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Gallbladder Surgery, Medical Errors, And John Murtha

While the news reports that Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania died after complications from gallbladder surgery, the question no one is asking is whether his death was a preventable one or simply an unfortunate outcome. According to the Washington Post, Murtha had elective laproscopic gallbladder surgery performed at the Bethesda Naval Hospital and fell ill shortly afterwards from an infection related to his surgery.

He was hospitalized to Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Virginia, to treat the post-operative infection. His care was being monitored in the intensive care unit (ICU), a sign which suggests that not only was the infection becoming widespread but also that vital organ systems were shutting down. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

When A Second Opinion Saves A Child’s Life

Your child seems half dead to you, but you’re frozen with uncertainty.  Are they just being whiny?  Is that fever going to pass quickly?  When do I know if my child needs an emergency assessment?  When do I know if they need emergency medical care?

I recently got involved in just a situation with one of Mrs. Happy’s friends.  She has a young child, about four years old who came down with a fever a week ago.  The child has a history of asthma and a history of supraventricular tachycardia.  The child was meandering along doing fine when one day his condition changed. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist*

The Many Faces Of Code Blue

Just over a month ago, our unit had several H1N1 flu patients.  And they were sick.  Really really sick.  They were also fairly young – 30’s to 50’s.  I wondered at the time why the media hullabaloo about the flu had died down when I was seeing more and more patients in my unit who had it.

Last time I worked there was only 1 flu patient and they weren’t too sick (yet?) to require a ventilator.  I was really glad to see the decrease in this particular patient population.  I won’t lie – it’s frightening to be a nurse caring for someone with a highly communicable disease.  Masks, gloves, gowns are all provided by the hospital, but I can’t ever shake the feeling that I’ve somehow come in contact with it despite these precautions.

And what of the times that we admit patients and don’t know they have a communicable disease?  At least one coworker I know of contracted H1N1 from taking care of a patient who had it before we knew they had it.

I’m sure she was quite shook up – every single patient who turned up positive for the flu in our unit in that time period ended up literally fighting for their lives on a ventilator.

The most harrowing patient we had was a woman in her 30’s who was pregnant.   Like the other patients, every time she coughed on the vent, her oxygen saturations would decrease to the 80’s and would take a long time to come back up.  Unlike the others, though, she was so fragile that sometimes merely coughing on the vent caused her to go into asystole.

I’m somewhat jaded about coding people at this stage in my career.  I remember, as a brand new ICU nurse, talking to a well-seasoned ICU nurse.  She said that hearing “code blue” being announced overhead didn’t give her any kind of adrenalin rush anymore.  At that time, I couldn’t imagine being in that frame of mind.  Being new, I was expected to go to every code blue that was called so as to get experience.  My heart started going into SVT at simply hearing the word “code.”  If the word “blue” came after I practically had to defib myself before running off to defibrillate the patient.

I eventually got to a place where I could fairly confidently go run a code without freaking out.  I’ve been an ICU RN for 11 years.  In those 11 years, there have been some awful codes.  Two stand out in my mind, and the absolute worst was on the pediatric floor.  When I heard “code blue, pediatrics” overhead, my first (naive) thought was, “little kids code???”  My second thought was to wonder if it was really an adult overflow patient.  Sometimes the gyn surgeries went to the pediatric floor if there was no more room on the surgical floors.  You know, maybe one of them got a little too much morphine and the nurse called a code.  A little Narcan, a few bagged breaths and everyone would sigh with relief and go on with their day.

No such luck.  After running full speed up 3 flights of stairs, I arrived at the room that had the most people spilling out of it only to find a bald, thin 5 year old in the bed.  I thought I was going to be sick.  PICU nurses – bless you all.  I could not do that for any length of time.

She didn’t make it.  Having been a nurse for a couple of years at that point, my naivety about the world already had a few chips and cracks in it.  But on that day a huge chunk fell out.

Since then I’ve come to be more like that seasoned ICU nurse that I spoke with so early in my career.  Along with the semi-jaded “oh crap, a code blue” comes a confidence in one’s abilities, so it’s not all bad.

However, watching that woman go into asystole, knowing that we would have to crash c-section her if she stayed in it?  That took me back to the days when I was new and inexperienced.  I’ve never seen anything like that happen.  Although I was perfectly comfortable with my (pre-arranged) personal role, the overall situation would be completely new to me.

Although HIPAA prevents me from saying much more, I will say that I did not have to experience that situation; not because I was off when it happened but simply because it never happened.

If it had, it surely would have made my top 3.

*This blog post was originally published at code blog - tales of a nurse*

Such Is Life

I was called to do an urgent bedside ultrasound scan of the abdomen for a trauma victim.

The patient was a young man of twenty-four who had been involved in a road traffic accident (RTA = MVA in US medical terminology). He had been brought – without any kind of basic life support – after sustaining a major trauma at a village about two hours away. The intensivist in the ICU told me that he was in severe hypovolemic shock on admission with a GCS of 4. Preliminary examination and radiographs had shown a comminuted fracture of the right femur (thigh bone) with a large hematoma and some facial bone fractures. After initial assessment and resuscitation in the casualty, a CT scan was done. He had a fracture in the frontal bone and a few small contusions in the brain, that raised the possibility of Diffuse Axonal Injury, nothing that could explain a GCS of 4 though. The assumption was that it was all due to extensive blood loss and hypovolemia. He was shifted straight to the ICU after the CT scan and I was called to do an ultrasound scan to check for hemoperitoneum (ie, abdominal injury and blood loss).

The scan was normal. As I was doing the scan, the intensivist was busy trying to put in a Subclavian central line. He secured the line just as I finished my scan, which incidentally was normal. As I was stepping away from the bed, the patient had a cardiac arrest, as evidenced by sudden bradycardia on the monitor. I moved out of the way as the intensivist, orthopaedic surgeon and ICU nurses went through a full resuscitation protocol. After a while, even I realized that it seemed like a futile exercise.

I was not particularly busy, so I peeped into to the Cardiac ICU next door as there seemed to be some commotion there. My cardiologist colleague, a normally friendly soul was peering intently at a very fast heart rhythm on a monitor over the bed of a young girl of about six or seven. There were a couple of nurses injecting something slowly into an intravenous cannula in the kid’s forearm.  In passing, I noted that the kid was very calm and seemed very interested in what the nurse was doing. I stepped close to my friend and asked what was up. He turned, gave me a quick nervous smile and said he was trying to revert an SVT (supraventricular tachycardia, a very nasty fast heart rhythm). Honestly, I had never seen an SVT in someone so young, so I asked him what was the history. He told me the kid was brought by her mother to his outpatient clinic a short while ago because she complained of palpitations (I forgot the exact description used by the kid, but it was quite descriptive). My friend said he was sure it was an SVT after a quick examination in the clinic, so he rushed the kid upstairs to the Cardiac ICU, connected her to a monitor, confirmed the diagnosis and had ordered Adenosine IV stat for reversal. He maintained his intent survey of the monitor as he recounted the story and the nurse continued her slow IV injection. At one particular point when the line on the monitor became particularly squiggly, he shouted, “STOP!” and the nurse stopped injecting.

It was almost magical.

The squiggles became a recognizable cardiac rhythm, albeit very fast – about 160 to 170 beats per minute. My friend called out to one of the superfluous nursing attendants and asked them to get the kid’s mother inside. A very anxious young lady who had obviously been weeping was led in. My friend showed her the monitor and explained to her that the nasty rhythm had been made to behave itself or something to that effect and told her that the kid was out of any imminent danger.

Happy with the positive outcome, I strolled out to be confronted by a wailing family, including two young girls, maybe a year or two older than the calm kid inside, who had just been told that their older brother who fell off his motorbike was dead.

It was past my work hours. I went out and had a drink and reflected.

Such is life.

*This blog post was originally published at scan man's notes*

Evacuate Babies Efficiently with BabyScatt


Kidnapping Evacuating babies doesn’t seem hard in theory, but imagine you are a lone nurse working in the newborn nursery when that code red goes off. Now, most likely you wouldn’t do much considering code reds go off if you so much as wink in a fire alarm’s direction. But, if you really need to get Costco amount of babies out of the building, then BabyScatt seems like a reasonable option.

From the website:

The BabyScatt is designed to Evacuate 6 babies at one time.

This cocoon like evacuation device has bumper bars on all sides to protect in case of falling debris or possible obstructions in the pathway. After reaching a place of refuge the BabyScatt continues to protect and provide a safe place for the babies to rest in the individual pockets.

Check out the product page here

(Hat Tip: Gizmodo)

*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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