trauma


Thanks everyone for the encouraging comments. I think things are getting better overall; I can handle four more days.

Today continued to be splendid. My efforts to discharge patients to the floor succeeded mainly in disgruntling the floor staff, and led to one of my . . . episodes . . . with an attending today. All the hard work didn’t do me much good, because we just admitted more patients through the ER as fast as I could discharge them to the floor.

Yes, I seem to have ticked off every single attending in this group – three of them today. That has to be some kind of record for the worst resident performance ever, wouldn’t you think? With one of them I really did something wrong – forgot something that a resident four days away from being a responsible junior resident shouldn’t forget. That was very bad, dangerous even. As everyone within hearing range pointed out to me, I can’t do that stuff as a junior resident, I have four days to mend my ways, and I’d better watch out. And I have to agree with them, which feels worse..

The other two attendings, I don’t know what happened. Apparently I’m such a bad communicator that even when I say, “Yes, sir, absolutely,” meaning, “Yes, sir, absolutely,” it comes across as “No way, you #$*&^, why are you even asking me? &^%” Or that’s what the attendings told other people they thought I’d said. Which is pretty hopeless. Because if a nurse is angry, and I respect her, I can go talk, and we usually sort it out. But there’s absolutely nothing an intern can say to an attending even by way of complete apology that doesn’t make everything worse. My latest plan is to say nothing but “yes” in the most colorless voice I can come up with, to anything that anyone says to me (except requests for pain medicine). I’m sure the only attending I haven’t infuriated yet will perceive this as incompetence combined with negligence, and then I’ll have antagonized a quarter of the attendings at this hospital. Brilliant, Alice.

On a brighter note, I took care of some sick patients today, and except for that one really disastrous oversight (ahem) did ok; a lot better, I think, in the department of not panicking when patients are screaming and blood pressures are dropping. I certainly refrained myself from paging people and suggesting calling the OR, which is a key technique (since the junior residents are relied on, at night, to sort out who needs surgery and who doesn’t, and when an attending needs to be called in from home, or not).

Four days to go, and then, as everyone as explained to me, I’ll really be in trouble, so much so that this month will look like cake. At least that stops me worrying about hospital politics, and gets me back to considering how incompetent I may be, which is slightly more cheerful, because it’s at least within my control.

I really had better not talk. I wrote a very bitter post about how angry I am at the hospital administration, but it was too nasty too publish. I’m so stressed out, between the administration’s actions, and just the ICU and trauma craziness, I’m making myself sick, which isn’t smart, because there’s absolutely no one to cover for me, so I’m not about to try to find out what happens if a resident takes a sick day (although I’m tempted to try it, just to pay some people back).

Today wasn’t so awful, I’m learning to just not talk to the attendings and then things go smoother. Tomorrow, I think the seniors have arranged things so that I get to cover the entire trauma ICU, and go to all the trauma alerts in the ER, by myself. I’m so thrilled, I can’t find words for it. I feel like the system, and people that I’ve built trust in for twelve months, are at the end of the year failing me so badly (not just tomorrow’s schedule, but other things), and I’m angry with myself for ever trusting people this much. But what can I do? I’m a surgery intern, and I have no control over my life. I have no bargaining capacity at all, nothing to stand on, nothing valuable that I hold. I belong to “the man,” and there’s nothing I can change at all. I have life and death responsibilities for my patients, but for myself I have nothing.

Ok, that’s enough bitterness for one night. Hopefully my patients all survive tomorrow, and you might hear from me later. And even if I manage it all ok, no one is going to care about that either.

Never trust administrators, they screw you every chance they get.

(For the last week, I was telling myself, at least if I have to work crazy hours and places, it’s this kind of work I want to be doing, and with these people. Silly of me. I don’t matter to these people, I’m just a number to fit into a slot. If I ever get to be a senior resident, which I’m starting to question, I know what kind of senior not to be.)

I was dreading rounds today, but something lit a fire under the attending (perhaps the arrival of three traumas before 9am), and he tore through rounds in what was probably record time for him. We just barely made it, too, because right around 1pm the traumas started pouring in. I don’t think we got out of the ER for more than 15 minutes all afternoon (and watching the pager, they’re still coming in; it’s starting to rain now, instead of the brilliant sunshine, so maybe people will get smart and go inside). One trauma after another, and usually two or three at once.

In one sense, I enjoyed it, because I would much rather be dealing with a whirl of excitement in the trauma bay and the CT scanner rather than dragging my feet through the unit (although after about half an hour of fighting a low blood pressure on the CT table, unable to do anything else but hang one unit of blood after another, that starts to get old, too).

But by the end of my shift, it got to be a little much: so many patients that I barely knew half of the new ones, and then only their injuries. The nurses would go to ask me a question about Mrs. Smith, or the guy in room 7, and I would have to say, “Are you talking about the helmeted motorcyclist, or the unhelmeted one? Is this the 50yr old who fell downstairs, or the 80yr old? Is this the patient we intubated for combativeness and a head injury, or the one who came in tubed with a pneumothorax?” I hate not being on top of things, feeling like patients are slipping through my fingers. I can’t write appropriate orders, call the correct consults, or talk to the patients’ families if I can’t at least keep track of who’s come in. Fortunately (and I have no idea how they manage this) the attending and the senior knew everyone, so nothing got too badly lost. Also, the ortho and neurosurgery residents on today were awesome. They kept circling through the trauma bay, and thus managed to pick up all the consults that were coming to them very quickly. I love being able to trust that the consultants know which patients they’re seeing, and are as interested in stabilizing them and moving them out of the trauma bay as the trauma team is – because we all know there are half a dozen more waiting around the corner.

It was also not a bad afternoon, because everyone we were called for had a real injury. Unfortunate for them, but far less frustrating for us, than getting called to one “oh, nothing serious after all” quote trauma after another. A lot of the injuries were orthopedic: several open fractures, and one horrific foot dislocation. (You just try and picture a dislocated foot. The ortho resident walked up and cocked his head at it for a couple of seconds. He was clearly nearly as offended as I was by the extreme wrongness of the situation. Our eyes met, he nodded at me, and we each took one end of the problem, and pulled. It popped back in, amazingly enough, and then I held it with a death grip while he collected a massive splint. The patient was not at all happy with any of this, but at least a little better after that impromptu reduction. Everyone turned around to ask what all the noise was about – from the patient, and from the joint snapping back together – and he explained nonchalantly that he was just stopping it turning into an open fracture-dislocation, since the skin was so tented that it looked about to tear. An open injury to a joint, especially one as complicated as the ankle, is a disaster for the patient, and constitutes an orthopedic emergency, unlike a simple closed fracture or dislocation, which can wait a day or two to go to the OR.)

I hate fractured and dislocated bones. They turn my stomach worse than any kind of general surgical disaster. Maybe it’s because I can picture that happening to me, more easily than I can picture the rest of the stuff. It just looks so painful; I can’t stand broken bones, and especially displaced fractures jarring and grating against each other. The ortho guys get a gleam in their eye, though, and then, since I’m the intern, I always end up helping them, holding pieces together, or holding them apart while they pour irrigation all over the patient and me. Ick. That’s why I cringe when I see a motorcycle accident on the trauma pager, even helmeted, because I know it’s going to end up being a nasty fracture – and me holding the fracture.

This next week is going to be a marathon: the end of June, gorgeous weather, everyone doing stupid things with motorcycles and ATVs and waterskis, and climbing trees and roofs. . . Plus the prelim interns will all be gone, the chiefs are gone, and the assigned interns – ortho, neurosugery, ENT – have all gone off to their respective programs; overall, I think we’ve lost half our warm bodies. That’s why, in a week, we’ll be happy to have an intern, any intern, to fill spaces. As long as you can speak English and follow instructions, my eagerly-awaited new interns, you’ll be just fine. (Probably even just understanding English would be ok.)

Okay, now I’m annoyed. I left the hospital at 8:30pm, not because the patients were so sick or I was so busy (although they were and I was), but because the attending took twelve hours to round. I’m telling myself that I’m not upset just by the time of day, but because the time was wasted. I’ve stayed till 8 and 9pm before, and not been too unhappy, because I was doing procedures, or taking care of a patient who seemed too unstable to sign out. But twelve hours rounding?

This is the attending who can be found in the hospital most nights of the week, regardless of the call schedule. This morning we came for sign-in, and he told us about something he’d taken care of overnight. “But you weren’t on call last night. You’re on call tonight.” “Yes, but I was here, taking care of some things.” Um, sure. Today, the night shift nurses had gotten their change of shift report and were ready to discuss their patients, before we finished rounding on some people. Totally insane.

On the bright side, I am now better at putting in brachial and dorsalis pedis arterial lines than I am at radials, better at IJ than at subclavian central lines, and very handy with an emergent chest tube. I skipped half of rounds, taking care of those things. (That encompasses two or three patients who are terminal, and need their families persuaded that it’s ok to withdraw care; two critical head injuries in the ER that needed to be checked on every two hours; a tension pneumothorax that came up out of the blue; an emergent intubation; and a-lines and dobhoffs scattered like pepper and salt all over the unit.) And at the end of all that, I still had a long list of things to be done; I could easily have kept busy until midnight just fixing the feeding tubes, changing vents and checking repeat blood gases, and repeating electrolytes on my patients. That’s what sign-out is for, because this stuff goes on around the clock. So now I have one hour to eat and do anything else – scribble this – before I go to sleep and get ready to start again, with another slow attending, in the morning. At least the attending today has a sense of humor, and doesn’t mind if we crack jokes about his lengthy rounds; the other attendings take themselves much more seriously, and are consequently more difficult to work with, since there’s less legitimate stress relief.

One week. I can do anything for one week, right? And then I won’t be an intern anymore.

(And to be precise, I learned several tricks about chest tube placement; got to do a needle thoracostomy (actually two, just to be sure we did it right); got enough practice to get a dobhoff feeding tube in right on the first try; learned how to calculate how many amps of bicarb are needed to correct a base deficit (wt in kilos x .25 x base deficit = meqs of bicarb; don’t ask me why, I take this attending’s word for it); reviewed what to do for traumatic diabetes insipidus; did a bronchoscopy, and got the best explanation of bronchiolar anatomy I’ve heard yet; changed another whitman patch (basically velcro over an open abdominal wound, used to gradually pull the fascia back together) at the bedside; reviewed inumerable chest xrays, head CTs, and abdominal CTs, and discussed the significance of a wild variety of findings; and had at least six significant discussions with families; and exchanged jokes with an intubated patient (and what kind of a day is it when you feel cheered up by an intubated patient teasing you? unbelievable). Put like that, it was 15 hours very well spent. Until I wrote all that down, I’d forgotten some things that happened in the morning.)

Not a great day at all. We got snowed overnight (and how exactly do you double a trauma unit’s census on a Thursday night? what happened to the concept of partying on weekends?) (although, of course, it’s the elderly people falling and breaking things that really does us in), and I came in expecting a short list, to find a combination of crashing patients brought up from the ER, and patients in extremis brought down from the floor, such that I didn’t manage to do any kind of decent pre-rounds before attending rounds. I’d seen the patients, written down the vital signs, and was staking my life on my belief in the nurses’ statements that “yes, everything’s ok, no major problems.”

They were correct, but I hate rounding on the fly. I know I’m not doing my duty by the patients, if I don’t go through all their labs separately, review the trends, and flip back and forth between recent white counts and culture results and what antibiotics they’re on, or between electrolytes and current iv fluids, or between blood gases and vent settings. If I just rattle those numbers off to the attending and make some off-hand statement about the glaring abnormalities, I haven’t done my job properly, and it makes me grouchy for the rest of the day, until I get the time to sit down and think through everything.

Today, that didn’t happen till 5pm, so I spent the day feeling grouchy, and guilty about not doing my job and about being grouchy. . . not much good there.

Plus, another patient came crashing in at noon, and I volunteered to take care of him (my fellow intern has a highly developed survival reflex which prevents him from volunteering for such disasters; his labs get looked at early in the morning, which puts him on good terms with the nurses, who don’t have to chase him to ask if he’s noticed certain aberrancies). That was what took until five o’clock to sort out. Let’s just say that my hopes for next year are reaching a very low point, due to my utter failure to perform even simple procedures which I thought I had mastered a while ago. I’m having to rethink the entire concept, including set-up, and the very foundational anatomical landmarks; I still don’t know what I’m doing wrong, and it’s very unsettling.

And then, several people decided that would be a good time to raise all sorts of interpersonal issues. . . leaving me with the impression that I’m a technically incompetent intern, a bad person, and no good at communicating even the most basic concepts. . . .

Only ten days left in this month, and I can start being a bad junior resident instead of a bad intern.

The trauma service has a lot of paperwork associated with it. There’s a three-page form to fill in when the patient is admitted. Obviously, when you’re first trying to stabilize the patient, there’s no time to fill in forms, so these tend to get written when the team is waiting around in the CT scanner (there’s a law engraven in stone, that at least one trauma resident must be with the patient at all times until they’re finally dispositioned, due to way too many bad experiences with patients coding, seizing, freaking out, or having serious neurological deteriorations while going through CT; even when it’s located inside the ER, any branch of the radiology department has the capacity to seriously impact a patient’s condition; we don’t call it the cave of death for nothing).

The nurse is there filling out her papers too, and the scanner techs have forms as well, so it starts to sound like a game of Go Fish:
Tech: “What’s the medical record number?”
Resident: “Here you go, it’s 18009834321232; what time is it right now?”
Nurse: “What size did you say their pupils were?”
Resident: “4mm, reactive to 2mm bilaterally; what were the admission vital signs?”
Nurse: “36.5, 89, 112/54. What scans are we doing?”
Tech (exasperated): “The same scans we do on every single trauma patient who comes through here, regardless of their mechanism of injury.”
Resident: “Hey, don’t look at me, that’s the chairman’s policy; we’ve been trying to explain to him for ten years that someone who fell down the steps and landed on their bum doesn’t need their belly scanned for a splenic rupture, or that people who got shot in the belly don’t need their head and neck scanned for epidural hematomas or Cspine fractures.”
Attending walks in the door: “What were you saying? Let me tell you about the octagenarian I took care of who fell out of a wheelchair and ruptured his spleen. . .”
Resident, sotto voce: “There is such a thing as clinical suspicion, physical exam, and directing your scans based on lab results and xrays, rather than giving everyone enough radiation to cure a low-grade case of lymphoma.”
Attending: “Did you finish the form yet? Did you look at the cspine scan? Is there a spinal cord injury? Is the spleen ruptured? Do we need to call the OR? Stop gossiping and do some work around here, people!”

*****************************
Then there’s the form to be filled out when a patient is transferred from the ICU to the floor. Lately, due to a surplus of work to be done in the ICU, we’ve been rather remiss about filling these out. At first, this led to complaints from the floor team to the attendings, which led to a rather nasty reaming-out during morning report.

After that, I think the floor folks felt bad about getting us yelled at so much, but they still wanted their updates about patients being transferred, which leads to whispered conversations in the hallway when we think that particular attending won’t notice:
PA: “What exactly surgeries did he have while he was in the unit?”
Me: “As far as I can tell, he had his spleen taken out, and then something happened which turned the wound into a disaster, and he spent the next two weeks with an open abdomen, before we put a vac and a whitman patch on it, and then it finally got closed one week before I sent him upstairs.”
PA: “But exactly how many times did he go to the OR, because the insurance company wants to know for their records?”
Me: “I honestly have no idea; I don’t think they dictated op notes every single time, because things didn’t really change for a while; and then there were all the vac changes/whitman patch advancements at the bedside – do those count? And anyway, I came on service after everything had been closed, so I don’t know.”
PA: “Did he ever get the post-splenectomy vaccines?”
Me, feeling bad because this is really important, and could lead to the dreaded OPSSS (overwhelming post-splenectomy sepsis syndrome) if we don’t get it right: “I don’t know, shouldn’t that be in the nursing or pharmacology records?”
PA: “Yes, but his chart was so thick it got edited three times, and all the important pieces are missing.”
Me: “Well then, just give them to him again, I’m sure it won’t hurt anything.”
Attending, coming around the corner: “What’s going on here?”
Me: “Um, we were just. . . discussing post-splenectomy vaccines, sir.”
Attending: “Good, give us a power-point presentation tomorrow morning about the indications for vaccines, and how long after splenectomy they ought to be given.” (Which is not funny, because there’s a big controversy about this, since the best immunological response is if you give the vaccines before taking the spleen out, but obviously in trauma you can’t plan that; next best is to do it 10-14 days after surgery, when they’ve gotten over the stress of surgery; but many people advocate doing it 1-2 days after surgery, so they don’t get discharged from the hospital and lost to followup and never get the vaccines at all.)
Me, to the PA, ironically: “Catch me ever talking to anyone in the hallway again!”

***************************
My favorite is the form documenting a patient’s risk factors for developing a DVT/PE, and what we plan to do about it. They’re so nice, because once you finish filling them out, and inform the attending that based on the results you plan to a) use only SCDs (sequential compression devices) on the patient’s legs, b) give them subq heparin, c) scan their legs regularly for DVTs, d) prophylactically place an IVC filter, one of the attendings is guaranteed to respond: “That form is all nonsense anyway. Just give them lovenox. I don’t care what the contraindications are, lovenox takes care of everything.” Ah, that’s great, could you just write that on the bottom of the form, or better yet, make it so I don’t have to fill out the form, since you’re going to have the same answer anyway?

The trauma team has a running contest with the ER. It’s kind of like a slow-motion version “hot potato,” where the patient is the object of interest, and the question is which bed they end up in. The ER has a laudable goal of getting all patients out of the ER as fast as possible. To them, trauma patients are a golden opportunity, because pretty much everyone who comes in as a trauma alert is guaranteed at least an overnight admission, until we get the Cspine films officially cleared by radiology (such a stupid liability issue), or for observation after a concussion, or until ortho fixes the broken bones, and so on. So the ER nurses are on us, basically from the minute we finish the secondary survey in the trauma bay, to find out where the patient is being admitted to, so they can stick it on the bed board and start the process of waiting for a bed.

We, on the other hand, don’t have such a simple equation, especially when it’s the trauma ICU residents working the alerts. We have a very strong interest in the patients not coming to the ICU – partly to save ourselves work in the morning, but more because if we let the trauma ICU get filled with not-so-serious injuries during the afternoon, that means the really bad gunshots and motorcycles and high-speed drunken car crashes that won’t come in till midnight or 1am won’t have a bed open in the trauma unit, when they really need it. Which means we might do a desperate operation at 2am, and then have to stick that patient, with drains coming out of everywhere, and an open abdomen, and four pressors, and reverse ventilation, in the medical ICU, which really gets kind of flustered with these patients.

So we insist on waiting till all the scans have been completed before we announce whether this patient needs an ICU bed, or just a plain monitored bed will do. It’s tricky, because sometimes the ER nurses catch us out, and we slip up and say, “ok, ICU,” or “ok, monitored,” and then later on in the workup something turns up, and we change our minds, and by then the patient has already been assigned a bed – maybe report has already been given – and we make everybody very upset by insisting on changing the arrangements. Which is why it’s better to get it right the first time. (It’s also a shocking reminder of what a responsibility it is to be the MD: the nurse can be as senior as she likes, and as angry as she likes, but if I put my foot down and say, it has to be this way, that’s what happens. Just because I’m the doctor. So I try not to make an issue of things that don’t need to be major. . . or things like, this 300lb patient needs to be turned over and have dressings changed three times a day . . . and the nurses make a face, and do it. . .)

My list of patients has steadied down to a group of long-term ICU inhabitants. Good, because I don’t have to figure out four or five entirely new patients every morning. Bad, because since they stay so long, they get very complicated. Rounds are always full of pitholes from the attending: “A new arrhythmia, eh? Let’s consult cardiology. Oh, we already did consult cardiology? What did they say?” “Um, actually [flipping wildly through the chart and the computer] we consulted them five weeks ago with a questionable MI, which they said wasn’t significant, and they seem to have signed off a while ago. . . I can’t see any notes in recent memory here.” “Ok. . . this drain here, where does it go?” “Sir, I really couldn’t tell you. The various operative notes refer to a drain by the liver, a drain in the pancreatic bed, two drains in the pelvis, and a jejunostomy. There’s only one tube left, I have no idea where it goes to, and I doubt that you want me poking it or pulling it out in order to find out.” “This patient initially had a heart attack? What is he doing on our service?” “Well, the heart attack led to a car accident, which led to bilateral pneumothoraces [guarantee that no medical service will accept any responsibility for the patient for the next two months], plus he broke a good many bones. Which bones? I have no idea. He’s been here so long, they’ve nearly all healed, and ortho doesn’t want any weight-bearing restrictions, if only we could get him strong enough and off the vent enough to move out of bed.” “Why is this patient on imipenem? Don’t you think zosyn [or vanco, or cefepime] would be more appropriate?” “Sir, to the best of my understanding, this is the fifth episode of pneumonia this patient has had, plus three UTIs and one questionable line sepsis versus line colonization due to pre-existing bacteremia, and as far as I can tell, the bugs are becoming progressively more resistant, which makes this the best antibiotic. Plus, at the third episode, we consulted ID, and this is what their note says to use.” [And please stop trying to make me explain ID's reasoning, since those attendings insanely round an hour earlier than the surgery residents, no doubt to avoid our questions, and their notes consist of "Events noted. Cultures pending. Continue antibiotics." Which is hardly enlightening.]

Then the attending tried to teach me to do bronchoscopy today. I think I made him dizzy. You stick this thin flexible tube, with a camera on the end, down the trachea (it helps if you have a trach already in place to go through), and move it with your right hand, while your left hand supports the piece to look through, plus controlling suction and flexing the end of the tube. Yes. And then you have to make the whole thing go left and right, plus up and down and sideways, using the unidirectional control in your left hand. Apparently the key is to turn the piece that you’re looking through around and around – and your head goes around and around, and then it won’t go any farther, so you have to spin 180+ degrees, and try again from the other direction. The attending very helpfully looked in through his scope and explained in a running commentary while I wandered around: “There you see the anterior wall of the trachea – and now the posterior wall – there’s the right bronchus – no, go down the right one first . . . all right, back out and try the left side – no that’s right, you already did that one – no, that’s still right, you need to go left – no, the other left -” I was ready to try standing on my head at one point. I got a little better at controlling up and down, but I have no idea where I was at any point in the proceedings. Fortunately we didn’t find anything, so I didn’t absolutely need to know where anything was. I guess there’s a reason the lung is diagrammed in such detail in Netter’s Anatomy.

One of my patients this month has been an amazing teacher. He hasn’t said a word yet, and I might be off the service before we get him off the vent and onto a trach that he can talk with, but I’ve already learned a lot from him.

He was in a car accident, and came in with some broken ribs. Not bad, right? So no one could understand why his vital signs steadily dropped in the trauma bay. He looked good initially, but right when the team thought they had him figured out and ready for admission upstairs, he took a turn for the worse. The on-call attending stayed four hours late, intubating him, scanning him again, starting him on pressors, fighting with the vent settings, trying to save his life, and completely lost as to what the problem was.

He got to the trauma unit eventually, and I picked him up. We spent the next three days desperately trying to figure out what on earth could be wrong with him. He seemed to be septic – but how can you be septic from the moment you hit the door? That should be something that starts three or four days in, not that gets to its worst three days after admission.

Finally, the attending who had first admitted him came back on call. He came to get signout from another attending, and found us all kind of hanging around this patient’s room. He was by that point on three or four pressors, and extreme vent settings were barely keeping his oxygen level in the acceptable range. The attending looked at the situation quietly for a couple of minutes and then announced, “He’s clearly septic, and we have no idea why. It’s time to do surgery. I’m calling the OR.” The rest of us mostly shrugged our shoulders, considered that this attending was being the worst kind of cowboy, and left to get some sleep.

The next morning, we discovered that the patient had suffered massive intra-abdominal injuries, severe enough to make him septic within hours of his reaching the hospital. Due to various considerations, our best efforts had failed to diagnose the problem. That attending operating on him – jumping blindly over the cliff, just to see what he would find – saved the patient’s life.

Lately, he’s doing better. He’s alert, which is more than he was for many days after admission. His abdomen looks like it might eventually – weeks or months from now – recover. He’s not septic anymore.

We were ready to give up on this guy. I still can’t believe that he’s actually likely to leave the hospital now. Along with the whole idea of not giving up on people till you’ve given them every possible chance, I learned from the attending: a surgeon’s job is to operate. That’s the reason our patients belong to us, because a lot of them really do need surgery. There’s a place for not operating without investigating first and having some idea what you’re going in after; but sometimes, cowboy is the only way to be, the only behavior that will give your patient a chance. Trauma is a surgical field because trauma victims often need to be operated on. When in doubt, cut (or think seriously about doing so). I’m still trying to figure out how much weight to give this lesson, but it will stick with me for a long time.

There was another patient like this last month, too, on the vascular service. He’d had a simple operation, and three days later crashed into the ICU overnight. We had no idea why. We couldn’t figure out what about the surgery he’d had could possibly be making him so sick. In desperation, the vascular surgeon consulted one of the general surgeons, who looked at the patient and the labs and scans for about half an hour, and then shook his head. “I don’t think it will do any good, but let’s call the OR for an emergency case. We have to at least look.” And sure enough, he had a perforated ulcer that had somehow randomly developed at exactly the same time that he came in to get a vascular problem taken care of. That patient also would have died within hours if the general surgeon hadn’t decided to take a chance and just look, to make sure nothing was missed. CT scans are so fancy nowadays, we think if we can’t see it on the scan, it isn’t there. The younger surgeons and residents especially tend to forget that some things can only be found by putting your hands inside and touching the problem.

If you have to ride a motorcycle, please wear a helmet.

I may have mentioned that before.

We have three patients right now who weren’t wearing helmets. Two of them are missing large sections of their skulls, and all three have ventriculostomies draining cerebrospinal fluid, trying to decrease the pressure on their brains. Their CT scans look literally like mush. They’re not dead, and they may, two months from now, leave the hospital, but I doubt if any of them will ever talk again. And there was one earlier in the week who died in the ER (at least one of the ones in the unit was completely expected to die at the scene).

We have at least seven patients who were wearing helmets. A few of them have concussions, but they should all be able to recover completely, neurologically. I think one of them lost a leg, three of them lost their spleens, one lost a kidney, they each have at least two broken bones (not counting ribs) – but that’s not much, since they can all talk. Only one of them is in the ICU.

There are some really cool-looking helmets out there. If you get one of the sleek black ones with the shiny visors, they can be much more macho than going bareheaded. And nobody looks macho with a trach.

Please wear helmets.

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