Monday 30 October 2017

The Speech

One of my favourite things to do is to lecture people.  By "lecture" I don't mean lecturing medical students, which I am unfortunately contractually obligated to do.  It turns out I'm a terrible teacher; I just have absolutely no patience for people who just don't get it.  Ironically, my backup plan if my medical career fizzled was to be a biology teacher.  Yeah . . . that would not have gone well.

No, what I mean is lecturing patients, most notably drunk drivers.  I love it.  I relish it.  I enjoy every opportunity to tell people that what they just did was stupid, reckless (though not wreckless, har har), irresponsible, and their thoughtless act endangered not only their own lives but the lives of everyone around them.  In case you can't tell, I have a canned speech in my head that I've used several hundred times, and it keeps getting better every time I give it.

Unfortunately I don't always get to give The Speech.  Sometimes the bad guys leave before I get the chance, and rarely there just isn't time.  Even more rarely, however, I don't need to.

Like with Edwin (not his real name™).

Being awakened in the middle of the night is a pain in the ass.  Not only do I have to shake out the mental cobwebs to make sure I am alert enough to deal with whatever is coming in, I also have to rinse my mouth a bit and make sure my hair doesn't look completely insane.  Don't misunderstand, I don't care if I look a bit like Albert Einstein, but trust me when I say you absolutely do not want your trauma surgeon looking like Yahoo Serious.  Anyway, when my pager goes off at 3 AM on a Friday night telling me I have a car accident victim on the way, I can be well assured it's a drunk driver.

Enter Edwin the Drunk Driver.

I like to think that Edwin, who was 22-years-stupid, would have been a Type I Drunk had he not been quite as intoxicated as he was.  However, with the amount of alcohol in his system, he could barely keep his eyes open let alone yell at people coherently.  Everything that did come out of his mouth was mumbled worse than Muttley.  I was absolutely astounded he had even been able to find his car keys let alone drive.  Though he couldn't really speak, what he could do was fight: with the medics, with us, with literally anyone who came within arm's reach.  He had blood on his face which clearly came from somewhere, but he was completely unable to cooperate with any sort of workup.  We were therefore forced to sedate him and intubate him to complete (or start) our evaluation.

Once he was sedated the entire team let out a collective huge sigh of relief as the trauma bay immediately quieted.  What was most obvious was the relatively small laceration on his forehead which had already stopped bleeding.  What hadn't stopped bleeding, however, was his spleen.

His splenic laceration was first diagnosed by a bedside ultrasound and was then confirmed by CT scan.  It wasn't the worst I'd ever seen, but it was certainly there.  He also had a few minor fractures in his pelvis, none of which would be anything more than really annoying for the next few weeks.  But as I was going through his blood work, one number stood out that caused my ire to rise.  It was a foregone conclusion that his blood alcohol would be elevated (it was about 4 times the legal limit), but even though the number didn't really surprise me, for some unknown reason it still made me angry.

Actually, no it isn't an unknown reason.  The reason is very known.  It's because my wife drives my children around on the very roadway Edwin was screaming his way through that night.  Edwin put everyone's lives around him at risk, and he was incredibly lucky that only he was injured, luckier still his injuries did not end up being life-threatening.

The Speech was already being prepared in my mind.  I just needed to let him sober up overnight.  No sense in wasting it on a slurring puddle of whiskey or beer or whatever the hell he had been drinking.

By the following morning, Edwin was sober, awake, and breathing on his own, and the breathing tube had been removed.  I stood outside his room readying The Speech with steely resolve, hoping his mother/wife/girlfriend/anyone would be there to hear my scathing lecture.  I took one final breath, turned around, and walked in.

What greeted me was not at all what I expected: Edwin, the loud, brash, obnoxious, out-of-control drunk from the night before was talking softly, almost meekly, with his mother, who looked mildly anxious though not angry.

Well . . . that was unexpected.

After perfunctorily asking him how he was feeling ("Sore, doctor"), if he was having any new pain ("No, sir"), and if he remembered anything from the previous night ("No, sir"), I was about to launch into The Speech when he cut across me gently.

"Doctor, did I hurt anyone last night?  Is everyone ok?"  Tears started to well in his eyes.

My steely resolve was starting to turn into oatmeal.

It only took a minute or two of talking with Edwin to discover that he was truly and genuinely mortified at what he had done and what could have been.  The last thing he remembered from the previous night was drinking at the pub, and the next thing he remembered was waking up in his hospital bed this morning.  He was terrified he had hurt someone, and he had nothing but regret and remorse behind his eyes. 

Yeah yeah, I can already hear a lot of you cynics screaming "But Doc, come on!  He was faking it!  How could you fall for it?  He just feels bad because he wrecked his car!"  No.  I saw his eyes.  This was no act.  I see a lot of drunk drivers and I've heard the lot of them tell me how they've never done it before, they'll never do it again, blah blah blah blah.  I can see right through the charade, and it doesn't impress me in the least.  But Edwin was different.  Edwin impressed me.  He looked instantly relieved when I told him it no one else was hurt, but he was still visibly shaken.

"That just isn't me, Doc.  I don't know why I did that.  I just have no idea."  The tears continued, real tears of penitence.  "I swear that just isn't me.  I just have to learn from this, learn from this mistake.  Never again.  NEVER.  This is a real turning point for me, Doc.  It has to be.  I just don't know what I would have done if I had hurt someone."

And I absolutely believed him.

Edwin was stealing my opportunity to give The Speech, and I let him.  He went on for several minutes beating himself up much more effectively than I possibly could have.  His mother sat behind him, nodding here and there, wiping a tear away every so often.  When he was done he looked up at me.

"At least I didn't hurt anyone.  Right?"

I saw Edwin in my office about a week later.  He was limping slightly and the swelling around his right eye had almost disappeared, though his black eye had not yet.  His laceration had healed well and I removed his sutures.  Before I could even bring it up, Edwin said, "Doctor, thank you for taking care of me.  I've given up alcohol completely.  This was a real wake-up call for me.  I just, well, I just wanted to say thank you.  Thank you."  True remorse is a rare thing for me.  But learning from a mistake that quickly is even rarer.

Now before any of you  just on my case for being a big softy, don't worry - I got to give The Speech just 2 days later.  And I let it rip with no hesitation.

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.


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


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?


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?

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.

Not dead

I'll start this post by answering a few questions that may or may not be burning in your mind: No, I'm not dead.  No, I didn't g...