By WILLIAM SATTERBERG
Many of the Must Read Alaska readers may not be of the younger generation and may not understand that, with age, comes what are termed “comorbidities.”
Similarly, the risk of contracting Covid-19 and suffering seriously from the ill effects of Covid-19 significantly increases when you have comorbidities.
For almost a year, I was Covid-19 free. All that changed on Dec. 1, when I noticed a strange, acrid smell in the air. It was similar to uric acid, a smell not totally unfamiliar to older people and those raising babies. But it was not from the usual source.
Rather, it seemed to simply materialize in the cold, outside air. By the next day, I had completely lost my sense of taste and smell. My Right Guard deodorant and Aqua Velva aftershave had no scent whatsoever.
The final proof was when I could not taste an Altoid, advertised as a “curiously strong peppermint.” Rather, Altoids tasted like the yellow chalk I used to eat in elementary school.
I told my wife that I did not smell. She strongly disputed that issue and suggested I take a long shower.
Still, it was obvious that something had gone wrong. The likelihood was that I had caught Covid-19. In fact, studies have shown that approximately 86% of the people who contract Covid experience a profound loss of smell and taste.
The following day, I had an antigen test. I was positive for Covid-19. Upon returning home, I was immediately banished to the bedroom by my wife. My instructions were to not emerge for 10 days. Food would be delivered. I became a prisoner in my own house. My wife had a precautionary Covid test the following day. She also tested positive. To my relief, I was paroled from my lockup since we were now both clearly contaminated with the Cooties.
On the other hand, I began to become concerned. Because my wife and I are both what is now termed mid-elderly, we were considered high risk. (In fact, my 70th birthday is on April 1.)
I consulted physicians for guidance. Two doctors suggested that I “tough it out.” I should go to the hospital if I found that my breathing became labored or my blood oxygen levels dropped. Fortunately, because I had a Walgreens pulse oximeter, I was able to monitor my blood oxygen levels, which were remaining good. Everyone should own a pulse oximeter.
I continued in my quest for medical guidance. A third doctor, and an old family friend since his childhood, had different advice. He suggested that we consider a new treatment which had just been approved called Bamlanivimab.
It sounded a lot like a Mideastern village. According to this doctor, Bamlanivimab (otherwise known as “Bambam” for those doctors who could not pronounce the name) consisted of a monoclonal antibody infusion. Previously, a good friend, Mead Treadwell, had suggested that I research monoclonal antibody infusions. Mead had also caught Covid shortly after the November election. Apparently, both President Trump and Don Young had received infusion treatment with marked success, indicating that it should work on other conservatives.
I learned that, the previous week, Bambam had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for an Emergency Use Authorization. Although Bambam was an experimental treatment, indications were that the side effects of the infusion were quite benign. On the other hand, if successful, the infusion would forestall the more serious, potentially fatal effects of Covid-19.
According to the physician, he could not predict that the Bambam infusion would necessarily work upon the patient. What could be said, however, would be that the infusion apparently did not work if the patient progressed into more serious symptoms. Sort of an existential thing.
In the end, my wife and I elected Bambam therapy. We became the second and third people in Fairbanks to have the experimental infusion. Guinea pigs.
The product, manufactured by Eli Lilly and Company, had been distributed by the United States Government as a precautionary measure to try to reduce the bed uptake by high-risk patients in hospital ICU units. Given our age and other factors, my wife and I qualified as high-risk (not that I was necessarily that fat. I also wish to stress that my wife’s high risk factors were not at all weight-related. Everyone agrees that she has no weight issues. And, out of self-preservation, I will not reveal her age.)
The intravenous infusion took one hour. It was administered at the local hospital in a negative pressure room. An infusion nurse sat patiently with us to monitor for complications. She was a very courageous person who had lost three family members of her own to Covid in the preceding two weeks. They lived in the Midwest. Rather than attending their funerals, however, the nurse had sacrificially chosen to remain in Fairbanks to heal the sick, valiantly exposing herself to the disease in the process. A true hero.
For the next hour after the infusion, the nurse monitored us for any adverse reactions. Two hours after the start of the process, we left the hospital and celebrated at the local Sonic drive-in. For the previous three days, anything I ate had tasted like cardboard. As such, I was surprised when the Sonic banana milkshake did, in fact, actually taste like a genuine banana milkshake. To me, the rest of Sonic’s food still tastes like cardboard, however. Then, again, I am a dedicated Burger King fan.
I was surprised that my sense of taste and smell had returned within three hours of the infusion. Although I cannot say that the infusion was the cause of that recovery, I was pleased. Both my wife and I became essentially asymptomatic for the next 10 days while we quarantined as instructed. As a collateral benefit, the house had never been cleaner.
Since the date of our infusion, well over 100 patients in Fairbanks have reportedly received the infusion. According to information, all except one patient recovered nicely and without any serious complications resulting from COVID-19.
And this is why I am writing this article. If the reader or people that the reader may know classify as a Covid-19 high-risk category, they should seriously consider the Bamlanivimab infusion. Educate the physician in advance of the availability of the treatment, since many doctors still are not aware of it. The procedure must be prescribed by a physician. It is usually administered in a hospital setting, although recently the Alaska Airlines center in Anchorage was designated as a Bamlanivimab infusion site.
The only apparent drawback is that, according to the CDC, if an individual does receive the infusion, they must wait 90 days before receiving either the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine in order to allow the infused, artificial antibodies to dissipate. However, the delay is a small price to pay when one considers that the option of bypassing the infusion could have much more serious, potentially fatal consequences.
Most importantly, the infusion must be administered before serious respiratory symptoms set in. According to the physicians, once serious respiratory symptoms develop, the infusion is ineffective and will not be given. The time window is short for the infusion, usually from 2-10 days from the onset of the first Covid symptoms.
Simply stated, it is not a situation where one “toughs it out” to see whether or not more serious complications develop. Rather, the entire purpose of Bambam is to receive the infusion before more serious symptoms set in, in order to free up needed ICU beds for those who have not been so fortunate.
Hopefully, the reader of this will not catch Covid-19. If the disease is contracted, however, the reader should seriously consider the Bamlanivimab infusion.
Finally, in the event that the reader fares well, might I request that strong consideration be given to donating blood at the local blood bank. Although the Bambam antibodies cannot be used to combat coronavirus directly, the plasma from Covid survivors still carries benefits to others in need of transfusions. And it is the right thing to do – pay it forward.
Bill Satterberg is an attorney who lives in Fairbanks.