Sunday, March 29, 2009

Happy Milestone!

Over 10,000 hits, baby! Pretty darn cool and I never thought I'd see the day. Thanks everyone, and I promise new content is coming soon.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Science Of It All

A few years ago we had a paramedic that worked for us that used to refer to himself as a “Purple Box Paramedic.” His idea of care was pretty simple—he saw bradycardia on the ECG, open a purple box. Asystole? Open the tan box. Low blood sugar? Open the big blue box. For him, patient care wasn’t about clinical assessments or diagnosing, it was a matter of looking at the monitor or vital signs and opening the appropriately colored box. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

Some would argue that that’s what we do. That’s what protocols dictate we do. Find the protocol that the patient fits into and open the appropriately colored boxes. I would argue that you’re not doing enough for your patient. After reading the article on JEMS that Peter Canning recommended (EMS 12-lead ECGs after ROSC?), I noticed a comment by an anonymous poster. I’ll paraphrase: “what’s the point? It won’t change our treatment.”

I don’t want to belabor the argument (and there was a big list of objections), but the first thing I thought of after reading the comment was: Purple Box Paramedic. 12-lead ECG didn’t fit into his/her protocol for post-arrest treatment, so why bother with it? Because, as the science is starting to show, it’s probably a good idea. And as a follow up commentator stated, “if it doesn't change what I do within the next 5 minutes then I guess it has no value at all, right?” (the sarcasm is implied). In addition to the science of it all, we have to be willing to think past the purple box and think about he long term continuation of care.

I like to browse JEMS and other literature and try to keep up to date on how EMS is evolving. In some ways, I know that I can be a little quick to jump on the bandwagon. I’ll sometimes read an article, think that’s it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, and want to implement it the next day, regardless of how “new” or “unproven” the concept may be. But this comes from being aware of something about myself as medic: I like to know why I’m doing something. If I’m informed about the science behind it, I’m more likely to 1) perform the assessment/intervention/whatever, 2) have greater confidence in my ability to perform it, and 3) have greater confidence in the potential outcome.

As an example, I recently helped recertify our volunteer firefighters/first responders at Seaside on their CPR cards. In addition to the standard stuff (“push hard and fast; 100 times a minute; think of ‘Stayin’ Alive’”) I also gave them a brief lecture on coronary perfusion pressure and why it’s so important that we get our rate and ratios right. I kept it simple, not because they wouldn’t have understood a long lecture, but because the concept can be kept simple. And I could tell by looking at them that they were getting it, I could see the light bulbs turning on. In fact, I had numerous firefighters tell me that it was the first time that they every really “got it.” And this is the same stuff we’ve been teaching for almost 5 years now.

I’m a strong believer in the science of it all. I went to a subpar paramedic school and came out with a less-than-stellar education. I’ve done a lot of research and studying on my own and still try to learn new things every single shift.

Here’s another example. One of the headline articles on JEMS right now is The Disappearing Endotrachael Tube. Research nationwide is beginning to show that prehospital intubation by EMTs is a poorly performed skill with a significantly high (relatively) failure rate and an alarming trend towards higher rates of mortality. I read this and I think about how I want to be able to perform the skill proficiently with an eye towards long term patient survivability. Now I couple this with everything that I’ve learned about quantitative capnography, and I begin to think of intubation from a perspective of performing the skill when appropriate with an eye towards the overall patient outcome, and in turn, I have more confidence in my decision to intubate when determined appropriate.

So much of what we do in EMS is based upon habit, anecdotal evidence, and presumption. We need to be open minded about emerging research, changing trends, and evolving treatments. If we want to be taken more seriously as a profession, then we need to be willing to get behind the science of it all. It’s also so important for us to understand that we’re part of a greater health care team and that everything we do will have an effect, whether positive or negative, on the remainder of the patient’s care in hospital.

And as the NAEMT Code of Ethics for EMTs reads: “The Emergency Medical Technician shall maintain professional competence and demonstrate concern for the competence of other members of the Emergency Medical Services health care team.”

Something to ponder the next time the question is asked, “but will it change the way we treat them?"

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Unethical Decision Making

I was having a conversation with my partner today, telling “war” stories to one another when the topic of fatality MVAs came up. We are both in our 20s and have only a few years experience under us—we’re too young to have seen the really bad days of traffic accidents. We were reminded of an accident that we were both on, Spring Break a couple of years ago. For my medic partner and me (an EMT at the time) it was our second fatality of the day.

We were dispatched onto the beach at 11 pm for a rollover accident with injuries. There was a fog over the beach and a heavy March chill. The accident itself was a mile or so down of the beach access and we made our bearing on the lights of the fire units near the surf line.

As we approached, we could see a battered, black Toyota pickup in the surf, being rocked by waves. The rear doors of the fire department’s rescue unit was open and we could see 2 patient’s on the bench seat, and a third on the deck on a back board. We parked, positioning our scene lights on the pickup some 100 feet away in the surf. The firemen were crashing around in the surf, working on pulling another patient onto a backboard. With each wave, the pickup would shift a little more and the tide was coming in. Each wave was lapping against the tires of our ambulance.

Six firefighters, with a backboard and patient slung between them, were fast walking up the ambulance as we opened up the rear doors of the unit. The patient was lifeless, arms limp and dangling off of the board, gray in the face and soaking wet. We hoisted him up onto the gurney, expecting to get to work on him, but when he was slid forward, head resting near the airway seat and under the fluorescent lights, it was easy to see.

“He’s got brain matter showing. Get him out of my ambulance,” my partner told the firemen. He was pulseless and apneic, a clear DBA now that we could properly assess him.


The other three—the patient’s brother and their girlfriends—we took to the hospital as mandatory trauma system entries (death of a same vehicle occupant). It turns out that all four of them were crammed into the front seats of the pickup and as the truck rolled, the patient had his head roll out the open passenger side window. The driver and the two girls were relatively uninjured in the accident and alcohol appeared to be a factor. Two ambulances took all three to the area trauma hospital.

The State Police arrived at the hospital to investigate the accident. We had to hang around the hospital to do the criminal blood draws, so we got to see this all go down. The trooper made his way from patient to patient, starting with the two women. The questions the trooper asked were all the same, “what happened?” “How much have you had to drink?” “Were you wearing your seatbelts?”

Finally, he makes his way to the driver’s room. The trooper had enough of the details before even starting his questions. He knew that the passenger had died--he’d seen the body on scene. And he knew the driver and passenger were family. The driver didn’t know. When he was asking questions about his brother on scene, we deflected. “There are lots of ambulances here, another crew is with him.” “We taking care of you right now, there are others taking care of your brother.” But we knew.

So when the trooper walked into the driver’s room and the patient saw him, the first question he asked the trooper was, “how’s my brother?”

Without a pause, the trooper answers. “Your brother’s fine, he’s at another hospital. I have some questions for you.”


Our partner and I, plus the nurses in the ED all had the same knee-jerk reaction. What the hell was this trooper doing? He was outright lying to this man. His brother was dead and the trooper knew it, but he was being told he was okay and at another hospital.

Unethical, right? The trooper thought he was going to get better answer out of the driver if he though that his brother was okay. But does that justify such a horrendous lie? I don’t think so, and neither did my partner or the nurses. And as my partner and I talked about it today, we were reminded again about how upset we were two years ago about this.

But it does beg the question, is it unethical to deflect those tough questions on the scene? Is it okay to tell a family member that there loved ones, who we know to be DBAs, that they are being looked after by other crewmembers?

Jaws Training

It's been 3 weeks since my last post and all for lack of anything exciting (or worth mentioning) happening. Yesterday though, I taught an MVA Trauma and Jaws class for the local EMT-Basic class. What's better than getting to cut up old cars with expensive, hydraulic tools?

Me and the Supervisor that I frequently write about. One of my best friends and the instructor for the EMT Class.
My good friend Mark, one of my fellow volunteers.

My older brother, Gordon, and the Supervisor.

A bit of good news--it looks like I'll be teaching the EMT Communications and Transportation class at the local community college next semester. My Supervisor recommended me for the job and I'm looking forward to injecting some fresh ideas into what has traditionally been a dull prerequisite class.

More to come soon, I promise.