Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Stryker Wedge Frame - Putting a Spin on Healthcare

In 1946 Dr. Homer Stryker, an orthopedic surgeon decided to develop a device to turn spinal cord injured patients while maintaining spinal traction. He came up with a device that  consisted of two canvas stretcher-like devices which were the surfaces the patient reclined on. For turning, the patient was sandwiched between the two stretchers and quickly rotated along the horizontal axis. Three heavy belts were tightly  wrapped around the two stretchers to secure the patient. The complete assembly resembled a giant rotisserie. It did not work with overweight patients and had a 190lb weight  limit.

Dr. Stryker enlisted the aid of The Kalamazoo Sled and Toy company to manufacture the device. Interesting, a toy company manufacturing a medical device. Any port in a storm, I guess. Paradoxically I think, some of the equipment manufactured  today by medical companies could pass for toys. I'm thinking of those disposable suture  sets that were available in my final years as a nurse. These were definitely toy like. Everything that was once metal or glass is now made out of plastic. Metal and glass had that substantial feel to them that made you feel like you were doing something important. Plastic feels toy-like.

This old photo shows a Stryker Wedge frame in action. The nurse is securing the retaining straps. When ready to turn she will grab that black handle on the metal circle ring-like device and rotate it 180 degrees. A patient with a Foley or IV line in this bed could be in for a rather rude and painful surprise. If the nurse forgot and left the Foley bag tethered on the floor, the turning would wrap the drainage tube around the patient shortening it and pulling it out. Likewise for the IV line

These beds were a big patient dissatisfier and were really hated.  As students, we were required to be a "patient" in one of these beds for the turning experience. It was really frightening with the feeling of falling out combined with the dizzying effect of being flipped like a pancake. A total feeling of loss of control. Imagine having to stare at those terrazzo floors for two hours at a time when suddenly rotated to the prone position.

These were the days when tough old nurses told patients what the treatment was going to be and they just went along with it. Healthcare was definitely not patient centered. When a tough, burley nurse that had just extinguished her cigarette in the palm of her hand came in to turn you, what choice did you have?

These Stryker frames always reminded me of that iron lung mentality. Instead of stabilizing just the area of spine that was broken, put the patient in a device that immobilizes his entire body. The treatment could be almost as debilitating as the problem being treated. Don't ask that tough old battle axe of a nurse any questions, things could be a lot worse if that Foley got ripped out.

Stryker frames were replaced by CircoLectric beds at our hospital in the late 1960's.  Patients liked these much better. We did have a Stryker Frame in the school's nursing arts room and it was a constant source of comment. I think one of the best ideas we had was to take it out into the courtyard and use it as a rotisserie for a pig roast. This thing was really an unpleasant medical device.


  1. Love your blog, since we must be about the same age. I graduated from a 3-year diploma program in NJ in 1966 & retired in 2010. Worked the last 16 years in the OR, long time in ICU before that, among other stuff.
    The Stryker frame was scary for the patient, but I thought the circle bed was scarier for us, since there were more things to loosen, tighten, etc.

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