Our primary care physicians, and nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, are being inundated with calls about sniffles, being in the same grocery store with someone who was coughing, along with all the other typical calls they get on a day to day basis. So, if you or a loved one is feeling out of sorts, is it time to call the doctor?
Let’s talk a minute about the actual symptoms for COVID19. Fever, cough, shortness of breath – those are the big ones that everyone agrees on. Note that sniffles, sneezing, headache, tummy ache, and fear of running out of toilet paper do not make the list.
If you have a loved one, specifically someone elderly or immunocompromised, who is not feeling like themselves today, how do you know when is the right time to call to doctor? Let’s look at a few signs to really look out for:
- Fever – a fever is a temp of 101.5ºF or higher. This is certainly a reason to call a doctor, especially if the temp doesn’t go down with a fever-reducing medication. But’s let’s not totally depend on this one. The elderly tend to have a normal temperature that is below our ‘accepted’ norm of 98.6ºF, and they don’t spike fevers the way younger folk do. So a lack of fever doesn’t mean we’re in the clear.
- Too tired to stay hydrated. If you’re trying to get Pop-pop to take a few sips of broth and he won’t do that, it’s time to call a doctor. If you or your loved one isn’t taking in at least 24 oz of fluid in a day, call for medical advice. Dehydration is a serious problem as we fight infection, and even more so when we’re fighting a lung infection. When we’re not hydrated, those lung secretions get thick and sticky, making them harder to cough up. If you can’t keep your loved one hydrated, he or she may need to be in the hospital, at least long enough for IV fluids.
- Too tired to move around. If you or your loved one is getting out of bed less than every few hours during the day, it’s time to think about calling a doctor. Lying in bed all day isn’t good for our lungs – it allows secretions to consolidate and fester, and that’s no good.
- Shortness of breath – we hear about it on the news, but how many of us know what it looks like? If Gramma has to stop mid-sentence to catch her breath, or pause between words to breathe – even when she’s sitting down – it’s time to call the doctor.
These are the big reasons I’d call a doctor for a loved one. But the bigger picture is, when in doubt, go ahead and call. That’s what your family doctor would want. As for 9-1-1 – save it for true emergencies, and when we’re talking about medical emergencies, that would be if you can’t wake Gramma up, Pop-pop has chest pain, you see signs of a stroke (facial droop on one side, speech or vision changes, single sided weakness), etc.