By Suzy Subways
From PHN Issue 42, Spring 2020
Most people with COVID-19 have no symptoms, or their symptoms are mild. But some have:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing, in severe cases
In an article for Prison Legal News, Michael D. Cohen, M.D., explains that people in prison who are over 50 may be at higher risk for severe symptoms. There is currently no vaccine or cure for COVID-19. Scientists have started testing some possible medicines, but they don’t know if these will work yet. It’s important to ignore rumors and just get health information from reliable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization.
What to Do If You Get Sick
Dr. Cohen writes that people who are mildly ill should stay in their cells as much as possible during their illness and wear a mask if possible. If you feel short of breath, pain or pressure in your chest, confusion or excessive sleepiness, or your lips, face, or fingertips look blue, you need prompt medical care. You may need to go to the hospital and receive oxygen.
“Please keep an eye on the people in your unit who are sick in their cells,” Dr. Cohen urges. “If they develop shortness of breath or worsen in any way, they need access to the clinic for further medical evaluation.”
Some Tips for Mild Symptoms
- Mild symptoms can include fever, cough, and sore throat.
- Take tylenol (also called acetaminophen) for fever or body aches.
- Gargle warm salt water (about a quarter spoonful or generous pinch of salt in a regular cup) when you wake up and before you go to bed for sore throat. Use cough drops or drink tea or other warm beverages for cough.
- Stay hydrated by drinking water.
- Vapor rub from commissary can help cough and congestion.
- If you are congested, breathe deeply and cough forcefully to get the mucus out of your lungs at least a few times every hour while you’re awake.
- Make sure you get up and move around a little bit every few hours during the day, even if you are fatigued and just want to sleep.
- Try to eat balanced meals at mealtimes, even if you do not feel hungry.
- Get at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
Exercises to Make Your Lungs Stronger
An exercise described by Dr. Sarfaraz Munshi and nurse Sue Elliott from Queen’s Hospital in London may help get air into the bases of your lungs, in order to prevent pneumonia. You can do it several times a day, as soon as symptoms start.
- Lie on your back and take 5 deep breaths.
- Hold each breath for 5 seconds and release it.
- At the end of the 6th breath, give a big cough (covering your mouth).
- Repeat the steps above so you have done everything twice.
- Lie on your stomach and take slightly deeper than normal breaths for 10 minutes.
- Most of the lung is in the back, and lying on your stomach allows you to more fully inflate your lungs, so try not to spend all of your time lying on your back.
Philadelphia herbal medicine practitioner Kelly McCarthy recommends doing a respiratory steam. You can do this with just hot water. This can help to clear out mucus or a dry cough, or if you have a lower respiratory condition in your lungs.
How to do this: Place just-boiled water in a bowl, put your face over the bowl, put a towel over your head to create a mini sauna around your face, and breathe in deeply. Take care not to burn yourself with the steam.
Ideally, McCarthy recommends using herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, lavender, chamomile, mint, or eucalyptus, if you can get any of these. If you do, place 2 tablespoons of dried or fresh herbs in a large bowl, add just boiled water, and follow the instructions above.
Call the COVID-19 Hotline
The COVID-19 Prison Hotline is 410-449-7140, for incarcerated or detained people to call when they have coronavirus symptoms, when there’s an outbreak in their unit, or when they are being denied adequate medical care for coronavirus. The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and Fight Toxic Prisons, the groups that set up the hotline, announced: “We want to know where and when there is an outbreak, so that we can help mobilize support networks and media to lift up the demands of people on the inside.”
Ask for Help from Loved Ones Outside
If you have a loved one on the outside who can support your health, make sure to sign the form giving them access to your health information. If you get sick or are denied treatment, keep notes and paperwork on everything. Give your loved one the name of a friend in your facility, and ask that person to call your loved one on the outside if your symptoms become worse or if you are taken to the infirmary and can’t call. Your loved one can also call medical staff, the warden, and deputy warden to politely ask what is being done to care for you, and call back to make sure they do it.
Ways to Boost Your Immune System
McCarthy and other herbalists suggest trying these—some foods and spices may be available at commissary or from package companies, depending on your state and facility:
- Fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens and citrus fruits
- Canned sardines, mackerel, and oysters
- Fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut or kimchi
- Ginger powder, cayenne powder, cinnamon powder, coconut oil, garlic powder, honey, lemon juice, oats, black pepper, and Italian seasoning, especially thyme
- Walking, which can help your immune system
- Not smoking
- Herbal tea, especially chamomile tea, to help with stress and insomnia
- Sleeping 9 to 12 hours a night—sleep helps clear out stress hormones and is the time the immune system is most active
Dr. Cohen recommends keeping a three-week supply of food in case you miss a commissary day due to lockdown. And, as our nurse friends remind us, laughter is still the best medicine.