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Report from the COVID-19 Front Lines in NYC

Since I returned from serving as a Nurse Practitioner on the front lines in NYC over the past month, I have had many requests to share my story. After some time to process my experiences there, now it’s time to share them with you, our Dr. Autoimmune Family.

I never imagined that I would see New York City, a city known for never sleeping, to be so desolate. And yet, there’s no avoiding it, the Novel Coronavirus-19 has left quite the wake in a city that has overcome so much tragedy. Day after day, we were met with eerie stillness. There’s no other way to describe the empty streets. There was none of the traffic, or taxi services, or crowded sidewalks that I remember from previous social visits to the city.

I undertook the assignment where FEMA and other Federal relief efforts were put into place to construct a relief team of medical providers for the New York Health and Hospitals system.  Given the extreme strain on the NY health care systems, we were told to plan on working 12.5 hours a day for 30 straight days. While it was a paid contract, I want to emphasize the struggle it took for me to go. I have a five year old son and a wonderful husband. I knew I’d be walking into intense and prolonged exposure to something that quite frankly, I was scared of. If I got sick, I would just be another one of my patients having to Facetime their family for comfort or in the worst cases scenario, to say their last goodbyes. In the end, I went because when I assessed the dire need for qualified health care providers and the experience that would be of greatest help in a provider, I had every qualification. I was unable to ignore the potential I had to really serve and help in such a crazy time as this.

The majority of my time was spent in a 450 bed pop-up tent hospital in Queens. We did not reach capacity, so the city began sending providers into hospitals to offer relief. It was so encouraging to be part of such a strong team of providers that were willing to help in any way needed. As a Nurse Practitioner, I spent the majority of my time as part of an in-patient treatment team. We would assess and round on patients who were with our facility for prolonged periods of time as they recovered. One of the most astounding things I realized with this disease is, when patients are going to decline, it happens fast.  I would have assessed a patient 15 minutes prior and then  a nurse would come running to get me because that same patient fell into extreme respiratory distress. I have heard this illness referred to as “just the flu.” Well, although some of the symptoms are similar, one distinct difference is length of the recovery period for some people. In some cases it can take weeks. Most every patient I had was on oxygen for weeks as we supported them through the recovery and healing process. This is not influenza.

I think this is what accounted for multiple dead bodies being found in a nearby hotel used to house recovering patients. Patients were discharged from hospitals to rest or recover before returning home or possibly because they were home insecure. I can understand how they felt. Fatigued by and unaware of decompensation in their respiratory status, they laid down to rest. Unfortunately for those four persons, they died in their sleep. In response to this tragedy, the City of NY began having our medical teams make rounds to those hotels every day to monitor vital signs, oxygenation status. Once again, a reminder that this virus is not the flu, it is not a virus we understand or have a set protocol to deal with after research and trials have given us the best evidenced based practice. This is new, this is unknown.

The unknown is very scary, especially when it comes to life or death situations. The media has been highlighting that since day one. From my experience, personally and professionally, allow me to bring you some comfort and solid advice where to direct your energy and attention. Fear does not deserve your energy.I think the media has very poorly represented the majority of people with COVID infections. We have defined an illness based on a very small subset of people who fare very poorly. The majority of infected persons will get better. They will overcome and recover with relative ease. Yes, some people may require closer attention or oxygen therapy for longer than other viruses require. In my personal experience with the illness, my patients all had underlying health issues that made them prone to illness because of a weakened immune system. I did not have one truly healthy person who had the disease and needed to be hospitalized or on oxygen.

Which brings me to the biggest take home advice I can think to offer. Optimize your health, optimize your immune system. People should have been doing this long before coronavirus, but now we have a pressing reason to assess our underlying health. I practice in the Western medical model, a system that accepts insulin resistance or Type 2 diabetes as normal. Where there is an undercurrent that certain diseases are unavoidable, i.e, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, autoimmune disorders, gut disease; and what is expected and superior care is to abate symptoms with prescribing pills instead of correcting the underlying problem and healing the disease. The providers are not bad. I genuinely believe, “The System” wants to serve people. But the truth of the matter is, our healthcare system is not set up to support the time, effort and knowledge needed to heal many illnesses. That’s why I have loved working with Dr. Autoimmune. I am living proof that you can heal your body, you can help the body heal itself. You can optimize the way your body systems work and experience a level of health and vitality most never enjoy.

As I have reflected on my time in New York, I realize that the fear I had before going there was not the feeling I had when I came home. I am not scared of COVID-19. I am not scared to serve and work with people who have contracted COVID-19. I prioritize optimizing my health and the health of my family every single day through the diet we eat, exercise, hydration and rest. We correct imbalances in our bodily systems with supplements and the therapies we utilize at Dr. Autoimmune. Can I still contract COVID-19? You bet. Although you and I can’t avoid exposure to COVID-19, what I can do is go to bed every night knowing I have made every effort to be the best version of myself – physically, mentally and emotionally.
Let this life-altering situation be the one that motivates you to grow into the healthiest person you can become.

Autoimmune Patients: Controlling Pain

When it comes to pain management for those suffering from autoimmune diseases, much research still needs to be done, especially within the realm of gut microbiome and the role it plays in managing pain and the corresponding symptoms; however, there are some ways that the digestive system and overall immune system can be boosted while also dealing with pain that results from autoimmune diseases!

Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system within the body essentially turns on the host, when it is actually supposed to fight off or defend against invaders like bacteria and viruses. It’s thought that the immune system and its subsequent collapse onto itself either has a part in making an autoimmune disease worse, or even causing it in the first place.

There are many different types of autoimmune disorders that can cause pain within the body, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s hypothyroid, lupus, celiac disease, and multiple sclerosis, just to name a few. Dr. Fassano and many experts appear convinced at this time autoimmune disease ignites from an interplay between genetic susceptibility, environment and triggers leading towards “intestinal permeability”, aka “leaky gut”. Many of these autoimmune disorders and the corresponding pain levels are often treated pharmaceutically, which aim to help suppress the immune system (with evidence from research that this guarantees a long term diagnosis). (1)

However, using medications like NSAIDS to help with pain in patients with autoimmune disease has shown to cause intestinal permeability/leaky gut. When the lining of the intestinal tract works as it should, there is a barrier between what goes into the bloodstream and what doesn’t. (2) With leaky gut, there are holes or cracks in the lining (broken cells or fissures between), meaning that toxins and food can get into other tissues, which can cause inflammation and unnecessary changes in the microbiome within the gut – which can in turn exacerbate these autoimmune diseases. (3)

Granted, NSAIDS can be effective at reducing pain in autoimmune patients; but there are other natural options available to those suffering from pain with these diseases, while limiting or eliminating the side effects of these drugs. Thankfully, incorporating compounds like anti-inflammatory phytonutrients into one’s diet can be a huge help in boosting health and reducing pain. These phytonutrients include such things as probiotics and resveratrol, as well as flavonoids (olive oil has one of the highest if the right product is utilized). (4)  Phytonutrients can be found in foods like spices, and brightly colored fruits and vegetables.

Yogurt, kimchee or sauerkraut have a vast majority of probiotics that are highly beneficial to gut health. These probiotics play an anti-inflammatory role, which can help to reduce or prevent changes within the microbiome of the gut. Studies have even shown a positive response on the balances of intestinal inflammation with probiotic consumption (5).

Resveratrol is most likely known for being present in wine and grapes, and is an antioxidant that has multiple health benefits….one of which is an anti-inflammatory. Incorporating resveratrol into the diet has shown to possibly change the development and progression of inflammation, which can be the foundation of many different types of chronic diseases. (6)

Flavonoids have several different subgroups, but they are typically found in foods such as legumes, ginger, green tea, and apples, just to name a few. These anti-inflammatory components also double as antioxidants, and have positive effects on the immune system. Studies have even shown that flavonoids have the ability to possibly reduce the start and progression of diseases that cause inflammation. (7)

Along with these phytonutrients, patients can also work on improving their gut health by incorporating whole, nutrient-dense foods into their diet, and hopefully manage pain associated with autoimmune disorders without the use of pharmaceutical drugs! If you need more information or would like to learn how to incorporate these tips into your daily routine to reduce pain, speak with your local certified functional medicine doctor in Boulder!

Side bar: Dr. Autoimmune specializes in chronic pain.  From Neuropathy, knee or back pain to chronic conditions stemming from autoimmunity it has been our goal to determine the root cause as a basis of our treatment plan.  We incorporate a detailed assessment, labs or diagnostics plus high tech machinery like low level laser therapy, shock wave therapy, Pulsed electromagnetic wave therapy or even regenerative medicine in tough cases.  Rest assured we are quite capable of finding the problem, isolating it and developing a treatment plan that is cost effective while producing results!  You don’t have to suffer anymore!  Contact us at 303-882-8447 and get ready to let Your health soar!