COVID, day 7.1: a trip to hospital

I am fine (ish). I spent five hours last night in the local hospital, but they released me without immediate need for further treatment, so I am back at home again.

Late yesterday evening, my pulse oximeter was giving a reading of 92%, which is below ideal, and I had a fever. Anne is a doctor’s daughter, checked the official Belgian clinical guidance, and got me to call the duty doctor who recommended that we go straight to hospital. So I had five somewhat dazed hours on a comfortable enough bed, being prodded, pricked and scanned; blood tests, EKG, lung scans.

The lung scans were particularly aimed at checking my vulnerability to a pulmonary embolism. I take a rather keen interest in this for three reasons:

  1. Embolism and thrombosis are the biggest killers of COVID patients in hospitals, because the virus makes your blood more likely to clot unhelpfully. In normal times, they are usually caused by blood clots from elsewhere in the body making it to the lungs; with COVID, the clots are already there.
  2. More personally, last year I was (successfully) advising the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis on how to get the World Health Organisation to recommend thrombosis risk screening in global clinical guidance for all new COVID patients in hospitals (I did not mention it at the time, but this was part of my motivation for going to Geneva in July 2020, where I directly lobbied ambassadors on the issue).
  3. Even more personally, my grandmother died of a pulmonary embolism at 31 in 1946, more than twenty years before I was born, leaving four small children, one a new baby. (My great-aunt, at 105, says that my son F has a real look of his great-grandmother, her sister who has been dead now for 75 years.)

So I was perfectly happy for them to take all the time they needed to assess the risks. In the end though, while my lungs are indeed speckled with COVID (and I didn’t need a scan to tell me that) the risk of clots seems to be low, which is a relief.

The other significant extra risk is of secondary infection, but they ruled that out with the first set of blood tests. Again, a relief.

So I was sent home at 2.30 am, with instructions to come straight back if I experience serious breathing difficulties, and/or if the oximeter reading drops below 90%. And I have just woken up.

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