Monday, 24 April 2017

Gift

Take a little ride with me.  Yes, you.  We're going on a trip, you and I.  Close your eyes.  Now imagine a house, a big house.  A beautiful house.  This house has a wide, lush green lawn, quaint blue shutters, and a sparkling pool in the back.  The house sits on a calm, pristine lake and has a private dock where there is a boat tied up.

Unfortunately your own house burned down some time ago, and now you have nowhere to live.  So you look at this house, and you love it.  You want it.  Not only that, you need it.  You see, it's cold outside, and you have no shelter.  Any day now you fear that you will succumb to the elements.  Your desperation is reaching a critical point.

Then one day as you are standing there staring at this dream house, a man approaches you, seemingly out of nowhere.  He has a smile on his face as he confidently walks up to you and hands you an envelope without a word.  He then smiles warmly once again, turns, and walks away.  Confused, you open the envelope, and inside you find a set of keys.  Looking further you pull out a sheaf of papers - a deed.  No, not just a deed, the deed.  The deed to this house.  The deed to this house with your name on it.

What?  What is this?  Has someone really just given you a house??  Is that even possible?  You tremulously try the key in the door, and it works.  The door swings silently open and you walk inside, incredulous at your luck.  The house is fully furnished.  Even the refrigerator is stocked with food, everything you could want.  You start to tear up as you realise that it was just before you got to the point where you thought you might die that some kind benefactor you don't know and will never meet has given you the greatest gift you could imagine, exactly what you need to live.  Someone has given you the gift of another chance at life.

What do you do to repay the kindness of a complete stranger?  What could you possibly do to show your gratitude?  How do you respond?  I'll tell you:

You throw a huge party, you shit all over the house, you tear it apart, and then you burn it to the ground.  On purpose.  THAT is what you fucking do.

Wait, what?  Why would you do such a thing?  What kind of asshole would take such a gift and stomp all over it?

Zachary (not his real name™), that's who.  Why?  Why would he do that?  I have no idea, you'll have to ask Zachary, because he's the only asshole I know with experience with this kind of utter twatfuckery.

It was a typical Saturday night, which is to say that everyone who rolled through the door of my trauma bay, whether he had fallen, gotten into a car crash, was assaulted, or was stabbed in the head, was drunk.  And Zach was no different.  I believe I saw every type of drunk that night, and Zach was a Type 5 Drunk, meaning he thought he was much funnier than he actually was, which was not at all.  Not even a little bit.

After getting the story from the medics (car vs tree, tree wins), we started our examination of Zach from head to toe.  This always involves undressing the patient completely so that we can look at everything.  His shirt was barely halfway over his head when I recognised a tell-tale sign on his abdomen:

A Mercedes Benz scar.

This was no ordinary scar, and I could have recognised it from across the room.  Anyone who knows anything about surgery will know this immediately as a liver transplant scar, and if you didn't know that before, now you do.

I'm going to pause here to let this scenario sink into your brain for a moment before I go on, because I can feel my blood starting to boil just like it was that night.  If yours isn't yet, it should be.

. . .

*deep breath*

. . .

Ok, ready to go on?  I'm going to skip the remainder of Zach's story, because 1) it isn't that interesting, and 2) just thinking about it is enough to make me want to throw my computer out the window (Zachary was fine despite his best efforts to kill himself and everyone around him).  The short short version, the reason I was so angry, is that Zach had killed his original liver with heavy alcohol abuse over many years, he got a new one, and he was now pissing it away by drinking again.

I'm going to pause again.  My apologies.

. . .

*DEEP breath*

. . .

If you haven't figured out why I'm so angry then you haven't been paying attention and WHY THE HELL ARE YOU EVEN HERE.  *DEEEEEEP breath*  I'm sorry, I shouldn't direct my anger at you when it isn't your fault.  That isn't fair. 

Think of the house.  Like in that imaginary scenario, Zachary was given an extraordinary gift - a new liver, and a new chance at life.  There are no two ways about it; without the new liver, he would have died a horrible early death.  But Zachary was saved.  Some poor soul gave his or her own life to give Zachary a second chance, a new life, and Zach thanked his anonymous benefactor by treating his new liver exactly the same way as he treated his first liver: by shitting all over it.

The things I see in my trauma bay often amuse me, sometimes they sadden me, and sometimes they confuse me.  Rarely, however, do they infuriate me.  Zachary infuriated me.

Perhaps I'm out of line.  Maybe I'm just being dramatic and stupid and I'm over-reacting over nothing.

No.  No I'm not. 

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Two problems

I've had a few people ask me over the past day or so if I'm ok.  Apparently if I don't post a story for over a week, some people get worried about my health or something.  Allow me to assure everyone quite clearly:

I'm fine. 

But there have been a few problems lately that have interfered with my usual plans for weekly updates. Well, two problems actually.  Two very large problems. 

1) People haven't really been acting very stupid around me over the past weeks.  I know that may seem hard to believe considering what you've read about my clientele.  Yes, there have been the usual drunk drivers, stabbings, falling off bar stools, etc.  But there are only but so many ways I can make the same scenario seem different and interesting enough to warrant another post. 
1) I've been on vacation.  No, I won't say exactly where I was (and who wants a mental image of me half naked on a beach anyway), but what I will say is that I learned that my middle school teacher was right: it IS hot near the equator. 

If you're paying close attention, you'll notice both problems labeled #1.  That's because I can't decide which is the more important reason for no recent update.  Don't misunderstand, I can always sit on a beach and write blog stories, but only if I have good enough material, and only if I really feel like it, which I didn't. 

The fruity drink with the umbrella sticking out the top may have had something to do with my newly acquired apathy.  Hm. 

Regardless, not to worry, though.  I'm back in town and back in business.  And doubtless my subjects will give me plenty of blog fodder in 3...2...1...


Thursday, 6 April 2017

Jahi McMath update

It's about that time again, folks: time to revisit the tragic story of Jahi McMath.  In case you're new here and don't know Jahi's story, you can read about it here, here, here, here, and here.  I even wrote a stupid FAQ here.  The short short version of the story is that a 13-year-old girl in California underwent a rather extensive three-part surgery for sleep apnoea and suffered cardiac arrest and brain death back in December, 2013.  She was declared brain dead after multiple separate brain death evaluations by multiple different people as well as by Dr. Paul Fisher, the court-appointed second opinion expert, and multiple ancillary tests confirmed the diagnosis.  Her mother, Nailah Winkfield, refused to accept the diagnosis, so she had her transferred to another hospital in New Jersey (St. Peter's University Hospital) where she had a tracheostomy and feeding tube placed.  She stayed at that facility for 8 months until she was discharged to her mother's care, and has been sustained on somatic support in an apartment in New Jersey since August 2014.

Got all that?  Good, let's move on.

In the intervening 2 1/2 years, we've had sporadic "updates" from the family (and anti-brain death quack Dr. Paul Byrne) claiming that Jahi is alive because she no longer meets the criteria for brain death.  The "proof" for her resurrection has been, shall we say, lacking.  One of the pieces of evidence was a video of Jahi supposedly moving her foot to command, and another was a video of her moving her arm to command.

My last update was over a year ago in March 2016, but it was just a couple of vague pictures of Jahi, still with her eyes closed.  More recently than that in October 2016 a video was posted of Jahi supposedly breathing over the ventilator, again in response to verbal commands.

So what are we to take away from all of this?  What does this all mean?

The short answer: Nothing.

As usual, the "evidence" is meaningless.  How do I know this?  Because it is no longer merely implausible, it is quite literally impossible.

Thanks to Professor Thaddeus Mason Pope's Medical Futility Blog, we now have access to some information that has up until now been mere educated guesses.  A case management statement (whatever the hell that is) was submitted by Jahi's surgeon, Dr. Frederick Rosen, which contains the statements of two experts on brain death, Drs. Thomas Nakagawa and Sanford Schneider.  For a bit of background, Dr. Nakagawa is the division chief of critical care medicine and the director of the paediatric intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, and he has over 25 years of clinical experience in paediatric critical care.  Dr. Schneider is a clinical professor of neurology at the College of Medicine, University of California, Irvine and has been in paediatric neurology practice for 48 years.

These two guys know their shit - THEY ARE EXPERTS.  Both doctors reviewed all available records, starting with her original hospitalisation in California, all the way through the end of her hospitalisation in New Jersey and the release to her mother.  In their statements they disclose some very interesting, and very revealing information.

Dr. Nakagawa describes the several EEGs that were done as ancillary brain death tests (note than an EEG is not a definitive test for brain death).  On December 12th there was no brain activity, and the technician noted that her right arm and left leg were both moving during the EEG.  They also tried auditory and painful stimuli during the test as well as shining a light in her eye, but there was no brain activity in response to anything.  Another EEG was performed on December 17th, and again there was no response to painful stimuli, light touch, or sound.  Yet another EEG was done on December 23rd, which was exactly the same.  This is very important information, because it means that her movements are in fact spinal movements, not caused by brain activity.  Also keep in mind there was no response to sound.  This will come into play a little later.

Nakagawa also goes over Jahi's brain flow scan on December 23, 2013 (page 33) which showed a complete absence of blood flow to the brain, which Dr. Fisher calls "beyond definitive".  Brain tissue cannot survive more than a few minutes without blood, and this was 13 days after her anoxic event and cardiac arrest.  Thirteen days is more than enough time for the brain to die.

He also describes Jahi's clinical exam during her 8-month hospitalisation in New Jersey, and at no time was her examination ever not consistent with brain death.  She never had any purposeful movement, she never opened her eyes, she never had any cough, gag, or pupillary reflex, and she never had any spontaneous breathing.

Drs. Nakagawa and Schneider both talk about the other ancillary tests that were done on September 26, 2014, including MRI, brainstem auditory evoked potentials, upper extremity somatosensory evoked potentials, visual evoked potentials, and EEG.  None of these are accepted ancillary tests for brain death, but they still revealed something very interesting: they were still consistent with brain death.  Additionally, on page 46 of the document Schneider states that the somatosensory evoked potentials demonstrated some integrity of the spinal cord up to the level of C5, but there was no function above this.
It is a medical impossibility that J. McMath is moving in response to verbal commands.  The brain stem auditory evoked potentials test performed at University Hospital on September 26, 2014 . . . demonstrates that as a result of J. McMath's brain death she has no auditory pathways; there were no evoked potentials to maximum aural stimulation.  This test result establishes to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that J. McMath cannot respond to verbal commands because she has no cerebral mechanism to hear sound.
In plain English, the videos of Jahi moving in response to her mother's voice are nothing more than spinal reflex movements, because Jahi CAN NOT HEAR and her brain CAN NOT CAUSE MOVEMENTS because it is dead.  It is now plainly obvious that they simply caught Jahi at a time when her hand and foot were twitching, and they took a video of it while Nailah told her to move.  I don't know if this was deliberately deceptive on Nailah's part, but I suspect it was not.  I believe that she honestly believes Jahi can hear her.  However, she can not.  It is 100% impossible.

In summary, Nakagawa and Schneider exhaustively evaluated everything that had been done to and for Jahi from her surgery up until her release to her mother on August 25, 2014 (there was no evidence that Jahi had been re-evaluated for brain death since that day), and all of the brain death evaluations that were done in California were deemed completely valid.  There was no evidence that anything was awry in any way.  They also both stated, quite definitively, that nothing that had been done since her declaration of death -- no subsequent tests, no exams done at St. Peter's University Hospital, no nothing -- could . . . well, I'll let Dr. Nakagawa sum it up:
There is nothing in McMath's medical records from Saint Peter's University Hospital that would cause a reputable expert in pediatric or adult brain death to question or reconsider the accepted brain death assessments of Dr. Robin Shanahan, Dr. Robert Heidersbach, and Dr. Paul Fisher.
He makes the same statement regarding additional tests she had done in September of 2014, none of which are accepted tests for brain death.  Dr. Schneider then says this, which Nakagawa also averred:
There is absolutely no medical possibility that J. McMath has recovered, or will someday recover, from death.
It seems I may have said something very similar many, many times.

So there you have it.  That's about as definitive as it gets.  Comments, as always, are welcome.  But please keep them respectful.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Look of disappointment

Clara looked at me with sad, red eyes, tears welling up and starting to run down her flushed cheeks.  I've seen that look before, many times.  Many, many times.  Usually the look comes when I've told someone her son was just killed and I couldn't save him, or someone whose wife has a terminal cancer that I just can't cure.  But not this time.  Clara wasn't related to the patient, she was the patient.  Her look was indeed one of deepest disappointment and sorrow, but it wasn't because she was sad, and it wasn't because she was hurt.  It was because she wasn't hurt.

If it doesn't make sense yet, it will soon.  I promise.  

My trauma shift starts at 8 AM, and it ends exactly 24 hours later.  Full-day shifts are torture; they are antiquated things that should have been retired long ago, but they persist in many places because we haven't come up with a better system.  The worst part of the shift is theh 7 AM - 8 AM portion, because it's right at the time when most people are driving to work and car accidents are likely, and it's right at the time when I'm counting the minutes until my shift is over.  So when my pager went off as I was making rounds at 7:35 AM and looking forward to my first cup of coffee, I was unsurprised but thoroughly disheartened.  What did surprise me was the mechanism of injury:

"LVL 1 GUNSHOT WOUND TO CHEST. 5 MINUTES"

Wait, what?  Who the hell gets shot at 7 o'clock in the morning?  I quickly trudged down to the trauma bay, my mind running through all the possibilities.

None of them, it turned out, proved to be correct.

Clara (not her real name™)  rolled in looking even more disheartened than I was.  That was . . . strange.  Most trauma victims look in pain, angry, half dead, or giddy (in the case of Drunk Driver type 5), but not Clara.  She just looked . . . blank.  She was staring straight ahead at nothing and no one in particular, her face slack and emotionless.  Then she slowly turned her head towards me, and while I expected a smile, a frown, a scowl, or something, her expression did not change one bit.  She simply looked at me.

"Hi Doc, this is Clara.  She's stable, oxygen sats 100% during transport.  She tried to kill herself this morning by shooting herself in the chest with a hunting rifle."

Ah.  That explained her look of sheerest despondence.

Clara dropped her head and stared at the gurney, her face still impassive.  I was half expecting her to either complain, deny, or cry, but she did none of those things.  She just sat.  While I felt terrible for her and her obviously hopeless situation, it was also a very troublesome situation for me, because I then had to say something that I knew damned well she did not want to hear.

"Hi Clara, I'm Doctor Bastard (not my real name™).  I understand you were trying to hurt yourself, but I need to make it clear to you that it is my job to make sure that you do not succeed."

She merely glanced at me briefly, nodded once, and returned to staring at her lap.

The entry wound was in the upper outer portion of her left breast, and the exit wound was on the outer portion of her left back.  Based on the trajectory (and the fact that her lung sounds were clear and equal), it didn't look to me like the bullet had entered her chest, but obviously I needed to be sure.

Her chest X-ray was completely clear (except for a few small bullet fragments in the subcutaneous tissue), an ultrasound of her chest was normal, and a CT scan confirmed that no major damage was done.  No fractured ribs, no pneumothorax, no injury to the heart.  As soon as I saw the pictures, I walked into the scanner to tell her the good news, which (I realised as I was saying it) she would take as bad news.

I put my hand on her shoulder and said simply, "Hi Clara.  I just looked at your scan.  I know you don't want to hear this, but the bullet did not enter your chest.  There's no major injury."  Before I could even finish, her emotionless expression started to break down.  "It's ok.  You're going to be ok.  We're going to get you the help you need."

With that, the flood gates opened, and Clara started openly sobbing.  "Oh no!  Oh god, no!  I can't do this anymore.  I'm 53 years old, I've lost my husband and both of my kids, and I just can't do it.  I can't do it any more.  I just can't!"  She continued to sob as I tried to figure out what to say next.  What could I say?  Is there anything that could make this hopeless situation remotely better?

Ultimately I decided that there was nothing I could say to her that would assuage anything.  I simply gave her arm one final friendly squeeze, smiled meekly at her, and walked out, while I looked up the name of the psychiatrist on call.

Yes, today is April Fools' Day, but this is not a joke or a hoax.  This is a 100% true story.  Clara is a real patient, a real person, with real problems that are clearly worse than I could possibly imagine, bad enough that I had a great amount of trouble empathising with her.

I'm posting this purposely on April 1 to give everyone a break from the silliness that reigns on this date, simply to remind everyone that life isn't a joke for everyone.  

COVID-19 Mythbusting (clean)

Due to popular demand (well, two polite requests, actually), I have decided to create a clean version of my post about COVID-19 myths . If...