I don't know what the role of hypoglycemia in resuscitation is; all I know for sure is that both patients I've taken care of with an initial FSG reading of 'lo' that had an associated cardiac arrest didn't survive, even if the problem was addressed. Ideas? Maybe there's something to candy, after all.

"Let grief be your sister, she will whether or not"

The paramedics call to base for support for a PNB, which is run-of-the-mill, two or three times a shift. Either they have brought the patient back, or they want to stop, or they want to keep going, and they need our OK.

They called from the middle of a basketball court, doing CPR in the center circle on the son, cousin, and uncle of the well-dressed audience, watching and holding each other. A twenty-year old who collapsed stone-cold dead between the second and third free throw, falling backwards.

Round three of the typical three is already done when they call, asking for transport, for continuation; reaching for the refuge of hope that drugs like bicarb and lidocaine after amiodarone represent, some extra tool to throw at death when you're not ready to give up yet.

Everyone there did everything right. The coach started CPR, the EMT basic delivered one shock before the paramedics got there, they placed a combitube rather than an ET tube and ran the show. IV was placed on arrival. By the time they called me, though, it had been almost thirty minutes. Move to the rig. Move to the rig, out of the gym, away from the people all around. I ask one or two times, are you comfortable going 1099. Negative, they say. The mom is with us in the rig. OK, then. Come to the hospital.

The team knows this is theatre, to some extent. That doesn't mean we try any less hard, or that our compressions are too shallow, or that we breathe at the wrong rate. It means as soon as he rolls in, CPR still going, sadness rises in place of hope.

At the head, I see his fixed and dilated pupils; the c-collar in place because he fell backwards and maybe it's trauma, I take off, because it's not trauma, it's a heart that got too big for itself. With the first pulse check the tube is placed and confirmed. We do three rounds of drugs, CPR all the time, switching every two minutes, stomach decompressed. I can see mom ten feet from the foot, being held, eyes fixed on her son that an hour ago was running up and down the court. Not prowling the street selling drugs, not driving drunk, not stabbed by some dude while minding his own business; not doing the things so many of our other visitors do.

Our staff gives the warning shot. I'm going to tell mom it's not going well, he says, and one more round.

The nurse keeps the alarms off. Only the sound of 100 a minute compressions and 10 a minute bag-valve-mask ventilation. It's a soft sound. Rhythmic. The sound of our best tool, our best way to keep someone alive in the short term. The sound of failure.

We stop. A door shuts for the others in the room and mom drops to the floor, wailing and gasping for air. We help her to a cot to support the weight she cannot support herself. She breathes underwater, eyes on nothing.

There is no question of why. I know why this happened, the story is the classic presentation of this. No, there's no 'why'. There's just the next patient, and a sensation over the back of the head as if a window were just opened on a winter's evening, as the stickers are taken off and our patient is covered with clean white blankets.


Holy Crap It's Been ForEVER

...since I last posted. Sorry!

I've been at ACEP and looking for jobs and generally trying to live life while also remodeling a flooded basement and just being a resident. Somehow that interferes with posting. I'll try to post the best nuggets from the conference as I go through all the syllabi.

A large, large man came in the second to last shift before I flew out with chest pain. He was a mountain. Chest pain, of course, is our most common complaint, so I went in to talk to him without thinking much about the differential.

Where do you have pain?

Right here, he says, indicating his ICD which is so new he has only a partially healed surgical scar over it.

Did something happen to it?

Well, yes, my girlfriend punched me in the implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), two times. Like, hard. And I think it went off and now it hurts.

Um, OK. I walk back out of the room and pull out the algorithm for people punched in the ICD by their girlfriend, which we have filed right behind the STEMI protocol. Interestingly, all pathways end with 'get a new girlfriend'. And, admit them to the hospital for an ICD interrogation and cardiac rule-out. You never know. Maybe he was having ischemia at the same time he got punched twice in the ICD. God I love my job. The hardest part was not laughing. I think I actually did. I think I might have also told him to get a new girlfriend, a vital part of my patient education.


A What Scratched You?

I officially have a new favorite chief complaint by ambulance. Mouse scratch.

Paged out as such, I didn't know what to expect but at 3 am I was ready for the worst...not really. I was ready for what I got.

There were tons of mice in my house, one ran over the covers or over the bed, I freaked out, and while I was scrubbing myself down with alcohol solution and soap my leg stung and I noticed this tiny l'il scratch about 5 cm long that barely broke the skin. Oh yeah, I'm wearing a finger splint with a sharp edge on it. But I was worried it was the mouse that got me and maybe I need rabies or tetanus.

Um, tetanus OK. Rabies no. More importantly, since it's three in the morning and you're the only to be seen, how many mice exactly?

Mice on the curtains, mice in the kitchen, in the closet, in the bedroom, kids screamin', can't do their homework, traps out catch ten at a time. OK, so, um, you don't really need me. You need some dude with bad chemicals that has to wear rubber gloves that'll fix your problem. Needing a tetanus shot is, well, the least of your very disturbing, disgusting worries.

Third world at home, folks. Third world at home. Instead of the taxpayers picking up the am-boo-lance ride, perhaps we should pay for the exterminator.

FYI, CDC tetanus recs: booster if more than five years from past tetanus booster. Immune globulin for those who have not received their normal immunizations, or who are unknown. So-called 'clean, minor wounds' can wait up to 10 years and should never get immune globulin, but I rarely see that happening.

CDC recs for rabies are more compliated. First, what animal. If a dog, cat, or ferret--i.e., pets--no treatment is needed unless the pet is thought to be rabid, so if you have the pet, you can watch it. If wild--i.e., scary furry critters like racoons, skunks, foxes, or, notably, bats--immunize as below. If livestock, call public health. Gerbils are probably OK.

Treatment is irrigation with povidone-iodine or the like, rabies immune globulin at the site of the wound AND at a distant site if you can't infiltrate all of it, in addition to the rabies vaccine at 0, 3, 7, 14, and 28 days, in the shoulder, not in the tummy like I was afraid of when I was a kid. Apparently according to another blogger this just changed with ACIP but not with CDC; perhaps we'll be able to skip the last dose.

photo credit




Finally, got a real night shift.

At one point, I was gowned up holding direct pressure on a spurting radial artery wound after some dude had punched his way through a window. My headset (yes, we wear headsets, and they're only slightly metrosexual) goes off asking me to come to the trauma bay to supervise an airway as we do for any trauma during our second year. I get someone to take over for me and walk down towards the bay, talking on the phone to hand surgery. I don't even know the name of the radial artery bleed, only the room, since I walked in on the heels of EMS. I re-gown for the airway, check the tube and end-tidal CO2, manage vent settings, and while I'm placing an OG tube the radiologist calls me, also on my headset, to tell me about a new cerebellar stroke found on the patient right next to the radial artery bleed.

Despite myself, I smile. This is EM. I realize deep down that it all makes sense. It was the right choice.

Also ran my first PNB over the EMS radio and tubed a drunk lady with a huge laceration of her posterior while wading through the headaches and abdominal pains and two decompensated cirrhotics.

picture credit, an interesting blog on communication found by an image search for 'multitasking'.


Why My Daughters Are Going to Have the HPV Vaccine Strongly Suggested To Them

A beautiful little cherub sits on the stretcher. Not as cute as my kids, of course, but close. She's reading to herself. Groomed. Haircut is stylish. She's a vision of Nordic charm. Then you ask her how she likes her book. 'Good', she says, 'it's called Who Rang the Doorbell'. Hmmm. Voice is all raspy and soft. I can barely hear her.

That's because she's had genital warts lasered or chopped off her larynx like sixty gajillion times (aka, once every four to six weeks for a year or two). How did she get them? Her mom had asymptomatic HPV at the time of her vaginal delivery that was either missed or tested for and not caught. Now this little girl has to come in and get put under general anesthesia all the time. Today she has re-growth that's 'not too bad' according to the ENT doc. The clusters of new HPV growth are only occluding about 30% of her tracheal opening after six weeks. You can't even see her vocal cords anymore. Her larynx is a tube of scar tissue and virus. There's enough bleeding and swelling after the treatments that she's been hypoxic a few times from acute obstruction, and of course, if she didn't have the surgeries the virus would just keep growing until it blocked her airway and she died.

Compare that to some local injection reactions from the vaccine. Damn those pharmaceutical companies coercing young women into getting a shot just for profit, and forcing their immoral opinions on our young women.

Set-Up For Success

Normally, intubating children produces angst because we're worried if we miss, but overall they tend to be straightforward as long as you do a few simple things. For young kids, you should have their ear at the level of their anterior shoulder, perhaps put a towel under their shoulder to compensate for their giant heeds, use a straight blade, look up, and you're home free.

So when the anesthesiologist brings in a wee laddie in a crib in traction, meaning their legs are up in the air, their chin is slouched into their chest, there's no way to approach them straight from above like we normally do, and then he says, "let's intubate him on the crib", and, "I normally don't use a paralytic", that's an awesome set up. Sterling. Perfect.

We ended up using a paralytic. Then I got it the second time. Gives me a lot of respect for paramedics intubating with less than ideal conditions, including in cars, in fields, and so on. However, when you have time, it seems silly to me not to use every advantage the first time, every time. Ironic, since usually the anesthesiologists call us cowboys, not the other way around.


Healthcare Reform

Sigh. I guess it's time to finally say something about this circus. About this distraction. About healthcare 'reform'.

The biggest thing I can say is that we're missing the point completely. The death panel debate is inane and shockingly uninformed and offensive, but it's really a shell game in front of closed-door deals that signal the true agenda of this bill and 'reform': window dressing for business as usual.

Obama, for all his rhetoric, looks to have sold the public down the river in order to mollify the big contributors, including for-profit hospitals, the insurance agency, and big pharma. How can I say this? Well, it seems obvious that he's agreed to limit contributions from the big players as covered by the NY Times and others. Now, conveniently the dialogue has shifted to co-ops instead of a public option; the 'death panel' idea has been dropped. The talk is about taxing health benefits, requiring people to buy insurance, and avoiding forcing drug companies into concessions on what they charge Medicare, all in the name of 'personal freedom'. These are all shifts away from what he said on the campaign trail, and away from meaningful reform.

The real show is going on behind closed doors. And if you're not outraged at that as a citizen you're missing the point. The big dogs are off making the real deal while we're busy yelling at each other like morons in 'town hall meetings'.

The real discussion needs to occur about the possibility of a single-payer, government run system. Unfortunately, with so much money and profit wrapped up in both politics and all aspects of media, it'll never happen. Does that help me as a doctor? Sort of. I'll keep making a higher salary, but I'll also be little more than a profit engine for corporations providing health care struggling to actually take care of patients. We'll still have uneven distribution of outcomes based on socioeconomic status, the CEOs of insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies and hospitals will still make enormous profits, and the president will get his speech. But, overall, very, very little will actually change except you'll be forced to buy crappy insurance.

What actually needs to happen is to get the monied interests out of the back conference rooms of the white house, and out of congress, and out of politics. When John Adams made his way to the continental congress before we were even a country, he had to do it for free, and he had to close down his law practice to do it. He did it because he loved his country, not for the bennies (which, for current congressmen and women, includes a great health care plan. Notice how they're not talking about giving that up). It's all about campaign finance reform and lobby reform, not health insurance.

Life-saving skills

Stuff that saves people is cool. We can all accept that. The things that really save people, though, are usually not what we expect. Helicopter transport, hypothermia with a cool machine that self-regulates, ICU care, monitors that beep and whistle, recombinant clotting factors that cost more than an SUV per ounce, those save people, right?

Um, maybe; but things that actually do are often eerily simple. Good chest compressions. Needles in the mid-clavicular line. And airway management--with a mask and a chin lift.

Terrifyingly recently, anesthesiologists would do a suprising number of cases without intubation and without a machine, just bagging the patient with an ambu bag. You breathe for the patient, literally.

On peds anesthesia this week, the best cases were the ear tubes, becuase for five minutes or so it'd just be me and the bag and the patient not breathing. This skill, as much as intubation, saves lives. Just a bag. No big fiber-optic scope, no fancy stainless steel LED-lit laryngoscope or, as my trauma surgeon called it, 'dog and pony show'.

It's all well and good to talk about lifting the jaw up into the mask with your pinkie, ring and middle finger spread from behind the jaw to the chin, but like any motor memory task, it takes time to learn it. Once you do, there's no feeling like holding the jaw up, squeezing the bag, and watching that little chest rise just enough to avoid inflating the stomach while still giving them oxygen. And to think we walk around normally breathing without even thinking about it. Want to manage a person's airway? Learn to bag. Don't know what to do with a failed airway? Learn to bag. Save a life.