Long Covid healing crash

I have a friend with Long Covid. Eight months now.

My friend describes blood sugar crashes. She does not have diabetes and was tested before Covid. She has not been tested again.

“Sometimes I eat dinner, feel better, and then an hour later I feel terrible again. I have to eat again. And I ate extra in November and all that happened is I gained ten pounds. So eating extra doesn’t work.”

I suspect that as the clue: the feeling terrible an hour after she eats.

I call her the next day: “Spread the carbohydrates out. It could be that your body is producing too much insulin, storing the glucose and carbohydrates, and then your blood sugar gets too low. That can happen early in type 2 diabetes, but this could also be a healing mode.”

I write about carbohydrates to her. Anything that is not a fat or a protein is a carbohydrate. So all the grains and all the vegetables and fruits have carbohydrates, sugars. Glucose, fructose, maltose, lactose. Milk products contain lactose, but also fat and protein. Avocados are weird fruit and mostly fat. Sugar beets and peas are high sugar vegetables. A small apple is 15 grams of carbohydrate and a large one is 30. A tablespoon of sugar is also 15 grams of carbohydrate. A coke had 32 grams and a Starbuck’s mocha has over 60 grams. I quit drinking them when I looked that up. Empty calories.

A cup of kale has only 7 grams of carbohydrate for our bodies. The rest is fiber that we can’t break down into sugars. Fiber doesn’t raise our blood sugar. I wonder about cows with their four stomachs: they can break grass down into food and we can’t.

At any rate, my friend is going to try 3-4 meals a day with only 30-45 grams of carbohydrate and three snacks, at 15-30. This is an athlete and young. Most of my patients were closer to 70, so would need to do the lower end of those numbers.

I had crashes after my second and third pneumonias in 2012 and 2014. Strep A pneumonia and strep throat of the muscles. It hurt, like all over Strep A. After the 2014 one, it was six months before I could go back to work. When I did, it was exhausting. I was only seeing 3-5 patients a day at first and could barely do that. I ate one meal a day because food crashed me. As soon as I ate I went to sleep. My MD did not believe me. I saw a naturopath too. She claimed it was a food allergy and I said, “I don’t think so. I think it is a healing crash. I think my body is doing a ton of repair work and wants me asleep and not moving much.” Over the next six months it slowly improved. I went to 2 meals a day. Since then I really do not eat until I have been up for 4-6 hours. Expect tea with milk. And yes, I am getting a little nutrition through the milk, fat and protein and lactose.

I had one patient who said eating made her faint. I didn’t know what to do, but she was in the ICU, ate lunch and then fainted into her tray. The nurse was standing right there and immediately did a blood sugar and called me. Her blood sugar was in the low normal range. We transferred her to Virginia Mason in Seattle. She came back with a diagnosis that seemed pretty much like hand waving. Idiopathic (meaning the doctors dunno why) central (ok, brain) something syndrome, which meant yeah, she faints after she eats and doesn’t have diabetes and that is weird.

I am reading about similar neurological symptoms with Long Covid and also POTS: postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. This translates to heart rate goes faster than it should when the person stands up. Again, the cause is not clear and it’s not clear how to fix it.

Once an older patient went to the neurologist to discuss getting dizzy when she stood up. She returned grumpy. “He said that I just have to stand up slowly because I am 80. I don’t feel like I’m 80. I want to hop out of bed like I always have. But if I do, I nearly faint.” Her body was taking longer to equilibrate blood pressure after she stood up. The neurologist said no medicine: stand up slower. She grumpily complied.

I told my friend that maybe the pancrease is stressed and producing too much insulin. To store food. But another possibility is that her body wants her to lie down and rest so that it can do healing work after eating. This would make any young person impatient, but sometimes we have to listen to our bodies. I have learned THAT the hard way.

Blessings.

__________________

The photograph is of a Barbie ambulance/clinic. It does have a gurney, but the back opens up to be a fairly well appointed clinic, with lots of details, including a television in the waiting room. Today the doctor has wings. Fairy? Angel? We are not really sure.

Blessed

You needn’t worry that I will importune you.
Words explode and swirl upon the page.
It’s more likely that I’ll say blankly “Who?”
Since I enlarge upon a fascinating stage.
Approaching two years since I was taken sick,
on oxygen I wrote a poem of farewell.
Career ending injury: nature can be such a dick.
Breathing is important. Absent it is hell.
I am still healing. I hope that I can ski.
I am lucky that my fatigue is relatively mild.
My oxygen can go 9000 feet up where I’ll see
muscle dysfunction truly makes me wild.
Friends and family gather close and gather far
I feel blessed beneath a lucky star.

________________

Sonnet #2 for the Ragtag Daily Prompt: sonnet.

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.

Exercise mets

Mets could be metastases, a terrible word in cancer. But this is exercise mets. I am half way through my pulmonary rehabilitation for pneumonia and getting stronger. So what is a met? “One MET is approximately 3.5 milliliters of oxygen consumed per kilogram (kg) of body weight per minute.” (from https://www.healthline.com/health/what-are-mets#definition).

Ok, that doesn’t seem very useful. I find this way more useful, a chart of how many mets are used for certain activities:

https://www.healthline.com/health/what-are-mets#examples

The treadmill I am using at pulmonary rehab tells me how many mets I am using. However, last time I turned it on and didn’t enter my weight. It uses 155 pounds, which is more than I weigh. I think that then the mets are wrong. It isn’t exact anyhow. The important thing is that I am improving and off oxygen! I am now up to 5.3 mets, going at 3.3 mph, on a 4% grade, for 40 minutes. Pulmonary rehab is twelve weeks, twice a week, with a respiratory therapist and a physical therapist.

My respiratory therapist asks my goals. To bicycle distance, hike across the Olympics, and to ski again, off oxygen. That means altitude. Once we are above 5500 feet, the body really starts noticing the thinner air. I am not there yet but I am so pleased to be improving.

On the chart, I am in the moderate exercise range. To bicycle, I would have to be able to sustain 8 mets. Not yet, not yet.

Being off oxygen (except night, flute, sustained singing and heavy exercise) is GREAT! The intrinsic problem has not been fixed, thought. Fully twenty specialists since 2012 have not figured out why I get pneumonia easily and how to protect me, other than masking and not working in Family Medicine or anything people intensive. It’s annoying, my career has been blown up. I don’t have much hope of an overarching diagnosis at this point, but I’m willing to keep trying. We don’t know everything in medicine and really, I do not think we ever will. It’s endlessly complex and fascinating.

I think the mets chart should be shared with patients. I had one couple who insisted that the woman had PMS even though she was postmenopausal. I scratch my head and continue to watch her. After months something made me suspicious and I order an echocardiogram. She had congestive heart failure, seriously reduced heart output. I promptly called the cardiologist and said, “This is new, she is on NO MEDICINES.” He saw her within a week. Sometimes things do not present in a straight forward manner. She felt much better once we got her heart functioning better. If a person is losing their ability to perform moderate intensity mets, they should see their doctor. It could be spending too many hours in front of a screen (turn it off, get up, go outside, walk daily!) but it could also be something else. Heart is the number one killer still.

Stay healthy and keep those mets up!

Ha. I did use the word certain, didn’t I? And one of my favorite exercises is dancing. Listening to this right now:

Covid-19: Long Haul III

The CDC has guidelines for Long Covid and it can qualify for disability in the United States.

Here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects/index.html

And here: “As of July 2021, “long COVID,” also known as post-COVID conditions, can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Learn more: Guidance on “Long COVID” as a Disability Under the ADA, Section

Here is the list of “most common” symptoms from the CDC:

General symptoms

  • Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort (also known as “post-exertional malaise”)
  • Fever

Respiratory and heart symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)

Neurological symptoms

  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
  • Headache
  • Sleep problems
  • Dizziness when you stand up (lightheadedness)
  • Pins-and-needles feelings
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Depression or anxiety

Digestive symptoms

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain

Other symptoms

  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Rash
  • Changes in menstrual cycles

There are recommendations for a work up by physicians. Depending on symptoms, this may include labs, ECG, echocardiogram (heart ultrasound), CT scan and other tests.

A friend has just gone through those four tests . They are “normal” except for her heart rate. At rest her heart rate is 70 with a normal oxygen level. Walking, her heart rate jumps to 135. Over 100 is abnormal in this athlete who is NOT exerting heavily.

So WHAT is going on with NORMAL testing? I think this is “Covid-19 Viral Pneumonia”, a complication of Covid-19, just as “Influenza Viral Pneumonia” is a complication of influenza. Ralph Netter MD has an illustration of lungs from a person who died of influenza viral pneumonia: the lungs are swollen and inflamed and bruised. WHY is the testing “normal” then? The swelling is throughout the lungs, so a chest x-ray sees it as all the same density and a CT scan also sees it as all the same density. The lungs may have mildly decreased breath sounds, but the sounds are even throughout the lungs. The useful TEST is a walk test. I have tested patients with “walking pneumonia” in clinic for years: get a resting heart rate and oxygen level. Then have my patient walk up and down the hall three times and sit back down. Watch the heart rate and oxygen level. If the heart rate jumps 30 beats up or is over 100, the person needs to continue rest until the heart rate stays under 100 or jumps less than 30 beats. It is important to observe the heart rate until they recover. Sometimes the oxygen saturation will drop as the heart rate comes down, and some people qualify for oxygen. Steroids do not seem to work for this. The length of time to healing is not totally surprising, because a lobar pneumonia that is visible on chest xray takes 6-8 weeks to fully clear. It is not too amazing that a bad walking pneumonia could also take 6 weeks or more to clear. If the person returns to work too soon, they prolong the lung inflammation and they are at risk for exhaustion and for a secondary pneumonia. The treatment is REST REST REST and support.

Do they need oxygen? Currently oxygen is covered only if the person’s oxygen saturation drops down to 88%. However, I think that oxygen would help recovery and make them less exhausted. With my first walking pneumonia, which was influenza, my walking heart rate was 135 and my resting heart rate was 100. Both were abnormal for me. Neither I nor my physician could figure it out. This was in 2003. I did look in my Netter book: I took one look at the painting of the influenza lungs and shut the book. “Oh.” I thought. “That’s why I can’t breathe.” The image is here, though I wish it were bigger.

It took two months for my heart rate to come down, the lung swelling to improve, and me to return to work. I read the text of Dr. Netter’s image a year later and then I read an entire book about the 1918-1919 influenza. Since then I have walked people who come in complaining of exhaustion after a “cold” or “bad cough”. Viruses can cause this and so can bacteria: mycoplasma pneumonia, chlamydia pneumonia, pneumococcal pneumonia, legionella and strep A. If the fever is gone, the infection has probably resolved, but it still can take days or weeks for the lung tissue to recover.

For Covid-19, I would add a third test: walking with weights. We test cardiac patients by asking if they can carry two bags of groceries up a flight of stairs. That is 3 Mets, a measure of the heart load. We need to measure the lung load as well. If the lung tissue is swollen, the amount of airspace is cut down and can be half normal. The heart attempts to take up the slack. The person may tolerate a heart rate of 135 for a while, but it is like running a marathon. If they are older or have heart disease, this can trigger a heart attack. I would walk the person carrying hand weights, and see the recovery.

Also, brain fog is unsurprising. If your oxygen level is borderline, it is darn hard to think. I write really strange songs when I am hypoxic. I get goofy and feel weird. The fast heart rate also feels like anxiety: I think that the body is trying to tell me to rest.

The definition of Long Covid is symptoms after 30 days. Please see your physician if you are still ill and continue to have symptoms.

Blessings.

Here is a recent article about T-cells and inflammation in the lungs of Covid-19 patients: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8460308/

and this: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2020.589380/full

kooky klothes

I took this May 31, 2022. I was still pretty sick with pneumonia and needed oxygen to do practically anything. I had dropped ten pounds the first week of being sick, March 20th. In 2014 it was six months before I could return to work and then only part time and exhausted. So I knew I was likely to be in for a six month haul. I hadn’t figured on needing oxygen, but it made me feel so much better and be able to think again!

Anyhow, I was entertaining myself by going through my closet and putting on things that I did not wear to work. I like the sun lighting up my legs in this photograph. The dress is shorter than it looks and the jacket has tags in Japanese and is a soft woven silk. I thrift shop by feel, because silk and mohair and cashmere and wool and cotton feel so wonderful.

Later the same day, I took this photograph:

I would wear out very quickly during the day. Today it is pouring here and last summer by now it was much much warmer! The sun made my lungs hurt less.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: kooky.

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.

organize

I am ready to organize my house.

I thought for years that I am NOT capable of organizing a house.

It turns out that I never had time to organize my house. I was a single mother family physician doing rural medicine including obstetrics and frequently on call, and then I opened my own business.

So organizing the house was way down the list of priorities.

I’ve been home now since March 20, 2020. I am starting to really recover from the pneumonia and muscle dysfunction. So now I am organizing once again.

I need a work room, other than the computer room. I set one up upstairs, but in this 1930s house, the upstairs room is too cold. It is great for sleeping but not for a prolonged time working on a project. So I am eyeing my spaces. I could use the front room which is currently the invasion from my clinic. However, I love having the front windows right there when I am on the computer. The cats have a chair there too and keep me company.

I am eyeing rooms in the basement. There is baseboard electric in three rooms. It means moving things around, but that is not difficult. It may take me a little while, but I will get it done.

I am ready to organize it.

____________________

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: READY!

acoustic bicycle

Over KwanChunChrisSoliday, we discuss bicycles. We now have a plethora of electric bicycles, so we need a phrase that describes the “old” style bicycle. We came up with acoustic or analog. I like acoustic bicycle, because it sings.

My friend B-from-Arlington (BfA): “But they don’t make noise.” He didn’t approve of either idea.

“Well, we had spoke bells, and playing cards. My bikes make noise.” Sometimes it’s me making it.

We are riding on a rails to trails path in Northern Virginia. Seven of us and me on oxygen. It’s only my second bike ride since March 2021, when my lungs fell apart. We are all on acoustic bicycles.

I feel pretty strong for most of it, 14.5 miles. It seems flat, though it is a very gentle downgrade, until the last 0.5 mile, which is gently up hill. Oh, my lungs don’t like that bit at all and by now my muscles are saying Why are we doing this? I am relieved when we get to the coffee shop destination. Three of us will stay there, while the other four will ride back and get the cars. I hang out with K-f-A, BfA’s spouse, and their son. Their son examines my phone, asks why it has four camera eyes. I have no idea, so he proceeds to figure it out. We play with the slow motion camera for a while.

We know what a penny farthing is, and safety bicycles and tricycles. The early safety bicycles did not have brakes and had wooden rims and wooden spokes. My brother outlaw has one, from the 1880 or 90s. Another friend collects penny farthings and has one that is entirely of cast iron. It would be a little bumpy and the seat is pretty hard. It is also massively heavy. So now we add acoustic bicycles to the electric ones.

Go, google, spread the word.

________________________________

Dang, others have come up with it too. Traditional bicycle sounds too fogey.
https://www.reddit.com/r/ebikes/comments/hp2l30/can_we_please_stop_calling_traditional_bicycles/
https://www.bikebiz.com/what-shall-we-call-the-non-electrified-bicycle/

Covid-19: masks work, we figured that out YEARS ago

I was thinking about masks and the whole “masks don’t work” or “masks are unproven*” thing. That is complete and utter crap. We proved masks work YEARS ago.

If they don’t work, do you mind if your surgeon don’t wear one? What about your nurse with a cough when you are in the ICU? I think we have proved quite definitively in the operating room that masks work.

Also, your family doc and OBgyn ain’t gonna NOT wear a mask when delivering baby because it can be REALLY SPLASHY. And some patients who are delivering a baby have hepatitis B or HIV or hepatitis C or whatever. WE DO NOT WANT TO CATCH IT SO WE WEAR MASKS. MASKS WORK.

And take tuberculosis. Tuberculosis bacillus is tiny and can be air borne, if you have active tuberculosis and cough. We use reverse flow rooms in the hospital with an airlock: a door to a small entry room, that has to close before you enter the inner patient room. And the air is slightly lower pressure so that air comes in from the airlock but doesn’t flow out. All the air out of the room is filtered to catch and kill the tuberculosis bacillus. We go in the airlock and put on nearly full gear: gown, gloves, mask, hair covers, shoe covers. When we come out, we take it all off in the airlock. We also keep a stethoscope in the room so that we don’t carry infection from patient to patient.

So the whole anti mask thing seems categorically insane to me.

Like, didn’t we figure out masks work back before the civil war? Or thereabouts. No, maybe later than that. Without masks and gloves we had all the women with post baby fever, who died like flies and most people died of infection after surgery. Until that coke addict at Johns Hopkins made people wear clean clothes and wash their damn hands before each surgery and wear gloves. Suddenly people survived post surgery at a much higher rate. Everyone came to train with him to imitate him. By 1897 everyone was wearing gloves to prevent infection. And so a brilliant coke addict invented medical residency, which is why residents are not allowed to sleep. We’ve gotten over that a bit.

Anyhow: masks work. Think, people, think.

*Usually the unnews qualifies this as “masks are not PROVEN to work with Covid-19”. What, you want a ten year clinical trial first? Are you crazy? And the resounding answer is “YES! We are crazy!”

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: December. Because everyone should have figured out masks by now.