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On the Front Lines: Lori Henry

Nurse practitioner embraces new technologies to help fight COVID-19

By Jennifer L. Williams

Photo by RAW Images

Cedar Street Primary Care nurse practitioner Lori Henry found herself in unfamiliar territory when COVID-19 caused sudden shutdowns across the world in March 2020. “We’d only been open about a year and a half when COVID hit,” the Cullman native said. “We shut down completely at first, since we did not meet the CDC guidelines.”

So in the middle of a worldwide health crisis in 2020, a healthcare worker could not see and help her patients. She said it was frustrating, to say the least, but her office, along with many others, found a way to diagnose, advise and treat patients remotely.

Telemedicine has been around for years, but smaller practices and communities have not used it because of the required additional training, equipment and insurance hassles. When in-person appointments became possible, however, the Cedar Street team stepped up to the challenge – and today, Henry and her colleagues see the majority of their patients remotely.

“We all had a big learning curve,” Henry said, “but we learned the ropes pretty quickly. We stuck with telemedicine exclusively for several months, and our patients – and we – found it to be pretty convenient. Now, I think it’s here to stay.”

Once masks were mandated by the governor this past summer, Henry said the office gave all their patients the option between in-person or telehealth appointments. “Most are choosing the telemedicine,” she said. “They do not have to come for their appointment and wait their turn, so, a patient can be at home or even work, and we will call them for their appointment. No taking off or waiting in the parking lot to be called inside.”

 

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Henry said the uncertainty and newness of the novel coronavirus understandably caused widespread fear and doubt. She herself contracted the coronavirus in November and had a few negative tests before her daughter started showing symptoms and they both tested positive.

The big issue with COVID-19, said Henry, is that the symptoms and effects are different for everyone. “Mine started with GI issues, some body aches, maybe a low-grade fever for a day or two,” she said. “I tested negative for COVID and got better in a couple days. I chalked it up to a stomach bug, but then it came back on days four and five with sinus pressure, reflux, loss of smell and altered taste. I had this off and on for about 2.5 to three weeks. I even went to the office a day or two, having the negative tests, but did not see any patients in person because my congestion made it hard to wear a mask.

“I was the only one in my family to run a fever,” added Henry, “and I had it with two negative COVID tests. My rule of thumb for everyone: If you’re sick, stay home!”

A Jacksonville State graduate, Henry spent 10 years as an ER nurse before earning her NP license from UAH and coming to Hartselle to open Cedar Street with Dr. Jeb Hornsby in 2018. Her husband, Greg, is a Morgan County native who owns Custom Tubs in Hartselle. The couple has two children and live in Vinemont. Their son, Hagen, is an eighth-grader at Hartselle Junior High School, and daughter Maddie is a sixth-grader at Hartselle Intermediate.

RISE AND FALL

Henry said the statewide mask mandate this past summer helped COVID-19 case counts to drop, but those numbers steadily increased after Halloween, then the election, then Thanksgiving and Christmas. “The December numbers were particularly high – almost double those from November,” she said.

She said she expects and hopes to see a drop off in the new year. “A lot of people have had it and are believed to have immunity for about 90 days,” Henry said, “and there are not any huge gatherings or traditional family holidays coming up. Of course, we still don’t know exactly how the immunity works; there are still a lot of unknowns.”

Most of the questions and concerns Henry said she hears from patients have to do with the new vaccines being distributed. Her advice? Do the research.

“Weigh the pros and the cons for you and your loved ones. There are definitely populations who need this vaccine,” she said. “Risk factors include age, race, obesity and underlying conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, COPD, asthma, etcetera. We also are seeing more men have more severe reactions to the virus.

“Of course, people are concerned that the vaccine is new,” she said. “For younger, healthier people, you have to weigh your options and decide if it’s right for you.” Henry cautioned it is difficult to guess what symptoms or reactions each person will have upon contracting the virus – no matter what their age.

INCREASED ANXIETY

Henry and other medical professionals have noticed a marked increase in patients with depression and anxiety, and she said that is the next big treatment area in the medical community.

“We have found ourselves treating depression and anxiety more and more at all ages, across the board,” she said. “At first, we had some of our elderly patients tell us they were depressed because they couldn’t leave the house or go outside. We tell our patients to get outside! Walk if they can, exercise, take their vitamins. Getting outside is healthy; being around people is not.”

Henry said both her children are attending school in person this year. “Being in school has been better for them,” she said. “Even my son, who is more of an introvert, told me he was so glad to get back to school in person. We have had to quarantine, and we did the online thing.”

Signs and symptoms of depression for any age include sadness, withdrawal from family and friends, change in sleep patterns, change in appetite, excessive worrying, not doing things you once enjoyed, feelings of worthlessness, anger and irritability, trouble with focus, fatigue and suicidal thoughts.

“Be sure to talk to your family members – parents, grandparents, children,” she said. “Watch them and look for signs so they can get help.”

She said in other concerns, Flu A is on the rise in some areas of the state. “We should be able to curb the flu with the mask-wearing and checking temps at schools, but I ask that everyone still follow the rule: If you feel sick, stay home. If you need a doctor’s excuse, that’s what we are here for.”

 

 

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