As days and months living with the looming threat of COVID-19 roll by, one Valley doctor is reporting the emergence of post-infectious complications in his patients due to the virus, including developing diabetes.
It’s been about six months since the state of Arizona first shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19, which hit the state hard during the summer.
In Paradise Valley, Arizona Department of Health Services data show 417 total cases of COVID-19 mapped to the ZIP code of 85253 as of Sept. 1.
In Scottsdale’s nine ZIP codes, data show more than 5,000 cases have been mapped to the area throughout the past six months.
Valley physician Dr. Andrew Carroll says he’s begun to see trends in post infectious complications in patients who previously had COVID-19.
“We wouldn’t know about post-infectious COVID complications until we’ve had enough COVID, and enough post-infectious patients to see these things,” Dr. Carroll said.
“It’s starting to show up in literature, especially with neurologic symptoms — I’ve been seeing people with persistent headaches as long as two months after the COVID is cleared, these people still have headaches.”
Dr. Carroll says there are reports out of New York where people have what looks like chronic fatigue syndrome.
“They feel weak, tired, their muscles are weak; they can’t go and do things because of this persistent, neurologic post-COVID complication,” Dr. Caroll said. “We’re not sure what to call it, even, because it’s just, again, these things are so new.”
Meanwhile, two Valley health organizations have teamed to provide services to patients fighting the virus in the comfort of their own home.
Recovering from COVID-19 at home is preferable, one reason being it reduces the chance of spreading the virus within the hospital, Dr. Carroll noted.
Valley photographer Taylor Rogers tested positive for the virus in July after noticing a sore throat, headache and slight tickle in her throat.
“That first week I felt like I was hit by a bus, super lethargic, fevers, just felt awful. I lived on the second floor in an apartment so going up and down the stairs was hard as I had shortness of breath,” said Ms. Rogers, who lives and works alone in Phoenix.
“I think a big misconception is they keep saying it’s ‘like the flu,’ however I didn’t feel ‘flu-like’ at all. It was more like exhaustion. I did not have nausea or anything thankfully,” she said. “I was grateful that my case was mild and I recovered fully in about 2.5 weeks.”
Ms. Rogers didn’t use any medical oxygen machines or special medication to get over the virus, she said.
Dr. Carroll is a private practice doctor who also serves as hospitalist, a dedicated in-patient physician, at Banner Estrella Medical Center, 9201 W. Thomas Road, in west phoenix.
He’s reporting patients who have further complications than chronic headaches.
“I’ve had at least two cases now in the hospital of patients who were not diabetic before, ending up full-blown Type 1 diabetic after having had COVID,” Dr. Carroll said.
“The only risk that we know was they had COVID either a month or two beforehand. We’re starting to see a lot of really unusual illnesses that you wouldn’t expect.”
Dr. Carroll points out the effect of COVID-19 on the human body, stating when people say COVID-19 is like a cold or the flu, it isn’t.
“It’s how does your body handle being that sick?” Dr. Carroll explained.
“After you’ve had a really, really bad flu, you’re going to feel sick and tired, but what did the illness do to you while you had it? While it was raging in your system?”
Dr. Carroll said of COVID-19, they’re seeing impacts to the pancreas, heart, kidney and lung damage, as well as neurological issues.
“It’s kind of like you set fire to the forest, and yeah the fire is gone but the forest is burned. It’s going to take a while for the forest to grow back up,” he said.
Dr. Carroll says he started seeing the neurologic complications about a month, or month and a half ago.
If a person shows up to a hospital emergency room experiencing COVID-like illness symptoms, Dr. Carroll says the patient is sent home to rest and isolate until their test results come in a couple days later.
“They’ll say ‘you’re not sick enough to be in the hospital, go home, go isolate,’” Dr. Carroll said, noting the reasons why they’re sent home. “One, is because most people do just fine on their own; two, we don’t want to expose people at the hospital or staff at the hospital to COVID unless we absolutely have to. If you’re stable, your oxygen is good, and you’re not short of breath and you look like you’re going to get through it on your own, we’re going to make a clinical judgment.”
For patients recovering from COVID-19 at home, those who check out of Valleywise Health can be eligible to use services from Home Assist Health who will check-in on patients once a day to ensure their oxygen levels and other symptoms are in-check.
“In this particular program, all COVID patients are — they go into a work cube — we identify those patients every day. We have a care team, we have nurses, and we partnered with Home Assist Health, and we have providers who are involved in a care management program,” Valleywise program coordinator Lene Hudson said.
Patients are set up with a plan for care at home and are provided care for a minimum of five days until the patient is secured in one of Valleywise clinics through telehealth.
“This home-based COVID care team that does a check-in call — ‘Did you get home? Did you get your pills?’ — we have that call at night. If they need help, there’s a doctor who will help [that patient],” Ms. Hudson explained.
The next morning a nurse will call for an intake assessment.
The partnership between Valleywise and Home Assist Health was born in early July. Ms. Hudson said in about a month’s time, almost 100 patients had been called or assisted through the at-home care program.
“We’ve only had, I would say, less than less than 10 people that returned to the hospital — and they needed to come back,” Ms. Hudson said.
The patients participating in this Community Care program are being assisted in more ways than just medical needs, Home Assist Health CEO and president Sara Wilson says.
“We also screen for potential social determinant concerns,” Ms. Wilson said of patients. “An issue once came up where we had food and insecurity as a factor. Knowing this individual couldn’t just go out into the community to obtain food, we arranged for food delivery service to come to their residence through Meals on Wheels.”
Ms. Wilson says some individuals going home have social disparities, so they may not have someone at home who can help interpret their hospital discharge instructions.
“They may not understand they need to be on top of their oxygen levels right away, and not wait until it gets worse,” Ms. Wilson said. “That’s where we’re able to be able to be the extra set — we look at ourselves like surrogate family members.”