Things I Learned While Caring Remotely for a Friend with COVID-19

By Michelle Barclay, BSN and JD

In May, I received a call that a dear friend had tested positive for COVID-19.  Even though my friend was wearing a mask while at work, he feared he had gotten a big viral dose because he works in healthcare.  Faced with this diagnosis, my friend decided to isolate himself in a fairly remote spot of the state, but one that still had ambulance access in case he needed it.  Many of his friends and I were worried about this plan in case he took a turn for the worse, but we also understood his desire to protect others.  I and two others took turns checking on him every four to six hours. I am a former ICU nurse and even with my extensive experience in treating critically ill people, I still learned some things while I helped to care for him remotely. I decided to write up this article hoping that it might help others going through a similar experience. 

While caring for my friend and in the weeks since, I have read numerous articles as knowledge about this virus is changing so quickly. As is common, my friend had a few mild days before he became severely symptomatic, but those mild days are when an infected person is the most contagious–shedding lots of virus–so it is especially  important not to be face-to-face with an infected person during that period of time.  However, that is a good period of time to drop off prepared meals, groceries, and lots of Gatorade for hydration.

We also ordered a pulse oximeter for my friend which I recommend doing so that you can monitor how hard someone’s body is working to recover.  A normal pulse oximeter reading is 95 to 100 percent. Values under 90 percent are considered low. My friend dropped to 91 for about 6-9 hours and we were discussing calling an ambulance to get him to the hospital to get supplemental oxygen (which can help the body fight off the virus).  But, the pulse ox reading came back up to 95 to everyone’s relief.  If the pulse ox reading had stayed below 95, we would have known that his body was very stressed fighting off the virus.  An overly stressed body has the potential to trigger a cardiac arrest or a strokeGetting supplemental oxygen can greatly assist one’s body and immune system.  Going to the hospital does not necessarily mean going on a ventilator and the current thinking is to use a ventilator only as a last resort.

For my friend, caring for himself at home, it took about nine days to feel semi-normal and then another six days to test negative for COVID-19.  At this point, he appears to have made a full recovery. 

Here are some other things I learned through this experience:

  • Keep an hourly log to track fever/symptoms, time medication was taken, food eaten, etc.  It helps when talking to a primary care doctor to bring as much concrete information as you can. Health professionals are very busy, especially now, so use your time with them efficiently.  
  • Let a fever get as high as you can stand it.  High temperatures help to kill the virus. 
  • When too uncomfortable and in need of sleep, take Tylenol (there were some early studies that Motrin exacerbated the virus, but there were other more recent studies saying the opposite, so today’s literature says Motrin would work, too).  Try over the counter anti-nausea and cough medications if you need them.  Keep in mind that there are stronger medications by prescription, if needed. Also, know that all of these medications are just treating the symptoms of the virus, not killing the virus itself.  It is up to your immune system to kill the virus and the odds are in your favor that you will recover fully.
  • It helps to keep your house warm and cover up with blankets so the body does not have to work so hard to generate heat when shivering.
  • Get a ton of Gatorade.  The body is going to dehydrate with a high temperature so you must rehydrate yourself–your immune system will need it.  Gatorade will provide both the sugar and the salt that you will need to get through this. For children, Pedialyte with real sugar works as well (for adults, too).  Keep trying to eat, too.  Food gives fuel to your immune system to fight the virus. 
  • Long hot showers are good for you if you can do it.  This is the time to take more than one a day. A steamy shower will keep your lungs moist and loosen phlegm.  Force yourself to cough into a wet washcloth pressed firmly over your mouth and nose, which will cause greater pressure in your lungs forcing them to expand more fully and break up more of the congestion. 
  • Both in and out of the shower, regularly take deep breaths which will likely hurt, but will help to prevent a secondary infection of bacterial pneumonia.  Breathe in deeply and then slowly exhale through tight lips as if you are blowing out a candle.  Blow until your lungs are empty and then take in a new deep breath.  Do this 10x an hour if you can stand it.  It will help keep your lungs expanded and it will increase your oxygen level.  Try to move around once your fever is broken and your temperature is back to normal.  The secondary lung infections that happen after bacteria settles in are a real threat, so help your lungs clear out.

I encourage you to review the CDC guidance on how to care for someone with COVID-19.

It is worth avoiding this virus even though it will be hard to stay so isolated, but the news about coming treatments and vaccines is positive.   Do please feel free to write to me anytime if you are sick or caring for someone who is sick.  This is a scary virus and it would be my pleasure to be of any assistance to you.