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.

the virtue of the disconnect

the virtue of the disconnect
learnt early
as a child

they say we are broken
wired wrong
enduring horror

he wakes at night
sleeps lightly

what was your childhood like?
how did you sleep?

it was not safe
we had to get up
leave in the night
gunshots

you survived your childhood

yes, I did

sleeping lightly saved you

yes, it did

you could rewire that
it takes a lot of time
to change the childhood wiring

or you could just
be ok

with sleeping lightly

cat worries

My cat is turning 17 soon. She and I visited a friend yesterday. The friend and I went off to the farmer’s market and returned. I called and the cat didn’t come. I looked under the bed, where she usually hides but she wasn’t there. I search the house and stand staring at the bed…. She couldn’t have gotten out, could she?

Unfathomable….

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: fathom.

Zzzzzz

The letter Z: zzzz. Zzzzzs, blessed sleep.

My friend is not asleep here. But what a place to sleep!

P1070926

And sleep in the sun!

sleep3

Sleep on a couch!

sleep1

Sleep in a boat!

sleep2

And back to the daybed.

P1080091

Blogging from A to Zzzzzz, and the challenge is done.

Z

Moon rise

My sleep cycle is a bit messed up, so I am up in the night. Here is a moon rise, more blue….

Doing rural medicine and attending deliveries and inpatient and call for years, I don’t worry if my sleep cycle is off time. I am happy to fall asleep early and don’t care if I am up in the night! There were years where I had call weekends of 72 hours or worked in clinic after a clinic day and being up most of the night. I like sleep but I don’t worry about when…. it is all good….

Alcohol

Let’s talk about alcohol.

I am a family practice physician and I talk to people of all ages about alcohol. The current recommendation is no more than seven drinks a week for women and fourteen drinks a week for men, no saving it up for the weekend. No more than two drinks in one day for women and no more than three for men.

“What?” you say “No way. Come on, that’s ridiculous.”

My patients don’t say “That’s ridiculous.” After all, they are paying me to do a physical exam and a preventative exam. I am supposed to give them advice. But what is the basis for that?

One drink is defined as a regulation 12 oz beer or 6 ounces of wine or two ounces of hard liquor. If it is a high alcohol beer or wine or liquor, the amount is less.

It is NOT the liver doctors that have given us these numbers. It is the cardiologists, the heart doctors. One drink in women or two in men lowers blood pressure and in general, has good effects. Go over that daily and there is a rebound in blood pressure as the alcohol wears off. Alcohol works in the same way as benzodiazepines: it makes people less anxious and more relaxed and lowers inhibitions. Both alcohol and benzodiazepines are addictive for many people. That is, they develop tolerance, it takes more of the substance to have the same effects, more tolerance and then it takes more and more substance to try to feel half way normal.

Cardiologists qualify this recommendation as follows: there is no recommended daily amount of alcohol that is considered heart protective because there are too many alcoholics. The recommended daily amount of alcohol for an alcoholic is none. The recommended daily amount of alcohol for the general population is none.

Alcohol withdrawal can be very very dangerous medically. I think that the three most difficult things to quit are heroin (and all opiates), methamphetamines and cigarettes, but alcohol is more dangerous. In heroin withdrawal all of the pain receptors fire at once, so it is torture, but people don’t die. With serious alcohol withdrawal, the blood pressure skyrockets and the person can have seizures, a stroke, a heart attack, delerium tremens and can die. In the hospital, benzodiazepines are used to slow the withdrawal, replacing alcohol in a controlled manner.

Alcohol does more than affect the blood pressure. Over time, alcohol can damage the heart and lead to congestive heart failure.

Of course, you know that it can damage the liver and lead to cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is sneaky: as long as there are a few functioning liver cells, the lab work can look pretty normal. The liver makes proteins for the blood and makes proteins that allow our blood to clot. Once there aren’t enough healthy cells to make those proteins, alcoholics will bleed quite spectacularly. If the amount of the protein albumin in their blood is low, fluid leaks from the blood into the tissues: so whatever part is “dependent”, that is, lowest, will be swollen. Alcoholics can have legs with swelling where I can push with my finger and there is a two or three cm dimple. Alcohol also can lead to gastritis and ulcers. If someone can’t clot and they are vomiting blood from an ulcer, the doctor gets a tummyache too, from worrying. Ow. The liver is also supposed to filter all of the blood in the body. As the liver gets blocked with dead liver cells, the blood starts to bypass it. The bypass is through blood vessels in the stomach. Remember that person vomiting blood? The swollen vessels in the stomach are called varicies and we don’t like them to bleed. They are big and can bleed really really fast. The person can die. I don’t like transfusing and really don’t like transfusing 12 units of blood. In end stage alcoholism, the liver no longer lowers the blood level of ammonia. Ammonia crosses the blood brain barrier and poisons the brain. We haven’t even discussed the lack of vitamin B12 and thiamine which can cause unraveling of the myelin sheaths on the long fibers in the spinal cord: this means that the person gets permanent asterixis and “walks like a drunk” even when they are sober. I’m sure I haven’t remembered all of the consequences of alcohol, but that will do for now, right?

How much alcohol daily causes the above charming picture? We Don’t Know. Really. And it is not okay to do randomized double blinded clinical trials to find out. Same with pregnant women: we don’t know if there is a safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy and we bloody well can’t test it. It is safer not to drink while you are pregnant.

In clinic, I ask how much people drink. If they say 1-2 drinks daily, I ask what the drink is. Sometimes they look confused. I explain that I have one patient who has two drinks a day: however, it is a 12 ounce glass with a little ice and a lot of whiskey. I asked him to estimate how much whiskey and he said, “6-8 ounces.” That is, each glass is 6-8 ounces. His blood pressure is not under control and so far I feel like a failure as a doctor with him; he is NOT reducing the amount. In medical school, the two jokes were: How much alcohol is too much? More than your doctor drinks. And: How much does the patient drink? Double or triple what they tell us.

The popular word in college used to be that you could drink one drink an hour and still be “okay”. “Okay” to drive and it would wear off. Sorry, nope. Breathalyzers are now pretty cheap; buy one if you are drinking more than the 1-2 per day. And the college students that are binge drinking 6-8 or more drinks on Friday and Saturday: it DOES have long term effects and it IS doing damage.

Lastly, sleep and depression. If you are having trouble sleeping, don’t drink. No alcohol at all. Alcohol is a depressant. It helps people to fall asleep. But they do not have “normal sleep architecture” and it works AGAINST them staying asleep. People often wake up as the alcohol wears off. And the blood pressure is having that rebound, remember, and often their heart will race. That is withdrawal. If you are having trouble sleeping or you are depressed, do not take a depressant. It makes it worse.

I saw a nineteen year old in clinic who admitted to “occasional” heroin use. “But I’m not addicted,” she said. I said, “Well, that’s good. But I took care of a bunch of people undergoing heroin withdrawal while I was in residency and it looked like one of the most painful things on the planet. So I would advise you to quit while you are ahead.” I saw her a year later and she said, “When I tried to quit, it WAS hard. I was addicted and didn’t know it. I’m off now and I won’t go back.” So if you tell me, no problem, I can quit alcohol any time, I say more power to you. Show me. And if it’s harder than you think, get help.

 

Originally written in 2009 and updated a little today. The picture is just a little fuzzy…like it might be if I was drinking…..

https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2015/06/addiction-disease-free-will

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/what-standard-drink