Learn how to be your own medic.


During the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, there are 4 medical tools you can have at home to help you and your doctor decide if you need to go to the Emergency Room (ER).

If you experience a sudden or significant shortness of breath you should go to ER immediately. Otherwise, it might not be clear whether your symptoms are severe enough to warrant a trip to the ER, and going to the ER poses its own risks that you might want to avoid if you can. If your symptoms—or those of a family member—fall short of those clearly requiring a trip to the ER, the first thing you should do is to call or teleconference with your physician in order to determine the seriousness of the symptoms.

To prepare for that consultation, here are four lifesaving medical tools you might want to buy for home use:

1. A pulse oximeter to check your oxygen saturation level and your heart rate at home. If you are concerned that you might grow short of breath, you can buy a device (or mobile APP) that determines if your blood is getting enough oxygen from your lungs. To assess whether your blood oxygen is getting too low, you can buy an FDA approved pulse oximeter online, or an FDA- approved mobile app that is easy to use on the tip of a finger.

Learn how to check the oxygen saturation of your blood twice a day — every morning when you get up and every evening before dinner — regardless of how you are feeling. Your blood oxygen saturation should be 95% or more; if it used to be over 95% and now it is less than 95%, check it again 5 minutes later. If your blood oxygen saturation is still too low after 5 minutes, contact your doctor as soon as possible. If you have difficulty breathing, go to the ER immediately.

Be aware that some people infected with coronavirus could feel good the first few days despite having a fever and cough but, at day 9 or 10 they can suddenly get worse and complain of difficulty breathing, like what happened with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Difficulty breathing is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization.

The pulse oximeter will also indicate your heart rate. Your resting heart rate should be between 60 and 100 beats per minute, but if you are a trained athlete, your normal resting heart rate could go as low as 50.

2. A thermometer. If you don’t have a thermometer, buy one. It could be a thermometer you put under your tongue or one you place in your ear. If your temperature is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s not normal. If you have a fever, write down the temperature you have every morning when you wake up and every night before dinner, to report to your physician.

Although blood oxygen and temperature are important for assessing the urgency of your condition, your physician will also want to know key indicators of cardiovascular health, because cardiovascular disease is a risk factor for serious complications of the disease, and the coronavirus sometimes has a direct effect on the heart and circulatory system.

3. A blood pressure monitor to check your heart rate and blood pressure at home. If you don’t have a blood pressure monitor, order an FDA-approved device online. The American Heart Association recommends an automatic monitor that goes on your upper arm (the ones that fit your wrist are less reliable).

Learn how to use your monitor by taking your blood pressure after 5 minutes of sitting down every morning when you wake up and every evening before dinner. Do this for one week. The monitor will not only indicate your blood pressure but also your heart rate. (You can compare it with the heart rate from the pulse oximeter device; the two should be about the same).

Your blood pressure monitor will give you 2 numbers, a higher number called systolic blood pressure, which should be less than 120, and a lower number called diastolic blood pressure, which should be less than 80.

If your blood pressure or heart rate are out of the norm, wait 5 minutes then recheck your numbers. If your numbers are still abnormal after 5 minutes, report to your physician. If your resting systolic blood pressure is more than 180 or your resting diastolic blood pressure is more than 120, contact your doctor urgently.

The 3 tools above could be enough, but if you want to be thorough, you might as well order an electrocardiogram (ECG) tool.

4. An electrocardiogram (ECG) at home. If you have the feeling that your heart skips a beat or is too fast, too slow, or irregular from time to time, order an FDA-approved electrocardiogram (ECG) device online. ECG devices also indicate your heart rate.

Some ECG bracelets also have an oximeter sensor and a blood pressure sensor. Learn how to use your device a few minutes every day. If the time comes that you feel your heart is out of the norm, record your ECG, save the recording and show it to your doctor when you have a virtual office visit.

In summary, if you get sick, it may be too late to get all the tools you need to assess your health, so now is the time to create your medical toolkit and learn how to be your own medic, checking your temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, pulse oximetry and ECG in the comfort of your home as needed.

All of these tools, while very useful during this coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, will also come in handy in the years ahead, allowing you to potentially save your own life as well as that of a loved one.