Several people have reached out to me to ask if I am still alive, since I have gone a month without a blog post. The answer is yes, but I am the first to admit that 2022 has not been one of my best years.
The major culprit, of course, is Covid. Hammered on a cruise ship in Iceland, I recovered just in time in early July to test negative and upon leaving the ship, did not have to be transferred to a “Covid Hotel” in Copenhagen. What I did not know then was that Covid was not finished with me. I have self-diagnosed as having Long Covid because the original Covid symptoms have now returned three times, all seemingly triggered by my overdoing it—after I had attempted to resume my regular activities of getting out and about, routine walking 2-3 miles a day, and doing volunteer activities associated with work on various nonprofit boards. Being hospitalized in Portland ME for another bout of BVS did not help much either (see previous blog posts about the incidents when I ended up in the emergency room at Washington Hospital Center and recently in Portland, ME, “ER Adventures 2022”). These recurrences have tended to last two to three weeks before I feel like I am able to get back to normal and declare myself free from this horrid disease. Then for a few days I am fine only to be hammered again with total fatigue and exhaustion, coughing, body aches and malaise. As I write this post, I feel fine, and have felt almost normal for three or four days. Tomorrow I could be hammered again by my unwelcomed nemesis.
So that is the story. But some have suggested that I do not have Long Covid, only a pesky respiratory virus with no name. It really does not make a difference what you call it, it is what it is, and as the saying goes, “sucks.”
Now one reason that there has not been a formal diagnosis is that the healthcare plan that I have has recently been changed so that there is a long wait period before you are able to see your primary care physician. You now must go online to get a “phone appointment” lasting 15-30 minutes. I signed up for the first open phone appointment about six weeks ago and will at last talk to my primary care doctor (whom I like) this Friday for the first time since coming down with Covid in late June.
I understand that Covid has changed the way we live and work on the Planet Earth and especially in the U.S. where hospitals have been overwhelmed. Health care workers are burned out and scarce, and hospital and medical systems are trying to cope. I have been tempted to switch Medicare insurance providers during this “open season,” but have resisted because I have about a half dozen doctors that I depend on in this system and am pleased with all of them. To try to start over is just too hard, and few of the people whom I have talked to who are in different systems are enthusiastic about the doctors or Medicare plans they have. The nurses and doctors are not the problem for me.
So, what is wrong with the health system I belong to? The post Covid protocol is first to refer anyone who has a health issue to the nearest emergency room. But how do you know if your health issue warrants an emergency room visit? And who wants to go to an emergency room unless you absolutely have to? During my two days in the Washington Hospital Center emergency room, I was confined to a dark corner separated by a thin curtain from the hustle and bustle of stretchers moving in and out carrying victims of gunshot and knife wounds, drug overdoses, car wrecks and heart attacks. This would be my last choice.
The second option is to go to an urgent care center. I have been to the urgent care center in my system three times, each involving a wait of several hours and then not getting a definitive diagnosis. If I was not very sick before the visit, I was after I departed. Not a very appealing option for me.
The third and final option is to call an “advice nurse,” who will hear your story and determine if you should talk to a doctor. This was the option that I selected; and after hearing my sad story, the nurse said I would receive a call from a physician who was at a hospital about 20 miles away. The doctor did call within a few minutes, listened to my story, was caring and supportive, and prescribed antibiotics for a sinus infection. She did ask me if I had had Covid and had all my vaccinations and boosters, but there was no mention of Long Covid.
So there you have it. This is the way health care now works in the United States—at least in some large health care systems. There are probably good reasons for some of this, but the idea of keeping patients away from their primary care physicians is idiocy. They are the ones who know you and have your medical history and are supposed to be your advocate. That used to be the case in the system I am in, but no longer. Your options are now emergency rooms, urgent care centers, and doctors who have never met you and never will, and interface with you briefly via phone or video. Does this make any sense? Not for patients like me, who may never know if I suffer from Long Covid but frankly do not care if someone, anyone, can keep these meltdowns with Covid-like symptoms from happening.