Covid-19: simplified self care

  1. I am a Family Practice Physician for 30 years. I have had pneumonia four times. I last got pneumonia on March 20, 2021 and I am still off work and on oxygen. This is the first time I have been on oxygen. No tobacco, no marijuana, no lung disease found to date but my mother had tuberculosis when I was born and my father smoked unfiltered Camels. With the hospital beds filling up, this is to help keep people out of the emergency room if they don’t need to be there and to help people track how sick they are.
  2. Learn to take your pulse. You need a second hand. Your heart rate is the number of beats in 60 seconds. Take it at rest (which means sitting or lying down). Then try taking it after you walk. It should be regular unless you have known atrial fibrillation. Also, if you are fifty or older, you may skip some beats so that you have early or late ones. That is not worrisome.
  3. Normal is 60-100. If you are very out of shape, you might go up to 120 after you run up the stairs or walk fast.
  4. If your resting pulse is 120 or higher, call your physician. If you are very short of breath with that or your lips are turning blue, call an ambulance right away.
  5. If your resting pulse is normal, say, 70 beats per minute, and your pulse after walking goes up 30 points or over 100, you are sick. If you are very short of breath after walking you may need oxygen. Call your physician and walk… really… slowly. When your lungs are swollen, there is less air space to exchange oxygen and your heart makes up the difference. If your heart is beating at over 100 for long, it is like running a marathon. Don’t stop walking completely because you are at risk for blood clots. But walk really slowly.
  6. If your resting pulse is normal and your walking pulse is ok, try a loaded walk. Carry something that weighs 20 pounds if you can. Then sit down and check a pulse again. If it is over 100 or jumps 30 points, you too have lung swelling, it’s just a little more subtle. You need to rest too.
  7. With practice, you will have a good idea what your pulse is before you do a formal count.
  8. You can use a pulse oximeter but you have to use it accurately. The fingers should be not moving and lying on the person’s knee or table or something. Otherwise it will give inaccurate readings and scare you. With a regular heart rate, look for the light to be picking up regularly before you believe the oxygen level. O2 sats under 87% need oxygen, but also if someone is going below 95% or is a child, call doctor or ambulance.
  9. Take a multivitamin. It is a lot of work for your heart to race fast. Rest, rest, rest. I have had 4 rounds of pneumonia with lung swelling. It took two months, two months, a year and this time I am five months post pneumonia and still on oxygen.
  10. Don’t use quack supplements and don’t take veterinarian ivermectin. Hello, you are not a sheep.
  11. Remember that if someone is hypoxic, they may act goofy, happy and unconcerned or be scared or have memory loss or just be confused. I write really weird rhyming songs when hypoxic and have the poor judgement to sing them to my doctor.
  12. GETTING VACCINATED IS YOUR BEST BET TO NOT DIE OF COVID-19. AND WEARING A MASK ALL THE TIME AROUND OTHER PEOPLE.

Good luck and take care.

Covid-19: caring for yourself

audio version, covid-19: Caring for yourself

A friend took his father to the ER in the next bigger town, sent there for admission to the hospital from the clinic. His father is in his 90s, has heart failure, and his legs were puffed up like balloons with weeping blisters.

They were in the ER for 13 hours, never given food though it was promised, the staff couldn’t even find time to bring a urinal and his father was not admitted. He was sent home. No beds. On divert.

Ok, so when should you go to the hospital right now? Only if you really really can’t breathe….

First, the emergencies. An ER nurse friend talks about “happy hypoxia” where people do not feel bad but have an oxygen saturation of 50%. I suspect that this is when their lungs really are swelling shut very fast. They will turn blue quickly. Call an ambulance. In the 1918-1919 influenza, soldiers “turned blue and fell over dead”. In Ralph Netter’s book on pulmonary diseases, he has a drawing of the lungs of a person who died from influenza pneumonia. The lungs are basically one big red purple bruise with no air spaces. So if a friend is goofy and their lips are turning blue: AMBULANCE.

The one in five hospitals that are 95% full or more in the US are now cancelling all of the elective surgeries: knee replacements, hip replacements, non emergent heart surgeries, all of it.

If you are not dying, do not go to the emergency room if you are in one of the totally swamped areas.

So how to care for yourself with covid-19? Like influenza, it is pretty clear that it either causes lung swelling or the lungs fill with fluid or both. With lung swelling you may be able to stay home. First take your pulse. If you have a pulse oximeter, great, but no worries if you don’t. .What is your resting heart rate? Count the number of heart beats in 60 seconds

If it’s 60-100, that is good. It’s normal. If it is 120 at rest, that is getting worrisome. If you are short of breath at rest and your pulse is over 100, call your doctor. If they can get you oxygen, you still may be able to stay home. If not, emergency room.

Now get up and walk. Do you get short of breath? Sit back down and again, count the number of heartbeats when you are sitting. If your resting pulse was 90 and you jump to 130 walking, you have lung swelling. Functionally you have half the normal air space and so your heart is making up the difference. How to cope? Well, walk slowly. Walk during the day, do get up because otherwise you may get a leg blood clot, but really minimize your activity. Now is not the time to rearrange the furniture. Also, you may not go to work until your walking or loaded pulse is under 100.

If your pulse does not jump up when you walk, next try walking loaded. That is, carry something. Two bags of groceries, a toddler, a pile of books. Go up the stairs. Sit down and take your pulse when you are short of breath or it feels like your heart has speeded up. I am in this category. My pulse is 70, oxygen at 99 sitting. Walking my pulse jumps to 99. Walking loaded my pulse goes to 125 and my oxygen level starts dropping, need oxygen once it gets to 87. I tried a beach walk without oxygen 3 weeks ago. I photographed the pulse ox when it was at 125 with O2 sat at 87. I still need oxygen.

The treatment for lung swelling is rest. This is my fourth time, so I am used to it. Some people will have so much swelling they will need oxygen at rest. If the lungs swell shut, they need to be intubated or they die. Suffocation is not fun. The other treatment is not to catch another virus or a bacteria on top of the present lung swelling. Wear mask, get vaccinated, put out the cigarrette, no vaping, pot is terrible for the lungs too and increases the risk of a heart attack.

With my four pneumonias, the first two made me tachycardic and it took two months for the lung swelling to subside. It sucked. Inhalers don’t work, because they work by bronchodilating. You can’t bronchodilate swollen lung tissue. The steroid inhalers might help a little but they didn’t help me. The third pneumonia took 6 months to get back to work and then I was half time for 6 months. This time I am five months out today and I still need oxygen. Darn. Don’t know if my lungs will fully recover. They may not.

So: rest. Good food. Avoid substance abuse. Mask all visitors and don’t go to parties/raves/concerts/anything. Oxygen if needed and if you can get it.

Take care.

The photograph is me wired up for a sleep study a week ago. The technician took it at my request. I won’t have results until next week.

On vaccination: rock stubborn

A friend in his 30s was working on my car the other day. “Are you immunized?” I ask. “No.” he says. “I wish you’d get immunized,” I say, “Also, I can’t ride in the car with you because if I get the Delta variant, I’ll probably die.” He responds, “I hate doing what other people tell me to do.” “Oh,” I say, “Oppositional defiant, just like me. Fine. Don’t get the vaccine.”

Two days later I text. “Don’t get the vaccine today. Or tomorrow.”

I hear back. He got vaccinated the day I sent the text. I don’t know if it was me saying don’t do it, or me getting out of the car and staying a good ten feet away after that. Please don’t kill me, not today, ok?

Maybe we should try it nation wide. “DON’T GET VACCINATED. DON’T DO IT TODAY. OR TOMORROW.”

Unvaccinated thirty year olds are getting really sick and getting intubated and dying. One in five hospitals in the US now is 95% full, on divert. I used to heave a sigh of relief when I was in residency and we were on divert. That meant no admissions until beds opened back up. We are full. But one in five is really bad. Virginia Mason in Seattle is on divert. Our rural county has more covid infections than we’ve had the whole time, mostly unvaccinated. About 15% vaccinated. We are starting to see the breakthrough infections, around 8 months after the vaccine. Makes sense, because the vaccine riles up the immune system for 8 months and then quiets down. I am 8 months out, no immune system, high bleeping risk. The head of the heart lung bypass part of Virgina Mason was interviewed. “We have been full for ten months (?or a year) and have turned away over 150 patients.” So heart lung bypass could save lives in covid. But it takes round the clock two ICU nurses and the ICU nurses are burning out, quitting, dying. If they get too tired, their immune systems don’t work, they are more at risk for covid and they could die. The nurses and the doctors KNOW this. So…. how many unimmunized people are you willing to die for? Just curious.

Kids have been at home, quarantined, small groups. So then they started school or daycare or even a few more playdates and hello: when you get them together, they trade viruses. There is an outbreak of RSV and other viruses. RSV won’t kill most kids but some babies need the hospital and it can kill premies. And the beds, remember, are full.

Now the AAFP is calling for emergency authorization for kids age 2-11 to get the vaccine. Because they are dying too and there bloody won’t be room in the hospitals at this rate. Or well, you can build a tent, but if you don’t have any ICU nurses, the tent is not too helpful.

For the governors saying “No mask mandate at school,” yeah, well, I think they should refuse the vaccine and refuse treatment and refuse intubation and refuse oxygen.

Meanwhile, I am hiding under the bed. Roll up the sidewalks, lock the doors, I am sorry not to be useful but I am not useful dead. I could telemedicine if our area gets shorthanded enough. I suppose I should call the hospital and say that. They aren’t that desperate… yet. We have four ventilators last I checked. And 32,000 people in the county and we are the only hospital. Bummer.

I am in a physician mothers Facebook group. The stories are getting grimmer and grimmer. A physician put up the list of hospitals she called to try to transfer a patient: over 30. All no. Another is in North Carolina and got a call from Texas to transfer a patient. But… they were on divert. No.

Take care. Don’t get your immunization if you are against it. Whatever.

Covid-19: A gentle answer

I went to have a hair cut today and went in three shops since I was downtown anyhow.

There are lots of tourists and visitors walking around without masks.

In one shop the owner asks if I am Dr. O, and it turns out her daughter babysat for my children 19-20 years ago. We had a nice discussion about our offspring. We are both wearing masks.

In a mineral store somehow the covid-19 subject comes up. I say that I am wearing a mask because I am on oxygen and vulnerable, and even though I am vaccinated, if I get covid-19, it might kill me.

The two owners are not wearing masks. The woman says, “We are both vaccinated, but I am just really confused about what to do.”

I say, “Well, I am a Family Physician. Let’s take chicken pox. If someone is exposed, it can take 21 days for them to break out in the rash. They will be contagious for 1-2 days before they have symptoms. The problem is that it can be ANY of those 21 days. After they break out in the rash, they are contagious until every pox is crusted over. So it can be six weeks that they are possibly or certainly contagious. With Covid-19, the Delta Variant is so infectious and again people may not have symptoms yet, so I am wearing a mask any time I am around strangers.”

The woman says, “Thank you for telling me about it. It’s helpful to hear from a professional.”

“You’re welcome.” I say, gathering my bag to go.

“Look,” she says, “I am putting on my mask now!”

I look and she is.

Top ten causes of death: US 2020

Top ten causes of death US 2020, according to JAMA, here.

Total deaths: 3,358.814
Contrast total deaths in 2019, at 2,854,838. That number had been on a very slow rise since 2015 (2,712,630) to 2019 (2,854,838). That increase over four years is 142,208 people. Then the death rate suddenly jumps 503,976 people in one year. Ouch. I cannot say that I understand vaccine refusal.

1. Coronary artery disease: 690,882
Heart disease still wins. And it went up 4.8%. It is suspected that people were afraid to go to doctors and hospitals. I saw one man early on in the pandemic for “constipation”. He had acute appendicitis. I sent him to the ER and his appendix was removed that day. He thanked me for seeing him in person. Might have missed that one over zoom.

2. Cancer deaths: 598,932
This is cancer deaths, not all of the cancers.

3. Covid-19: 345,342
I have had various people complain that covid-19 is listed as the cause of death when the person has a lot of other problems: heart disease, cancer, heart failure. The death certificate allows for more than one cause but we are supposed to list the final straw first. I cannot list old age, for example. I have to list: renal failure (kidneys stopped working) due to anorexia (stopped eating) due to dementia. That patient was 104 and had had dementia for years. But dementia is not listed as the final cause. So if the person is 92, in a nursing home for dementia and congestive heart failure, gets covid-19 and dies, covid-19 is listed first, and then the others.

4. Unintentional injuries: 192,176
Accidents went up, not down, which is interesting since lots of people were not in their cars. However, remember that the top of the list for unintentional injuries is overdose death, more by legal than illicit drugs. If there is no note, it’s considered unintentional. Well, unless there is a really high blood level of opioids and benzos and alcohol. Then it becomes intentional. They do not always check, especially if the person is elderly. The number rose 11.1%, which seems like a lot of people.

5. Stroke: 159,050
This rose too.

6. Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 151,637
This went down a little. This is mostly COPD and emphysema. So why would it go down? Well, I think bad lung disease people were dying of covid-19, right?

7. Alzheimer’s: 133,182
This seems to belie me putting renal failure due to anorexia due to Alzheimer’s. I think they actually read the forms and would put that as Alzheimer’s rather than renal failure, because it is not chronic renal disease.

8. Diabetes: 101,106
This rose too. 15.4%, again, probably partly because people avoided going to clinic visits. Also perhaps some stress eating. Carbohydrate comfort.

9. Influenza and pneumonia: 53,495
So this went up too in spite of a lot less influenza. Other pneumonias, presumably.

10. Kidney disease: 52,260
This went up.

And what fell out of the top ten, to be replaced by covid-19?

11. Suicide: 44,834
This actually went down a little. What will it do in 2021?

So what will 2021 look like? I don’t know. It depends what the variants of covid-19 do, depends on what sort of influenza year we have, depends on whether we are open or closed, depends if we bloody well help the rest of the world get vaccinated so that there is not a huge continuing wave of variants.

Today the Johns Hopkins covid-19 map says that deaths in the US stand at 608,818 from covid-19. If we subtract the 2020 covid-19 deaths, we stand at 263,495 deaths from covid-19 so far this year. Will we have more deaths in the US from covid-19 than in 2020? It is looking like yes, unless more people get immunized fast.

Take care.

Oxygen testing

“If oxygen might help with chronic fatigue, as it has helped you,” a friend asks, “how do I get on oxygen?”

Complicated answer.

First of all, one of the things that is not clear, is what recovery looks like. I think I’ve had low grade chronic fatigue for the last 7 years compared to my “normal”. Now, will I get off oxygen? I don’t know. I am hoping for September but it may be that 7 years of low grade hypoxia means I have lung damage and no, I won’t get totally off oxygen.

They have apparently recently made the guidelines for oxygen more stringent. I sort of missed that update, even though I just recertified in Advanced Cardiac Life Support. You now have to have an oxygen saturation that goes to 87% or below. It used to be 88.

Now, you can test this at home with a pulse oximeter. In 2005 after the influenza, I held my saturations but my heart rate would go up to 135. Which means that I walked across the room very very slowly because a heart rate of 135 sustained does not feel good at all. Normal is 70-100 beats per minute. You can measure pulse with just a second hand, number of beats in a minute. For oxygen saturation, you need the pulse ox and it will measure both heart rate and oxygen saturation.

So: measure pulse and saturation at rest first. Write them down.
Then walk. I usually send patients up and down the hall three times then sit them down and watch the pulse ox. In some, the heart rate jumps up. If it’s over 100 and they are getting over pneumonia, I don’t want them back at work until it is staying under 100. Or if sitting they are at a pulse of 60 and then walking it’s 95, well, I think that person needs to convalesce for a while yet. They can test at home.

As the heart rate returns to the baseline, the oxygen level will often start to drop. Does it drop to 87? Describe the test to the doctor and make sure the respiratory technician does it that way and also they should do pulmonary function tests. Mine were not normal.

Now, what if the oxygen doesn’t drop to 87? We are not done yet. What does the person do for work or do they have a toddler? If they have a toddler do the same test carrying the toddler: they sit down, exhausted and grey and this time the oxygen level drops below 87. If they do not have a toddler, do the test with two bags of groceries. Or four bricks.

When I did the formal test, the respiratory therapist said, “Let’s have you put your things down so you don’t have to carry so much.”

“I’d rather not.” I said, “I want to be able to walk on the beach, so I need the two small oxygen tanks, my bird book, camera, binoculars and something to eat.”

“Oh, ok,” she said.

So I did the test with two full tanks of oxygen, small ones, and my bird book and etc. I dropped like a rock loaded. I think I would have dropped not loaded but perhaps not as definitively. Still hurts to carry anything, even one tank of oxygen.

We are making a mistake medically when we test people without having them carry the groceries, the toddler, the oxygen tank. My father’s concentrator is pre 2013. It weighs nearly 30 pounds. Now they make ones that weight 5 pounds. Huge massive difference.

Good luck.

look, ma, my feet match!

NO, I did not injure the other foot. But… I couldn’t find a shoe that matches in height and rocker bottom so I was walking funny. Which is bad for the hips and back and all the other joints….

I told my friend that arrived that I needed a boot for the right leg and she had one… in the trunk of her car… that she was going to throw away! WOW!

Feels peeeQueueliar, I do think, but at least the rocker bottoms match. The right leg is a large and I need a medium or hmm, dunno the size but smaller. If anyone has a smaller one lying around….

Yard Art

There is a fabulous garden in Portland, Oregon decorated with bowling balls.

i have decided to decorate with oxygen tanks.

if anyone has any oxygen paraphernalia, I want it, please.

This art installation is titled “Tethered”. Or possibly “Chained.”

you know you are hypoxic when

…..I keep thinking of new ways to nearly strangle myself. I keep thinking that I have hung up the oxygen tubing on every possible thing I could hang it up on. But no, this was a new one. At least with this one I did not lock my car keys in the car. And even if I did, I can take the nasal cannula off. There is that moment of panic: AUGH I AM TRAPPED, but I am not really.

Today’s blog is especially for B who is not trapped.

Have a wonderful Saturday.