Doctor Jack Wagon

An ER physician cancelled my cath lab activation the other day. No, I didn’t save the 12-lead.  I should have, and maybe I will try to find it once I go back to work.

It was a male in his mid-forties. He had just gotten back home from a walk around the neighborhood, and couldn’t catch his breath, and kept sweating. It’s been a little warm around here for the past few days, but not that warm.

So, duh, he’s having an MI.

For some reason, the interpretation didn’t pick it up. He was in a sinus bradycardia with an (apparently new) left bundle branch block. He met all the Sgarbossa criteria. He was hypotensive. His skin was diaphoretic, even though it was 74 degrees outside.

We transmitted the ECG to the hospital, and I called the cath lab number on my phone, like we always do from the field. After loading up in the ambulance, I called the hospital to give them my ETA.

That’s when I was told my activation was cancelled.

“By who?”

“The ER doc.

It turns out that the nurse who receives the ECGs we transmit shows them to a physician. Not a specific physician, mind you, just any physician he or she can find in the hallway. And this time the physician cancelled my cath lab activation.

Why?

Wait for it.

Because my 12-lead didn’t say “STEMI” on the top.

No joke.

Seriously.

This jackass in a white coat cancelled my cath lab activation because the interpretive statement didn’t recognize an MI in the presence of a left bundle branch block. This isn’t a case of a false activation, either. I took the 12-lead upstairs to the cath lab to show a cardiologist friend of mine.

“Where’s this patient?” he asked me.

“Downstairs in the ED.”

“What the hell for? Why isn’t this patient up here?”

“Ask the jack wagon in Trauma 4. I activated you, but jack wagon cancelled the activation.”

Where was the patient?

In Trauma room 4. Twenty minutes after we walked in the doors, he arrested. He went into v-tach and tried to die. He was resuscitated, but now, several days later, he is upstairs in the ICU on a ventilator, with a balloon pump hooked up to him.

Because some jackass doctor can’t interpret 12-leads.

Zero percent effective

“25YOF ABD PAIN” reads the MDT. For some reason we are going lights and sirens. As is a big red truck. I still don’t know why.

Oh, that’s right.

Policy.

Whatever. I’m trying to find a stopping point in this book, Killing Patton before we get there, so my partner for the day drives slow. Without the lights and sirens. Policy be damned.

We arrive on scene to find what appears to be the patient in the midst of what could be a day care, but is actually an apartment. A cursory head count reveals around 8 kids, nope, make that 9, because the lady watching TV is holding another one.

This lady is watching some judge show on TV with the volume at full blast. I don’t know what show it is, and I don’t know what the case was about, because the first thing I did was turn the TV off.

“Hey!”

“Well hello yourself. What seems to be going on?”

“Like I told that lady on the phone, my stomach hurts.”

“Okay. How long have you been hurting?” I ask as the unnamed partner starts to get some vitals.

“‘Bout a week.”

“Hmmm. Okay. Any nausea, or vomiting? Have you had any diarrhea? Has anyone in the house been sick lately?”

“Naw, I ain’t been sick. Just hurting.”

“Okay then. Any chance you could be pregnant?”

“Well I don’t know.”

I am always intrigued by the “I don’t know if I’m pregnant or not” answer. Understandably, I don’t have a uterus, but most women I come in contact with know if their period is late, early, or whatever.

“Well, when was your last period?”

“Like, maybe October? Or maybe September?”

“Have you been pregnant before?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay…how many times?”

“I don’t know. I gots 2 kids.”

How in the name of Sam Hill do you not know how many times you’ve been pregnant?

“Um, have you had miscarriages, or abortions?”

“I ain’t never had no miscarriage. But I had five abortions.”

Pulling out my calculator, I plug in the equations and deduce she is gravida 7.

“Well, let’s take a quick look at your belly” I say as we lay her down on the chaise. “So has anything else been strange lately? You said you haven’t been sick, but have you felt weird or anything?”

“Yeah. It’s weird. I’ve been craving chicken and pickles lately.”

“Yeah. I like chicken and pickles too. Are you sexually active?”

“Well, duh” she scoffs, as if I should be surprised.

“Fair enough. Do you use birth control?” I ask as I do some quick Leopold maneuvers. There is definitely a baby up in there.

“Some times. But not all the time. But I do take my pills. I can’t be pregnant because I’ve been taking my pills.”

“Well, if you want to put your hand right here on top of mine, you can feel the baby in your tummy.”

She does as instructed, and I push with my other hand, making the baby kick. She obviously feels it. This baby is good sized, probably 20 weeks or so, probably more, which jives with a missed period in September.

“But I can’t be pregnant!”

“Well, I don’t have an ultrasound machine, but the fact that you haven’t had a period in five months, and this fetus moving around in your belly tells me you are.”

“But I’ve been taking my pills!”

“Pills don’t always work. What kind of birth control pills do you take?”

“I don’t take birth control pills.”

I feel like I’m being set up.

“Okay then, what kind of pills do you take?”

“Haldol.”

Holy shit.

“…”

I’ve got nothing.

“…”

“What?!”

“Haldol isn’t birth control, and it wont’ stop you from getting pregnant.”

“For real?”

Tachylawdy

“What’s wrong with her?”

“Nothing. She’s got the tachylawdys.”

“Geez. Take her to triage.”

***

‘Tachylawdy’ is a thing down here. Along with sick rags, but that’s a whole different post. Never have I seen tachylawdy present in a sick patient. Not once. The only times I have seen tachylawdy present in the field are:

  • anxiety
  • doesn’t want to be at work
  • [pick your male family member] is getting arrested
  • anxiety because of being at work
  • getting pulled over

I have never seen a patient present with the tachylawdys without the presence of other concerned family members. Nor have I ever seen a male patient present with the tachylawdys. I have, however, seen the tachylawdys present in female family members that were present while I was caring for another person, be it male or female.

Basically, you walk into a house and find a female, usually with the back of her hand on her forehead, always with her head turned away from you, eyes closed, not a damn thing wrong with her:

“Oh, lawdylawdylawdylawdylawdy…. OOOOOOOH, lawdylawdylawdylawdylawdylawdyheppmelawdylawdylawdy…”

***

Bradyjeezus now, is much, much more serious.

English major

A call for a “person in pain” about two blocks from our local hospital.

I decide to go ahead and finish my game of Mahjong on the computer while we are driving to the call, while Slimm opines on the situation awaiting us.

“Man, twenty bucks says she just walked out of the hospital, and wants to go all the way downtown.”

Knowing that our bets never involve the actual exchange of money, I accept.

“What’s going on?”

“I’m hurting everywhere.”

“Okay.”

“I want to go to the hospital.”

“Good for you, there is one right over there,” as I point to the hospital, about 100 yards away.

“No, I don’t want to go there. I want to go downtown.”

Slimm wins. Again. “Why don’t you want to go to that hospital right there?”

“They are mean to me. I just left there. I don’t want to go back.”

“Okay, then. Hop up here on the stretcher.”

Downtown is at least a half an hour away, so I have plenty of time for more Mahjong on the way. I’ve also started listening to Handel on the Law podcasts, and enjoy a brief show while I match tiles on the computer screen.

The radio report is made, and it was one of the best ever.

I wish you could have been there to hear it. I felt like such a hero.

“Umm, did you have to tell them that?” asks the person on the stretcher.

“Tell them what?”

“That I just walked out of the other hospital?”

“Well, yeah. It is kinda pertinent to the current situation.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means it is relevant, or germane.”

“Who is Jermaine? I don’t know nobody named Jermaine.”

Bad decision

A middle-aged male calls 911 because he doesn’t feel well. We find him sitting in a chair in his bedroom, looking terrible. Pale, cool, diaphoretic, cyanotic, and in obvious distress.

What my father would call “looking like death eating a cracker.”

He had a CABG a few years ago, and has high blood pressure. His wife says he has never had a heart attack though, and only did the CABG after an abnormal stress test.

He’s having one today though.

The 12-lead shows a big anterior infarct, with lateral involvement, and with lots of ectopy on the continuous ECG. His blood pressure is low, too.

Lots of bad things are going on.

“Sir, let’s get you on to Local Hospital.”

“No, I want to go to Southside Hospital.”

Southside Hospital is thirty minutes and two counties away. And this guy doesn’t have thirty minutes.

“We really need to go to a closer hospital, and Local is only five minutes away.”

“I will not go to Local Hospital. Take me to Southside” he says between breaths.

“Sir, you are having a heart attack. Southside is half an hour away, and that is just too far. We need to go somewhere a lot closer.”

“I don’t care. I am NOT GOING to Local Hospital.”

Slimm was wise, as usual, and had the patient sign a refusal form on which Slimm wrote ‘Patient refused closest hospital.’

I hated to take a firefighter so far out of the county, but I really didn’t have a choice. We told the other guys on the engine that we would bring him back. I really don’t like to take riders, but I felt like something bad was going to happen, and I would need the help.

Something bad happened, and I needed the help.

About six minutes after passing Local Hospital, the patient went into v-fib. Even though my defibrillator pads were already on, and it took about 5 seconds to deliver the shock, it didn’t work. After Amiodarone and two more defibrillations, he was in asystole.

Slimm diverted us to Local Hospital, and the patient never came out of asystole.

If he would have gone to Local Hospital, the outcome would likely have been the same, but I can’t help to think that it might have been different. If he would have listened to the advice of the providers on scene, he might have survived. But he made a bad decision.

Someone once told me something very wise.

“People have the right to make bad decisions.”

It’s like a Hollywood script

Finally, Slimm and I are back together. This will be our first time back on a truck together in what feels like years, but has really only been about one year.

I have to wake up 5 hours earlier than I am used to, but I think it’s worth it.

We hugged in the parking lot. It was a brief hug, but it was a hug nonetheless.

Then we got breakfast.

And our breakfast was interrupted because some guy fell out of bed. Now my gravy is going to be cold, and nobody likes cold gravy on their biscuits.

“Radio Med One.”

“MmmmGohead” I reply sleepily.

“Caller is advising agonal respirations.”

“Mmmmkay.”

I turn to Slimm. “I hope the caller is just stupid.”

“Me too, bro. Me too.”

“Radio Med One”

WHAT?! “Gohead”

“Caller advises full arrest. They are starting CPR.”

Shit.

This sucks. The sun isn’t up yet, and neither am I.

Sure enough, it’s a full arrest. The fire guy recognizes me.

“What’s up, C?” he asks as he’s doing compressions. “You pick up an extra shift?”

“Naw, man, I’m back on the truck with Slimm again. Whatcha got?”

“Glad to hear you guys are back. Wife woke up and found him here about ten minutes ago. AED says ‘no shock,’ Bubba got the LMA in, and Chester is about to start the IO.”

I feel around this guy. I don’t see any obvious trauma, but his skin sure is cyanotic. And cold. I mean, remarkably cold. Most people I have felt this cold before have either had lividity or rigor, but he has neither. He is in asystole, and his pupils are dilated and fixed.

Basically, he’s dead. But not dead enough to stop working.

“C, you want us to stop, or keep going?”

“Nah, keep going, let’s move him out into the kitchen, and we’ll work him there. We have more room there.”

Somebody gets the IO, and I see Slimm putting together the bicarb and epi. He looks over at me. “We going to do the two rounds then call it?” he asks.

“Nah, buddy. We’re gonna get him back.”

I wink. Just joking, of course.

But we did.

Five minutes later he had a pulse, was breathing on his own about ten times a minute, and had a blood pressure of 130/90.

“We have to stop doing this.”

“What? Getting people back?”

“Not that. But doing it so easily.

“They should make a movie about us.”

Anemia

An unknown problem at a house. Which begs the question: how does the caller not know why they are calling?

Anyways.

We pull up right in front of the engine, and we all make our way towards the door. We can hear the gurgling from outside.

Inside, we find a lady who is obviously in the throes of death, laying in a hospital bed. She has that open-mouth look that healthy people don’t have.

Someone who looks like she might be a nurse of some sort is anxiously standing in the shadows, clutching what looks like a home-health folder.

“What’s going on?”

“She has anemia” says a guy who looks like he could be her husband.

Meanwhile, this lady has one foot through the pearly gates.

The fire dudes are doing their thing, getting vitals, and trying to put in an OPA, which is complicated by her wide-open mouth.

“Okay. She has anemia. What is going on today? How long has she been this sick?”
“She has anemia. That’s what’s going on.”

Obviously, I’m getting nowhere. “Okay then, why is she in the hospital bed?”

“Because she has anemia.”

Newguy has now decided to sink a tube. This lady has almost no blood pressure, and her heart rate is in the forties.

“Does she have any other problems besides anemia?”

“I don’t know.”

I gave up.

Stoned

A “person who needs to be checked out” at an apartment near the University. We are going by ourselves for once.

Today is Newguy’s day in the back, which means I get to carry this stupid jump bag up three flights of stairs. Great.

“What’s going on today?” he asks the college-aged male who answers the door.

We are doing Boston accents on this call, so I can’t help cracking a smile.

“Man, something is wrong with me, man” comes the reply.

“Okay. What’s wrong?”

“Man, I just don’t feel good.”

“Okay. What’s wrong?”

“Man, I’m telling you, I just don’t feel good.”

“You’re going to have to be a little more specific.”

“I dunno, man. Like, I just don’t feel good.”

“Okay.”

He gets quiet for a minute and looks down at the floor. “I think I smoked too much weed, man.”

“You smoked too much weed?”

“Yeah.”

“And now you’re really high?”

“Yeah.”

“Was the weed laced with anything? Did you do any other drugs? Anything like that?”

“Nah, man. Just the weed.”

“Are you sure the weed wasn’t laced with anything?”

“Yeah.”

“How are you sure?”

“’Cuz I know my weed.”

“But do you know the guy you bought it from well enough to know it wasn’t laced with anything?”

“I didn’t buy it.”

“Okay. How’d you get it? Did someone give it to you?”

“I grew it in my closet.”

“Interesting.”

“Man, I am so high. Something is wrong with me. Man, I don’t think I can read any more, MAN!

“Let me get this straight. You grow your own marijuana in your closet, and now you smoked so much that you can’t read, and you want to go to the hospital?”

“Do I need to go to the hospital?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think they can help you with reading comprehension.”

“I’ve never been this high before.”

 

We took him to the hospital.

Listen and learn

Newguy is out today. He and his wife are finding out the gender of their new baby, so he is going to the appointment. Well, Mrs. Newguy says they aren’t going to find out, but Newguy says he is going to cheat and sneak a peek at the ultrasound. He even has a plan and everything for how he is going to do it.

Nobody tell Mrs. Newguy, okay?

I’m working with a kid today. I did the math, and he was in diapers when I started in EMS. And he already has a bad attitude.

There is a difference between burned out and a bad attitude.

We get a call for a lady who is sick. It turns out the lady is visiting her daughter from Oregon, and has been confused, febrile, and weak for the past few days, and it is getting worse.

Daughter hands me an insurance card and says she needs to go to the hospital about 45 minutes away. While she is saying this, Babyface pipes in.

“Well, we could take her to Local Hospital, and they can just transfer her if needed, but they will probably just let her go if she just has a fever.”

Daughter looks excited, then goes on to explain that the sick lady is allergic to Tylenol and Penicillin, and has a diagnosis of primary biliary cirrhosis. No other medical problems though, which is good for a grandmother in her late seventies.

Finally we see the patient. She’s confused, sure enough. She’s pale, and the jaundice is pretty apparent in her sclera. (What is the plural of sclera? Is there one?) So, she’s sick, and probably needs to spend a day or two in the hospital for some IV antibiotics.

“Okay, we’ll take her to Westside Hospital. We are going to go bring our stretcher in here, and we’ll be out of the way.”

Babyface is absolutely apoplectic. “Why can’t we just take her to Local Hospital? It’s across the street. Westside is forty-five minutes away.”

I get stern with him. “I know where we are, and I know where the hospitals are, and we are going to take her to Westside Hospital.”

Later, at Westside, he decides to assert his position once again.

“Man, we should have just taken her to Local. This doesn’t make any sense.”

“What is primary biliary cirrohsis?”

“She’s probably an alcoholic, and she drank too much, and now her liver is shutting down.”

“Wrong. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear that a person is confused, weak, and febrile?”

“Sepsis?”

“Fair enough. Does the diagnosis of primary biliary cirrhosis change that? You still thinking sepsis? What about her jaundice?”

“I don’t care about her cirrhosis, she just has a fever.”

“No, her ammonia levels are high, and she needs lactulose. She is very confused, and only responds to verbal stimuli, which suggests hepatic encephalopathy, and she needs an ICU. Taking her to Local Hospital would have been a bad decision, and a waste of time.”

He was still mad at me for the rest of the shift.

I don’t chase patients

A call for a person “out of their mind.” PD is already there.

“He’s crazy.”

“No joke. The dispatcher told us that. Why does he need to go to the hospital?”

“His mom wants him evaluated.”

“Why?”

“He’s crazy.”

I’m getting nowhere with this guy, so Newguy and I walk into the house and find the alleged patient and his mommy. The patient is in his mid-thirties, so I don’t know why he calls her “mommy” but who am I to judge?

“Ma’am, why does your son need to go to the hospital?”

“Because he’s crazy.”

I don’t even bother asking again. I just turn to the dude on the couch.

“You ready to go?”

“I guess.”

Cut to 10 minutes later, going down the road. The dude on the couch, who is now the dude on the stretcher, hasn’t said a word. He won’t answer my questions, or talk to me at all, so I’m just sitting in my chair catching up on paperwork.

The ambulance comes to a stop at a red light. Newguy is listening to a Handel on the Law podcast, and I’m kinda trying to pay attention to that.

‘Click click click.’

Before I look up, dude on the stretcher is now dude jumping out the back door. He takes off like an NFL running back with an open field in front of him.

I mean, he is gone.

“Med four radio.”

“Med four.”

“Show us ten-eight. Our patient left the ambulance and ran. Maybe PD might want to look for him.”

“Which direction did he go, med four?”

“I think north.”

“You think?”

“Yeah, I don’t chase people.”