Covid-19: simplified self care

  1. I am a Family Practice Physician for 30 years. I have had pneumonia four times. I last got pneumonia on March 20, 2021 and I am still off work and on oxygen. This is the first time I have been on oxygen. No tobacco, no marijuana, no lung disease found to date but my mother had tuberculosis when I was born and my father smoked unfiltered Camels. With the hospital beds filling up, this is to help keep people out of the emergency room if they don’t need to be there and to help people track how sick they are.
  2. Learn to take your pulse. You need a second hand. Your heart rate is the number of beats in 60 seconds. Take it at rest (which means sitting or lying down). Then try taking it after you walk. It should be regular unless you have known atrial fibrillation. Also, if you are fifty or older, you may skip some beats so that you have early or late ones. That is not worrisome.
  3. Normal is 60-100. If you are very out of shape, you might go up to 120 after you run up the stairs or walk fast.
  4. If your resting pulse is 120 or higher, call your physician. If you are very short of breath with that or your lips are turning blue, call an ambulance right away.
  5. If your resting pulse is normal, say, 70 beats per minute, and your pulse after walking goes up 30 points or over 100, you are sick. If you are very short of breath after walking you may need oxygen. Call your physician and walk… really… slowly. When your lungs are swollen, there is less air space to exchange oxygen and your heart makes up the difference. If your heart is beating at over 100 for long, it is like running a marathon. Don’t stop walking completely because you are at risk for blood clots. But walk really slowly.
  6. If your resting pulse is normal and your walking pulse is ok, try a loaded walk. Carry something that weighs 20 pounds if you can. Then sit down and check a pulse again. If it is over 100 or jumps 30 points, you too have lung swelling, it’s just a little more subtle. You need to rest too.
  7. With practice, you will have a good idea what your pulse is before you do a formal count.
  8. You can use a pulse oximeter but you have to use it accurately. The fingers should be not moving and lying on the person’s knee or table or something. Otherwise it will give inaccurate readings and scare you. With a regular heart rate, look for the light to be picking up regularly before you believe the oxygen level. O2 sats under 87% need oxygen, but also if someone is going below 95% or is a child, call doctor or ambulance.
  9. Take a multivitamin. It is a lot of work for your heart to race fast. Rest, rest, rest. I have had 4 rounds of pneumonia with lung swelling. It took two months, two months, a year and this time I am five months post pneumonia and still on oxygen.
  10. Don’t use quack supplements and don’t take veterinarian ivermectin. Hello, you are not a sheep.
  11. Remember that if someone is hypoxic, they may act goofy, happy and unconcerned or be scared or have memory loss or just be confused. I write really weird rhyming songs when hypoxic and have the poor judgement to sing them to my doctor.
  12. GETTING VACCINATED IS YOUR BEST BET TO NOT DIE OF COVID-19. AND WEARING A MASK ALL THE TIME AROUND OTHER PEOPLE.

Good luck and take care.

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.

heart of clay

I look for a broken heart on the beach. I nearly miss it, but here it is. I nearly miss it because it is so large. A clay heart, broken all the way through.

Here is a stealthie with my foot for scale.

Shoe selfie for scale, at the base of the broken clay heart.

Part of the cliff has recently collapsed. The heart must have broken during the slide. It will wash away in pieces now. Here is the cliff and you can see the scar of the slide. And the broken heart.

broken clay heart in the wall of the cliff, with the scar of a slide collapse

I tried walking the beach without oxygen. I did pick up rocks. I took a pulse oximeter with me. Carrying maybe three pounds of rocks, my oxygen saturations drop. Not well yet. 87 or below is not ok. It feels awful and exhausting too. Like being at a high altitude and not used to it. A pulse of 130 also does not feel great, normal being 70-100.

Pulse oximeter, with pulse 130 and oxygen saturation 87.

Thank goodness for the oxygen and the tanks that let me be mobile. Blessings and take care of your heart.

Influenza and lung swelling

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. 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. 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 grabbed 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 spasms. Cough medicine doesn’t work 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!