Long Covid and overdoing II

I overdid a bit yesterday too.

Friends drove me to the airport when I wasn’t really strong enough on my own. It is two hours away at least. I am very very grateful. They kept my car. I drove them to the ferry and picked one of them up last Friday. My friend L said my brakes were suspect. Two days ago I drove to his house and he took a look. I mostly held a flashlight. The front brakes are fine but the back shoes were down to very thin. I got a crash course in brakes (2006 Scion, a very useful black box of a car) and we took the drums to be ground. We ordered brake shoes and the kit of annoying springs and things.

Everything was ready yesterday so he picked me up. I held the flashlight and then held the back of the pin for one particularly annoying and difficult set of springs. He is a very good mechanic, though not primarily cars. A cell phone picture of the brake before taking it apart and studying the intact one: useful tips. He also pointed out the blue paint. Someone added that in order to keep it all straight. We got it all back together and then tested them. It did need some tweaking to tighten the emergency brake to working order again. I got home at about 4:30pm. Whew!

So today I am tired again and rather achy, but not too bad. I may attempt a quiet day, though we never know what will happen. The best laid plans can be altered at any moment. I hope to recharge my energy today!

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For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: recharge. And speaking of recharging, here are two experts:

Tubulin and antibodies

This is very science dense because I wrote it for a group of physicians. I keep thinking that physicians are scientists and full of insatiable curiosity but my own experience with to date 25 specialists since 2012 would say that many are not curious at all. This continues to surprise and sadden me.

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All science starts with theories. Mothers of children with PANS/PANDAS reactions had to fight to get the medical community to believe that their children had changed after an infection and that symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive disorder and all the other symptoms were new and unexpected and severe. This is a discussion of tubulin and how antibodies work, theorizing based on my own adult experience of PANS. I was diagnosed by a psychiatrist in 2012. No specialist since has agreed yet no specialist has come up with an “overaching diagnosis” to explain recurrent pneumonia with multiple other confusing symptoms.

The current guidelines for treating PANS/PANDAS are here: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/cap.2016.0148. This section discusses four antibodies that are a common thread in PANS/PANDAS patients. Antibodies to dopamine 1 receptors, dopamine 2 receptors, tubulin and lysoganglioside.

Per wikipedia “Tubulin in molecular biology can refer either to the tubulin protein superfamily of globular proteins, or one of the member proteins of that superfamily.” Tubulin is essential in cell division and also makes up the proteins that allow movement of cilia, flagella and muscles in the human body. There are six members of the tubulin superfamily, so there are multiple kinds.

Antibodies are complicated. Each person makes different antibodies, and the antibodies can attach to a different part of a protein. For example, there is more than one vaccine for the Covid-19 virus, attaching to different parts of the virus and alerting the body to the presence of an infection. Viruses are too small to see yet have multiple surface sites that can be targets for a vaccine. When a cell or a virus is coated with antibodies, other immune cells get the signal to attack and kill cells. At times the body makes antibodies that attach to healthy cells, and this can cause autoimmune disease.

Antibodies also can act like a key. They can block a receptor or “turn it on”. Blockade is called an antagonist when a pharmaceutical blocks a receptor and “turning it on” is called an agonist. As an example of how an agonist and antagonist work, take the pharmaceutical buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is a dual agonist/antagonist drug. In low doses it works as an agonist at opioid receptors. At high doses it is an antagonist and blocks the receptors. It also has strong receptor affinity. This means that it will replace almost all other opioids at the receptor: oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, heroin. The blockage and ceiling dose make it an excellent choice for opioid overuse. Higher doses do not give a high nor cause overdose and when a person is on buprenorphine, other opioids do not displace the buprenorphine and give no effect.

Similarly, a tubulin antibody could be an agonist or an antagonist or both. As an agonist, it would block function. My version of PANS comes with a weird version of chronic fatigue. When I am affected, my fast twitch muscles do not work right and I instantly get short of breath and tachycardic. I suspect that my lung cilia are also affected, because that would explain the recurrent pneumonias. My slow twitch muscles are fine. With this fourth round of pneumonia I needed oxygen for over a year, but with oxygen my slow twitch muscles do fine. We have fast twitch fatiguable muscles, fast twitch non-fatiguable, and slow twitch. With six families of tubulin and multiple subfamilies and every person making different antibodies, it is no wonder that each person’s symptoms are highly variable.

Currently the testing for the four antibodies is experimental. It is not used for diagnosis. When I had pneumonia in 2012 and 2014, the antibodies had not yet been described. There is now a laboratory in New York State that will test for them but insurance will not cover the test, it costs $1000 as of last year, and it is not definitive nor useful yet anyhow.

There are studies going on of antibodies in ME-CFS, fibromyalgia, chronic lyme disease, PANS/PANDAS and Long Covid. Recently antibodies from humans with fibromyalgia were injected into mice. The antibodies caused fibromyalgia symptoms in the mice: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210701120703.htm. One of the barriers to diagnosis and treatment of fibromyalgia is that science has not found a marker in common that we can test for. Even the two inflammatory markers that we use (C-reactive protein and Erythrocyte Sedimentaion rate) are negative in fibromyalgia. This doesn’t mean that people do not have pain or that it is not real, it just means we have not found the markers. It may be that the markers are diverse antibodies and there is not a single marker.

The research is fascinating and gives me hope. It boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt boggle.

Qia and the dark

This story is part of a series about a Balint group for angels. Balint groups are groups for physicians to get together and talk about cases that bother them. This often means facing their own biases and discriminatory feelings. I wrote this in January 2022. The current estimate of Long Covid is 10 to 30% of non hospitalized people. Which is huge and terrifying.

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“And really, it looks like at least half the population will get Omicron. The question,” says Qia, “is how much Long Haul it causes. If it causes 30-50%, like Delta, we are in serious trouble.”

The angels are silent.

“Do you think it will?”

“I am hoping for under 10%.” says Qia. “But of course I do not know.”

Silence again.

“Why do you go to WORST CASE?” snaps Algernon. His wings rustle.

Qia blinks at him slowly.

She thinks about it. “It is the safest place to start.”

Algernon frowns at her. Another angel slowly nods.

“If I start in the worst case scenario, I can face it. I have to think about it, work through it, plan for it. Then I can back off and hope for one of the less horrific scenarios.”

“You are WEIRD.” says Algernon.

Qia is annoyed. Her wings go bat and blood red.

“Word.” whispers a very young angel.

“WHY?” snaps Qia, “WHY NOT face the worst?”

“Most people never do,” says the moderator.

“What?” says Qia.

“Most people never face the worst. They don’t want to. They are terrified. They are scared. They do things to avoid thinking about it. They skip that step and just go straight to hope.”

Qia glares at her. The moderator smiles and her wings go black as pitch.

“We aren’t PEOPLE. We are ANGELS.” says Qia, nearly snarling.

Algernon laughs. “Yeah, well, some of us do not want to think about the worst either. That is Gawd(esses) job.”

Qia is doubly pissed off to be crying. “No, we have to think too.”

“Qia, I agree, but it is hard.” says the moderator. “That is why you have the job you have. Because you are willing to go straight to the dark.”

Qia has her face in her hands.

The angels surround her, soothing, and start to sing.

Conspiracy is easier than vulnerability and grief

“Our culture faces a flood of conspiracism” says the Atlantic Monthly.

My great Uncle forwards an article that says we are tracking along stages as we did to WWII.

I write back. No, I say, we are tracking towards WWI.

Because of Covid-19.

The problem with the pandemic is vulnerability and grief. It is difficult to be mature enough to accept vulnerability and grief. It is easier to find someone to blame and go after them. We can’t burn a virus, we can’t hang it in effigy, we can’t take it to court and give it the death penalty. Many people are terrified and do not want to feel vulnerable and do not want to grieve. So they fall into conspiracies: it is safer to believe that the pandemic is a lie, that alien lizards have taken over the US Government, that it is the fault of a country making it on purpose, or a race, or a religion. It is easier to believe that nanocomputers are being injected with the vaccine than to think about the number of dead. It is easier not to think about the number of dead, the terrifying randomness, to believe that this only affects people with preexisting conditions, or people who God wants to smite, or people the lizard aliens hate. Or that the whole thing is a lie.

We are mimicing the late 19 teens and early 1920s very well. A world pandemic. We have a war, that is not a world war. This time we have bombs capable of destroying current life on earth. We’d be left with tardigrades and those bacteria who live in the deep trenches in boiling water where the earth’s crust is thin. At least one of my friends thinks this might be a good thing.

We have just reached 8 billion people.

In London, the Black Death had a 50% kill rate in the 1400s. Half the people that got it died. It changed the world. Pandemics change the world. In this pandemic the death rate is about 1% or a little more. However, 10% to 30% of the people with Covid-19 have Long Covid. Today, Johns Hopkins says we are at 635 million people who have gotten Covid-19. 6.6 million or more are dead from it. Then we have between 65 million and 195 million people with Long Covid in the world.

We don’t know how long Long Covid lasts. We don’t know how to cure it. We do not know if we can cure it or if people will get better. We do not know, we do not know, we do not know.

Which is also terrifying. So the conspiracy and someone to hate or some group to hate or someone to fight is safer for many people.

Do not go there. We must grieve. We must help each other. We must face fear and not give in to it. We must not fall into the trap of the charismatic leader who will give us villains, who will lead us into a World War to distract us from our grief.

And from there into a world depression. Remember, the Roaring Twenties end with the worst depression the world has seen so far. Let us not repeat it, let us not beat it.

Peace you and blessings.

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.