Vaccinated, But Hurting

Covid stayed away, side effects didn’t

By Cecily Hastings
August 2021

Like everyone, I was delighted when the first COVID-19 vaccines received federal approval last December. The vaccines, developed under the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed and by pharmaceutical partners in Germany, are a gift to the world.

As an active 64-year-old who enjoys good health, I decided not to rush to get the vaccine. After all, there were many people much older and less healthy who could benefit ahead of me. While I was cautious, I was never overcome with fear. I did not buy into the corporate media reporting that often focused on stoking irrational fear and even panic.

Instead, I read and researched the issues from differing professional views. The medical censorship in the media (still underway) astounded me. Any trust of the media I had evaporated.

However, my husband is 92. While he has no underlying medical conditions, his doctor and family wanted him vaccinated. At the end of January, I signed him up for the shot. I was also offered an appointment. Thinking it might keep him safer to have me vaccinated, I took it.

The next day, we received our first doses of the Moderna vaccine at Cal Expo. We experienced no side effects that first day.

However, the next day, playing tennis, my hands grew extremely sore. As days passed, I noticed my joints were swollen and inflamed, especially early in the morning. It took more than a week for me to connect the pain as a possible side effect of the vaccine. Hand pain was among the top side effects of the Moderna shot. So were migraine headaches. I experienced those too.

I wrote friends and family to let them know that, while I was not discouraging anyone from getting vaccinated, they should use caution. Side effects can be real. Amazingly, a couple people insisted my hand pain had nothing to do with the vaccine!

My primary-care doctor—Justin Altschuler of Sequoia Medical—suggested the problem was sudden-onset rheumatoid arthritis, a possible side effect of the vaccine. I reported my problems on the government’s VAERS website, which was difficult and time-consuming.

After conservative treatments failed, Dr. Altschuler wanted me to see a rheumatologist. We quickly learned local rheumatologists were booked six to eight months out for new patients. He said with the side effects of COVID and the vaccine, many patients needed greater care. He said the cost would be many thousands of dollars, out-of-pocket in my case.

This was disappointing. At home in East Sacramento, I am surrounded by major medical centers. Dignity Health, Sutter General and UC Davis Medical Center are within 5 miles of my home. They are the pride of our region. Yet, there was no care available for my worsening condition and its complications.

My doctor suggested I consider consulting with Dr. Diana Girnita—a rheumatologist with an online practice in Palo Alto. She developed a lower cost, easier access model of delivering her specialized care.

The next morning, I spoke with Dr. Girnita on the phone and decided this was the way to go. After completing a medical history online, we had a 60-minute FaceTime consultation later that day. I cannot recall ever being treated to that amount of time and attention by a medical provider. I was thrilled that she addressed wellness, including diet, exercise, mindfulness and sleep.

Dr. Girnita is an impressive medical professional. Originally from Romania, she is U.S. board certified in rheumatology and internal medicine. Her background includes fellowships, clinical work, teaching and research at Harvard, University of Pittsburg, University of Cincinnati and more.

Her practice diagnoses and treats adult patients for an array of inflammatory arthritis, osteoarthritis, autoimmune diseases and osteoporosis. With a clinical and research background in immunology, cardiology and rheumatology, Dr. Girnita provides a personalized, comprehensive perspective. She works directly with patients and provides second opinions and inter-professional consultations. Her patients have access to low-cost lab work and prescriptions.

“My priority is to guide you and advocate for your best health care,” she says. “I am a strong advocate of treating early and appropriately autoimmune and inflammatory conditions as they can significantly increase patients’ cardiovascular risk.”

Dr. Girnita had become disillusioned with the traditional model of rheumatology care in the last decade. But when COVID hit, she decided to develop a more effective model. Her aim is to widen access to rheumatology patients and other similar specialty doctors.

“It had become clear to me that many, many more people needed access to specialties such as mine. And the extraordinary high cost left many patients suffering without any care,” she says. Dr. Girnita is licensed to practice through videoconference in four states, including California.

My time with her included education, thoughtful discussion, explanations and various options for care. A special app allows email follow-ups. It’s prompt and effective.

I’m happy to report that after five months in her care, I am for the most part healed. However, flare-ups are still possible. My total cost including tests, drugs and consults was around $600.

I’m grateful for her decision to embark on this path, and grateful for her care.

Working in conjunction with local primary-care physicians, Dr. Girnita’s practice model looks to have a bright future. Will Sacramento’s medical establishment see the light and move in this direction? Let’s hope so.

For more information visit

Our July Publisher’s Desk on the dedication of the H Street Bridge in honor of fallen Sacramento Police Office Tara O’Sullivan misidentified the agency O’Sullivan joined as a high school Explorer Scout. It was Martinez Police, not Pleasant Hill. O’Sullivan was killed in the line of duty in 2019.

Cecily Hastings can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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