Thursday, 19 October 2017

Who am I

Instead of a stupid patient story this week, I've decided to play a game with you, my loyal (and disloyal and peripatetic) readers.  No damn it, I don't mean we're going to play a game like Jigsaw, nor are we going to play Global Thermonuclear War.  No, a normal game.  A kid's game, actually.  Remember "Who am I"?  Perhaps it had a different name when (and where) you played it, but the rules are always the same: I will tell you a series of facts about something or someone, and you have to guess who I am.

I have a feeling this little experiment will go swimmingly.  If you think you know the answer, please refrain from shouting out your guess so that others can continue to play.

Ready?

Let's play.


  1. I am not a person, but rather a thing.
  2. I was invented not too long ago to help prevent a major cause of death and injury.
  3. Millions of people use me regularly, and most do not give me a second thought.
  4. Proper use of me only takes a couple of seconds and is not uncomfortable when applied properly.
  5. I am very safe when used properly, but I can be misused.
  6. I am exceedingly effective at protecting people's lives.
  7. Use of me is strongly recommended everywhere around the world and is even mandated in some places.
  8. Despite the fact that there are many laws around the world regarding mandatory use of me, some people still eschew me and choose not to use me.
  9. There are very few real reasons not to use me.
  10. There are several more recently developed items that have been invented and found to make use of me more effective.
  11. Despite my excellent safety profile, there are rare instances where I can cause major injury or even death.
  12. Because I can rarely hurt people, some believe I am evil and will always refuse me.
  13. People who are against me actually think they are safer without me.
Are we getting any ideas here?  Yes?  No?  Do you need more time to think?


Well if you guessed SEAT BELTS, then you are CORRECT!


What?  What do you mean you weren't thinking I was seat belts!  Wait wait wait, you weren't thinking I was VACCINES, were you?

Hm . . . well now that I read my description back, it sure does sound like I could be vaccines, doesn't it.

You are correct; that wasn't a question.

This stupid little game was inspired by some stupid little tweets that I've read over the past week or so regarding the flu vaccine, including this humourous little gem:
But that's from noted lunatic and all-around asshole Mike Adams, so I mostly let that go.  Not really:

Waste of skin.  Heh.  But the one that really got to me was this one:
I wish I could remember where on Facebook I found that, but in case you can't see the picture it is a nurse bleating about the fact that she is being forced to wear a mask because she refused a flu shot.  What this nurse apparently forgot is that nurses are on the front line when it comes to patient protection, and they should be first in line to get their goddamned flu shot.  Because this isn't about you and your stupid hurt feelings madam, it's about not transmitting a potentially fatal disease to the most vulnerable people for whom you have chosen to care.

While the vast majority of the 200+ responses to my tweet were supportive, some of them were less than enthusiastic.  Ok, that's putting it mildly.  I'll change that to "complete bullshit".
No, seriously.  "My own immune system".  I can't even make this shit up.

Others groused about the nurse's informed consent:
Let me assure you that we all sign informed consent forms prior to receiving the vaccine, and they say the same things it says on the consent forms that the general public signs.  And making a nurse wear a mask doesn't violate her privacy, and it doesn't violate informed consent.  I have a sneaking suspicion that when she was hired (or when her hospital adopted a mandatory flu shot policy) she signed a form acknowledging that she would either get the shot or wear a mask.

Then there were multiple people claiming this:

NO.  No it absolutely can not.  If you take nothing else away from this stupid blog post, take away this: it is a 100% biological impossibility to catch the flu from the flu shot.  End of.  Full stop.  PERIOD.  Before you rush down to the comments to say "BUT THE FLU MIST IS A LIVE VIRUS VACCINE YOUR STUPID LOL", I didn't say the flu vaccine, I said the flu shot, which is an inactivated (read: dead) virus vaccine.  The flu mist is a live attenuated vaccine which has unfortunately not been nearly as successful as anyone had hoped.  Regardless, You can't catch the flu from a flu shot, you can't transmit it to others, and it doesn't fucking shed.  You may feel crummy for a day or two due to the immune response, but that is NOT the flu, which knocks you on your ass for a week or two and may fucking kill you.

Now I will be the first to admit that the flu shot mostly sucks.  I don't mean getting it sucks, because just like Donald Trump, it's a tiny little prick.  As I mentioned in my stupid little game, it has an excellent safety profile.  No, what I mean is that compared to all other vaccines, it just doesn't work as well.  Compared to MMR (97% effective with 2 doses), polio (99% effective with 3 doses), Haemophilus influenza (95% effective with 3 doses), and meningitis (85-100% effective with 3 doses), the flu vaccine just doesn't quite stack up:
It sure is easy to denigrate such terrible-looking results.  I mean, just look at 2014-2015 when the flu shot was just 20% effective!  And for fuck's sake, in 2004-2005 it was less than 10% effective!  Why the hell do we even fucking bother with this shit?

The reason we fucking bother with this shit is because it DOES work sometimes, and that is better than nothing.  Even if it is only 10% effective, that is 10% higher than ZERO PERCENT.  The flu kills thousands of people every year and happens to target the most vulnerable of our population (children, elderly, sick), so it is NOT just a bad cold.  The flu shot is extremely safe, with fleetingly rare reports of serious adverse events at a rate of around 1 per 1.4 million doses.  Plus, in some years the effectiveness approaches 60%, which is actually pretty goddamned good.  And the flu vaccine has also been found to decrease both the severity and mortality of pneumonia during flu season.

The bottom line is this: influenza is not just a bad cold.  The flu sucks.  The flu shot works (sometimes).  The flu shot is safe.  The flu shot is inexpensive.  And the flu shot does not give you the flu. 

So if you are a child, a healthcare worker, an elderly person, are pregnant, or have a chronic medical condition,

Monday, 9 October 2017

Fool me once again

I've written before about not learning from mistakes. In case you missed that episode, please go back and read it. I just did, and that story is fucking hilarious (if I do say so myself).

Anyway, it seems that in my trauma bay I see more than my fair share of people who are either unwilling or unable to learn from what they've done wrong so that they don't do it again.  Everyone makes misteaks (myself included, naturally), but unlike many of my patients I try to refrain from making the same misteak twice.  This is a lesson that I beat into my children (NOT LITERALLY) on a daily basis.  After all, I tell them, if you don't learn from your mistakes, then what the hell is the point of making mistakes.  Right?  Of course right.

I have to assume that Lacey (not her real name™) didn't have such caring and knowledgeable parents.

Lacey was brought to me in a bit of a heap one fine late evening, the police trailing just behind.  That is, as you have probably guessed, never a good sign.  When she was wheeled into the trauma bay, she was completely unresponsive, unable even to open her eyes.  When I see such a patient, I think of the three Most Likely Possibilities:
  1. She has a severe brain injury,
  2. She is drunk (or otherwise intoxicated) as hell,
  3. She is faking to avoid talking to the police.
It's my job to differentiate among the three.

"Evening, Doc.  Here we have Lacey.  She's 29, history of anxiety and depression, allergy to penicillin, takes one medication for anxiety though she doesn't know which one.  History of heroin abuse.  We found her like this, unresponsive, outside her car on the side of the road.  Basically no damage to the car, but, you know, we can't tell if she hit her head or oh-deed or what.  She's been unresponsive like this since we found her, though her vitals have been rock stable."

A quick glance at Lacey revealed no outward sign of trauma, not even an abrasion.  She literally had not a single scratch on her.  I strongly suspected Most Likely Possibility #2.  She had a grossly abnormal neurological exam: her pupils were pinpoint and she did not respond to painful stimuli, so I could rule out Most Likely Possibility #3 (though #1 was very much still in play).  Her physical exam was otherwise completely normal.  X-rays of her chest and pelvis were normal.  An ultrasound of her chest and abdomen showed no sign of bleeding around her heart, lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys, or bladder.  A full-body CT scan was negative.

This did not seem to be Most Likely Possibility #1 either.  Shocking.

A few minutes after seeing her normal scans, her lab work finally came back.  Her chemistry and complete blood count were (are you sitting down?) totally normal.  Finally I saw what I was looking for: something.  Something.  Anything that could explain why she was out cold.

Her urine tox screen was positive for heroin.  I hate the term "Duh", but really.  DUH.

Now clearly no one in the trauma bay was surprised, but as we started to discuss the sheer stupidity of driving after injecting way-too-much heroin (though to be fair, any amount of heroin is way too much if you plan on driving), something occurred to me about the medics' presentation that hopefully occurred to you too.  I cocked my head as I thought about it, wondering.  

Fortunately the ambulance crew was still milling around the hallway, so I decided to ask them the question that was noodling around my brain: If she was unresponsive when you found her, how the hell did you know her medical history other than heroin use and that she was allergic to penicillin??

The medics turned to each other, laughed, turned back to me, laughed in my face, and then started high-fiving each other.  Not really, but that's what it felt like as he chuckled politely and said,

"Oh, because we picked Lacey up for a heroin overdose earlier this morning too."

Wait, you . . . what?  Of course you did.  Somehow, that made total and complete sense.

Unfortunately for the general public, the police left without arresting her.  I have no idea why and no reasonable suspicion other than that the officer got bored of waiting for Lacey to wake up.  So instead of going to jail for endangering every single person around her, Lacey got away with it.  Again.  She woke up, got dressed, asked me for a prescription for narcotics (HA!), and went home.

I can guarantee that she learned absolutely nothing from this episode, and I can further guarantee with near 100% precision that I will see her again.  Probably soon.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Guns

I'm angry.

I'm sad.

I'm thoroughly upset.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, go google "Las Vegas" right now and you'll be instantly updated.  If you're reading this after October 2017, well, just click here I guess.

A man whom I will not name went on a shooting rampage from an elevated vantage point in Las Vegas, killing 59 people (so far, not including himself) and injuring about 500.  I will repeat: HE KILLED 59 INNOCENT PEOPLE AND INJURED OVER 500 MORE.  In an hour.  With an arsenal of guns.

All of which were obtained legally.

In addition to the 23 guns found in his hotel room, police found 19 more firearms in his home along with several thousand rounds of ammunition.  A terrorist, right?  A maniac with a long history of mental illness, right?  A career criminal who got all the guns illegally, right?

NO.  He was a wealthy gambler who purchased these guns legally.  All of them.  He had no criminal background.  He passed an FBI background check.  And he was able to amass an arsenal and then kill several dozen people with it.

And predictably, infuriatingly, people are defending his right to do so.

As someone who deals with gun violence on a daily basis, I am sick to fucking death of people (looking at you, 'Muricans) shouting about their second amendment rights.  Their right to defend themselves.  Their right to own a gun.

Yes, you have the right to bear arms, just like others have the first amendment right to say "FUCK YOU" for it.  But for those of you about to comment to that effect, that amendment you seem to idolise was written in 1791 when guns were fucking muskets and took 5 minutes to reload.  Do you think your founding fathers would have been ok with semi-automatic rifles being converted into automatic rifles with legally purchased parts?  Do you think they would have passed that law knowing what we have now, knowing that a rifle can be purchased online in less time than it takes to reload a musket?

And above all, do you really think that law can't be changed?

IT'S CALLED A FUCKING 'AMENDMENT'!  OF COURSE IT CAN BE CHANGED!

And as for your right to protect yourself, give me a fucking break.  Look at the actual statistics.  For every "protection" gun death in the US, there are 34 gun-related homicides and 78 gun-related suicides.  You don't even have to look it up, because I've done the work for you.  Just click anywhere in this paragraph  Those are FBI statistics.  Read them.  Understand them.  Yes, guns protect people, but at a very high cost.

The second amendment was written so that the people could protect themselves against a tyrannical government.  When was the last time the second amendment protected the people of the United States against the government?  When?  Any gun advocates care to answer that one?

FUCKING NEVER.  (No, the Whiskey Rebellion doesn't fucking count.  Not a single shot was fired, and the people were protesting a tax on alcohol that they didn't like.  And even if it did count, that was also way back in 1791.  Muskets, remember?  And neither does the American Civil War, because the South was trying to fucking defend slavery.  And they rightfully fucking lost.  And if you'd like to bring up Cliven Bundy, just don't.  He was wrong, and he also lost.)

I'm not even going to expound on gun violence in Australia, where over 650,000 guns were bought back by the government after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, and there have been a total of ZERO mass shootings since then.  In contrast, in the US I can think of at least a dozen mass shootings in the past year alone (SO FAR), and a dozen more last year.  Is the US the same as Australia?  No.  Do I think the same policy adopted in Australia would work in the US?  YES I DO.  And do I have evidence to back up this belief?

YES I FUCKING DO.
Now do I think banning all guns is the answer?  Of fucking course not.  First off, anyone who thinks that it is even remotely feasible to go out and round up even 1% of the 350 million guns in the US is a certified lunatic.  Let's be honest, just changing the law would be difficult enough, and rounding up any guns would be nigh-on impossible.  But the state of affairs as it stands now is absolutely untenable, and I categorically refuse to believe that tougher restrictions wouldn't lead to less access to guns, and that less access to guns wouldn't lead to fewer gun deaths.

One final thing.  I am sick to fucking death of everyone's "thoughts and prayers" for the victims.  I'm tired of hearing about vigils.  I've had it with moments of silence.  I've never seen a thought or a prayer stop a mass murderer.  Vigils don't mean jack shit.  I've never heard of silence changing a law.  It is WAY PAST TIME for American politicians be silent.  It is time for them to stop the thoughts, ignore the prayers, give up the goddamned moments of silence, and GET UP AND DO SOMETHING.

Note: I realise that I will rile approximately 50% of the population with this, and I am absolutely 100% fine with that.  I hate guns.  Gun owners and fanatics are free to leave whatever comment you like.  I understand that you can be rabid in your defence of guns and gun ownership.  But understand that I will delete any comment I deem inappropriate.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Listen to me

There is a nearly 100% chance that I know more about trauma and trauma surgery than you.  I fully realize how arrogant that sounds, but if you think about it for one second hopefully you'll understand why I say it.  Having studied for several years in university, several more years of medical school, over half a decade of surgical training, followed by {redacted} years of surgical/trauma practice, hopefully I know a hell of a lot about surgery.  Actually now that I think about it, if I don't know more than you about trauma surgery, then my patients have a real problem.

Unless of course you also happen to be a trauma surgeon, in which case hi!  Welcome!

Because most people see the white coat as a symbol of an authority figure, I rarely get questioned on my orders and recommendations.  Most of the time people nod and say something to the effect of "Yes, doctor."  Don't get me wrong, I don't expect people to take everything I say at 100% face value, because as this blog has demonstrated I am most assuredly not always right.  Though I don't expect blind adherence, what I do expect is for my patients to listen to me.

Since I don't do kids, all of my patients are adults with adult brains (relatively speaking), so they are (unfortunately) free to listen to what I have to say and then make up their own mind.  Tragically, some of those minds are just plain stupid.

The Thursday in question was just like any other typical Thursday, in that everybody seemed to be getting assaulted.  I don't know if there was a knife show in town or if the government was spraying everybody with DocBastard's Super Aggression Chemtrails® again, but it seemed that everyone was getting stabbed, punched, or shot, Oliver included.

Oliver (not his real name™) was my second penetrating trauma victim of the day (the first will be found in a future post as well).  He had reportedly been stabbed by Some Dude for Some Reason with Some Weapon at Some Point in the past hour.  The medics were not terribly forthcoming with details, because Oliver would not tell them anything.

"Hey Doc, this is Oliver.  20 years old.  Single stab wound to the left lower chest.  Breath sounds have been equal, and he has been calm and cooperative although not talking much.  Vital signs are all stable."  By the time the medics finished their story, Oliver had already been hooked up to the monitors.  His heart rate was 61, his blood pressure was 118/68, and his oxygen saturation was 100% on room air.  Hm, I thought, he can't be too seriously injured, because vitals can't get much better than that.

As the medics correctly reported, Oliver had a single 5 cm stab wound to the left lateral chest just where it meets the abdomen.  These thoracoabdominal injuries can be a diagnostic and therapeutic nightmare, as the knife could potentially have penetrated anything in his left chest (including lung, heart, and/or great vessels) or anything in the abdomen (including colon, small intestine, stomach, spleen, and diaphragm).

Shit.

So I did what I always do in this situation – I put my finger in the hole.  Oliver was clearly unhappy with this manoeuvre, but the laceration was quite deep, extending towards his midsection underneath his 12th rib. I could not feel any obvious penetration into his chest or abdomen, but unfortunately knife blades tend to be thinner than my finger, so this is not a perfect test in any way.  Since all of his vital signs remained rock stable, his next stop (after a normal chest x-ray) was the CT scanner.  Much to my surprise and chagrin, though the scan did not show any injury in the chest, it did show a small amount of fluid (read: blood) in the left upper abdomen along with a few dots of air where they did not belong.

Shit!

While the air could have come from the outside world, it was more likely to be leaking out from a hollow organ (ie stomach, small intestine, or colon).  However, not wanting to base my decision solely on a picture on a computer screen, I went back to examine Oliver, whose vital signs were still completely normal (and probably better than mine at that moment).  His abdomen was still soft, flat, and completely nontender (except at the stab wound).  At this point my options were:
  1. Patch him up and sent him home, which was a terrible idea.
  2. Observe him for the next 12 hours to see if any signs of peritonitis develop from a perforation that I conveniently decided to ignore for half a day.  This is only a slightly less bad option, because by the time peritonitis develops, Oliver would already be (by definition) sick as hell. 
  3. Take Oliver to the operating room, insert a laparoscope into his abdomen, and take a look around. 
I went with option 3.

Ninety minutes later I had a laparoscope in his abdomen, where I was able to see a small amount of blood in the left upper abdomen as well as a small laceration to his diaphragm. 

Wait wait wait Doc, 90 minutes?  Why the hell did it take you 90 minutes to get him to theatre?  That's malpractice!  I'm going to report you etc etc.

Hold on there, bucko.  Remember how I said Oliver was my second penetrating trauma of the day?  Well the first one came in exactly two minutes before Oliver did.  He was much sicker than Oliver was, so I had to take him to theatre first.  Remember also when I said he would be addressed in a future post?  He will.  I just haven't gotten to it yet.  So hold onto your stupid report and stick it somewhere dark.

Anyway, the diaphragm laceration certainly needed to be repaired, but I also need to make sure nothing else had a hole in it that needed repair.  I remove the laparoscope and opened him up the old fashioned way, but after an exhaustive search the only other injury I found was a very small laceration to his omentum.  The air on the CT scan had indeed come from the outside world, but assuming that without doing surgery is a potentially lethal mistake.  Fortunately for Oliver this was the best possible outcome – his postoperative course should be short, about two to three days, and hopefully uneventful.  

Hopefully.  (Foreshadowing . . .)

I heaved a big sigh and repaired his diaphragm, everybody gave each other a high-five for a job well done (not really), and I closed.  I went to see Oliver the next morning at 7 AM, and he was putting his clothes on, getting ready to leave.  You know, 12 hours after major surgery.

Uh . . . 

"Oh hey Doc.  Listen, I got to go.  I have things I need to do at home," he told me with a small wince of pain as he buttoned his shirt.  I looked at him sternly and then very slowly and carefully and using very small words explained to him that he just had major surgery 12 hours earlier, and he should expect to be in the hospital for 2 to 3 more days.  But Oliver would have nothing of it. 

"Nope, sorry I got things I gotta do at home.  I've been walking, I feel fine, I need to go."  I heaved a very heavy sigh, looked at him even sternlier (yes, that should totally be a word), and explained everything that I had just explained, this time a bit more slowly, a bit more forcefully, and using even smaller words so that he would be sure to understand.  

Nope.  The nurse called me an hour later to alert me that he had indeed left the hospital against medical advice.  

And then one of the emergency physicians called me seven hours after that to tell me that he was back. 

Of course. 

When I went in to see him the following morning, he looked only mildly abashed, like he had barely done anything wrong.  "Welcome back," I told him with a scowl.  "Yeah, I probably shouldn't have left, right?" he said, finally looking up from his mobile.

"Right," I told him in that same stern voice I had used before.  "That was a stupid thing to do.  Really stupid.  I expect you to stay here in hospital this time until I discharge you.  Clear?"  He simply nodded and went back to playing a game on his mobile.

As expected, Oliver had normal post-laparotomy pain which is best treated, you know, in a hospital.  He stayed in hospital for 3 more days until his bowels woke back up (which is normal after major abdominal surgery), and he then went home again.

But not until I discharged him.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

No, Jahi McMath is still not alive

I'm stunned.

I'm simply stunned.

As you can probably imagine, considering everything I see in my trauma bay, it takes a lot to stun me.  The most recent judge in the Jahi McMath case managed to do it.

If you aren't familiar with Jahi, you can read more about her sad case here (there are links to other updates in that post).  In short, at age 13 she underwent a complicated nasopharyngeal surgery back in December of 2013.  The surgery reportedly went well, but postoperatively she bled to the point of cardiac arrest and eventual brain death (which was verified by 6 separate physicians).  Her mother fought the diagnosis, and she moved Jahi to New Jersey where she still resides, on a ventilator and unresponsive.

Or is she?

The family has released several videos showing Jahi supposedly moving to verbal cues and another showing her overbreathing her ventilator (if you aren't familiar with that term, just google it).  They claim this proves she is not brain dead, and they found a well-known brain death critic named Alan Shewmon, a paediatric neurologist, to supposedly corroborate their hypothesis.

In response to this, judge Stephen Pulido this past week declared that there is a possibility that Jahi is not in fact brain dead, so he has decided to send the case to a jury to decide if Jahi is still dead or if she no longer satisfies the requirement for brain death.

There are several glaring problems, all of which have combined to flabbergast me.

The first and biggest problem I have here is that Alan Shewmon HAS NOT EXAMINED HER.  He solely relied on the 49 unsubstantiated videos supplied by Jahi's family to formulate his opinion that Jahi does not meet the criteria for brain death.  I've seen several of the videos, and I can definitively tell you that they mean exactly jack shit.  For example, one of them shows only Jahi's foot moving in response to her mother's voice.  That's it, just her foot.  There is no indication how long they were taking video, if she was moving her foot prior to the commands being given, etc.  It's absolutely meaningless.

Let me reiterate this in no uncertain terms: Alan Shewmon has averred in a sworn statement given to the court that Jahi no longer meets criteria for brain death based solely on these videos.  The only instance when he examined her was in December of 2014, at which time he stated that she was not in any way responsive (see paragraph 9).  He has NOT re-examined her since.  Not to mention the fact that nothing in the videos is acceptable in either diagnosing or ruling out brain death.

And Judge Pulido not only accepted Shewmon's ridiculous statement, he has kicked this to a jury to decide in response to it.

Since when does a jury get to decide who is living or dead?  I thought that was the job of doctors.  Has medicine advanced to the point where a group of twelve people can make medical diagnoses?  And who the fuck decided it was a good idea to do that based on the testimony of a doctor who hasn't even examined the damned patient?

Consider this - if I were to make a diagnosis on a patient I had not examined, what would you call me?  At best, you should call me unethical.  At worst, a quack.  And even worse, consider this: Judge Pulido is asking a jury, presumably without any medical training whatsoever, to synthesise and assess information that even experts would have difficulty with?  Are you fucking kidding me?

This case has officially become a farce.  It was sad and risible before, but this latest development is absolutely ludicrously preposterous.  I don't know how else to put it.

As I have said many times before, if new evidence comes to light showing that Jahi is in fact not brain dead, I will recant everything I have said and state without question that I was wrong.  Until then, this is fucking ridiculous.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Diversity

This probably goes without saying, but the world of trauma is pretty damned diverse. I don't mean to say that trauma is different from other medical specialties in that way, because I'm sure every doctor feels the same way about his or her chosen field. However, all those other doctors are wrong. Trauma is clearly the best.

I kid, I kid. Sort of. Not really.

Think about it though - GPs see mostly elderly people with chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes and high cholesterol, but also the odd patient with back pain, a sniffle, various other aches and pains, or a vague sense of unease. Not so diverse. Specialists only see patients in their particular chosen area. Trauma, on the other hand, is so varied is because we see every and any manner of traumatic injury, intentional, accidental, and otherwise: car accidents, motorcycle crashes, falls (from standing, off ladders, out of windows, from bed, from pub stools), stabbings, assaults, gunshot victims, bicycle crashes, animal attacks (these stories are usually the best), industrial accidents, sports accidents, and other. Diversity.

I can't really categorise Mauricio (not his real name™) in any other way, so he must therefore be an other.

If there is one thing I've learned from watching crime shows, it is don't run from the police. Don't run on foot, don't flee in a car, don't speed off on a motorcycle, just don't fucking run. No matter how fast you think you are, even if the officers themselves are not terribly swift, the police dogs and helicopters are faster than you. Mauricio apparently either never watched these shows or isn't smart enough to pick up the message.

My bet is the latter.

The walk-in clinic is an off-shoot of A&E/ED in which I have very little involvement. If you think I avoid the emergency department and their "I just, I don't know, I just don't feel right" patients, you better believe I avoid this part of it. This area is reserved for the non-emergent emergencies (ie the patients who can usually wait to see their GP the following day or week or year), but unfortunately I still get the occasional call from docs there about patients with facial fractures they can't deal with or lacerations they don't want to deal with. The stories are rarely good, which is why I never tell them.

Until Mauricio.

Mauricio had been brought to the walk-in clinic by police after what they called a "fall".  They are not medics, so I can't really fault them for not giving an appropriate consultation, but I will anyway because Mauricio was not a fall, as we all found out later. Regardless, the emergency physician's workup on Mauricio included a CT of his brain which found two surprising results: 1) he actually had a brain, and 2) a subdural haematoma, which was why I was called. He was complaining of a headache (obviously) though he was neurologically intact. Despite the rather ugly looking scan, he had no weakness, numbness, or any other complaint. He ultimately would not need surgery, but he still needed to be closely watched in intensive care to make sure that his brain didn't swell and the bleeding didn't worsen.

Despite the two surprises we already had, the diagnosis wasn't the real surprise. It was the mechanism of injury that was.

Mauricio had been caught trying to steal a car. I say trying because he apparently is a shit car thief and could not even get in the door. A bystander apparently saw him using a clothes hanger to try to unlock the door (yes, really) and called the police. When they arrived about 15 minutes later, he still hadn't figured out that 1) the hanger would never work on that particular model car, and 2) a rock would have broken the window and gotten him into the car much more easily. Anyway, when the police told him to freeze (or whatever the hell they actually yell in 2017), he did not freeze. No, he ran.

And ran.

And ran.

Right into a brick wall.

Now last time I checked, brick walls are neither small nor particularly mobile, so surely Mauricio was just so drunk that he stumbled into it, right? Nope. His blood alcohol was negative, as was his urine tox screen. He actually literally just ran into a brick wall.

I can add this to the pile of "Well, I doubt I'll ever see that shit again."

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Prison

I don't typically think of my job as dangerous.  Quite the opposite, actually - the trauma bay is supposed to be a safe place where people who have done something particularly dangerous and/or stupid come to get something fixed.  Whenever we get a rowdy patient (who is usually either A) drunk, B) high on PCP, C) an asshole, or D) some combination of the above), everyone in the trauma bay knows that, with one quick phone call, several very burly men who could easily pass for moderately large bears will descend upon the asshole and defuse the situation in approximately 4.72 seconds. 

Sometimes, however, even that isn't enough. 

Unlike the trauma bay, prisons are violent places, and violent things tend to happen there.  Granted my information regarding the violence inherent in the penal system is mostly limited to what I learned in The Shawshank Redemption and O Brother Where Art Thou, but that knowledge base expanded significantly recently when I met Ervin (not his real name™). 

I don't usually get too worked up when my trauma pager alerts me to an impending "assault".  That may sound callous, but it's for several good (I think) reasons: 1) When people are assaulted, it is most commonly limited to the face, 2) if these people suffer any injuries (past lacerations and contusions), it is most often a broken nose or other facial bone, 3) those fractures rarely require surgical intervention, and 4) if they do, I call the maxillofacial surgeon to do it.  So when my pager alerted me to an assault arriving in 8 minutes, I sighed and put away the blog post I had been trying diligently (yet failing miserably) to make sound less stupid. 

But then something caught my eye - the patient was arriving by air, not ground.  Hm.  That could mean it was more serious than I was imagining.  Or it could mean the patient was injured further away than an ambulance could drive in a reasonable amount of time.  Or it could mean something else.  Yes, the dreaded "other".  

And of course it was "other". 

When Ervin was wheeled in, the first thing I noticed was the prison jumpsuit.  The second, third, fourth, and fifth things I noticed were the various handcuffs and shackles pinning him to the stretcher.  The next thing I noticed was the mask over his face (think Hannibal Lecter).  Finally came the bevy of police officers accompanying him.  This bodes poorly, I thought. 

And I didn't even know the half of it yet. 

"Hi there, Doc. This is Ervin.  Ervin has been (god damn it Ervin, stop fighting!), uh he's been tussling with the prison guards for the last (damn it, Ervin! Stop fucking spitting!), um for the last two days.  He's being transferred, and (fucking hell guys, he's trying to claw my arm again!), he's being transferred to another facility and doesn't want to go I guess." 

Imagine trying to wrangle a cat into a pet carrier.  Now imagine the cat is extremely angry.  Now also imagine that cat is 2 meters tall, weighs 110 kg, and can curse constantly.  Yeah, that's Ervin. 

He was covered head to toe in abrasions and contusions, and he had obviously earned every single one of them.  Ervin continued fighting as we moved him to our stretcher, and I've rarely seen such a relieved medic crew get the hell out of my trauma bay so quickly.  The officers, on the other hand, thankfully stayed. 

"You want us to uncuff him, Doc?" one of the officers asked me. 

"Hey wait," one of the nurses said.  "I know this guy!  Yeah, Ervin!  He was here as an 'assault' two days ago after he fought with the prison guards!  He injured two techs and a nurse, and he tried to kick me in the face!" 

The police officer looked at me askance. 

Uncuff him? Seriously? 

"Hell. Fucking. No.  Under no circumstances.  NO."  Yes, those were my exact words. 

The tech moved towards him to place an IV, and I immediately stopped her.  I made it clear to everyone in the room that no one was to come near this guy with anything sharp, and all we were going to do was get a quick 5-second CT scan of his brain, see that it was normal, and then send him right back from whence he came.  Fortunately when we brought Ervin to the scanner, he decided the CT doughnut wasn't as threatening as a roomful of cops, so he stayed still long enough for me to see a normal brain. 

Thank you for this one small thing, Call Gods

As I was chatting with a few of the guards a short while later, one of the nurses beckoned to me.  "The radiologist is on the line for you.  He has a critical finding he needs to tell you about." 

Oh come on, no. No. NO. 

It turns out I had missed a tiny subdural haematoma and an even tinier cerebral contusion.  I looked at the scan again and still couldn't see it, so I had another radiologist look at it.  He confirmed that I was indeed not a radiologist and the other radiologist is.  The finding was, in fact, real.  

God. Damn. It. Fuck You, Call Gods. Fuck you. 

So now I was obligated to admit this asshole, put an army of security guards and police officers on him, start an IV, try to do neuro checks on him every hour, repeat the CT scan in a few hours . . . 

Fuck. Just, fuck. 

I did exactly that, apologising to everyone involved in the process.  No one wanted to take care of Ervin, though we all did dutifully and respectfully.  Ervin, however, was not nearly as accommodating.  There were two very large police guards inside his room at all times, and fortunately his outbursts were mostly limited to hurling verbal abuse at anyone he could see.  

The following day his repeat CT scan was stable, his neuro exam was stable (read: he was still a violent asshole), and I kicked him the fuck out of my hospital before he could injure anyone else. 

I have no doubt I will see him again. Soon.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Surreal

Those of you who are regulars here or follow me on Twitter know my feelings on pseudoscience (otherwise known as "bullshit").  Depending on the day, my opinion wavers somewhere between "Pseudoscience is potentially dangerous nonsense" and "What the fuck are you idiots thinking".  Fortunately I've had very few interactions with pseudoscientific nonsense in my professional career, though several years ago I did have one woman ask me about Dr. Oz and an "olive oil flush" for gallstones.  Since I've been ranting and raving about various bullshit modalities like chiropractic, homeopathy, and acupuncture, I've often wondered how long it would be until my next encounter.

Wonder no more.

I was asked to see Barbara (not her real name™) late one evening for what sounded like typical acute cholecystitis - several days of right upper quadrant abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and vomiting.  Before going in to examine her I looked at her abdominal ultrasound, which showed multiple large stones in her gall bladder along with thickening of her gall bladder wall and inflammation surrounding the gall bladder itself.  Checking her bloodwork, her liver function tests were all normal (so no sign of a biliary tract obstruction - good), and her white blood cell count was mildly elevated as would be expected.  It seemed like a slam dunk, and it was.

Mostly.

When I entered Barbara's room, she had a friend with her, which is certainly not unusual.  I examined her carefully, and the only abnormality was fairly severe tenderness in her right upper abdomen, typical of someone with a gall bladder infection.  I explained the treatment protocol, which would be giving her IV antibiotics overnight followed by a laparoscopic surgery the following morning to remove her infected gall bladder.  I went through my prepared speech which I've given hundreds of times, including the risks, benefits, and alternatives.  And as usual I ended with my normal conclusion: "Do you have any questions?"

It was one of the few times I've regretted it.

Barbara whipped out a little notepad with myriad hand-written notes, and I was immediately bombarded with approximately 1,058 questions, everything from the mundane ("How long will I be out of work?") to the somewhat-strange-but-still-almost-normal ("What anaesthetic agent will I be given?") to the completely bizarre ("What are your instruments made of?").

Then she hit me with one that was so far out in left field it may as well have come from a different country:

"Can I keep my gall bladder?"

Um.  Uhhh.

I had to explain to her that I was obligated to give the gall bladder to the pathologist, who would cut it into thin slices and make sure she didn't have something wacky like gall bladder cancer, so, um, no, you can't keep your disgusting infected gall bladder.  I offered her the option to keep one of her stones instead, which she readily accepted.

And then her friend started asking questions.  Approximately 792 more.

Sigh.

After what seemed like two hours (but was probably closer to 8 minutes), I finally made my way out of her room, where her nurse caught my eye.  She rolled her eyes and smirked in a plainly obvious "Oh, she got you too?" look.  I merely smiled back weakly, feeling lucky to have escaped.

The following morning I went to see Barbara, and she still looked uncomfortable.  Regardless, she told me she was ready for surgery, which was scheduled for later that afternoon.  I went back to my office to see patients for a few hours, returning to the hospital about 30 minutes before her operation was due to begin.  I figured she would be in the pre-op area, which she was.  What I didn't figure was who would be with her.

The only way I could properly describe Barbara's visitor would be to say that she looked like she stepped directly out of 1967 into a time machine, landing in my hospital in 2017.  She could have easily passed as someone who went to a costume party dressed as a hippie and then forgot to remove the costume, so she simply continued living as a hippie.  She had one hand on Barbara's right shoulder and another on her back, and it looked like she was giving her some kind of weird massage.

"Oh, hi Dr. Bastard," Barbara smiled.  "This is Rena (not her real name™), my reiki master."

Your . . . your what?

I had no idea how to reply, and the anaesthesiologist could sense the palpable awkwardness growing by the second.  He gave me a knowing look, rolled his eyes, and clearly trying to break the tension said, "Yeah, I missed my last two reiki appointments."

Heh, good one.

"I KNOW, ISN'T IT AMAZING?" Rena replied with a broad smile, obviously missing the obvious sarcasm, which was obviously obvious.  Barbara smiled too, missing the fact that now both the anaesthesiologist and I were staring at each other, our mouths agape.

It's difficult to render me speechless.

In case you aren't aware of what reiki is, it's bullshit.  It's pure, unadulterated bullshit.  Here, I'll give you the rundown: take prayer, add running your hands over someone to transfer energy to them, and you have bullshit.  I mean reiki.  No, I was right the first time.  Bullshit.

I had never seen reiki actually practiced in real life, so I watched agog as Rena ran her hands over Barbara's right shoulder, muttering encouraging words (I guess) and supposedly transferring some universal life force into her.  This was happening as her very modern IV antibiotic was running through a very modern plastic tube into her very physical vein.

I couldn't think of anything else to say, so I quickly signed my paperwork, muttered something about changing into scrubs, and walked out.  The anaesthesiologist looked jealous.

Barbara's surgery was moderately difficult though uncomplicated.  Her gall bladder was quite inflamed, but it was no different than most any other case of acute cholecystitis I've handled through the years.  She went home the following day feeling somewhat better, but still in some pain.  My typical gall bladder patients go home the same day as surgery and are back to their usual activities within a day or two, relying on ibuprofen (if anything) for pain.  Barbara, on the other hand, emailed me several times a day over the next few days to describe the progression of her pain, nausea, appetite, temperature, and anything else she managed to quantify.  She finally started feeling better just over a week later, to her (and my inbox's) great relief.  She came for her follow-up visit two weeks after surgery, Rena tagging along.  Of course.

With that goddamned notepad.  Of course.

After conducting my exam (everything looked absolutely fine), I dutifully answered all of her remaining questions, including "When can I start juicing again?".  Barbara and Rena both profusely thanked me for my patience and warm bedside manner, and they left looking quite satisfied.  If they only knew what I had really been thinking.

Now I realise that this is only an N of 1 and anecdotes are not data, but it sure seems to me that Rena's energy transfer didn't fucking work.  Of course it's possible Barbara's surgery would have been even more difficult, and her recovery much more protracted, if she hadn't had the reiki treatment done.  Right?

Ha!  No.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Expect the unexpected


Apparently Heraclitus of Ephesus was the first to say something to the effect of "Expect the unexpected", though his exact words were more like "He who does not expect will not find out the unexpected, for it is trackless and unexplored" which sounds much more "Greek philosopher"-ish and less "David Avocado Wolfe meme"-ish.  Regardless, I've always thought this phrase stupid and meaningless, because how can you expect the unexpected?  If you expect it, then it isn't actually unexpected, is it.  What a stupid adage, almost as stupid as "YOLO", am I right?

When I was younger I used to think that was just me being even more pedantic than usual.  But then I became a trauma surgeon and learned what "unexpected" really means.  It was then that "Expect the unexpected" took on a whole new meaning.

A "typical" trauma day for me will involve somewhere between 5 and 20 patients, most of them lightly-to-moderately injured (abrasions, lacerations, contusions, perhaps a broken bone here and there).  These are folks who need X-rays more than a trauma surgeon, at least initially.  Perhaps 10% are severely injured, and 1-2% have truly life-threatening injuries.  So on any given call day I can usually expect one or two "Level 1" traumas who need my immediate attention.  So you can imagine my surprise when the first 4 trauma patients who rolled into my trauma bay one recent Saturday were all Level 1s.

Fuck you, Call Gods.

The first patient was a middle-aged drunk man who was stabbed in the chest multiple times (at 9 o'clock in the morning?  Really?) but only had superficial injuries.  This story is not about him.

The second was a young man who was stabbed in the abdomen and left arm (at 10 AM?  Fucking really, Call Gods??) and had multiple lacerations to his small and large intestine as well as the left brachial artery and required a laparotomy, resection of the small intestine, repair of the colon, and repair of the brachial artery.  This story is not about him either.

The third was a teenager who was shot in the thigh (at noon?  Seriously, what the fuck, Call Gods??) and had a broken femur which required surgical fixation.  Nope, this is not about him.

The fourth guy, on the other hand . . . yeah the fourth guy threw everyone off.  I bet at this point even the Call Gods were tired of playing the same goddamned joke on me.

I was already exhausted and ready to go home by the time Quinton (not his real name™) was brought in at 1 PM (only 19 more hours to go!).  "Hi everyone, this is Quinton.  We found him on the side of the road.  Looks like he was hit by a car.  Got an abrasion on his left shoulder, looks like his face landed on a stick.  His left eye is, well, it's just missing.  He's unresponsive, not moving anything for us."

The road they found him near is a high-speed road, so everyone immediately jumped into action knowing that he had been suffered a high-velocity, high-energy strike.  The potential injuries were vast - literally anything could be injured.  Since the anaesthesiologist was intubating him, I started at his feet and made my way up.  His feet and legs were fine.  Pelvis, stable.  Abdomen was soft, flat, no obvious injuries, ultrasound negative for blood in the belly.  Chest was stable, no obvious rib fractures, breath sounds were equal.  His heart was beating a bit fast, but the sounds weren't muffled, so I doubted a blunt cardiac rupture.  Arms and hands were normal.  His neck looked normal.

And then I got to his head.  His left eye wasn't missing, but it wasn't normal either.  The globe (eyeball) was ruptured, presumably from the stick he had landed on.  I didn't so much care about the eyeball - while that injury looks seriously bad, you can live without an eye.  His scalp had some matted dried blood in it which made evaluation of his scalp impossible.

With his airway secure and his vital signs stable, we got a quick X-ray of his chest (normal) and pelvis (normal) and went immediately to the CT scanner.  When a scan is done, the tech first shoots a "scout" film, which is essentially a plain X-ray of the body part to be scanned.  The tech shot the scout intending to set up for the scan then said something entirely unexpected:

Tech: Um . . . there's a bullet in there.
Me: Wait, there's a what??
Tech: No wait, I was wrong.
Me: Whew.
Tech: There are two.

I looked at the screen, and sure enough there was a bullet sitting right in the middle of his head and another one in his face.  Uh . . . what?  I had assumed he had suffered a high-velocity, high-energy strike, but this wasn't exactly what I had in mind.

The CT images came through a few seconds later, and to say I was surprised would be a drastic understatement.  That matted blood on his scalp was hiding a gunshot wound and underlying skull fracture with a large haematoma in his brain, with the bullet coming to rest in the soft tissue of his cheek.  The second bullet had apparently gone through his eyeball and lodged in the middle of his brain.  There was severe swelling of his brain and transtentorial herniation.  If that sounds bad, it's probably even worse than it sounds.

It takes a lot to surprise me, but that SURPRISED THE HELL out of me.

About an hour later Quinton was in the operating theatre with one of my neurosurgery colleagues, despite the fact that we both knew any aggressive treatment would likely be futile.  Unfortunately we were both right - it took him two more days to finish dying.  No one ever came to identify him, so organ donation was impossible.

I like to joke that I'm a pessimist and that pessimists get more happy surprises, but in reality surprises in the world of trauma are nearly universally bad.  And expecting the unexpected sure sounds like a great way to avoid surprises.  Sometimes, however, the unexpected is just, well, unexpected.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Education

To me (and hopefully to you), education does not necessarily mean what one learns in a classroom.  Sure, there are plenty of things to learn while sitting and listening to someone with the charisma of an oak tree droning on and on about what some army general 300 years ago did to win some plot of land that doesn't even belong to that country that no longer even exists.  However, practical knowledge is more important than anything else.  Except maths - for fuck's sake, learn your maths.  How else are you going to know how much that sale is saving you?

Anyway, the most educational experience of my life has undoubtedly been in the trauma bay.  There are so many lessons I have learned there through the years, and though I'm not saying you can't learn this stuff elsewhere, I personally would likely never have learned them anywhere else for any reason.  These are pearls of wisdom that I will teach my children and take with me everywhere until the day I take my last breath.

And I'd like to share a few of them now.

Ahem . . .

Donkeys are singularly nasty creatures.

A donkey bite looks shockingly like a human bite. 

Helmets work well, but only when applied to the head.  Corollary: helmets are shit at protecting the face.

Gravel is hard to remove from skin.  

Asphalt is much harder than bone.

Many people underestimate gravity.

Trucks have the capacity to move out of the way.  Trees don't. 

Untreated schizophrenia is fucking terrifying.

PCP intoxication can look surprisingly (and terrifyingly) like untreated schizophrenia.

People will deny anything, even something glaringly obvious, for any reason.

Your dog will eat your foot if it gets hungry enough.

A bag of drugs can be hidden in literally any bodily orifice.  If one is not available, a new one can and will be created. 

Power tools can explode. 

People will lie, cheat, steal, beg, plead, wheedle, cajole, bargain, debate, and negotiate for a prescription for narcotics that they don't need. 

Children who have parents that don't give a damn will do stupid things at 2 AM.

Percocet can be a gateway to heroin. 

Holding your baby in your arms will not necessarily stop a pissed off ex from shooting or stabbing you. 

Jealousy is apparently a good enough reason to stab someone in the heart. 

A hammer can be just as lethal as a gun.  So can a deer.

There truly is no limit to the depth of human stupidity.

---

Now I fully realise that last lesson can be learned by anyone in nearly any field.  Everyone has stupid stories to tell, many of them hilarious in their absurdity.  But the difference is that only in very few occupations can your stupidity kill you.  Or others.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Continuity

Studies show that . . .

Wait wait wait, I didn't come here for a "Studies show that" article goddammit, I came here for a stupid patient story, Doc!  What the hell are you on about this time?

Wow, three whole words before I lost you.  I think that's a new record.  Yeah, there's a stupid patient story here, but I need a bit of a setup, ok?  Just shut up and listen.  Or read.  Or whatever.

Studies show that . . . still with me?  Good . . . many errors that occur in hospitals are due to miscommunication, especially between doctors during handoffs and/or signout.  When one doctor (or team of doctors) goes off duty and another comes on, the communication between the two is crucial - it must be clear, concise, and complete.  There have been studies done which show that standardised handoffs reduce these errors, and the gist of the article is as follows: fucking duh.

Even better than standardised handoffs, however, is continuity of care: the same doctor taking care of the same patient no matter what.  In the world of outpatient internal medicine, this is fairly simple - you see your doctor when you have a problem, you don't go to different doctors for the same thing, because that's where problems are born.  In surgery, however, continuity is much, much rarer, and in trauma it is nearly unheard of.  Most people don't suffer severe traumatic injuries more than once, and if they do the likelihood that they will be brought to the same trauma center where the same trauma surgeon just happens to be on call is close to zero.  Close to zero, but decidedly not zero.

I'm sure you see where this is going.

The Call Gods reared their heads recently when I received a bicyclist who crashed, striking his head and losing consciousness.  Fortunately he was wearing a helmet, but as good as helmets are at protecting the brain, they are shit at protecting the face.  Jonah (not his real name™) went face-first over his handlebars into the gravel, and he suffered a fractured nose and several lacerations near his left eye.  As I was suturing him, he happened to mention that he had a similar bicycle accident about a year ago where he broke his clavicle and ultimately required surgery.

Dun dun DUN

I am terrible with names and almost as bad with faces, not to mention the fact that I see several hundred trauma patients a year (and the fact that Jonah at that moment would have been unrecognisable to anyone but his mother), but after I was done suturing, a quick look through my list of patients told me that yes indeed, I saw Jonah last year after his most recent accident.  I didn't feel too bad about not remembering him, because he didn't remember me either.

But the Call Gods weren't done.

A few days later I was evaluating Tomas (not his real name™) who had stolen a motorcycle (but not the helmet) and had crashed into a truck.  Heads are significantly softer than asphalt, and when his head hit the pavement (or maybe the truck, I suppose) he suffered a subdural haematoma.  I was staring at the computer screen scrolling through his images when his family came into the trauma bay to see him.  And that was when I heard a rather familiar voice from Tomas' bedside:

"Hey!  Hey, Doctor Bastard!"

Normally I get critically annoyed when someone yells at me from the trauma bay, but I knew that voice, and I knew the certainty with which he repeated my name.

I looked up with a big smile and saw Mikel (still not his real name™) with an equally huge smile on his face.  Mikel, you may recall from a previous post, was shot in the abdomen and required emergent surgery to repair approximately 194 holes in his small intestine.  His injury had been severe and life-threatening and his recovery had been swift and uneventful, but his attitude had been, and still was, incredibly positive.

And he happened to be Tomas' older brother.

Mikel did nothing but grin (as did his mother) as he vigorously and firmly shook my hand and recounted his hospitalisation and subsequent recovery.  He was back to work with essentially nothing but a big scar on his abdomen to remind him of his near-death experience.  He thanked me profusely (again) before asking him to take similar care of his little brother.

That is a different kind of continuity altogether.

And if you're wondering if Tomas had an attitude as positive and inspirational as his older brother, I hate to be the one to dash your hopes for humanity against the rocks, but fuck it, I'll do it anyway: hell, no.  He walked out of the hospital against medical advice at midnight while no one was watching three days later.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Actively dying

I have a confession: most of the patients I see are not actively dying, and I'm not a superhero.  I'm sure that will come as a shock and disappointment for some of you, but I cannot sustain this facade any longer.  But sadly it's true; the vast majority of the victims I see in my trauma bay are lightly injured at most, and some are completely uninjured (other than their pride, perhaps).  Car accidents, falls, assaults, even gunshot wounds and stabbings - most of the people I see are sent home from the trauma bay without even spending a night in hospital.  Those are the people I don't write about, because who the hell wants to read that dreck.

On the other hand, there are some who come in dead and stay dead.  Despite my best efforts and plenty of practice, my resurrection skills remain poor.

And THEN there are the ones at death's door.  These are the ones we feel really good about, the ones we talk about over coffee the next morning, the ones I write about.  They are the patients that give me pause, that make me stop and think, "NOW THIS is why I went into trauma."  They are the ones who make the commitment, the loss of time with my family, and the sleep deprivation totally worth it.  These are the "Great Saves".

Bosley (not his real name™) was a Great Save.  Except that I didn't save him.

"Hey Doc, if you didn't save him, why are you writing someone else's story?  Isn't that even more arrogant than usual for you?"

Didn't your mother ever tell you what happens when you make assumptions?  Something about U and umptions.  I don't remember.

Anyway, the story we got from the ambulance crew as Bosley was en route was strange enough, but it only got stranger after he hit the door.  We were told that Bosley was the driver of a car that ran into a building, which happened to be a chemist/apothecary/pharmacy/drug store.  Coincidence?  Perhaps, but perhaps not.

Hm.  Strange things are afoot.

By the time the ambulance got to us about 10 minutes later (just before midnight), Bosley was awake and talking, though something was definitely off.  I couldn't tell exactly what it was, but he just Didn't Look Right.  The medics were acting rather cavalier, however, clearly playing off the whole "trauma" thing as nonsense.

"Hey there everyone, this is Bosley.  He's 72, healthy, never sees a doctor.  He was on his way to the drug store tonight to pick up some medicine for a stomach ache when he hit the wall of the building, low speed, basically no damage.  But he lost consciousness, so with that and his age, we made him a trauma.  No sign of trauma on him, though.  Probably just fell asleep at the wheel, right Doc?" he concluded with a grin.

No.  A quick glance at Bosley told me that was not right.  Though he was awake he looked awfully pale, and he was a bit sweaty despite it not being very warm.  When he was hooked up to the monitor, however, his vitals were all completely fine - heart rate of 71, blood pressure 121/70, oxygen saturation 98% on room air.

Hmm.

The nurses started disrobing him and asking his medical history.  He had no medical problems, no prior surgeries, took no medicines on a daily basis, no allergies, doesn't drink, smokes 1-2 packs of cigarettes a day since he was 17.  Hasn't seen a doctor in 45 or 50 years.  I started my cursory secondary survey, trying to find any body part that hurt.  His head was fine, neck was fine, chest was fine, arms and legs were fine.  But when I pushed on his abdomen, I got a bit of a grunt in return.

Hmmm.

I asked him how much it hurt when I pushed, and he replied, "Not that much, Doc.  But it's been hurting me all day.  That's why I was going to get some medicine, to try to settle my stomach.  It hurts in my back, too."

Hmmmm.

"And I passed out in the parking lot.  That's why I crashed."

Hmmmmm.

Unfortunately it was right about this time when we got two walk-in stabbing victims.  Well, that's not exactly true.  Only one of them walked in, while the other had CPR in progress.  I didn't get a chance to examine Bosley more carefully like I usually do, but I glanced at his monitor as I rushed out to try to save the dead patient and saw that his blood pressure was steady at 120/75 and his heart rate was 68.

Good, I thought.  He's stable.  His CT scans should be done by the time the dead guy finishes dying.

It took me about 20 minutes to discover that the dead guy was dead because the knife had created a big hole in his left pulmonary artery (which is generally regarded as a Very Bad Thing), and as soon as I pronounced him dead I ambled over to the CT scanner to look at Bosley's scan.  The tech flashed through the pictures quickly, and something caught my eye.

WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT IN THE MIDDLE OF HIS ABDOMEN??

I took control of the computer's mouse and scrolled through at a more human pace, and what greeted me was a huge (and I mean FUCKING HUGE) abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Not actually Bosley's huge fucking AAA
It doesn't take a radiologist to see THAT LOOKS BAD.  That huge white thing in the middle of the abdomen is an abdominal aortic aneurysm.  In layman's terms, the main artery that supplies blood to the entire body was dilated to approximately 5 times its normal diameter, and it was surrounded by blood that had leaked out of a hole.

Let me repeat that in case the gravity hadn't set in: the aorta had a big fucking hole in it and was leaking.

Bosley didn't know it, but he was actually in danger of dying at any second.  He was literally a figurative time bomb that could literally explode at any moment.  Literally.

And just in case you think I'm being hyperbolous (why the hell isn't "hyperbolous" a word?), I grabbed the radiologist and dragged him over to the screen.  This was his exact reaction:
Oh.  OH!  Oh, oh wow.  Oh, uh that's bad.  That's really bad.  That's a ruptured AAA with a huge retroperitoneal haematoma.  He needs to be in theatre.  Wow.  Just make sure you MOVE HIM REALLY CAREFULLY.
The aneurysm had nothing whatsoever to do with the car accident but rather had been slowly growing over several decades and was related to his smoking and untreated high blood pressure and general lack of medical care over 70+ years.

Eighty two seconds later (I counted) I was on the phone with the cardiovascular surgeon on call, and 29 minutes after that (you're damned right I counted), he was standing next to me looking at the scan, and Bosley was waiting for him in front of the operating theatre.

His aortic aneurysm repair was completed about 4 hours later just as I was finishing an exploratory laparotomy and right colon repair for yet another stabbing victim that came in about two hours after Bosley did (of course).  He stayed in hospital for about 2 weeks before going home with several new prescriptions for high blood pressure and diabetes, none of which I suspect he will take.

It was a great save, it just wasn't mine.  Actually now that I think about it, Bosley's car accident saved his life.  If he hadn't crashed and had simply passed out at home, his neighbours would have probably found him dead on his floor several days later.

Well, I must be off as it's time for my resurrection practice.  Now was that wave the left hand twice and then pronate the right while incanting, or . . .

Shit.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Charlie

I'm sure many of you know exactly to whom the title of this post refers.  For those of you who don't, I'll give you a hint: Charlie isn't a patient of mine.

Figured it out yet?  No?

Several people have emailed to and/or tweeted at me (I still hate that I tweet "at" people.  It seems violent somehow.), wondering why I haven't blogged about Charlie Gard yet.  Well, I haven't done any request posts in a while, so you people are finally getting your wish.

For those of you who have no idea about whom I'm talking, I'll give you the short short version.  Charlie Gard is a wee British lad who was born with an incredibly rare genetic disorder called mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, in which there is a drop in mitochondrial DNA in affected tissues (muscles, brain, and liver).  The affected cells can't produce the ATP they need to survive, and it typically results in death in infancy or early childhood.

As if that weren't bad enough, Charlie was unfortunately diagnosed with an incredibly rare variant of this incredibly rare disease, called RRM2B-related mitochondrial disease.  There are only 16 reported cases of this variant, and all of them have died in infancy.

Like all children with this disease, Charlie seemed like a healthy, normal boy when he was born last August, but he missed some developmental milestones, so his parents took him to the hospital when he was two months old.  Since then he has been on a ventilator, unresponsive and unable to move.  Ever since his parents received the devastating diagnosis, they have been in a legal battle with the hospital over how to treat Charlie - A) continue with aggressive treatment, or B) stop fighting and let nature take its course.

Sigh.  Here we go again.  Another tragic story of a child taken too soon.

Charlie's parents aren't ready to let go, and it seems they have been in and out of the courts every few months.  An American neurologist (who still has not been named) has averred that Charlie is in the terminal stages of his disease, but he has offered an experimental treatment called nucleoside bypass therapy, which has never been used for RRM2B (though it has had some success with a less-severe variant called TK2) and reportedly costs £1.2 million.  His parents set up a GoFundMe account that raised more than the required amount, but Charlie's doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital argued that the therapy is untested and has risks that would outweigh any potential benefit.  In April 2017 the courts decided that the hospital could turn the ventilator off and let Charlie pass in peace.

Undeterred, Charlie's parents kept fighting.  They took the case to the Court of Appeals, which upheld the initial ruling in favour of the hospital.  The Supreme Court then heard the case, which again upheld the ruling.  They took it all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights, which just a few days ago upheld the ruling yet again.

Since the ruling, a children's hospital in the Vatican has offered to take Charlie in as has an American hospital, but his doctors have refused to allow him to fly.  Prime Minister Theresa May has agreed with the doctors, and Charlie remains at Great Ormond.  Charlie's parents have since asked his doctors to discharge him, so that he can die at home in his crib with his parents.  But he still remains where he has been for nearly his entire life.

If this is all sounding familiar to you, then you're probably aware of the similar case of Jahi McMath.  However, the two stories differ in one major way.  But how?  After all, just like Jahi, Charlie can't move, he can't cry, he can't eat, he can't even breathe on his own.  Right?  So what is this major difference?

Unlike Jahi, Charlie can feel pain.  That makes all the difference in the world (in my mind, at least).  Charlie has the capacity to feel discomfort from the pokes and prods, the uncomfortable feeling of a ventilator pushing air into his lungs every few seconds, endlessly.  And with no capacity to improve.  Ever.

But just in case you thought this was a mundane story, it doesn't stop there.  Oh, no.  Donald Trump, of all people, has thrown his hat into the ring.
I'm not sure what Trump thinks he can do for Charlie, but I don't think a spray tan would help.

So . . .

With that very long-winded summary of the past 10 months of Charlie's life, I address the requests I've gotten, all of which have been essentially the same - "Doc, please weigh in on Charlie Gard!"

Well, you asked for it, so here goes:

I agree with everyone, and I disagree with everyone.

Thanks everyone, goodnight!

. . .

Ok, ok.

But seriously, I can honestly see everyone's point of view, and there is absolutely no good answer.  On the one hand, the doctor in me sees the futility in any attempted heroic effort, coupled with the fact that Charlie can feel pain though has no way to express it.  On the other hand, the father in me wants the parents to fight for every minute they have with their son.  But on the other hand . . .

There is no other hand.

The sad fact is that Charlie has a universally fatal and incurable disease.  The proposed treatment in America is experimental at best, has only been used a few times on a related disorder with modest success, and has never been used on anyone with such an advanced case.  There is no reason to think it will be able to reverse Charlie's terminal case, and every reason to believe it will simply cause him to endure his pain longer.  However, I can see no reason why the hospital would deny Charlie's parents' request to let them take him home.  They should at least grant them that one final wish.

I can't really say what I would do in this situation.  I'd like to think that my rational side would take over and let my child go peacefully, but just like I tell my patients, I can't guarantee it.  How can anyone think they know what they would do with such an impossible quandary?  What I can guarantee, however, is that any bullshit offer from Donald Trump would be unabashedly and vehemently rejected with alacrity and aplomb.

I welcome any respectful comments and suggestions.  Tell me I'm wrong, tell me I'm right.  Just keep it respectful.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Rare

If you are a regular reader here (or even an irregular reader) or if you follow me on Twitter (and if you don't, WHY THE HELL DON'T YOU), it probably seems like I get angry on rare occasions.  Ok, sometimes.  Alright, often.  OK ALL THE GODDAMNED TIME.  The truth is that anger is just a facade, a face that I put on to make my words seem more compelling.  I'm actually a very level-headed person and I manage to keep my composure in nearly any situation no matter how infuriating it gets.  Yes, I rarely yell at my children when they do something particularly egregious (though I have kept my 2017 New Year's Resolution for the most part), and yes my wife and I have the very infrequent argument which never escalates past what I would consider a minor tiff (and we never go to bed angry - excellent advice for anyone not yet married).

So no, in reality I'm not angry all the time.  In fact, I very rarely am.  It takes a lot to get me angry.

Roscoe (not his real name™) got me angry.  VERY fucking angry.

Some people don't talk much as they enter the trauma bay, and the reason for this is varied:
  1. Brain injury
  2. Intoxicated
  3. Asshole
  4. Scared of the police
  5. Deaf
Severely brain-injured patients typically do not open their eyes, and I can only recall one deaf patient in the past decade or so, so when Roscoe was brought to me with his eyes wide open yet refusing to say a word, I strongly suspected some combination of 2, 3, and 4.

"Hi there Doc, here we have Roscoe.  He's 19, we think.  That's the only thing he'd say to us, and he had no ID on him.  He wrapped his car around a pole at around 100 kph (62 mph), we think.  He isn't saying much, so we don't know if he has anything on board {"on board" is medic speak for "drugs/alcohol"}, and we also don't know if anything hurts.  We haven't found much in the way of outward trauma.  Have fun, Doc!"

I hated that medic just then, but I wasn't angry.  Yet.

Roscoe looked like a healthy young man, he didn't smell of alcohol, and he barely had a scratch on him, just an abrasion or two on his left knee and elbow.  All his limbs seemed to be intact, he didn't groan as I pushed on his chest or abdomen, and his back and neck appeared normal.  The biggest problem I had to assess was his brain: was his lack of speech a product of a drug other than alcohol or did he have a brain injury?  A CT scan should tell me quite quickly.

And it did - his brain appeared as normal as the rest of his exam.

However, this didn't answer my question fully.  A CT scan will show a subdural haematoma, subarachnoid haemorrhage, or haemorrhagic cerebral contusion very nicely, but a concussion doesn't show up on any scan as it is purely a clinical diagnosis.  I walked back to the trauma bay from radiology with my mind working frantically, trying to figure out what was going on from the information I had.  And as I walked back into the trauma bay, the amount of information I had suddenly jumped up several notches: Roscoe was talking.

I overheard him tell the nurse in a very hushed voice that he had taken something that a friend of his had given him after they had smoked several joints.  He wasn't sure what the pill was, all he knew was that it was round and white and made him sleepy . . . which explains why he fell asleep at the wheel.

I was annoyed, but still I wasn't quite angry.

Roscoe's mother showed up (with a little boy in tow) a short while later after his lab work had come back.  It was all normal except for his urine tox screen, which was positive for marijuana and diazepam (Valium).  Roscoe's mother was cooing over her son, obviously (and rightly) thankful he was uninjured.  Her cooing quickly stopped when I told them about his tox screen.

"WHAT?  YOU TOOK WHAT?  WHERE THE HELL DID YOU GET THAT!  YOU'RE ONLY 17 YEARS OLD!  YOU COULD HAVE KILLED YOUR BROTHER!  WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING, ROSCOE!"

Wait, kill your younger brother?  What?  

It turns out Roscoe (who was only 17, not 19, not that that made a damned bit of difference) was on his way to pick up his 7-year-old brother from a birthday party but decided it would be a great idea to stop at a friend's house, smoke a few joints, and take a random pill just before getting back in the car.

NOW I was angry, and I was sure glad I wasn't the only one as Roscoe's mother continued her well-deserved tirade.

I get angry when innocent people are put in jeopardy because of the stupid decisions of others.  Sure, Roscoe had put his own life on the line, but he had also endangered the life of his little brother as well as all the other people on the road around him.

Normally I try to calm family members down so they don't yell and disturb the other patients in the trauma bay and the rest of the department, but not this time.  Nope, not a chance.  I let Roscoe's mother give him the business as long as she wanted, and boy did she.  I have no doubt whatsoever that this wasn't the last Roscoe would hear of it from her.  She continued berating him as they left the trauma bay, the little boy still walking silently behind them.

Having proofread this post several times, I feel myself getting angry again.  Does anybody know a homeopathic remedy I could use to calm me down?

Oh, never mind.  I found one.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Too old

I'm sure everyone reading this has heard the adage "Age is just a number".  To most, this aphorism means that you're never too old to have fun.  To a trauma surgeon, however, it sounds like an excuse for older people to do stupid shit that should be left to younger idiots.

Now before anyone accuses me of being "ageist" or something, just stop a minute and think.  Is it "ageist" to expect a 20-year-old kid to understand how the world works?  No, of course not.  Young kids just aren't old enough and therefore don't have the necessary experience.  That's why we (generally) don't elect 20-somethings to elected office; they just don't know any better.  On the other hand, it also is not ageist to expect a middle-aged person to have accumulated enough firsthand knowledge of things to avoid doing seriously stupid shit.  Older people should just know better.

Quincy (not his real name™) should just know better.

I should start by saying that Quincy is not a stupid man, or so I found out later.  That was not the initial impression I got, however.

It was early afternoon on a beautiful bright warm Saturday afternoon when Quincy was brought to my trauma bay in a rather sorry state.  I rarely get the full story from the medics, relying only on rough bits of information.  This case was no different.

"Hi everyone, this is Quincy.  54 years old.  Helmeted rider of a motorcycle, crashed at around 70 kph (about 45 mph).  Brief ell oh see (LOC: loss of consciousness), awake and alert now.  Complaining of severe abdominal pain, right hand pain, left hip pain."

Quincy was mostly awake and mostly alert, and he groaned audibly as he was moved from the gurney to our stretcher.  My Inner Optimist started whispering at me as Quincy was hooked up to the monitors, revealing a heart rate of 120 but a normal blood pressure.  "It's probably nothing.  He's probably just very amped up from the accident is all."

My Inner Optimist is annoying as hell.  And often wrong.

My initial exam showed an open fracture of his right hand and significant tenderness in his left hip.  But what really struck me was his abdominal exam.  He kept pushing my hand away whenever I pushed on his belly, something he didn't even do when I was examining his obviously badly fractured hand.  And when I did push, his rather rotund abdomen felt like a board, and it hurt a lot more when I released pressure compared to when I pushed.

1) Voluntary guarding.  2) Board-like rigidity.  3) Rebound tenderness.  All signs of peritonitis.  Quincy had something seriously wrong inside his abdomen that was killing him, and he needed surgery.  Now. 

I rather gleefully pointed out to my Inner Optimist that he was wrong again. 

Quincy's blood pressure held steady in the normal range for the next ten minutes as he was packaged up and brought down to the operating theatre.  Expecting the worst I made a large vertical laparotomy incision, and I was not disappointed.  What struck me first as I entered his abdomen was the smell of vomit, clear as day.  What struck me second was the lack of BIT (Blood In There).  Something, most likely his stomach, was clearly perforated, but somehow that something wasn't bleeding.  Perforations are bad, bleeding is bad, and the two together are worse.  Perforations without bleeding are still bad, but only slightly less bad.

Starting in the upper abdomen I began literally scooping out handfuls of onions, chicken, and corn (WHY THE FUCK IS IT ALWAYS CORN), reinforcing my assumption that his stomach had a large hole in it.  And when I finally got my hands on it, my suspicion was confirmed - a 7 cm laceration across the fundus and antrum (the lowest portion near where the stomach empties into the small intestine).  I initially controlled it with atraumatic clamps to stop any more stuff from leaking out, and I then fired a stapler across the injury to repair it.  His descending colon also had a partial-thickness laceration which did not penetrate the entire wall (fortunately) which I also repaired.  Nothing else was injured, which explained the lack of BIT.

Normally at this point in a trauma operation I would close and everyone would high-five and congratulate each other for another life saved (not really), but not today.  No, now came the really fun part: cleaning up.  

You would be surprised how large and deep the peritoneal cavity is, so now knowing that you would probably not be surprised how easily and in how many places corn (GOD DAMN IT, WHY ALWAYS CORN) can hide.  Several litres of irrigation later, I was still pulling out bits of . . . stuff ("What is that, carrot?").  This left me feeling wholly unsatisfied that he was clean enough to close, so I didn't.  I created a temporary vacuum closure and brought him to intensive care with plans to bring him back in a day or two, clean him out again, and possibly close.  IF he was clean.

Two days later his peritoneal cavity was surprisingly nearly spotless.  There were only a few partially digested bits of food left, and after irrigating with more litres of saline irrigation, I closed him.

A couple of days later after Quincy was extubated and off the ventilator, I finally got to ask him what I had wanted to know since he arrived: why had he crashed.  His answer was something I would expect from a teenager.

"Well you see Doc, I was showing off to the guys in my motorcycle club, doing a wheelie, and . . ."

"Wait," I interrupted, "you were doing a wheelie?  At 70 kph?  Are you aware you're 54 years old?"

He smiled weakly and laughed even more weakly.  "Yeah, it was probably stupid."

"Probably??"

He laughed again.

I had a very long chat with Quincy and his wife about his recklessness and how he was too old
for this shit.  I could almost excuse this kind of nonsense behaviour with a 20-year old kid (almost) because that's what 20-year old kids do - stupid shit.  But not Quincy.  It turns out he was a highly intelligent, articulate, competent middle aged man who just had a momentary lapse of judgement that nearly ended his life.  Quincy's wife looked me dead in the eye and assured me that his motorcycle was already up for sale at a bargain price.  I suspect it will be sold to a reckless kid who will probably do something equally stupid with it.

But that's probably just my Inner Pessimist talking.