Posts Tagged ER

Charge Mommy

A few days ago, one of my colleagues said to me after a particularly frantic day in the ED, “You guys aren’t Charge Nurses, you’re Charge Mommies.” She is right. This is what we do:

  • tell all the kids don’t fight and play nice
  • fix boo-boos
  • give hugs as needed, or tissue
  • make sure all the kids get lunch
  • find things
  • repair broken toys
  • clean up little “accidents”
  • greet guests, and ensure they’re fed and comfortable
  • make sure everyone keeps the place tidy
  • assign chores
  • deal with the unpleasant relatives upstairs

The one thing I don’t do is enforce discipline. No spankings or time outs. I have a Manager Mommy for that.

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When the Police Come Calling

The police are more-or-less a permanent fixture in every Emergency department. They bring in the drunks, the suicidal, the psychotic, the homeless and yes, the criminal, who have either sustained injuries as a result of their activities, or else have developed sudden (and convenient) cardiac symptoms upon their arrest. Most of us in Acme Regional’s ED will cooperate with the police to the point of expediting whatever they need us to do, which usually means filling out the Form 1 or medically clearing the patient. At the same time, most of are pretty clear that ED nurses and physicians are not an extension of the Police Service: police objectives and those of health care, to state the obvious,  are not the same.

It isn’t exactly mistrust. It’s more a wariness. There are ethical and legal issues involved. We cannot, for example, divulge patient information, so there is the constant dance of the police asking for information they know we won’t give them.  Come back with a subpoena, we tell them. They try anyway.

Then there is this: what do when the police bring in someone who, well, they’ve been beating on. It isn’t common, I should emphasize, but it isn’t so rare that it excites comment either. The police will say (nudge, nudge) the patient fell on the pavement while being arrested. Or banged his head while getting into the cruiser. Or the wall hit his face. Which may even be partly true. The patient usually says nothing at all.

So what do we do about it? Approximately nothing. We might document the injuries, in case there are  legal problems down the road. Or not. We are definitely not going to make any allegations about misuse of force. Who wants to travel that road, full of traps and pitfalls and paper by the mile plus, of course, the undying enmity of the local cops? I have seen a few pretty egregious cases, and we did exactly that — nothing. As well, I suppose many of us don’t want to second guess the police: I mean, who knows how things really go down, right? And we say, didn’t he deserve it anyway?

But how does this make anyone accountable? Including ourselves? And don’t we have a legal system in place to adjudicate innocence and guilt, and administer punishment?

It’s a moral swamp. And having thought about it long and hard, I’m not clear what, if anything, that can be done about it in practical terms. ED staff are not the guardians of the guardians. So we document. Poor excuse, I know.

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Epic Hitler Emergency Department Charge Nurse Rant

I never thought I’d use the words “Epic” and “Hitler” and “Emergency Department” and “Charge Nurse” and “Rant” as a blog title, but what the hell. I was bored one night and thought it would be fun to make a Hitler rant parody.

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Jean, ROSC*

So as J mentioned before, I was in a near catatonic state due to my VSA* computer which has fortunately been resuscitated. The hypothermia post resuscitation care was beneficial but it suffered an anoxic brain injury that may not be possible to overcome. Despite this crushing blow (more so financially really since I do not feel like purchasing a new computer) I am okay with the periodic laptop confusion for now. I’ll do neuro vitals qshift on the computer, continue monitoring and provide supportive care. (Sorry for the lame nurse humour; that I cannot fix.)

Aside from my near death computer experience I have been incredibly busy with working in the ER, updating necessary work courses, school work for a critical care course I’ve been taking as well as starting in Acme Regional’s CCU/ICU. It’s a very different world up there (literally not figuratively. . .it’s on the 4th floor). The pace will take some getting used to. On one hand I enjoyed just having one patient to dedicate time and care to, knowing their history and the pathophysiology of their recent admission and not feeling like I’m practicing unsafely or providing my patient with the bare minimum, however, at the same time, having only one patient is a bit boring. The ICU seems a bit tedious: lots of little details and new physician orders that my emergency brain isn’t wired for. We have a lot of autonomy in the ER, more then I think we realize. Either way, I welcome the change in general, be it pace, environment, meeting new people, learning some new skills and learning in general. I had been feeling stagnant in the ER for a while. I still enjoy the ER immensely and I am not leaving, simply picking up some hours in the ICU for now. If anything I hope the added critical care experience makes me a better nurse. I felt like I had hit a roadblock and I wanted to know more but I just wasn’t learning in my day to day work life, so back to school I went!

I’ll have some new posts soon on more phrases junior nurses and most staff do not care to hear, as well as some other burning ideas and issues (with possible sarcasm and complaints) that have been on my mind.  I have a few patient stories I’d like to share also. So, I hope to be more active soon, sorry for the absence!

*VSA – vital signs absent
*ROSC – return of spontaneous circulation

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In Which TorontoEmerg is So Busted, or, Welcome, Jean Hill

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a colleague, whom I will call Jean Hill, and by-the-by the conversation fell to nurse bloggers. Several prominent ones were mentioned, like Crass-Pollination and Emergiblog and Nerdy Nurse.

“Oh,” said Jean Hill innocently. “I wish I could write like these guys.”

At which point your humble blogger’s eyes began to sparkle rather a cat’s contemplating a mouse. Come in my parlour, said the spider to the fly, I thought. You see, dear readers, I have been contemplating the addition of a co-blogger for some time. *

Nurse Jean Hill. (Dramatic reconstruction. Not intended to be an actual image.)

But how to lure the prey?

I told Jean Hill to meet me in the ambulance bay after shift. I told her portentously I had something I needed to ask her.

So later, in the ambulance bay, I told Jean Hill about this blog, my anonymity and whether or not she would like to come aboard the Good Ship Those Emergency Blues as a co-blogger.

She would, she said. She would be pleased. She had, she said, been reading the blog for a long time.

“So you knew about Those Emergency Blues?” I asked, secretly very pleased that someone from Acme Regional was reading it.

“Oh yes,” she replied. “And, you know, I knew it was you all the time.”

Oh crap. “Really?”

“Well, you sometimes talk like the blog, so I figured it out.”

By which, I suppose, she means I speak in a pedantic, self-important, pompous manner, but was too kind to say so. At any rate, I am very pleased Jean Hill has come to write here. I think she will be writing once or twice a week (hopefully more!) beginning in a few days on topics which interest her. Since this is her first time publicly writing a few small words of encouragement will be welcome.

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*For mostly selfish reasons, i.e. to ensure there is more content consistently posted, to free up time so I can write better for this blog, to work on some other writing projects, etc.

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8 Comments

More on When Labelling Patients Causes Patients to Die

In the comments WhiteCoat (of WhiteCoat’s Call Room fame) strenuously objects to my take on the Anna Brown case:

Wow.

Someone on my blog suggested that I check out this post after I just posted about this story yesterday.

To all of you who think “something more should have been done,” what should that “something” have been? She had multiple tests and exams performed for the same complaint – including sonograms which showed no blood clots the day before she died. She was having the same pain in her legs since she was hospitalized the week before. Gold standard test for DVTs is ultrasound. Do we repeat the ultrasound every day? Every hour? What other testing was “necessary”?

TorontoEmerg – think of all the patients you see with back pain requesting narcotic pain medications. Do you order serial MRIs on them to rule out the possibility of cauda equina? Or tumor? If so, what is the medical basis for the testing? If not, why? I’m assuming you don’t. When you miss the one patient who has a tumor and becomes paralyzed, you’ll be harangued because “obviously” the patient had something wrong and you neglected to address it. Yet once you tell the patients that they won’t be receiving any narcotic pain medications, many of the patients in severe pain stand up, curse at you, and storm out of the emergency department.

You say that Ms. Brown was “unable to walk.” The article showed that a nurse saw her standing the same day that she couldn’t walk. How many patients do you see who come to the emergency department and can’t get out of their car when they arrive? That’s a “red flag” that something is wrong. Do you order a million dollar workup on all of them? How many patients do you see who have had dozens of normal CT scans for their chronic abdominal pain? Is that proper medical care? I could go on and on, but you get the point.

The problem is that your post suffers from horrible hindsight bias. You knew the outcome and now you’re bashing the people who treated Ms. Brown because they didn’t have the ability to look into the future to see what would happen.

Yes, the outcome was horrible. Yes, there were miscues and miscommunication. I’m sure that Ms. Brown was “labeled” as someone trying to game the system. Society “labels” every aspect of our lives every day. President Obama is “liberal.” Ron Paul is “crazy.” Pit bulls are “dangerous.” Doctors are “rich.” Baby pandas are “cute.” Doing so doesn’t make us bad, it makes us human. Someone who was articulate and polite to the providers and to the police may have been treated differently. One of my readers said this was the “perfect storm” of events leading up to Ms. Brown’s death.

To say that Ms. Brown didn’t receive proper care or that her complaints were ignored is just wrong. I’m betting if you ordered all the testing you think Ms. Brown should have received on all of the patients who walked through the doors at your emergency department, *you’d* be the one being ridiculed.

I appreciate WhiteCoat taking the time to post such a lengthy reply. He fully explicates many of his points on his blog. I won’t editorialize much here, because I think his perspective is important to how we discuss cases like Anna Brown. I don’t share his point of view for a number of reasons, but I do agree with him that labelling people makes us human. The trouble starts, for me at least,  when we allow our interior — and often unrealized — biases to influence our care.

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Just Because I Don’t Remember You Doesn’t Mean I Didn’t Care

In the Emergency Department where I work, the number of patients we see pushes 200 some days. We assess and treat a lot of people, mostly for lumps and bumps, breaks and bruises, but also for major, cataclysmic, life-altering events — MIs, trauma, stroke, what-have-you.

I have a problem. The moment to the patient leaves the department I tend to forget them. Completely. If you are a run of the mill STEMI, I swear I will not remember you the next day. I may not remember you in an hour. A little while ago, my manager asked me about a case receiving some, um, legal attention. It was only after a good deal of prodding that I vaguely remembered — and this was a Code Blue! (Fortunately the legal formalities were about treatment received on previous visits, so I wasn’t directly involved. My charting was good, anyway.)

I do remember some cases which for one reason or another have stuck in my mind. (For example, like here. Or here. Or here, among others.) But mostly, nah. Maybe it’s because of the sheer volume. Maybe because my head will explode if I remembered the details on each and every patient. Maybe it’s just coping skills. Who knows. Anyone else have this problem?

Anyway, I was triaging the other day, and a patient told me how much she appreciated the care I gave her husband. (He was a Triple A, and survived.) I goggled at her for a second — we don’t frequently receive compliments in the ED — and said, “Yes, of course, I remember him.” She beamed. I made her happy. But I didn’t remember him at all. The patient’s husband was all in a day’s work for me — and a hugely important day in her life. We tend to forget what impact we have on patients and families. So a small lie for a good cause, I guess, a tiny bit of therapeutic communication.

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Some stupid to ponder, or how a local employer treats their nurses like idiots. Our local CCAC — the provincial agency which arranges for Home Care and related services — hath decreed that case managers are no longer permitted to use hospital-provided educational materials because 1) they haven’t been vetted by CCAC and 2) because the case managers haven’t been in-serviced on them.

Really.

CCAC evidently thinks their case managers — all RNs, by the way — are complete idiots in that they can’t tell patients using a hospital provided form when to come back the ED because (for example) their saline lock is infected. And CCAC believes that hospital put out bogus and misleading educational materials.

Sometimes you just have to shake your head. And mutter. Who comes up with these bonehead rules, anyway? Do managers lie awake at night thinking them up?

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On a personal note, thanks to all who emailed or tweeted or otherwise left messages of support regarding the family medical emergency a couple of weeks ago. All is well again, but I was a little frightened for a while. Your concern was really appreciated, and made me realize that I — we — have a great little community around this blog. Thanks!

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9 Comments

A Poem for Easter

My own, with at least Easterish themes of death and rebirth. Originally published on 7/10/10.

VSA

You came to us, no vital signs, no breath
Found dead, or nearly so, by the mall
You last saw cars, careening carts, a child.
Then falling, hard pavement, blood, a void empty
Of consciousness when help came, skin mottled.
(And paramedics glared and muttered Too late)
But still by breaking bones your heart caressing
Blood returned, with oxygen, drugs and life.
No life did we see, but a purple face,
(Though never we speak it, we thought Too Late,)
V fib, we worked the algorithm, shocked
Gave epi, shocked, and then surprising you,
You gasped, and meaning to die, you did not:
Eyes from a dark face stared incredulous.

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When Labelling Patients Causes Patients to Die

I found this story how a homeless woman died very disturbing:

Anna Brown wasn’t leaving the emergency room quietly.

She yelled from a wheelchair at St. Mary’s Health Center security personnel and Richmond Heights police officers that her legs hurt so badly she couldn’t stand.

She had already been to two other hospitals that week in September, complaining of leg pain after spraining her ankle.

This time, she refused to leave.

A police officer arrested Brown for trespassing. He wheeled her out in handcuffs after a doctor said she was healthy enough to be locked up.

The throwaway, disposible patient

She told officers she couldn’t get out of the police car, so they dragged her by her arms into the station. They left her lying on the concrete floor of a jail cell, moaning and struggling to breathe. Just 15 minutes later, a jail worker found her cold to the touch.

Officers suspected Brown was using drugs. Autopsy results showed she had no drugs in her system.

Six months later, family members still wonder how Brown’s sprained ankle led to her death in police custody, and whether anyone — including themselves — is to blame.

There seems to be no simple answer.

Actually there is a very simple answer. At some point in her care, a nurse or physician decided Anna Brown deserved to die. I don’t mean literally a health care professional wrote Anna Brown’s chart, “This patient deserves to die.” But someone decided — a nurse, a physician, or maybe it was a collective, Emergency Department judgment —  that because Anna Brown was homeless, because she was black, because she was poor, because she had made multiple visits, because she was still in pain, because she advocated for herself by making a fuss, because she possibly had (undiagnosed) mental health issues, she was not entitled to proper care.

She was labelled. She was drug-seeking. She was crazy. She was a frequent flyer. And that killed her as surely as if a nurse had bolused potassium chloride.

I will tell you why I think this is true.  Because Anna Brown had made repeated visits, and no one took her seriously. Because she told staff about her increasing pain, and no one believed her. Because she was unable to walk, and no one thought to ask why. All of these are enormous waving red flags for any emergency department health care professional, and neither physician nor nurse did anything about them. That’s the thing about labels: they contain their own little subjective judgements about patient care, and obscure the obvious.

If Anna Brown had been a middle-class white woman with a nice home, a job and a car, I am willing to bet — no, I know the outcome would have been different — or at least, she would not have died, gasping for air, from a pulmonary embolism on a cold jailhouse floor. There certainly would not have been any of this Kafkaesque horror of being in obvious distress with a deep vein thrombosis, about to throw a clot, and being utterly unable to get help at the very place where you might expect it.

I will let the public in on a little secret. We all do it. Each and every one of us. I don’t exclude myself. We all label patients. It is deeply embedded in the culture of health care to the point where it is an accepted practice. We all call patients drug seeking and crazy and frequent flyers and failures-to-die and failures-to-cope. We laugh at them. Hell, there are whole blogs and books devoted to the art of ridiculing patients we have already labelled. (Though when you think about it, there is nothing quite as charming as making fun of  human beings who are powerless, is there?) Has any one ever thought labelling patients might cloud and impair clinical judgment? Or that it dehumanizes patients and is just plain wrong?

There is also this from another blogger who writes:

But the way Brown died was not the result of a few bad choices. It was the result of a myriad of institutional violences: white supremacy, the broken health care system, police brutality and the prison industrial complex, the racism and classism of the child welfare system, ableism and its intersection with racism, dehumanization and criminalization of (suspected) drug users, and the lack of housing as a human right, among others. Anna Brown did not die with the dignity we afford to human beings, but with the contempt we reserve for garbage. And a woman’s humanity is not just forgotten and cast aside with no systemic reason.

[But go read it all.]

Don’t think I have much to add.

[Via.]

[UPDATE: A long time reader suggests instead of the word label, I should use "profile," as in "racially profiling." Once upon a time I might have thought the word unnecessarily inflammatory --- but now I am not so sure.]

[UPDATE II: Small corrections to syntax. Hobbit not cooperating.]

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30 Comments

The Guy in the Next Bed

Code Blue on the floor: a lot like a Code Blue in the Emergency Department, except we have to run to the elevators, take a ponderously slow ride up to whatever floor they’re doing compressions, and then run some more down some endlessly long corridors till we find a room full of telemetry nurses looking out expectantly the doc and me and the ICU nurse (who flew down three fights and turned an ankle in the process.)

The patient, of course, is already dead. We just haven’t decided yet to make it official. This is one of health care’s best kept secrets: once a patient has gone VSA he is, for all intents and purposes, dead. Chances of bringing him back are minuscule — and yet not tiny enough to give up all hope of resuscitation. Once even I shook the hand of a woman leaving the hospital who coded on the ambulance gurney while I was triaging her the week before. So we continue. I pull out the drugs, and direct traffic, while the ICU nurse pushes epinephrine and atropine. The ICU Respiratory Therapist manages the airway. One of the tele nurses is assigned documentation, and there’s a short rotation of three nurses for chest compressions. The doc yells at one of them: harder! faster!

After the second round of drugs, it’s becoming clear the effort is futile, and we settle into the routine. Nurses doing compressions change every two minutes. Epi every three. When we briefly pause for the change, the monitor shows asystole. The ICU nurse and I chat. The RT cracks wise with the doc, and the tele nurses giggle at this, We banter back and forth. We joke. Another of health care’s best kept secrets: we chatter like budgerigars during codes. Then, through a crack in the privacy curtain, I see just this: two fidgeting hands clasped across a flannel covered belly.

Shit. There’s a patient in the next bed. I make frantic hand signals. I finally get everyone to shut up. A couple of minutes later, the doc pronounces. The room is silent. I can only imagine what he guy in the next bed is thinking.

And this isn’t the first time this has happened in my experience. I can remember a few occasions in the Emergency department where the guy in the next bed was a child who for various reasons couldn’t be moved.

So what do we do about the patient in the next bed, apart from shutting up?

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4 Comments

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