Navigating disability

I am having an interesting week regarding disability. Maybe it will make me a curmudgeon.

A woman says, “It must be difficult to be disabled, with your lungs.” I wear my oxygen to sing in chorus. I did the concert without the oxygen but had to drop some held notes at the end. I get goofy when I am hypoxic. I also write really strange rhyming songs when hypoxic, which I recorded.

I reply, “Well, my mother and father and sister are all dead, so by comparison I am doing well.”

She looked horrified. “ALL DEAD?”

“Yes.” I said.

Mother at 61, father 75 and sister at 49. Cancer, emphysema, cancer. I am so lucky that I don’t smoke and have always disliked sodas and thought that addictive things were very dangerous for me before I started college.

I also attended a Roam Echo Telemedicine yesterday, about Long Covid. WOW. It was EXCELLENT.

https://hsc.unm.edu/echo/partner-portal/echos-initiatives/long-covid-fatiguing-illness-recovery/

Yesterday’s program was given by an attorney, discussing disability. She was describing how the chart notes can damage a patient’s chances of obtaining disability and she gave us forms to help us document disability successfully.

She put the number of people with Long Haul Covid at 30% of the not hospitalized people.

Thirty percent. That is HUGE and damaging. I have heard numbers from 10-30%.

There were also physicians attending the Roam-Echo program who have Long Covid and are realizing that they can’t work to the level they did before. Some can’t work at all.

The panel recommended neuropsychiatric testing if the patient is having any trouble with memory or executive function or brain fog. Document, document, document.

Not only that, the previously taped programs are linked to the site above. So I can watch the rest of them. It is FREE and I get Continuing Medical Education from it.

I trained in Family Medicine from 1989-93 in medical school and residency 1993-96. When I was in school I got virtually no training on how to do disability paperwork. Or even how to tell if someone is disabled. The truth is that people do not want to be disabled. In our culture it is shameful and anyhow, social security disability is often $1000 per month. Try living on that. Unenviable.

It turns out that I am lucky or smart or some weird combination. I bought disability insurance way back in medical school and paid $1000 per year for 29 years. I used it twice before 2021. I was on bed rest for 3 months of preterm labor. My insurance doesn’t kick in until I have been off work for 3 months. I wrote them a letter and said I expected to return to work six weeks after having my child, unless there were complications. The company paid me for an extra week. I called them and basically they said, we are so happy to have you return to work that we do not care.

The second time was after my third pneumonia. Strep A and my lungs and muscles were trashed. Both burned like strep throat. It hurts. I was out for six months and then worked half of my usual for another six months. Really I was working about 1/4 of a regular Family Practice Physician. I was seeing 4-5 patients a day and then sleeping for 12 hours, exhausted. A “normal” load is 22 or more. Which is not really sustainable with today’s complex patients, but that is another essay. I had chronic fatigue, MECFS, as it’s now called, but I was in denial. I never got past 8-10 patients a day for the next seven years. I was also running my own small business and had continual hostility from the only hospital in the county. I was one of three independent practitioners. I really do not understand why they thought my tiny clinic was a threat, but whatever. They could grow up.

From 2014 to 2021, I asked any patient with upper respiratory symptoms or a cough to wear a mask for the visit and I masked too. I explained that if I got a fourth pneumonia, I would be disabled for Family Practice medicine. I hoped it wouldn’t happen. I masked the people with allergies too, because after all, you can have allergies AND a cold. When Covid-19 hit, my patients just rolled their eyes and wore the masks. I only ever had one man, a new patient, object. “I won’t wear a mask,” he said.

I said, “Sir, you don’t have to. But I won’t see you without a mask, so please leave and go to Urgent Care.” This was in my waiting room.

“You mean that!” he said.

“Yes I do. I get pneumonia, so that is a firm policy.”

He put on the mask.

I closed the clinic in early 2021. Covid-19 hit us too hard and we were a shoestring clinic anyhow, with 8-10 patients a day. I went to work in the next county. I kept walking into patient rooms where people had their masks off. I had pneumonia in five weeks.

So it goes.

My disability insurance is paying. I did have to hire an attorney to get the company to explain the policy rules clearly. I don’t speak legalese, I hate it, and I think that insurance companies will use any loophole they can find to get out of paying. So far I am lucky to have navigated this. Now I have to look over my policy again, because some policies change after two years of paying and they don’t have to pay if you can do ANY paid employment. It’s pretty clear that I can’t. I went for a beach walk yesterday and then crashed for a two hour nap and then slept 8 hours last night. Any labor, walking OR brain, will crash me. ME-CFS sucks. I think we will have a handle on it in another decade and it’s clear that it is an immune system response. Too late for my employment, though. Ah, well. I got 30 years in. I was annoyed because I was NOT planning to retire yet. I keep running in to people who say, “How do you like retirement?” “I didn’t retire. I am disabled by my fourth pneumonia and grumpy about it.” “Oh,” they say. I should do the social thing, “Love it!” but I’ve never been good at that anyhow. I joke that I tell the truth because I am often not believed, so why bother to lie?

At any rate, 10 or 30% of the people who have had unhospitalized Covid-19 is a huge number of people, and we do not know how long Long Covid will last or how to resolve it. Stay tuned. I hope it is less than a decade, but it will be a little while yet.

Prayers and blessings for all.

The photograph is the really beautiful agate I found yesterday. For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: curmudgeon.

Long Covid and fatigue

Sometimes medical articles are SO IRRITATING! Like this:

Symptomatic Long COVID May Be Tied To Decreased Exercise Capacity On Cardiopulmonary Exercise Testing Up To Three Months After Initial SARS-COV-2 Infection

Healio (10/18, Buzby) reports a 38-study systematic review and meta-analysis “suggested with low confidence that symptomatic long COVID was associated with decreased exercise capacity on cardiopulmonary exercise testing up to 3 months after initial SARS-COV-2 infection.” According to the findings published in JAMA Network Open, “underlying mechanisms may include but are not limited to deconditioning, peripheral mechanisms, hyperventilation, chronotropic incompetence, preload failure and autonomic and endothelial dysfunction.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if they believed the patients?

Let’s break this down. What does it all mean? Ok, the “low confidence” irritates me because it implies that the physicians can’t believe the patients who say “hey, I am short of breath and have a fast heart rate and get really fatigued if I try to do anything!”

I have had my fourth bout of pneumonia with shortness of breath and tachycardia. This time, since I am older, I had hypoxia bad enough to need oxygen. This is the FIRST TIME that some physicians have actually believed me. They believed the pulse oximeter dropping down to 87% and below, with a heart rate in the 140s, but they did not believe me and some accused me of malingering, for the last 19 years. Can you tell that I am a little tiny bit annoyed? If my eyes shot lasers, there would be some dead local physicians. And I AM a local physician, disbelieved by my supposed peers.

Let us simplify this gobbdygook: “underlying mechanisms may include but are not limited to deconditioning, peripheral mechanisms, hyperventilation, chronotropic incompetence, preload failure and autonomic and endothelial dysfunction.” The way I think of it is that sometimes a pneumonia will cause lung tissue swelling. Ok, think of the air space in your lungs as a large balloon. Now the wall of the balloon swells inwards and suddenly there is half as much air space. Guess how your body takes up the slack? The heart goes faster and you have tachycardia. This is a very simple way to think about it. I have tested patients who complain of bad fatigue after an upper respiratory infection with a very simple walk test. 1. I test them at rest, heart rate and oxygen saturation. 2. I walk them up and down a short hallway three times. 3. I sit them back down, and watch the heart rate and oxygen saturation. I watch until they are back to their seated baseline.

A friend tested recently and his resting heart rate was 62. After walking, his heart rate is in the 90s. H does not have a pulse oximeter, but his oxygen level is probably fine. However, that is a big jump. He has had “a terrible cold” for 8 days. I would bet money that his heart rate normally doesn’t jump that much. He still needs recovery time and rest.

In clinic, I had people who were ok at rest but needed oxygen when they walked. We would get them oxygen. More often, they did not need oxygen, but they were tachycardic. When they walked, their heart rate would jump, over 100. Normal is 60-100 beats per minute. If they jumped 30 beats or jumped over 100, I would forbid them to return to work until their heart rate would stay under 100 when they walked. If they went back to work they would be exhausted, it would slow healing, and they might catch a second bacteria or virus and then they could die.

Patients did not need a pulse oximeter. I would teach them to take their own pulse. The heart rate is the number of beats in 60 seconds. I have trouble feeling my own wrist, so I take mine at my neck. It’s a bit trickier if someone has atrial fibrillation but the pulse oximeters aren’t very good with afib either.

When I have pneumonia, my resting heart rate went to 100 the first time and my walking heart rate was in the 140s. I had influenza and felt terrible. My physician and I were mystified. It was a full two months before my heart rate came down to normal. I was out of shape by then and had to build back up. If I tried to walk around with my heart at 140, I was exhausted very quickly and it also felt terrible. The body does NOT like a continuous fast heart rate and says “LIE DOWN” in a VERY FIRM LOUD VOICE. So, I lay down. Until I recovered. For a while I was not sure if I would recover, but I did. This time it was a year before I could go to part time oxygen.

The fatigue follows the heart rate. Tachycardia is not good for you long term. If the heart is making up for reduced air space in the lungs, it doesn’t make sense to slow the heart rate with drugs. You NEED the heart to make up for the lungs. You need to rest, too!

Blessings and peace you.

The photograph is Elwha, helping me knit socks. With the bad air from the fires and my still recovering lungs, I am staying indoors and knitting socks .

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 and walking pneumonia

I wrote this essay in July 2017. Before Covid-19. It is clear that Covid-19 is also causing a walking pneumonia. People are exhausted when they get out of bed. No fever, they may not cough much, but if they get up, they can feel exhausted. The key to this is the heart rate, the pulse. If the pulse jumps 30 points faster or more, this implies lung swelling and reduced lung capacity. Right now, the only treatment we have is rest and time to heal. I should know, I’ve had really bad walking pneumonia four times: the first two times I was out for two months. The third time 6 months with 6 more months half days and chronic fatigue. The fourth time put me on oxygen.

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. I will write more about that in the next essay.

From 2017: Walking pneumonia is changing.

The classic bugs are four “atypical bacteria”:

mycoplasma pneumonia
chlamydia pneumonia (this is not the STD chlamydia. Different one.)
legionella
pertussis (whooping cough)

However, streptococcus pneumonia can also be a walking pneumonia OR a lobar pneumonia. In a lobar pneumonia the person usually is short of breath, running a fever of 102-104, and they point to where it is: hurts in the right upper chest. On chest x-ray there will be consolidation: whited out from fluid or swelling instead of nice ribs and dark air. They are often tachycardic and hypoxic.

In walking pneumonia the person often has no or minimal fever, they just feel tired or short of breath when they do things, and the chest xray can be “clear”. It isn’t really “normal”, it’s just that the bacteria or virus affects the entire lungs and causes some swelling throughout and doesn’t white it out.

“Double” pneumonia is when the chest film is whiting out on both sides. We also see the lungs whiting out with ARDS — acute respiratory distress syndrome. So after trauma in a car wreck and lots of broken ribs, the lungs can be bruised too and white out. Ow. Influenza virus can cause lung swelling and in the 1917-1918 flu infected military recruits lungs were swelling shut. They would turn blue and die.

“My” strep that I’ve had pneumonia with twice is streptococcus A, not strep pneumonia. It causes strep throat mostly though it can invade and cause sepsis or pneumonia or cellulitis. There are currently 4000+ known strains of strep A, and some are resistant to antibiotics or can cause kidney damage or do all sorts of nasty things. I think that “my” strep is resistant to azithromycin.

The current guidelines say to treat walking pneumonia with azithromycin. However, a paper came out this year saying that resistance to azithromycin is rising among streptococcus pneumonia and that nearly 50% of strains tested were resistant. Uh-oh. That means that azithomycin doesn’t work and the person can get sicker and may die. I talked to a pulmonologist in Seattle when I needed help with someone. He said that he would have said there weren’t any resistant strep pneumo strains here in Washington except that he had one intubated and in the ICU right then. “I’m convinced now, ” he said.

A lobar pneumonia is easier to diagnose. Abnormal chest x-ray, reasonably healthy people run a high white blood cell count (so my frail folks, immunosupressed folks and 90 year olds don’t raise their white blood cell count), and a fever (ditto) and look sick. The walking pneumonia people come in saying they have been coughing for 3 weeks or 4 weeks or two months. I am doing more lab testing because of the resistance.

This winter I have seen 6 different causes of walking pneumonia here: influenza A, respiratory syncytial virus (In more than one person over 60. That is NOT who the books say it should affect. It’s supposed to mostly cause bronchiolitis in babies and preemies), pertussis, strep pneumococcus, strep A and none of the above. All looking pretty much the same, but with different treatment.

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/15/8/08-1187_article
https://www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/atypical/mycoplasma/index.html
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/820736
https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/threat-report-2013/pdf/ar-threats-2013-508.pdf#page=79
RSV: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/rsv.html
Mycoplasma resistance to azithromycin has been reported too: http://erj.ersjournals.com/content/36/4/969

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: Long Haul

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-58918869 Some people with Long Haul Covid-19 are having to relearn how to walk and talk.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-leicestershire-59674203. Patients who were hospitalized are still affected at 5 months and one year after they are released from the hospital. Being female and obese are big risk factors. The article says “Long Covid has the potential to become highly prevalent as a new long-term condition.”

One more:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8146298/ ” While the precise definition of long COVID may be lacking, the most common symptoms reported in many studies are fatigue and dyspnoea that last for months after acute COVID-19. Other persistent symptoms may include cognitive and mental impairments, chest and joint pains, palpitations, myalgia, smell and taste dysfunctions, cough, headache, and gastrointestinal and cardiac issues.”
“One puzzling feature of long COVID is that it affects survivors of COVID-19 at all disease severity. Studies have discovered that long COVID affects even mild-to-moderate cases and younger adults who did not require respiratory support or hospital or intensive care. Patients who were no longer positive for SARS-CoV-2 and discharged from the hospital, as well as outpatients, can also develop long COVID [24,30,31,41,50]. More concerningly, long COVID also targets children, including those who had asymptomatic COVID-19, resulting in symptoms such as dyspnoea, fatigue, myalgia, cognitive impairments, headache, palpitations, and chest pain that last for at least 6 months [51–53].”

And the symptoms? “The most common ongoing symptoms were fatigue, muscle pain, physically slowing down, poor sleep and breathlessness.”

Yes, the same as mine.

My initial evaluation of Long Haul Covid-19 patients will cover three areas:

1. Behavioral Health. Are they having brain fog, feeling slowed, feeling like they can’t think? Is that what happened during the Covid-19 or did the opposite happen? Were they manic/ADHD/OCD etc? What happened in the weeks leading up to getting sick? Any major worries or life trauma? Lose a job, a relationship, someone in the family die? I am looking for a dopamine antibody pattern.

2. Musculoskeletal Chronic Fatigue. What muscles work and which muscles don’t work? If they need to lie in bed for 20 hours a day, both slow and fast twitch muscles are affected. If they are short of breath, they should have pulmonary function tests, including a loaded and unloaded walk test. Are their oxygen saturations dropping? They also need a sleep study. Check for sleep apnea. Any signs of ongoing infection with anything? Teeth, sinuses, ears, throat, lungs, stomach, lower gut, urinary, skin.

3. Musculoskeletal Fibromyalgia. WHEN do their muscles hurt? Is it after eating? Do they fall asleep after they eat or does their blood pressure drop after eating? What diet changes have they made? Are there things they have identified that they can’t eat? Gluten, lactose, meat, sucrose, fructose, nightshades, whatever. I am looking for antibodies to lysogangliosides.

Treatment:

High antibody levels can be lowered somewhat just with “lifestyle changes” aka no drugs.

A. Treat infection if present. Look for strep A with an ASO, since we have an occult one that is in the lungs, not the throat. For fungal infection, even just on the skin, lower blood sugar as much as tolerated. This may mean a ketotic diet.

B. Treat behavioral health with drugs if emergent. If suicidal or really losing it (meaning job/relationships/whatever), then drugs may be needed. But not forever. Avoid benzodiazepines. Check for addictions.

C. Lower antibody levels:
a. Lower stress. Many people will resist this. Counseling highly recommended, ‘cept they are all swamped. Have the person draw the three circles: a day in the present life, their ideal life and then what their body wants. Listen to the body.

b. You can sweat antibodies out: hot baths, hot shower, steam room, sauna, exercise. Daily in the morning, because cortisol rises when we get up, and so levels should be lowered.

c. Is there a stimulant that works for this person to calm them down? Or an antidepressant if they are slowed instead of sped up. The relatives of dopamine that work for ME are coffee caffeine and terbutaline. Ones that do NOT work for me include albuterol and tea caffeine. Ones that I have not tried include theophylline, that new relative of albuterol and ADHD meds like adderall. This will be individual to the person because we all make different antibodies. We are looking for a drug that displaces the dopamine antibodies. For people who are slowed or have brain fog, the stimulants may not work. I would try the SSRI antidepressants first, like sertraline and citalopram, unless the patient tells me they don’t work or make them anxious. I would screen for PTSD. For high PTSD scores and high ACE scores, I would use the old tricyclics, mirtazapine (which is NOT a benzodiazepine), wellbutrin or trazodone. Again, avoid benzodiazepines. Also check how much alcohol and marijuana are on board, because those are definitely going to make brain fog worse. The functional medicine people are treating mystery patients with hyperbaric oxygen chambers and I suspect that this works for the people with blocker tubulin antibodies.

d. Muscle pain/fibromyalgia symptoms. Avoid opioids, they will only work temporarily and may addict. Avoid muscle relaxants, they will only work temporarily. Again, the tricyclics may help. The newer antiseizure drugs that are indicated for fibromyalgia are possibilities, though as an “old” doctor I am conservative about “new” drugs. Gabapentin, pregabalin, and if the person is sped up, antiseizure medicines that are used for mania. GENTLE exercise. The line between me having a good day today and overdoing is knife thin. On the overdoing days I go to bed at 5 pm. I went to sleep at 5 pm yesterday and 6:30 last night. I sang for church last night and even though I’d driven myself there, one of the quartet offered to drive me home. “Do I look that grey?” I asked. “Yes.” he said. I turn grey from fatigue and it can be sudden. Right now it’s after my second meal. If I am active, I will fall asleep after lunch if I can. If I go really light on lunch, I crash right after dinner. And remember, I am one of the lucky people who only have fast twitch muscles affected, not fast and slow twitch.

I am adding this to yesterday’s Ragtag Daily Prompt: hopeful.