Here Is How Digital Health Devices Helped Me Recover From A Serious Infection

I got a Hepatitis A infection 3 months ago. Now that I’m almost entirely over it, I wanted to share how digital health devices helped me save my sanity over the past months. 

Let’s start with the obvious: yes, not being vaccinated against Hepatitis A was an oversight on my part. As the events proved, being a germophobe in the middle of Europe, being super picky about the sources of my food, and not travelling to exotic countries is not enough. If you are not vaccinated against this virus, you should think about it, hepatitis is not fun. 

AI algorithm research topic digital health

According to the Public Health Authority which examined the reported infections and found their origin, I was introduced to Hepatitis A via a batch of raspberries, delivered to me by one of the high-end downtown restaurants. It was actually one of my favourite places, my go-to choice for ordering delicious lunch menus for years. Apparently, the raspberries they used for the dessert arrived from a faraway country with lenient regulations that allow watering crops with sewage water. At roughly the same time some 50 cases of Hepa-A infections were reported. 

You feel extremely lonely with a disease like that

Despite being a doctor, going down with an infection like that is a very lonely experience. You don’t know what to expect, and you have very little information unless you call your general practitioner and/or hospital every 10 minutes. 

When infected with Hepatitis A, you have nothing to do, but wait: rest in bed, drink plenty of water, and keep a diet. Data is your only reference point. This, by the way, is the result of a cultural transformation and a learning experience. I could have had the same devices 10 years ago, and would not have been able to benefit from their capabilities, nor would have been my GP prepared to make sense of their readings.

So, we are in late July, I had a fever, cold chills, nausea, lack of appetite, and I felt exhausted. Expecting it to be a passing gastro-tract infection, I was not worried for the first few days. But the days kept ticking by, and I was not getting better. At all. My primary care physician suggested I have bloodwork done, and my liver-enzyme readings were in outer space (GOT was 5000 while the reference value is 30). 

This was a shock. But the shock of learning about being infected with hepatitis was nothing compared to the journey of the following weeks. I have exercised almost every day of my life since I was six. I am very conscious about my lifestyle and health choices, I am confident I don’t take risks, have no unhealthy habits, and I eat well – and still: I got it. 

There was nothing to do but wait, and hope that my blood tests don’t get any worse, so I can at least avoid hospitalisation

And by waiting – my doctors stressed – they meant weeks, possibly months of slow recovery, all spent at home, for the first weeks: in a bed. Months without exercising, without drinking a single sip of alcohol (three weddings! I attended three weddings after the acute phase passed, drinking nothing but water), not one pill of medication of any kind, nor vitamins. 

The first phase was dire, I kept losing weight, had no appetite, and was fatigued to the point I never imagined was possible. 

The yellow segment shows the acute phase of my illness, with elevated heart rates during sleep hours

There I was, facing the longest inactive period of my life (so far), with only my digital health devices casting some light on the seemingly endless road ahead. 

I used four devices to track how my condition develops:

  • A smartwatch
  • A sleep sensor under the mattress connected to the smartwatch
  • A smart scale
  • A smart blood pressure monitor with ECG capabilities

(Disclaimer: I purchased the Withings smartwatch, and received the other devices to test for free. This article – like all our articles and technology reviews – was not sponsored by the company. However, having all these devices available allowed me to track a good amount of data on a single platform – which was comfortable, but by no means necessary, you could do the same with devices from a number of manufacturers

Here is what I learned as the disease progressed

The sleep sensor showed my average heart rate (HR) was above 80 even during my sleep during the acute phase of the infection, while it is around 55 during my resting hours normally. I was able to track when the acute phase ended with my sleep and HR data, as it dropped back to 55-60. 

I lost 5-6 kilograms (10-12 pounds), my body-fat ratio plummeted, and I lost muscle mass as well according to the scale. The changes were obvious by looking in the unsmart mirror as well. Since then I have been able to gain back about half of my lost body weight, but it’s going painfully slow.

While my blood pressure is usually 120/80, measurements were typically in the 100/70 range while I was confined to stay in bed – which is normal.

After the acute phase passed, I was reminded by the smartwatch that my daily activity tops at a few hundred steps – I was at home all day, after all. Thus, following my doctors’ advice, I started moving a bit more to register at least 3000 steps a day. Even with such moderate exercise, I was exhausted by the evening every single day. 

After the one-month landmark, I increased my range and took a walk of 6000 steps every day. By this time I was able to do that without feeling dead tired after. 

Hepatitis took the biggest toll on my general fitness levels. I was not allowed to exercise (in the real meaning of the word) for 48 days and needed to get back super gradually. My fitness level – according to my watch – dropped to a minimum, and only started to look significantly better recently. 

The green line shows the baseline value before I got infected. “Now” represents the state where I was allowed to slowly increase my activities

I almost cried after my first – very light – run: my heart rate was above 150 during the entire workout, which was jogging very slowly for 20 minutes. After-run regeneration was also out of range: my heart rate was between 90 and 100, hours after the run when normally it is around 65. 

Statistics you don’t want to see after a very light workout

I needed several workouts to start seeing improvements, and my readings are back to normal in that respect by now: my heart rate is back to around 65-70 just 2-3 minutes after running. 

Lessons to learn?

The single most important takeaway should be to go and get your Hepatitis vaccination if you have not done it earlier. It is painless, and risk-free apart from rarely occurring minor after-shot side effects, and it can save you from weeks and months of worry and forced inactivity. 

As a data-geek, these devices helped me save my sanity. They lent me some feeling of control over the recovery process. Although I could do nothing to speed up the regeneration, they allowed me to track where I was. 

And there is the third takeaway as well. Digital health has improved amazingly during these past years, providing tons of health data for patients and their doctors. This only became possible very recently, and I am extremely grateful for it. 

Now all that is left is to wait for the results of my latest blood test (we are at week 10) and see if we can finally get back to our normal lives. 

The post Here Is How Digital Health Devices Helped Me Recover From A Serious Infection appeared first on The Medical Futurist.

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