Thursday, August 9, 2018

"Don't Worry, I Was an ARMY Ranger"

My obsession with surgical instruments and fondness of  esoteric operating room tales are not appreciated by everyone, so it's time for something completely different - a true story from that long term VA  psychiatric hospital, Downey.

It was nearing time for my annual proficiency review and I was beginning to feel nervous with an impending sense of doom. One of the key metrics in the evaluation other than restraint hours was avoiding patient elopements. The restraint hours could be managed with some clever slight of hand when filing reports and records. Maybe that's why all the nurses winked and called records of locked restraint hours the "funny papers." The favorite maneuver was to apply locked restraints and leave one of the locks open.  They were just as effective but technically not full locked leathers.

Mr. Dunkfeather who had been recently upgraded from head attendant to nursing assistant looked grim as he approached the nursing station. He had just completed the 2200 hour  patient count and came up one man short. "Fool, Hughes is not on the ward for patient count," he related. My first reaction was denial,  reasoning that it was impossible to elope from a locked ward. There were 3 sets of locked doors between patients and the outside world. Things like this never happened.

I quickly did a search of all the hiding places; shower curtains, under beds, and even inside lockers. Hughes had simply vanished. Next on the agenda was a review of the records. least he was a voluntary patient. If a committed patient was lost, the notification process was quite onerous and time consuming and involved official notification to administration and law enforcement personnel. All that was required of a voluntary elopement was the completion of a 10-2633 form which was reviewed the next day at a treatment team meeting.

When I unlocked the heavily grated main entrance door to leave at the end of my shift a surprise greeted me. It was Hughes bounding up the front steps with an ear to ear grin. I must have looked like I had seen a ghost. "How in the world did you get out of there?" I stammered in disbelief.

"Don't worry, I was an ARMY Ranger and was trained how to jump. There is a gap in the bars covering the back bathroom window so I squeezed out and jumped. I was just repeating an old Ranger training exercise. Now that I know my skills are intact everything is going to be OK."

Hughes was obviously uninjured but the window he jumped from was on the second floor  of Building 66 which was the equivalent to a 3rd floor level because the basement was elevated on that side of the building. He showed me the gap between the iron bars  and further explained some of the techniques used when landing from a jump. He seemed amused by my interest and added that he would be happy to teach me some of his jumping skills. Not tonight I muttered before stopping at the nurse's station and discarding my elopement reports. No harm..No foul.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Grooved Director Surgical Instrument Mystery Explained

The function of a surgical instrument is usually obvious; retractors retract, clamps clamp, cutting instruments cut and forceps hold things. I made a comment about a lovely grooved director instrument on Instagram and was asked, "What is that thing used for?"  When I was a novice scrub nurse grooved directors were widely called for and  used for a hodge-podge of probing, directing of suture and guides for  cutting tasks. As I approached retirement they  remained in the instrument tray on the back table and finally disappeared forever.

Grooved directors always reminded me of Mickey Mouse. The end of the instrument with the ears was called the spoon or saddle. Dr. Slambow, my favorite general surgeon liked to sing Home on the Range while working so I took a  liking to the "saddle" reference. The curved shaft extending from the saddle was called the shank.

 Surgeons are big fans of devices that restrict their view to the work at hand and use drapes and devices like grooved directors to frame their field just like a movie director with  a view finder.  The tiny, circular opening in the saddle was often centered over the opening of a duct or anything else that might require exploring with a probe. The grooved director was positioned at a right angle to the wound or duct and served as a fulcrum for manipulating the probing. Imaging techniques were few and far between in days past. Probes  were a crude but effective tool for exploring. When ducts and wound tracts could be evaluated without probes grooved directors fell out of use as guides for probes.

Grooved directors could also be used as protective shielding tools. The shaft had a horseshoe or curved profile and could be placed over nerves, arteries or anything else that should not be cut. The rare illustration of a grooved director in action shows it placed over a tendon while cutting from above. The surgeon must be an early specialist as general surgeons almost never hold a scalpel like a pencil. He must really be an old-timer. Is he actually performing surgery bare handed? That lovely scalpel is way before my time. BD disposable scalpel blades have been in use since the 1950s.
Surgical residents are very familiar with 3 rules of survival:  eat when you can, sleep when you can, and don't monkey with the pancreas. Grooved directors were frequently used to guide suture away from the pancreas when working on the duodenum. They functioned much like a clothes line prop with the suture strand guided by the groove in the spoon away from the friable pancreas. If left alone, suture assumes a caternary  curve and the grooved director straightened things out.

I managed to put my blowhard nature on the back burner and seek outside input for grooved director information. When I Googled the instrument  I discovered uses like a pediatric tongue depressor or elevator during surgery on the frenulum. That's a new one on me.

I emailed Dr. Sid Schwab from Surgeonsblog fame and he exclaimed, "That's a trip down memory lane!" He used the instrument once or twice on pancreatic duct procedures. Dr. Skeptical Scalpel (on my blog roll) almost never used a grooved director.

Grooved directors fell from disuse like open drop ether anesthesia and Operay lighting systems. Almost everything has a shelf life and I often what modern devices will be extinct in 30 years. Maybe the grossly overpriced, unproven surgical robots?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Dubious Award for Bovie Smoke Control

There is a cornucopia of awards for modern day nurses. I've previously blogged about this trend which seems to have proliferated to the point of ridiculousness. An organization supposedly representing operating room nurses is now offering an award for an expensive system that attempts to contain the smoke liberated by the cauterization of human tissue. They  have "partnered" with a commercial entity that manufactures these devices. The coveted award is called "Go Clear," and there are gold, silver, and bronze permutations. I can visualize the winners standing on a podium resembling an OR table in their AORN approved bouffant head coverings looking more like chumps than champs.  Any nurse that had the unmitigated gall to seek personal enrichment by huckstering anything by enticing folks with awards would have been shown the door in a vintage hospital.

After a cursory review of the literature, I found there is little in the way of hard science to prove Bovie smoke is harmful and no published randomized trials. Sure it contains some nasty substances and most folks find it unpleasant but old OR nurses would laugh in the face of someone selling an expensive toy to "go clear." If Bovie smoke is one of the worse things you smell as a nurse you must be spending too much time sitting in an office and please, don't get me started on nurse office sitters.

OR nurses were so acclimated to Bovie smoke they could correctly identify the type of tissue being cauterized by the scent of cautery smoke and regarded this ability as a badge of honor. Remember that old TV game show, "Name That Tune"  where contestants said they could identify the song in 3 notes or less?  Vintage scrub nurses played a variation of that game by playing "Name That Tissue Smoke."  Pleura was the easy one for me and I could name that tissue in 1 whiff because of the characteristic sweet/sour smell released by the smoke plume.

There are cost effective ways to mitigate Bovie smoke that do not involve the unsavory element of money changing hands. We were conditioned to believe nurses were meant to be poor and efforts toward personal remuneration were sinful. My what a different world today where patients check in and check out of medical office  visits with all the dignity of a Wal Mart Trip. Nurses have more money today but something has been lost in the process. Proud, caring professionals have been rendered mercenary automatons by corporate healthcare.

One of the most efficient Bovie smoke minimization  strategies has presidential overtones and it's appropriately called  the Clinton strategy; don't inhale. Just wait until that perilous  plume dissipates to resume normal respiratory activity. Works every time and doesn't cost a cent.  If you don't inhale it can't hurt you or cause adverse political consequences. Bill was unto something.

Surgical masks are designed to implement a barrier that prevent endogenous operator  bacteria from reaching the surgical site. Masks function both ways and  are also effective filters to block inhalation of Bovie smoke. As proof  I offer the post operative sniff test which involves reversing the mask and thrusting your proboscis dead center into the mask after a long case. Guess what? It smells just like Bovie smoke that's in the mask and not your lungs.

Oldster nurses were frugal by nature and trained to use existing resources to the maximum. If  you are interested in saving your hospital big  money there is post on my blog that explains how to perform a sterile procedure with finger cots. Gloves are not cheap. There is suction available on surgical cases so if you don't care for Bovie smoke just suction away with what you have. Be prepared to be belittled because tolerance of Bovie smoke was an expected virtue and self serving actions like this were seen as a public declaration of your lack of commitment to patient care. Nurses were expected to put themselves in uncomfortable  and self endangering situations. It was all part of being a nurse. A hospital is not Disneyland!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Hospitals Before Air Conditioning

Vintage Hospitals had very little in the way of mechanical climate control and patient care areas on the wards often became sweltering brick ovens. High ceilings and transoms over the door of each room helped some, but hot is hot and working in an overheated enviroment was accepted as part of the deal of being a nurse. Wide open  wooden double hung windows helped a bit and as an added thrill there were no screens above the third floor. The theory that there are few high flying insects might have been true but pidgeons did not follow this rule. We used to coral them in a corner with a draw cloth and send them back on their merry way via the open window.
We all agree. It's too hot in here.

Staff nurses frequently draped towels  soaked in ice water around their necks, but such luxuries were not permitted for student nurses. Misery and suffering were vital elements in the quasi-religious initiation into the nursing world and belly achers soon found themselves on the outside.
I had it much easier than the female students who wore a heavy apron over their blue dresses. A common problem was sweat running down legs and pooling in fluid containment  vessels like Clinic shoes. A memorable sight was a student in the break room removing her shoes to drain the sweat. I had a different problem because my primary sweat generator was my back. The perspiration would slide down my back and soak my underwear and seat of my pants. I stopped one day to purchase a Chicago Tribune from the corner news stand and after producing a dollar from my hip pocket the vendor commented, "Hey..This dollar bill is soaking wet." I kept my mouth shut and just smiled rather than explaining the embarrassing source of the moisture.

Patients were the ones who really suffered in the heat. Working on the ortho floor meant dealing with a particularly uncomfortable bunch of patients. The casts often exacerbated the sweating which almost always produced itching in remote areas of the casted extremity. Clever nurses produced under cast scratching devices by taking an ordinary coat hanger and straightening it out. The business end of the scratching device was twisted into a tight loop which could be threaded down to the area of itch. They were crude but effective anti-itch devices.

The hospital director's office and operating rooms were air conditioned and clever nursing personnel learned to take advantage of an occasional whoosh of cold air. The ORs were accessed by a manually operated elevator that moved cold air down the shaft like a giant piston. An oasis of cool air greeted anyone standing near the old elevator doors when the device was on a downward plunge. We concocted a variety of excuses to linger by those doors. My favorite excuse was awaiting the arrival of a fresh post-op patient.

Hospitals were not early adopters of air conditioning. For the first couple of hundred years after it's invention, the wheel was only used for making pottery. Nobody could figure out how to make wheeled carts as effective as sleds on runners. The same situation applied to hospitals and AC. The roof of a hospital was not designed to support refrigeration units and there were no ducts in radiator heated hospitals, besides nurses and patients were meant to suffer. It was just the way the world worked.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Axillary Fallout a Pitfall in the Operating room

Axillary fallout abatement in action.
Tucked scrub top and containment 
garment under scrub top.

One of my most popular posts is from a couple of years ago and it was about the perils of perineal fallout and measures used to control such a menace in the OR. So as a sequel, I would like to present an equally dangerous infection generating body part, the armpits of OR personnel full of hair, sweat, and bacteria. They smell funny for a reason and attempts to camouflage the odor with topical deodorant only exacerbate  the situation.

Asepsis is one of the foundations of successful surgery and begins with the aggressive scrubbing of the operative site. This "prep" is usually conducted by the circulating nurse or a resident. The rub-a-dub-dub of scrubing  the patient's skin produces a copious (we always got brownee points for using that "c"  word in our care plans-old habits are tough to break) amount of to and fro arm movement. Some preppers even resembled marathon runners with their violent herkey-jerkey arm movements. This violent arm oscillation from a fixed point creates lots of friction in one of the most bacteria infested parts of the body, the armpit, second only to the aforementioned disease producing perineums.

My favorite OR supervisor, Alice, paid special notice to the arm swinging preppers and developed one of her famous theories. Hard scientific theory can become boring, but applied sciences like nursing is where the fun begins. Alice believed the armpits shed micrococci and who knows what else when the friction of the arm swinging liberated them from their hairy denizens in the armpit. The patient was especially vulnerable during the prepping procedure because the drapes were yet to be applied.

Alice just love finding fault with men especially those of a lower caste. Male  nurses were the perfect fodder for her "interventions." Alice had been verbally abused by an assortment of surgeons over the years and this created a revenge oriented mind set. Someone had the temerity to ask Alice why she singled out men for her perineal and axillary fallout ministrations and she knowingly replied, "because that's where all the hair is. It's the friction from rubbing two hairy skin planes together that unleashes bacteria."

Putting the brakes on axillary fallout begins with tucked in scrub tops and as I mentioned in my last post, Alice was an aggressive scrub top tucker inner. After ramrodding the top into the pants, Alice always administered a rough skyward yank of the pants which often changed the timbre of the victims voice and marked the laundry of those with poor hygiene.

When disposable gowns came on the scene in the early 1970s a large cache of cloth gowns was dedicated to the pre-operative skin prep. The old cloth gown served as a perfect containment vessel for corralling free falling axillary micrococci thus averting one of the pitfalls of skin preps.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Teaching Student Nurses - That'll Learn Ya

"The next time Miss Bruiser gives me the
business, I'm gonna let her have it."
Crime and Punishment was more than a great Russian work of literature. To a lowly diploma school nursing student it was an integral component of the educational  training process. Mishaps, oversights and downright mistakes were all dealt with by mean spirited instructors out to teach a lesson that usually incorporated humiliation and the infliction of discomfort if not outright pain.

A bulletin board in the lobby of our nursing school was referred to as the wailing wall or the wall of shame. It publicly proclaimed the scores on NLN proficiency exams with the less than stellar results underlined in red and accompanied by cryptic notations to see Miss Bruiser for further review or report to so and so for remediation. The "reviews" were not pleasant and "remedial" usually meant painful and/or humiliating of the highest order.

My scores in obstetric nursing were not up to snuff and as a shy, 19 year old male I was ordered to teach a post partum mother's class. "Fool," Miss Bruiser intoned in her most somber voice, "I've got something special in mind just for you. You  are going to teach new mothers how to care for their infants." It was as if Bozo the Clown had been put in charge of a manned spaceflight to Mars.  I had to demonstrate with a baby doll how to bathe and care for a new born infant. My "students" were all experienced multigravadas that did more laughing and chuckling at my ham fisted, clumsy attempts than an audience at the Comedy Club. I think it was probably the most embarrassing episode in my entire life and I have a special knack for putting myself in embarrassing situations.

My procedure pal Janess was very busy with passing meds and was late turning one of her patients. Miss Bruiser caught her in the act of being 20 minutes behind the turn schedule and had that look in her eye that shivered our timbers to the core. We knew something was up the next day when a bed from the nursing practice lab had been wheeled front and center in the nursing school  auditorium. Before the day's lectures began, Miss Bruiser ordered Janess to hop into the bed and with her usual brusque mannerisms proceeded to "position" Janess with the entire class as a captive audience. When all the bending and twisting of extremities was completed, Janess found herself in a side lying knee-chest position with her head canted at such an acute angle that  her mandible was parallel to her clavicle. "You will remain in that position for the duration of today's lectures," barked Miss Bruiser as she ram-rodded  the siderail up with enough force to elevate the entire bed. The entire class witnessed Janess's contortionist like  punishment  that went on for nearly 4 hours. When she was released from the surly bonds of the bed she could barely walk and all she ever wanted out of life was to be a nurse.

Thankfully, the operating rooms were out of bounds for Miss Bruiser, but Alice, my favorite nursing supervisor was a perfect stand in with a bag of punishments  honed over decades of service. She had a real obsession with finger nail length and would approach nurses at the scrub sink with her millimeter ruler at the ready. One millimeter was the specified nail length and any deviations were treated with a subungal curettage with the business end of a mosquito hemostat. I learned the hard way that the subungal space is highly innervated when Alice began carving away on me while I was a novice OR nurse. I learned how to shave  my nails to half a millimeter length  for an extra margin of safety.

Alice had a thing about tucked in scrub shirts because she claimed leaving them out provided an escape for sub-axillary micrcocci which she affectionately termed "pit fallout" not to be confused with perineal fallout. She  also claimed that lose dangling scrub tops were at risk for inadvertently contacting a sterile field. Alice's cure for untucked scrub tops was an aggressive manual tuck in followed by a practiced upward yank of the scrub pants. I believe the street name for such a maneuver is a "wedgie" and it was something to be avoided at all cost.  I always carefully tucked in my scrub top to avoid this pitfall..

Getting caught wearing gloves for anything but a sterile procedure was a serious deviation from accepted hospital practice. The punishment for wearing gloves was usually a cleaning assignment that involved hospital beds encrusted with a variety of dried on excrements and don't even think about donning gloves.

In the old days things were done in a different way. Nurses scraping by on a subsistent wage faced a wild, chaotic hospital work environment where there were few cures for some very dark illnesses. In this entropy rich culture rigid rules and their subsequent enforcement provided a twisted sense of security to hardened old nurses. Of course, things are different today...I hope.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Time Out - I Contaminated my Gown

President Trump now seems to be buddies with his old North Korean nemesis and  most likely has surrendered his "dotard" title. So.... I've been thinking about changing my handle from OldfoolRN to OlddotardRN because there  is just so much about modern operating rooms that fall beyond my level of comprehension.

What happened to the sacred tiled temples that were once ORs?  Modern ORs have sacrificed  their penthouse location to practically anywhere in the hospital and worse yet resemble a waiting room at the Greyhound station. Valued work areas have been converted to electronic warehouses with enough computerized  doo dads to land a 747 in a whiteout.

The above illustration is the latest  iteration in a long line of befuddling situations. When I initially laid eyes on this young, scrubbed  whippersnappern I had that weird feeling that totally smacked my gob, (see, I can talk like a youngster if I try real hard.) She just contaminated her right hand by elevating it well out of the accepted zone of sterility. Everyone knows that the sterile part of a gown is restricted to below the armpits and above the waist tie-NO EXCEPTIONS.  If Alice, my favorite OR supervisor were on the scene she would be swinging her sponge stick like a baseball bat at this poor nurse's knuckles. Breaks in sterile technique earned the most severe knuckle bashing and I can almost see  Alice winding up like Mickey Mantle at the plate.

I educated myself about the situation and learned this nurse is calling for a "time out," which probably means she recognized the error in her ways and wants a sleeve and a new glove from the circulator. Asking for a sleeve to cover the contaminated section of a gown was a humbling experience because it required the assistance from a sterile member of the surgical team.  A surgeon helping a scrub nurse provided ample fodder for endless jokes. Dr. Slambow, my general surgeon hero usually made the nurse step away from her Mayo stand and assist with the surgery while he assumed scrub nurse duties to demonstrate the correct way of doing things.

There are a couple of other issues with the way this nurse is conducting her duties, but I think I'll let my esteemed readers point them out.