Tag Archives: emergency medicine

Happy Doctor’s Day

A few days ago it was National Doctor’s Day.  Yup, that’s actually a day.  In honor of this clearly very important day I have a story to tell.  This story starts about a year ago.

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I had just tied the strings of the surgical mask, I secured one knot above my blonde pony tail and one, tied a little more loosely, at the nape of my neck.  I was standing in my blue scrubs at the head of the bed, I had taken off my white coat in preparation for a mess.  The laryngoscope was poised and ready in my left hand, my right hand was gloved and still empty.  I used it to rip the plastic eye protection part of my mask away from the part that covers my lower face.  Though I’ve been wearing masks like this for at least 9 years now, I still haven’t figured out how to keep it on my face for longer than two minutes without it fogging up and decreasing my visibility.  My glasses are protection enough.  The respiratory therapist was standing to my right, facing me at a ninety degree angle, he was at about the level of the patients right ear, ready to hand me the endotracheal tube when asked.

Just a few minutes prior a young patient with multiple gun shot wounds to the head and neck area happened upon my little, non-level-one-trauma-center ED.  Most of the people in that room had not seen a gun shot wound in years, if ever.  Having done a four year residency at the busiest trauma center in my region- when I was in training this was my bread and butter.  Penetrating trauma to the head and neck region, like a stabbing or gun shot wound, will make even your most seasoned emergency medicine physicians and/or trauma surgeons heart rate increase just a bit. In retrospect I wish I had been wearing my fitbit, my heart rate was up for sure  The head and neck region- think brain, face, trachea, mouth, carotid arteries, etc- it’s a high risk area.  And the A in our ABC mantra stands for airway.  If you can’t secure the airway because of trauma induced anatomical deformities, swelling, or blood- you are in for a really, really bad day.  Particularly if you are at a facility where the closest surgeon is at home and in bed.

Adrenaline and stress are the natural reaction.  And as the attending physician it’s my job to keep this at bay by being in charge.  It’s my job to project confidence, it’s my job to know what I am supposed to be doing, it’s my job to know what everyone else should be doing.  When you are running a trauma things move smoothly if the team knows that someone is in charge.  Every emergency medicine resident learns this- and the most important piece of this (I think) is communication.  I believe in calmly spoken, simple communication- so as I prep to intubate I said to the room (now filled with multiple nurses, respiratory therapists, techs, medical students, paramedic students, and a couple of voyeuristic police men)- “Is everyone ready? I need everyone on board. My first shot will be with the glidescope (video assisted laryngoscopy), I have the mac and bougie ready as back up, and if worse comes to worse” and said with an internal cringe and sphincter tightening, “the cric kit is just to my left.”

As an ED doc you are always aware of your surroundings and as I finish speaking I see a new figure enter the room, our new case manager.  Before being an ED case manager she worked as an ED nurse.  I am sure I am biased but in my opinion, ED nurses are the best of the best.  I see her make a spot for herself at the foot of the bed, intuitively she was looking to lend an extra hand.  She scanned the room to see how she could help and after she swept the room with her eyes the next words I heard from her were, “uh, aren’t we going to get a doctor in here?”

As these words registered somewhere in my brain I was already on the exhale of the deep breath I take before any intubation, something I learned in residency from my assistant program director.  As soon as that exhale is complete I am in game mode and my focus is on one thing.  I ended my exhale and made direct eye with my nurse, nodded, and she pushed the sedative.  “Etomidate in.”  I gave her a second look and another nod and with that the paralytic had been pushed. “Sux in.”  I watched for a few seconds- which always feels like a million seconds- and saw my patient’s muscles relax.

My right index finger and thumb scissor motioned his jaw open. I placed the laryngoscope in his mouth, I moved it around the tongue and ultimately caught a glimpse of the epiglottis, an epiglottis mostly obscured by blood.  In as measured a tone as I could muster- in a room that was now completely quiet but for the beeping of the medication and blood pumps- I stated, “I need suction”.  In my right hand I felt the plastic of the Yankauer suction tip.  Not moving my eyes from the screen I placed it in the mouth.  My goal was to remove enough blood in order to visualize the structures I’m supposed to.  With my left hand still firmly holding the laryngoscope in place- I managed to suction away enough blood and secretions- I saw vocal cords.  The surrounding structures were edematous and injured, this was not text book anatomy.  But I saw vocal cords!  Calmly I state, “I see cords.” My eyes have not left the screen, I will not lose my place in this mess of pink and red.  And as I held out my right hand the Yankauer was replaced with the endotracheal tube, stylet in place.  I placed the tube in the mouth, I moved it past the tongue, I saw it on the screen.  I slipped it through the cords as my anatomical landmarks again began to disappear and turn red.  My left hand removed and released the laryngoscope blade and I used it to join my right hand in grabbing the endotracheal tube to hold it in place, for dear life, as the respiratory therapist pulled out the metal stylet from the inside of the tube.  He attached the CO2 monitor- good color change- I took my first deep breath. I grabbed my stethoscope to listen to the boy’s chest, I listened on the left and then on the right, bilateral breath sounds. I took my second deep breath. Then I took a third deep breath. I was dripping with sweat but knew that at least for now we were out of the woods.

After this things moved fast.  The patient was appropriately sedated, blood was hanging, proper placement of the endotracheal tube confirmed, no pneumothorax, bedside ultrasound FAST exam was negative- there was no blood in the abdomen, pressure dressings were placed on the wounds, vitals were stable, the med flight critical care team was soon at the bedside, and then the patient was off to a level one trauma center with all appropriate consultants in house.

The police presence ultimately dissipated, the staff returned to their jobs, and I returned to my desk.  I looked at the tracking board and saw that there were many, (sigh) many patients waiting to be seen.  No time to dwell, time to go see that next chest pain.

Once we had all caught up a bit I was pulled aside by the case manager that had been in the room earlier.  I was taken aback because she, normally poised and stoic, seemed uncomfortable.  She was actually mortified and apologetic.  She thought that I was a physician’s assistant and she could not believe how ignorant she had been.  She respects our PAs.  But she couldn’t understand why, when seeing a young blonde woman at the head of the bed, she did not assume she was the attending physician.  Her apology was sincere and gracious.  And, in retrospect, what I realize is maybe worse is that I hadn’t thought twice about what she said in that room.  I am always mistaken for a nurse, a physician’s assistant, or a tech.  I am always mistaken as such even after introducing my self as Doctor.

Fast forward to the present day. As mentioned earlier, a few days ago it was National Doctor’s Day.  I was again pulled aside by this same case manager, she told me she had something to tell me.  Now we are good friends and supportive colleagues and I approached her with a different attitude entirely.  Thinking she wanted to update my on the rehab facility status of my 90 year old with a fall I asked, “What’s up?”  “I just want to be sure to tell you, happy Doctor’s Day, Dr. French Fry.  You continue to rise above the rest- you really do deserve recognition on this day.”

Her apology one year ago had an impact on me.  This was not an old man Vietnam vet who continues to call me “honey” (who’s verbiage I may be able to force myself to rationalize.) This was a fellow woman, a fellow woman working in the medical field, a fellow woman who faces similar discrimination as I do on a daily basis.  She helped me positively reflect on this experience is a few ways- 1) I appreciate how she forced the discussion thus making the issue important, 2) I realize sexism is sometimes so deep we don’t see it in ourselves, and 3) I realize sexism can be so deep and so prevalent that we all become desensitized- even those of us affected.  We don’t notice it.  By acknowledging this and forcing the difficult discussion this brave woman has pushed me to be braver.  It’ll be a slow road, but I am no longer going to let this sh!t slide.

Happy Doctor’s Day :).

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Filed under emergency medicine, Medicine, women, women in medicine

really?

“Until I get there,” the urology resident instructed me, “you must apply direct manual compression to mechanically disperse the penile and preputial edema.  This will hopefully minimize the swelling and allow for manual retraction by the time I get there.”

So in other words, as my attending so eloquently directed me “grab that thing and hold on tight.”

There are a lot of awkward moments in the emergency department.  Many of them have to do with interactions with nurses (I am really sorry my patient threw up on your leg AGAIN yes he can have some Zofran), paramedics (last time I saw you, I am pretty sure you were making out with one of my co-residents in the middle of a bar), and even correction officers (um, please, just un-handcuff him for the lung exam. Fine, you can keep his feet chained to the bed).

My most awkward moment of late, however, had to do with one particular patient with one particular penis problem.

Paraphimosis is when, in an uncircumcised or partially circumcised male, the foreskin gets retracted behind the glans penis, starts to swell, and gets stuck in that position.  The reason this is an emergency is that this swelling then cuts off blood flow to the head of the penis.  The head will start to turn dark and eventually may become necrotic.  It’s usually iatrogenic in nature, meaning, we cause it.  In this case the patient has a foley catheter in his urethra (secondary to a recent surgery).  He resides at one of the homeless shelters that also provides some medical care, and the nursing staff inadvertently forgot to replace the patient’s foreskin after the most recent foley catheter change. This is actually a great case for me, it’s one of the few urologic emergencies and a case up until now I had only read about.

As great of a case as it may be, the treatment is nothing short of mortifying. Very reluctantly I pulled a chair into the room, and for the next fifteen minutes I sat by my 65 year old patient’s side and “mechanical dispersed the penile and preputial edema,” AKA, I very firmly held his penis in my hand.  For fifteen freakin’ minutes.

Really? I am really doing this right now? Please, just for a moment, put yourself in my shoes.  What are you going to talk about to make this less awkward… football? The weather?

I am a doctor, and this is what I do at work.  Really.

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by the way, it’s sunday

I think was feeling a bit nostalgic tonight. I got out of work early and for the first time in what feels like 9 months, it was still light out for my walk home.  I also may have hallucinated the smell of spring in the air.  Not entirely sure what day it was or what to do with a whole extra one hour of free time, I decided to read through some of my old posts and I– as I have said to myself many times before– realized I need to write more.  I have so many stories from this year.  Some are disturbing, some are sad, most of them are just dumbly entertaining.

As I try to get my act together, allow me to refer you to a post I wrote almost exactly two years ago about what was, in retrospect, maybe one of my favorite days of medical school.

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Filed under emergency medicine, intern year, med school, medical school, medical student

triage

The average triage note:

35 yo  F 10 weeks pregnancy had seizure, similar to szs in past.

68 yo M with cardiac history here with chest pain, started this morning.

25 yo M sore throat.

Yes, boring. But today things took a turn toward crazy:

48 yo M felt the need to direct traffic today to keep the city safe, given orders by the dept of justice to direct traffic on a different corner.

24 yo F needs to get pregnant.

33 yo F has a painful rectum and can’t stop eating.

Really.  How can you not love this job? In other news, today instead of asking my patient if she has diabetes or hypertension in her past medical history I instead asked her if she has diapertension.  Yes, diapertension.



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mr. bossman

I met my patient when he was boarded and collared, on a stretcher in the hallway.  He is a hispanic man who was recently in a car accident who arrived with a relatively complicated facial laceration.  He speaks a tiny bit of English, I speak a tiny bit of Spanish.  He is a nice man, and somehow we  manage to create a rapport.

A while later he’s been moved into a room and I arrive back with the suture kit.  Now there is a dirt covered, young, white man in the room with him.  My patient’s employer introduces himself to me.  This man, no older than me, immediately (and with a lack of social graces) wants to know how long this will take.  I told him that realistically we have two more hours.  But for him, that just wouldn’t do.  Well, sir, your friend was in a car accident.  We’ve determined he doesn’t have any serious injuries but he has a pretty bad cut in a pretty bad place.  We need to do a slit lamp exam to rule out any corneal abrasions and then will need to sew him up.  By the looks of that cut the suturing alone could take over an hour.

Yeah but he still doesn’t understand why it will take two hours.  Two hours at minimun, I reminded him.  “Okay, but see,” (and he lowers his voice) “I’ve got a van outside full of five guys  outside,” (he glances over to my patient), “and there’s no AC.  Can you ask whoever is in charge if he can speed the process along?”

Um, really? You have a van outside with five men in it with no AC? Are they locked in? Aren’t they adults? Might they step outside for some fresh air? Must be a completely legal and humane operation you’ve got going on. And b.t.w., I am in charge of how long this process will take.

At this point another med student walks into the room, he’s checking to see if I need any more materials.  The boss looks at him.  Oh hey doc,  how long you think it’s going to take you to do this?

As I secure knot number two Mr. Bossman decides to confide in me about how he once sewed up his knee with no anasthetic.  Good work, buddy, you must be really tough.

Suture number three I ask my patient if he’s feeling anything.  “Feeling any pain? Need some more pain meds?” Mr. Bossman feels the need to translate for me, “Hey buddy, hurt-o?”

Listening to the conversation next door I advanced another suture through my patient’s lower eye-lid.  Mr. Bossman, who was hovering over my every move, was apparently eaves-dropping on the same conversation.

… and do you take any medications at home?

AT HOME? YES! OF COURSE I TAKE MEDS AT HOME.  AND I LIVE WITH MY STINKIN HUSBAND. TWO OF MY FIVE WORTHLESS KIDS, FIVE GRANDCHILDREN, TWO DOGS, AND ONE CAT.  AND A SON-IN-LAW, EFFING JERK.

… okay, I understand.  But can you tell me what medications you are on?

YOU THINK THAT’S YOUR BUSINESS? I CAN’T BREATH. WHO ARE YOU? YOU ARE A DOCTOR? YOU ARE FIVE YEARS OLD. I WANT TO GO TO A REAL HOSPITAL AND I WANT TO SEE A REAL DOCTOR.

I have a smile on my face because seriously, how can you not get a kick out of this stuff?  By the pattern of her speech I can tell this woman is having no real difficulty breathing and I know the resident in the room next to me is having the same thought process. I am curious to see how this conversation will play out and to see how he will manage to gracefully worm his way out of her room.  I sense my patient’s employer looking at me.  Apparently he thinks we’re good friends now.  “Wow, you must see all kinds of assholes in this place.”

I secure the last knot and  don’t bother to make eye contact. “You have no idea.”

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just another day at school

I walked into the building wearing my scrubs, not really sure where I was supposed to go.  There was a room on the right with a lot of scary looking dudes in it… that definitely has potential, I thought to myself.  I lurked over toward the door and peeked in when some really big dude walked up to me and blocked the entire doorway with his body,

“Can I help you?”.

“Uhm, I’m looking for SWAT team training?”

“Yeah, well, we’re building bombs in here. Try the door down on the right.”

Right.  Well, I found my classroom.  If you are going to pick a day to be late, make sure it’s on a day when you get to walk in into a room and have 100 scary looking testosterone-filled eyes immediately stop watching the video of a man being shot down in the field and turn to stare at you, the sole, really out-of-place-looking, tall, blonde, awkward girl.  I took a seat in the back and listened as my mentor taught the men about wound packing, the proper defensive positioning when attending to a man in the field, applying tourniquets 3 inches above the wound, and needle decompressions.  As the time passed I think the guys got used to my presence.  I could tell because they stopped glancing at me nervously every time there was a “tea-bag” or “donkey punch” reference.  I was surprised when one of them even spoke to me, “Can I borrow a highlighter? I’ll trade you a bullet…”

Next thing I know I’m in the medic vehicle, Van Halen is blasting, the sun is shining, the windows are wide open and we are tailing a cop car down some back roads at an uncomfortably fast speed.  We pull into a hidden cove and find the sniper team getting ready to drill.  They want to know if I’ve ever shot a gun before.  Ha.  “Nope, never.” Then they want to know if I’m some kind of liberal. I give a hardy laugh to dodge the question.

Now I’m standing to the right of two men wearing camo pants tucked into their army boots, black SWAT shirts, buzz cuts, goatees, and guns around their waists.  In front of me is a metal silhouette, my target.  A third guy just a few steps away from me tosses a Flash Bang on the ground.  BOOM! Um, it’s smoky and I can’t see what the hell is going on.  Though I am holding an extremely large gun the green scrubs and pony tail kind of negate any hope of looking intimidating.

“You realize I’m going to need a little extra instruction, right?”

“Just grab it with your left hand and put your arm through here.  Good.  Now this part goes where your bra strap lies.”

Um, what is going on here. “Okay, like this?”

“Oh my god you look incredibly awkward.”

Sorry this is the first time I’ve ever held a gun, much less a semi-automatic machine gun. No big deal.

“So… this gun is really heavy.”

“You are such a girl. Put your finger on the trigger, aim the red dot at the head, and shoot.”

BANG. I look around.  No, you did not make that noise, you haven’t even shot the gun yet.  BANG! This time I actually did pull the trigger, not much of a kickback and I hit the metal target. BANG! Hit it again.

“Stick your butt out! This isn’t like those other exercises you do! Bend your knees and stick your butt out!”

And what other exercises are you speaking of, Steaky?

BANGBANGBANGBANGBANG!

This is kind of fun.

An hour later I am hiding behind a door on the second floor of an abandoned building.  I have a grenade (that they promised me was dead) in my hand.  I hear them yelling from below, “Alright men, listen up! There are three bad guys wearing green pajamas hiding in the building.  GO!”

One part of the team snuck up the stairs and came in on the second floor, the other team came from the floor above.  As soon as a man went down my job was to jump out of my hiding place, scream really loud, and throw my grenade at them.  Fifteen scary men are approaching with guns.  I am hiding behind a door.  A man goes down.  They are frantically putting pressure on the fake wound and fumbling with the bandage and I’m supposed to jump out from behind a door, scream, and throw a five pound grenade at them? You’ve got to be kidding me.  Luckily they saw me (oops) and fake shot me before I had to chuck the bomb at some big scary guy’s nose.

“Hey doc, you coming back next time?”  Are they talking to me? I think the enormous men are talking to me.

I could be scutting around the hospital, chasing down labs, preforming rectal exams, writing notes, getting my attendings coffee, or doing this…

“See you in two weeks, boys.”

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emergency room elective: day 1

Day 1: After tossing and turning all night I drag myself out of bed and make it to my new site on time. It’s my first day of an EM elective and I’m nervous as shit. I get there at 8:40 (I have an incredibly annoying habit of arriving anywhere I need to be way too early). The administrator was supposed to meet me at 9. It’s now 9:45 and the security guards at the front desk are my new BFFs.

Cut_Off_Finger_II_by_morokuz

Finally I am situated in the ER.  My first patient is a little old lately with her femur snapped in half.  Literally snapped in half. Her thigh was bent in a position in which I have never ever seen a thigh bent before.  So gross but really cool.  

Later on I watch a woman’s gums slough off as I watch my attending feel around the inside of her mouth with his fingers for an abscess.  Lucky for him she didn’t have teeth.  More gross than cool.

Fever.  Cough. Shortness of breath.  Chest pain.  Abdominal pain.  Abdominal pain. Ruptured ectopic (quick! send her to the OR!). Shortness of breath. Headache.  Chest pain.  Detached finger. 

Over and over and over again.  And I love it!  Focused histories, focused exams.  No time to sit around and pontificate.  See something.  Rule out the worst case scenario.  And treat.

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