Monday, 27 April 2009

Blood on the dancefloor, part 2

This is a continuation of this post. 

A bougie is basically a bendy stick, and when using one to incubate a person, you’re aiming to feel the stick running across the rings of cartilage in the patient’s windpipe – a bit like a child running a stick along a wooden fence. As I pushed the bougie down into this man’s body, I didn’t feel that sensation at all.

 “Are you in?” asks Dawn, the ODP, who is standing next to my right shoulder, with the endotracheal tube (breathing tube) poised in her hand.

 I don’t know if I’m ‘in’ or not. The bougie could be in this man’s windpipe, but equally, it could be in his foodpipe and, if I put the endotracheal tube into his foodpipe, he’ll quickly run out of oxygen and die. As this thought flashes through my brain, a surge of panic rises through my body. It feels akin to being suddenly woken from a deep sleep. My heart hammers against my ribcage and I actually start to feel faint. I need to focus. I clench my jaw and swallow and concentrate on what I need to do. I decided to do this to this man, so it's up to me to see it through to completion. I claim victory in my personal battle with my own emotions, a battle that lasted only a split second, and I look again into this man's mouth.

When I was putting the bougie in, my hands must have shifted slightly. Either that or the swelling and bleeding has got worse, because as I try to look down the man’s throat, I can no longer see what I thought I could see initially. It just looks like a bloody mess and I wonder if I ever really saw anything in the first place or if it was just my brain playing tricks on me and making me see what I wanted to see. 

I figure that taking the bougie out and trying again is probably not be the best thing to do, but I did remember something that Dr Harrison told me when I was first learning how to use a bougie. ‘The trachea isn’t very long, even in the tallest of men. If you keep pushing the bougie down the trachea, you’ll get to a point when you can push it no further. If you push I down the oesophagus, you can pretty much push it all the way in.’

 I push the bougie in further, and further, and further and it stops. I can push it no more.

 “Oh, you’re definitely in!” says Dawn, who’s been intently watching what I’ve been doing. She puts the tip of the bougie through the endotracheal tube and I take hold of it and push into the man’s lungs. A few squeezes of the air bag and I confirm that I’ve put the tube into the right place.

 "Well done!” says the surgeon and I breathe a large sigh of relief as Dawn tied the tube in place and Ken and I set about putting the man’s hard collar back on. 

One of the things that I’ve noticed when dealing with acutely critically ill people like this is that as soon as the patient is intubated, everyone calms down a couple of notches. It’s almost as if the team breathes a collective sigh of relief. I think this mainly because when you induce anaesthesia and paralyse the patient, obviously they stop screaming and thrashing around which means that it suddenly becomes much easier for everyone else to do what the have to do. That could be that cutting off clothing, listening to the chest, feeling a pulse, palpating the abdomen, phoning radiology or simply taking in information and thinking about what the next steps should be. Whatever it is, it’s easier to do when you don’t have a screaming, thrashing patient in front of you.

 I certainly noticed it with this man. I set the mechanical ventilator and sorted out sedation while the A&E consultant (trauma team leader) reassessed and went through her A-B-Cs again. When I suction down the endotracheal tube I get moderate amounts of blood back, and this confirms that my decision to intubate him was the right thing to do.

 The patient (turns out that his name is Carl) was actually quite stable from the point of view of his vital organs.  From a doctor’s point of view, one of the things that I quite like about dealing with trauma is that the management is relatively straightforward. What makes it difficult tends to be more the organisational and people-management side of things. With Carl, we were doing well. We quickly organised chest and pelvic X-rays and, whilst he was having these taken, I turned back to the paramedics and ask her again what happened to him.

 “Basically, he was in a bar and from what we can gather was allegedly assaulted by two or three other men. Apparently they were kicking him and stamping on his head and it took security and the police a long time to get them off him. When we got there, he was pretty much as he was when we arrived here. GCS at the seen was 15, but he was combative and the only sats reading we got was in the 80s.”

 Ugh, I think to myself. The bar in question does have a certain reputation for being really rough, but I’d never heard of anything this bad happening there. “Well, he’s certainly had a good going over,” I comment.

 “It’s OK to come back in.” The voice is that of the radiographer, letting us know that she’d finished taking her X rays.

 The paramedic stops me as I start to walk back towards Carl’s trolley “Can I just ask you something?” He looks rather tense, like there’s something playing on his mind.


 “Well, when we tried to get a sats reading, it said they were 85%. I was thinking about putting in a NPA (naso-pharyngeal airway), but didn’t because of the state of his face…”

 I frown and scrunch up my face, “I wouldn’t have…”


 “No.” I gesture towards the motionless Carl, “He could have fractures to his face… to his skull… we don’t know. A nasal airway could have made things worse.” A slight smile starts to play on his lips, “You did the right thing,” I conclude.


Carl needs a CT scan of his head to see if he’s bleeding into his brain and thus needs urgent neurosurgery. Someone gets on the phone to the radiologist and the radiographers go off to warm up the CT scanner.

Major trauma really is time-critical. The sooner patient receives treatment, the better their outcome is. If you have an interest in trauma, phrases like “the golden hour” and “the platinum 10 minutes” will be familiar. In situations like this, the clock really is ticking and every minute unnecessarily wasted is potentially detrimental to the patient. The thing is, it’s so easy to waste time. It’s really tempting to “stay and play” in the resus room. You can put in arterial lines and central lines, set up infusers, warmers, splints etc… etc… All of these things take time, but these things may not be necessary or even helpful to the particular patient in front of you. You can spend lots of time trying to “do every thing by the book,” but lose sight of the fact that the whole point of “the book” is to identify the patient’s injuries and get them treated as quickly as is humanly possible.

 Anyway, I’m digressing a little. I’ve learned that one of the key things you can do to avoid time wasting is to think several steps ahead, and I’m getting better at this. Whilst waiting for the scanner to come online, I busy myself with setting up the pumps and refreshing the infusions and that are going to keep him asleep while we move him. I recheck Carl’s vital signs, give him some intravenous fluids and then go off and check I have all the equipment I’ll need on the transfer.

 I’m going to stop now and not say any more about Carl and what injuries he had. The events I’ve described actually happened quite a while ago, but this ended up being quite big news locally and I don’t really want to say much more for worry of compromising Carl’s real identity.

 All I will say is that Carl had surgery and survived to walk out of hospital several days later. Though Carl will never have any idea about what the paramedics and hospital staff did for him that evening, it does give me a real sense of satisfaction to know that as I sit here typing this, he’s out there somewhere living the life that I helped to save.


Anonymous said...


I'm so glad you came back and finished this. I've been on the edge of my seat for the last couple of weeks.

Excellent work, outstanding composure given the trouser-browning complexity of the situation ahead of you. You should be proud of yourself.

Jon (very) mature medical student.

Harry said...

your page may have massively increased hits due to the number of times i checked back without logging in just to see if this was up!

excellent post! :)

Anonymous said...

possibly the most awaited post ever!

Anonymous said...

Good work!

rosiero said...

Well done. It must be so good to feel you have made such a difference to someone. A pity Carl cannot thank you personally. I saw a recent TV programme (Would you help a stranger?) about a similar case of a man walking home from work near Waterloo station and having his head kicked in by two louts simply because they felt like it. A passer-by came to his aid and got him into hospital but he was in a state much like the one you described for Carl.