar.

Meanwhile, they are now saying Covid-19 Long Haul may ALSO be an autoimmune disorder. Multiple sites below.

There is a paper in Nature that I don’t have access to, annoyingly enough. The fibromyalgia story in the above story is that they have spun antibodies down from human serum of affected and unaffected people and then injected them into mice. The mice get fibromyalgia symptoms from the affected antibodies but not from the unaffected ones. The symptoms in the mice go away when the antibodies fade out, in a few weeks. Aha.

The long haul story says that death from Covid-19 may be an autoimmune response, the antibodies going really nuts and making people bleed or their lungs close down. That is, swell shut. They have been drawing blood to study at different stages of Covid-19 and also checking autopsy patients. Usually autoimmune diseases are more prevalent in women then men but Covid-19 seems to be worse in men. This: “The mechanisms behind the production of such autoantibodies aren’t yet clear. Widespread and long-term inflammation during severe COVID-19 may cause the immune system to produce antibodies to pieces of the virus it wouldn’t normally recognize. Some of those pieces might resemble human proteins enough to trigger the production of autoantibodies.

Excessive inflammation could also boost production of autoantibodies that had previously only existed in the body at very low levels. Vaccination against COVID-19 is much less inflammatory than infection with the virus. In a separate study that looked at COVID vaccination, none of the healthy volunteers developed autoantibodies.” (2)(*)

Here is another fibromyalgia paper: https://www.verywellhealth.com/autoimmunity-neuroinflammation-in-fibromyalgia-5197944. That paper lists the autoantibodies that they are finding in fibromyalgia including gangliosides. The fourth antibody in PANDAS/PANS is anti-lysoganglioside. Aha! So this is sparking a serious revolution in medicine: it is looking like many of the mysterious and difficult to describe and quantify diseases may be autoantibody disorders. The anti-ganglioside antibodies were found in 71% of fibromyalgia patients. There are seven antibodies listed, including one to serotonin. In PANS, they are blaming two anti-dopamine antibodies. None of the fibromyalgia patients had ALL seven, but all of them had some of them. A different pattern in every patient, because we all make different antibodies. Fascinating.

One more: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28339361/. People with lupus are more likely to have fibromyalgia and visa versa. “Increasing evidence indicates that N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) play a major role in the induction and maintenance of central sensitisation with chronic pain. In this study, we evaluated the role of anti-NMDAR antibodies in the development of FM in patients with SLE.” Lupus and fibromyalgia share an autoantibody. Holy cats. NMDA is ALSO a neurotransmitter. Makes me wonder quite a bit about “psychiatric” disorders.

Remember that we make up all the words. So the autoimmune diseases are usually found by testing for a few antibodies. In the most common autoimmune disorder, hypothyroidism, we usually check the TSH and T4 level, so patient hormone levels rather than antibody levels. Over the last 30 years, we are able to test for more antibodies. Systemic lupus erythematosis, celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. When I was in medical school in 1989, the rheumatology book was an inch and a half thick and there were loads of different patterns of disease. I am sure it is twice as thick now. Our initial test for autoimmune disease is for inflammation: an antinuclear antibody and an erythrocyte sedimentation rate. Some people have rheumatoid arthritis but their RF is negative: they have “sero-negative” rheumatiod arthritis, which is more likely “a different autoantibody that we have not tracked down” rheumatoid arthritis. In chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, the antinuclear antibody and erythrocyte sedimentation rate are usually normal. I suspect both disorders of being “post” inflammation.

My prediction is a serious medical revolution, where we start regularly testing for autoantibodies. Whether that will be something like a pregnancy test but with hundreds of autoantibodies tested for, or whether there are some key indicator ones that we can find, is not clear. At any rate, trauma, stress and infection all increase the likelihood of getting one of these disorders and we have to figure out how to lower the load of all three.

Do you think people are instinctively quitting their jobs?

I had a phone visit with my pulmonologist yesterday. She was running about 35 minutes late, I sat on Zoom until she showed up. She looks exhausted. “We have less doctors and more patients.” she says. “I was on call for the critical care unit last week and I am on call Monday and Tuesday.” “Please take care of yourself,” I say, “We really need you.” She is smiling the whole time. She is worried about me dropping weight and I am worried about her.

Prayers and blessings all around.


1. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/newsroom/covid-19-can-trigger-self-attacking-antibodies/
2. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/autoimmune-response-found-many-covid-19
1. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/newsroom/covid-19-can-trigger-self-attacking-antibodies/
2. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/autoimmune-response-found-many-covid-19
3. https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/591528-long-covid-study-author-explains-four-factors-that-can-predict-how-you-get
4. https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/studies-identify-risk-factors-for-long-covid-69648
5. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-10436473/Is-people-sicker-Covid-19.html
*If that paragraph does not make people get the vaccine, they are living completely in a mad dream world, IMHO.
6. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/misdirected-antibodies-linked-severe-covid-19

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: flickering. As in flickering hope.

Adverse Childhood Experiences 13: unsense

As a child in an alcoholic/addict household where you can not trust adults, who do you trust?

You either trust yourself or you buy in the alcohol story.

If you buy in, you have a high probability of either becoming an addict or marrying one, depending if you prefer the enabler or the enablee role.

If you trust yourself, you develop certain senses. You pay attention to people’s emotions. You pay attention to what people FEEL, what people DO and not what people SAY. You do not care what they say: what matters is what they do. My sister said she used to walk my parent’s house during high school and try to feel the mood. Did she need to hide?

The enabler role is trying to control the other person. There are amazing variations on this. I cared for a person whose sister would not take care of herself. Every time the sister is hospitalized, the person goes and cleans tons of garbage and rotted food from the apartment.

“Stop doing that,” I say, “You are enabling her. Call Adult Protective Services to go look at it instead.”

It can be very difficult to stop and can take years. People can change.

I have noticed that the enabler role is lethal. The enablers seem to die before the enablee. Certainly in my immediate family and with many patients too.

Enablee is the person controlled. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, anger, emotions. It is very very interesting to watch. I have read parts of my mother’s diaries. She was the enabler, with my father as the enablee. However, the diaries document them fighting in the middle of the night when he is drunk. And I remember high school, putting the pillow over my ears, because they were screaming at each other.

But wait. Why would she argue with her drunk husband? Why would anyone argue with a drunk person? You have to wait until they are sober.

And slowly I realize that my mother too was an alcoholic. I remember her drinking. Best cover for an alcoholic is a worse alcoholic, right? It’s fairly horrid. But it explains some stories and my food insecurity. They would not get up in the morning to feed me. My mother told stories of me trying to feed myself: cheerios and laundry soap. If my father was hung over, ok, but, why wouldn’t my mother get up? I think they were both hung over. That or else she really did not want a child. Especially a nine month old with opinions while she was trying to get over tuberculosis. She never got to hold me after birth until 9 months. And then I did not want her. I wanted her mother.

Trusting yourself, life can be a bit complicated. You sense the emotions others are hiding. Being a physician allows me to ask about the hidden things, very gently. Sometimes they come out right away. Sometimes it takes months. Sometimes years and sometimes never. My sister and I discussed going to parties and thinking, oh, that person is the child of an addict/alcoholic. This person is in pain. This person is quite happy but hiding stuff.

I told a counselor I do not know how to turn it off. She replies, “Why do you think I am a counselor?”

I don’t see auras. I feel things: like a cloud. Like a tiger, like a bear, like a whale, singing.

I think I will go with the whale.