Joanna, in her third trimester of pregnancy at the time, lives in New York and had purchased the device – the size of a Matchbox car – for her and her husband so that they could be fortified with information before being transferred to the hospital. for the arrival of his daughter in early June.
But I was also a game: I like these types of tests because I’m a fanatic of ways to measure my fitness against anyone else’s.
Also, we went to Indonesia and Japan in February, making some trips before realizing the enormity of the coronavirus pandemic. After our return from Asia, I drove to Upstate New York for a six-day visit with my 89-year-old mother. We hugged each other, we kissed, we went out to restaurants, shops, grocery stores. Back in Washington, DC, I went swimming at Wilson High School, doing yoga in the gym, cutting myself and coloring in my living room and seeing friends. Who knew?
As much of the world began quarantine, I began to worry: was I an asymptomatic carrier of the coronavirus? None of my contacts had gotten sick. But there were a few days in late March when my eyes were bloodshot. That is gone. And I had a bad case of stomach pain in Asia, but I thought it was due to my enthusiastic hug of street food. But I didn̵
So I ordered the device and it finally arrived in mid-May. I slipped my finger into the device, a small rectangular box with an opening for a finger and waited.
My oxygen saturation was 91. Hmmm. Below that number was one that measures your heart rate. Mine was 47 years old. Did it seem right? I started consulting Dr. Google. “Values below 90 percent are considered low” for oxygen saturation, according to the Mayo Clinic online site. The normal range is between 95 and 100. My ultra-low heart rate seemed even more like something an Olympic long distance runner could boast about.
I tried again. This time it was 90. Was I dying? Have I had an asymptomatic case of coronavirus? I sent a message to my daughter.
“Talk to your doctor,” he said. “It doesn’t sound good.”
Instead, I waited and consulted the Internet. I managed to get the readings down to 95 and then 100. My resting pulse was up to 50, which was still very low but I imagined a normal jogger that wasn’t too strange.
The next day, I went for a run in the lively air, took a shower and had breakfast. I tried again. This time the reading said that my oxygen saturation level was 71. Uh oh. I tried again. 78. I started to feel dizzy, a little nauseating.
I have regained my oxygen level – again and again. 93, 98, 98, 97. Then 81 at 10:30 and 83 at 11:30
I called my doctor. He asked me to test my 34-year-old son, who stayed with us for the quarantine. His reading was 95.
“Are your hands and feet blue?” churches. No.
“Do you have a temperature?” No.
“Unless your feet and hands are blue, you would never get a 71 reading,” said my doctor. “And if you had some kind of lung disease, the readings wouldn’t have ended like this. But if you consistently get a reading of 90 or less, that would require testing,” he said. He told me to make sure my hands were warm and that I was using the device properly.
One of the quirks of covid-19 is that people with mild symptoms may think they can wait for them at home. If their oxygen readings are low, however, it could mean that even if they feel good, they go in the wrong direction and may soon crash, doctors say. That’s why having that reading in their arsenal is another useful measure.
This is where I must admit that I didn’t study thoroughly how to use the pulse oximeter before I started testing myself. The instructions provided with the 500DL Zacurate Pro Series Fingertip Pulse Oxygen Saturation Monitor ($ 35.95, but apparently out of stock on Amazon) were primarily concerned with inserting the two AAA batteries.
It turned out that wearing nail polish or having cold hands could create a falsely low reading. I wasn’t wearing nail polish, but I had cold hands. I also needed to make sure my finger was fully inserted after turning on the device, not before. Some people suggested that I use my middle finger, not the pointer, and insert it with my palm facing up for a better reading. When I did all this, I had consistent readings in the 90s. In the end I was not dying.
“If you’re just checking and not feeling bad, and the number seems low, it’s probably not a good enough reason to be worried,” says Sharon Chekijian, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Yale School of Medicine. It treats people who enter the hospital emergency room and often makes admission decisions based on how low the oxygen levels are.
Having a pulse oximeter at home is a good idea for people who suspect they have coronavirus. “We are seeing many people coming [to the emergency room] feeling lousy when their oxygen level is normal, “he says. This means foreign trips to the hospital and potential exposure to diseases, including coronavirus among people who are truly sick.
For healthy but worried people about getting sick, constant testing with a pulse oximeter isn’t necessarily a great plan, he adds. “It can create a lot of anxiety. The right tool in the wrong hands can cause a lot of anxiety. “
Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and intensive care physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, also states that while he has a pulse oximeter at home it is a useful device for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or other lung disease, it could be misunderstood by those who they are not using it correctly or do not know how to interpret it in the context of their medical conditions.
“You don’t want to overreact and try to correct a number when the rest of the person is fine,” he says. If people are not feeling well and need another data point with all the other symptoms, it may be helpful. But taking an incorrect reading could send a person to the emergency room, and these days “we want to be aware of who we send” to the emergency room, he says. You don’t want people to “go negative and come out positive” for coronavirus.
Patti Geary Kessel, a retired nurse who now lives in Florida, says that when she worked as a high school nurse, she used a pulse oximeter for asthmatic students who entered her office. He helped her decide whether they should use an inhaler, take a nebulizer for a stronger infusion of anti-inflammatory medicine, or contact their doctor. And he has one at home because he had treated his late father, who had congestive heart failure.
For healthy people, he says, it might be helpful if they measure their oxygen level to get a baseline before feeling bad. “It should be in the 90s,” he says. “If it starts to fall, something is probably going on.” At that point, a person should call their doctor. Healthy people who suddenly get a reading in the 80s are likely to feel out of breath, he says.
As for me, I took my reading every day for a few weeks after taking the meter. Now, however, I take a quick read only if I have other minor problems, such as tiredness or headache, to reassure myself once again that I am not dying. My readings are constantly in the 90s. When my 69-year-old husband took his, he got a reading of 100. He thinks it makes him healthier than me. I think we’ve been quarantined together for too long.