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."

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