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

from blue to breathe

I attended a medical conference on line yesterday and today and it made me very blue. At first it just frustrated me, because it is about increasing behavioral health access. Isn’t that a good thing? Yes, but they completely missed the biggest barrier for primary care: TIME.

With the current US medical corporate money extracting insurance non-caring system, primary care is increasingly forced into 20 or 15 or 10 minute visits. I fought my hospital district when they said “See patients for one thing only.” I replied “That is unethical and dangerous: if it is a diabetic with an infected toe, I HAVE to check their kidney function, because antibiotic dose must be adjusted if their kidney function is reduced.” And there are at least two and maybe three problems there: infection, and if the diabetes is out of control that worsens the infection, and then kidney function. And actually I have to be sure anyone going on antibiotics has good kidney function or adjust my dose. I am very very good at this, but it takes time. I can work with complex patients, with veterans, with opiate overuse, with depression: but none of this is a simple template slam dunk. A study more than a decade ago says that the “average” primary care patient had 5 chronic illnesses. My patients don’t want to come in for each one separately and anyhow, if they have kidney problems I have to pay attention when I pick medicines for their high blood pressure. None of it can be separated out. That is why medicine is complicated.

Someone asked why can’t I just post the price of a “simple” visit for a sore throat. But a sore throat can be viral, can be strep A, can be a paralyzed vocal cord, can be a throat abscess, can be vocal cord cancer. I can’t tell ahead of time. I can’t. Early on during covid, a patient called and wanted a Zoom visit for abdominal pain that he said was constipation. I said “No, I can’t do abdominal pain over Zoom safely.” I can’t ASSUME it is constipation. It was appendicitis and he had his appendix out that evening. He called from his hospital bed the next day to thank me for making him come in.

The conference made me blue because they ignored my questions about why they were not advocating for primary care to have more time with patients. They claim to be all about change, but changing the US medical system? Nope. Do not want to talk about that. But I do want to talk about it. You can help by letting Congress know: single payer or medicare for all. That insurance company gets 20 cents of every dollar to profit and wastes tons of money forcing doctors’ offices to call for prior authorization. And if we have single payer, think of all the small businesses that will start because the terror about health insurance will disappear! I think it would reduce everyone’s stress, except the insurance CEOs. And they have earned more than enough, goodbye greed.

I am also tired of specialists telling me that primary care needs to do MORE. When I get told that I am not doing enough about hypertension, bladder leakage, depression and stopping smoking, and then 20 other specialists lecture me. Ok, so one minute per topic to fulfill what all of them think I should do? I want a primary care conference where primary care doctors are celebrated: cases are presented where the specialist says what a brilliant job the primary care doctor did.

I received a consult letter from a cancer doctor a few years ago. He wrote that I had diagnosed the earliest case of chronic leukemia that he had ever seen and that he was impressed and the patient would do fine. That’s the conference that I want to go to: where primary care and specialists talk about that and we inspire more doctors to do primary care.

You can learn more and how to talk to your congressperson here: HealthCare Now: https://www.healthcare-now.org/

or at Physicians for a National Healthcare Program: https://pnhp.org

And put your vote and your money towards healthcare, not health insurance.

sober garden

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: garden.

We have beer gardens at many local events. Centrum music, the Wooden Boat Festival. People have to show identification to get into the beer garden and must keep the drink in there.

I want to start a Sober Garden as well as a Beer Garden. Let’s have a substance free area, roped off, for families and those who are choosing not to use substances, alcohol, opioids, tobacco, meth, whatever. At the events with families, the Beer Garden is roped off, but let’s rope both off. Let us have a Sober Garden and have food trucks and drinks and welcome families and welcome people who are not drinking alcohol or using other substances.

Let’s bring children out to the music and let families set a conscious example. There is no stigma if it is a Sober Garden for families and to support the whole community, including those recovering from addiction. Let us make it conscious and attractive.

When we rope off the Beer Garden and check identification to get in, aren’t we sending the message to the youth, especially teens, this is special, you are not allowed. Let us reverse that and have a bracelet for those going in to the Sober Garden. A sticker, a garden for families, a garden for people healing, a garden for making a different choice.

_____________________________________

music by Mike and Ruthy: simple and sober. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsFlHuhDP0A

My garden waiting under snow for spring.
Spring buds in the ornamental plum, with a bird.

Sometimes it takes a while to warm up to an idea. But spring will come and warmth.

cancer pen

A patient told me about the “cancer pen” yesterday. I promptly pictured  Star Trek’s Bones holding his device over patients, but no, this has to touch tissue…aka a piece of you…and do a chemical evaluation. It is to be used during surgery.

Here: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-41162994

This is neat new technology… but. I can hear my sister saying, “Uh, so what about PREVENTION?”

This is technology to remove cancer after it’s already grown. And presumably metastasized. So this is stage II, stage III, stage IV cancer.

Cancer deaths are the second biggest cause of death in the US. Around 23% of yearly deaths and that does not count the people who survive cancer. At present we do not have many screening tests for cancer: pap smears continue to evolve, and now the recommendation is an HPV test or pap smear every five years AND we have a vaccine for the high risk HPV.
We can screen for colon cancer.
Mammograms for breast cancer.
The screen for prostate cancer sucks.
We can do skin checks.
The screen for lung cancer is now a low dose CT in a certain population that is high risk, that is, smokers. The recommendations have not addressed smoking marijuana.
Recommendations in the US are here: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/.

There are lots of cancers that we don’t have screens for…. yet.

Proteomics is on the horizon. Genomics is looking at the genes, but it turns out that lots of cancers and infections and other illnesses have particular protein patterns. There is TONS of research in this area. Someday we may have protein tests: put a drop of blood or urine on it and say, “Hmmm. Looks like you have a positive test, probable lung cancer.”

That in turn creates problems. Initially we may be able to diagnose a cancer but not FIND it. Also not know how to treat it. The first big study trying to set up lung cancer screening had over 600 worrisome CT scans out of 1000. How many lung cancers did they find? Nine. And half of the nine had symptoms and could be found on chest xray by the time they did repeat CTs. Think of the anxiety of the 600 people who might have cancer and “We will repeat the CT scan in four months. Don’t worry too much.” Also there were complications from biopsying the lungs, like bleeding and pneumonia….

The best bet to avoid cancer is still living in a healthy way: don’t smoke anything, avoid addictive substances, eat good food, exercise, have friends and loved ones, work for yourself and your community, do some things you love…..

 

I took the photograph of my sister in 2011. She died of breast cancer in 2012. Her blog is here: butterfly soup.

For the Daily Prompt: strut. Struts support things: airplane wings, cars, things that move. How do we as a culture support people to live healthy lives?

support

Back to San Antonio. I loved the varying bridges over the River Walk. Each has a different design. Some have birds nesting and others are not as preferred. The bridges have multiple designs and supports and the water is always changing. Walking outside renews me because the world changes all the time, changes of fall now at home.