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.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Illness Stories for Profit

The local healthcare giants have discovered a new advertising strategy that must be lining their corporate coffers with gold. I was sitting in a crowded waiting room awaiting my next "experience" to begin a new health "journey" when the giant flat screen  flickered to life with an engaging story of  a profound, deep illness tale and subsequent recovery thanks to the miracle workers at the corporate hospital giant. I don't have one of those magical flat screens  in my little hovel; my 150#  Baby Huey tube TV brings in more nonsense than I can stand and all I use to get a signal is an ancient rabbit's ear antenna.

These corporate generated gems follow a predictable script and typically involve a respected member of the community such as a minister or retired kindergarten teacher sustaining a life threatening illness or injury but with treatment at "Big Bucks Hospital," is now back as a functioning member of society. Here is a sample.

Reverend Bagley was singing a hymn to the congregation with his lovely wife of 53 years accompanying him on the recently restored pipe organ. He suddenly clutched his chest and fell over backwards impacting his head on the altar rail. BBH  cardiothoracic surgeons performed a triple coronary artery bypass and repaired a septal defect that was found incidentally. Neurosurgeons promptly averted a life-threatening subdural by performing an occipital craniotomy. Now the good Reverend is back to singing in church with his grateful wife at his side. Remember -  choose your healthcare as if your life depended on it.

Old time nurses like to tell stories too but I don't think they would serve BBH's marketing needs. These stories are usually of complications (surgical are  the most profound,) that change someone's life forever. The purpose of these grim tales is to alert others of the mechanism of action so the event never happens again. Here is a sampler.

Officer Friendly was helping a stranded elderly lady change the tire on her old Ford and felt a sudden surge of disabling dizziness. He was transported to BBH where an MRI of the brain revealed a rather large juxta cortical area of increased signal uptake that could be neoplastic, encephalopathic , or vascular. A brain biopsy was recommended but the stereotactic head frame was ferrous and could be only used with CT. The lesion failed to visualize under normal CT protocols so two large bore IVs were established and contrast media was infused as rapidly as possible in a futile attempt to visualize the lesion. The fluid overload prompted a hypertensive crisis that ruptured the intracranial lesion which on autopsy was found to be a fragile arteriovenous malformation.

Somehow, I recall the later tale much more vividly than the feel good corporate fairy tale stories. Must be my age.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

I'm Going to Give You something to Think About! YEOWW

I stumbled upon this old image and it made my knees feel weak and my knuckles throb. It's a spitting image of my old time OR supervisor, Alice, who could wield a sponge stick with all the force of a burly cop swinging a billy club. This photo shows her assessing the severity of the infraction which will determine the location of the fulcrum to swing her weapon sponge stick from when it impacts the knuckles of her hapless victim. Swinging the sponge stick from the distal tip would inflict the most pain.

It looks like she is about to wail away with the fulcrum in mid position near the instrument's hinge. This was for relatively minor offenses  like passing an instrument to a resident rather than the attending surgeon, even though the resident was in the proper position to deal with the problem. Rules were rules-always provide the attending surgeon first.

The most brutal knuckle cracks were for any offense, real or imagined. that broke aseptic technique. Alice was an equal opportunity knuckle basher and residents were fodder for her cruel ministrations as well as nurses. She caught a young resident with his nostrils protruding over his mask and he received a double punishment, Cracked knuckles and a set of dental rolls plugging his nose. I think there might be an old post about that Aliceism somewhere amidst my foolishness.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

What Was the Most Useless Old School Diagnostic Test?

 The first notion that popped into my foolish mind was the "spit test" for digitalis toxicity. The patient was asked to produce about 5 cc  of pure saliva which was tested for potassium levels. The notion being that a high level of potassium excreted in the saliva was indicative of toxicity. Everyone had a different threshold to spill potassium in their saliva and hypokalemic patients could be digitalis toxic and have a "normal" potassium level on their test. This procedure was relatively benign in that it seldom led to further testing and had it's lighter side involving nurses providing graphic descriptions to befuddled patients about the difference between saliva and sputum.

The Histamine stimulation test for determination of gastric acid output was one of the chief  villains when it came to useless or even downright harmful diagnostic tests. The test was widespread in that just about anyone experiencing epigastric pain was a candidate and it frequently got the patient placed on the medical hamster wheel of cascading invasive tests all of which led to virtually ineffective treatment.

The underlying principle of peptic ulcer  treatment was the Schwartz dictum (no acid-no-ulcer.) This was accomplished by the Sippee diet which consisted of hourly swigs of 1/2 and 1/2 which was kept iced in a bath basin at he bedside. Copious consumption of antacids was also encouraged. This treatment did not provide a long term cure, but for some provided symptomatic short term relief. Peptic ulcer treatment improved dramatically when Australian researchers showed the root cause of the disease was bacterial. This insight was the gateway to effective treatment for peptic ulcers.

The test was sheer misery for patients. Step "A" involved inserting a naso-gastric tube regardless of the difficulty passing it. Miss Bruiser, my favorite nursing instructor, "assisted" novice nursing students perform this procedure by forcing the hapless patient to  take sips of water from a glass as she forced  the liquid past their  lips all the while barking, "SWALLOW..SWALLOW."  She often explained to the student nurse that inserting an NG tube was just like fishing; just wait until you get a  bite  swallow and ram rod that slippery cylindrical hose home to the patients eagerly awaiting stomach.  "The patient will have to swallow eventually, just like the fish have to bite."  Meanwhile the patient was coughing and spraying the forced water right back in the direction of Miss Bruiser's face. Karma in action.

After the position of the NG tube was verified by auscultation; I always wrote that exact line in my nurse's notes because Miss Bruiser gave brownie points to students that used esoteric medical terminology.  Most of my fellow students simply noted that the position of the tube was checked. Next on the agenda for this procedure was an uncomfortable painful injection of histamine that burned like a blow torch and resulted in a sore arm for at least 5 days.  This stimulated acid production in the stomach just as pouring gasoline on a fire exacerbates the blaze. Headache, dizziness, flushed face, and profuse sweating were frequent side effects of the injection.

The last component of the test is where the rubber meets the road. At 30 minute intervals X3  a gigantic piston syringe is coupled to the NG tube and as much gastric acid as the law allows is sucked  aspirated and placed in a carefully marked specimen cup. Patients often complained that it felt their stomach was being pulled out through their nose. My stomach used to churn and ache just witnessing such an ordeal and it was a cause  for rejoicing when those slippery specimen cups were on their way to the lab for analysis..

When learning about the cause of peptic ulcers the "ulcer personality" was stressed and was described as a person experiencing resentment, anxiety, and anger. I never believed these traits were the cause of ulcers. I always suspected the ineffective medical interventions of the day and the sheer misery quotient of the diagnostic testing caused much of the ill will and bad feelings on behalf of the patients. It's amazing how long  such an inappropriate treatment can remain in place and become accepted practice. Of course such foolishness would never happen in the healthcare environment of today!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Skin to Skin Post Mortem Care

Skin to skin contact meant something entirely different to me than the currently popular post partum mother / infant tactile bonding technique. When I first heard the term, I asked myself  How in the world did someone discover one of my personal secrets?  I  felt compelled to lift the patient from the death bed or OR table with my bare arms contacting their skin. It was part of my way of saying goodbye.  There was a trick to this that involved spreading the morgue shroud open on a nearby Gurney with the distance dependent on the patient's weight. A 50 kg. patient could have the waiting litter across the room while a 100 kg "heavy hitter"  better be close to the bed. I tunneled my right arm under the patient's shoulders for a mid axillary target and my left arm went under the knees. A helper carefully supported the head while I carried the patient to the cart. There was something special about being there in actual contact with the patient skin to skin as they say. I always said a silent prayer for a peaceful journey to a peaceful place as I gently lowered them to the awaiting shroud.

Every old nurse had something unique and special to impart during post mortem care. Jane who was a dental hygienist before becoming a nurse always offered meticulous mouth care to the departed patient. When she was done the waste container was always filled with lemon glycerine swabs and an empty peroxide bottle. Bonnie hated to leave any tell tale sign of invasive medical procedures. The first thing she went for from the supply closet was adhesive tape remover and cartons of 4X4s. Every little bit of residual adhesive tape was lovingly removed. We did not have those fancy task specific devices to stabilize endotracheal tubes and all that tape about the lips and around the neck made an unsightly mess that Bonnie always made disappear. Lois hated those flimsy shoelace-like ankle and wrist ties and always substituted soft strips of wide Kerlix. After her gentle ties were in place she often kissed the patients hand. I hope I have a nurse like Lois when it's time for me to enter that shroud. I'm certain the journey to the other side will be pleasant with a send off like that.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Glass IV Bottles - Breaking Bad

Breaking a  glass IV bottle was the stuff nightmares were made of. There were three elements to
consider with shattering  old time glass IV bottles. The glass bottle, a liter of fluid (D5W took the prize for making the biggest mess due to it's inherent stickiness,) and an air gap. The air in the bottle served to amplify the crash of the glass breaking so as to sound almost like a rifle shot. Hearing that booming "CRACK" followed by a piercing scream alerted the entire floor of the mishap and summoned a legion of gawkers for the messy clean up. It was an unwritten rule that the clean up was the sole responsibility of the unfortunate breaker of the bottle - don't even thing about calling for a janitor, oops, I mean housekeeping person. An empty Cardboard IV case was placed on the floor close to the broken glass which was gingerly pushed  into the enclosure with a portion of the box top. The procedure always reminded me of catching a piranha  with your bare hands, a slippery mess with a laceration or bite close at hand.

Glass IV bottles were at risk for breakage because their girth made them difficult to grasp. When CDs were designed one of the goals to make them easy to handle. Designers of glass IV bottles were not concerned with ergonomics and the diameter of the glass  container expanded to fit the volume of the fluid. Thank heaven there were no 2 liter  IV bottles.

Another common mechanism of bottle breaking was undershooting the hanging notch on the IV pole. That thin wire hanger was difficult to see especially under bad lighting conditions and many an old nurse thought the bottle was about to nest safely on the pole only to have it come crashing down. A good luck/bad luck conundrum occurred when the rapidly descending bottle came crashing down on the nurse's foot. The bottle, cushioned by the nurse's toes remained intact but hobbled the hapless nurse. Maybe nurses should have worn steel toe shoes like heavy construction workers.

Miss Bruiser, my all time favorite nursing instructor had a favorite tactic for dealing with bottle breaking students. After haranguing and berating the student during the clean up she insisted the clumsy student carry a glass IV bottle with them for 24 hours. A unique combination of public humiliation and learning how to perform daily activities with an ever present glass IV bottle was an excellent deterrent.

Finally the rolly polly crash and break was another way to reduce the glass bottles to glistening shards.  Everyone was acutely aware that there was only one safe position for a glass IV bottle and that was vertical. Inadvertently setting a glass bottle on it's side resulted in it rolling away and crashing at some distance from the nurse. Nurses frequently turned the bottle to this vulnerable position to apply a timing strip or write a note on the bottle label. This unfortunate event almost always occurred at times of great stress when there was an unforeseen complication or unexpected event. An acute hypoglycemic crisis required an immediate IV and if that gigantic ampule of D50 rolled and shattered it was like having a bull in an IHOP restaurant with all those syrup bottles; sticky, gooey syrupy stuff everywhere.

Despite the potential for breaking, nurses hated to see those glass IV bottles morph into those silly looking flexible plastic bags. If the complaints and derisive comments about heavy duty enema cans being replaced by flimsy bags was bad, the ill will directed toward IV bags was even worse. Veteran nurses used to joke  ( I hope it was in jest)  about using those newfangled flexible plastic IV bags for enemas because that was about all they were suited for.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The New Nurse - circa 1965


Many thanks to Sue from Australia for discovering this vintage classic  of yesteryear's nursing practices.  The signing of papers before entering diploma school really brought back memories. We had to agree to several articles before entering school: Learn 4 pages of medical terminology before the first day of class, follow all rules in the student handbook, and be available to work any shift.

Those open casement windows reminded me of hospital renovations in the  1970s at our beloved institution of training. Old wooden double hung windows were replaced with inward tilting aluminum  casements and older nurses had a fit. It was a dirty little secret that nurses emptied urinals and even Gomco suction bottles out those spacious old windows. The inward tilt of the casements made the act of hurling excrements over board much more difficult.  I wrote a post about this disgusting practice and was careful to give open windows a wide berth when walking outside.
https://oldfoolrn.blogspot.com/2016/04/look-out-below.html

Thanks again Sue, for this incredible time capsule of old school nursing.



Thursday, April 19, 2018

When and Why Glass IV Bottles Disappeared

Glass IV bottles were all fun and games until you dropped one.
Up until the early 1970s you could receive your IV dispensed from any container as long as it was a gleaming glass bottle. These time tested and trusted  vessels had been the workhorse of infusion therapy for decades and possessed a sense of inertia that suggested  they would be around almost forever.

Having been raised  with glass IV bottles, older  nurses had a special reverence  for them. It was easy to view the level of remaining fluid and  glass was inert to allay any worries of interactions with the fluid contents. A strip of ordinary adhesive  tape could be easily applied to the side of the bottle with the time marked for the fluid levels. Pumps and controllers were nonexistent so we counted gtts/minute (gtts is a Latin abreviation for "gutta" meaning drops.) It  always amused me how health care folks  used  Latin to obfuscate the issue, but alas, that's a post  for another day.

KCl  and B&C vitamin supplements could be added to bottles without even using a needle, just plug that naked syringe into the air vent and inject away. I used to relish the visual treat of the deep yellow vitamin solution as it merged and mixed with the clear IV fluid in the bottle. Inject the colorful solution rapidly and a model of a spinning water spout could be replicated. I've heard the term "lightening in a bottle," but a miniature water spout was even more impressive.

 Nurses mixed all  IV fluids  on the patient care  floors, no need to involve the pharmacy with all those superfluous phone calls or redundant paper work. The air vent had another feature nurse's came to know and love. As the air bubble gurgled it's way through the fluid in the resonant glass botle to equalize  pressure, the soothing noise  was an auditory cue that all was right with the infusion. Infiltrated IV sites never produced the  gurgle. Glass IV bottles had a special place in every nurse's heart. We never gave a thought to their disappearance. What could possibly replace such a dependable and familiar piece of equipment?

The beginning of the end for glass IV bottles occurred in July of 1970. Outbreaks of hospital acquired sepsis by the bacteria  Entrobacter cloacae  were linked to Abbott Labs newly designed glass IV bottles with screw caps. The decades old bottle cap was pealed off to open the bottle similar to a pop tab on a can. Occasionally the metal would peal off unevenly resulting in a problem opening the bottle. A new screw on cap was designed to eliminate the opening problems. There were also problems with spiking the old design caps. Sometimes a tiny portion of the black stopper would break free and float freely in the IV solution. We were always told not to worry about it, but foreign bodies like little black flecks of stopper made every nurse nervous. Who in the world would want something like that coursing through their veins?

The newly designed threaded cap was easy to use and the problematic  black stopper was retired. We all liked the new design, but problems were waiting in the wings that would spell the end for glass bottles.

Viable bacteria gained access to the IV fluid while it cooled following the autoclave procedure which created a vacuum drawing bacteria in through the threaded interstices of the newly designed  screw- on cap. The end result was 412 known infections among hospitalized patients and 50 deaths. All of Abbott Lab's intravenous solutions in glass bottles  were withdrawn from the market in March, 1971.

On May 29, 1973 a Federal grand jury indicted 5 corporate officers from Abbott Laboratories. Investigation revealed the Abbott IV plant in Rocky Mount, N.C. was contaminated with a variety of pathogenic bacteria. The proliferation of bacteria was exacerbated by glass bottles of D5W falling from the assembly line and breaking ( a problem nurses knew all too well)  which provided the bacteria with an ample supply of growth media. This was one of the initial cases of health care officials facing criminal charges.

Hospitals were desperate for a supply of IV fluids and Baxter Labs had just introduced a novel product - IV fluids in a flexible rectangular configuration featuring a plastic container that collapsed as fluids infused. The flexible IV bags were tagged with the clever  name "Viaflex" and the revolution had begun. These bags could be stored in any position and touted a completely closed system-the bags collapsed as the fluid exited. No venting required. With the old bottle system it was risky to piggyback antibiotics into a primary line because drugs like Keflin came in 2 gm. bottles requiring a vent and connecting a vented secondary bottle to a vented primary line could allow for air embolism. Small plastic bags of piggyback medication eliminated the air embolism risk. Baxter acquired a pharmaceutical company and began selling premixed drugs in small 100cc plastic bags. The IV piggy back was off to a running start with the closed system mini-bags.  Soon many drugs administered by IM injection were being given IV and fancy new fangled notions of determining peak and trough levels of drugs evolved.

For a brief time period (1976-1980) Viaflex bags and glass IV bottles assumed  a tenuous coexistence. Vented IV sets were bicultural so to speak and could be used with either Viaflex IV bags or glass bottles. Using  nonvented  Viaflex IV tubing set up on a glass bottle was strictly taboo. Hapless practitioners that pulled this stunt found that without a means to relieve intrabottle pressure the drip chamber collapsed like a lung in a punctured pleural cavity. If the problem was not promptly corrected the negative pressure could begin to draw venous blood through the angiocath producing a tell tale red streak of blood in the IV tubing. Spooky indeed and guaranteed the nurse a prominent position on the wall of shame and vulnerable to endless gossip..."You would not believe what Suzy did with her IV last night...yada..yada," nurses only made this mistake once.

By 1980 the intravenous therapy world was ruled by Vialflex like flexible bags and glass bottles were gone for good. Abbott even began producing their own IV bag that had an unusual feature that nurses disliked. The port for adding medications was a blue bull's eye  target about 3 inches up from the bottom of the bag. When adding drugs to an IV, nurses were used to holding the port in one hand to steady it while injecting with the other hand. There was nothing to grasp on that blue bull's eye and nurses in a hurry were known to poke a hole through the opposite wall of the bag resulting in much cursing and  general unpleasantness.

This transition from glass to plastic  was difficult for seasoned old nurses who by  nature of their basic constitution were resistant to change. Glass bottles had prominent labels and were easy to identify; bags were produced with an over wrap that obscured the label. Drip chambers on glass bottles hung perfectly vertical; on bags the drip chamber was often hanging at an angle. Patient transfers with a bottle always required the careful use of a pole to maintain the positioning of the bottle. Nurses were appalled at the occasional  practice of tossing the IV bag on the patient's lap or chest during brief transfers.  Bottles would roll off and break if this crude trick was attempted. It was easier to thread a solid object like a bottle through an opening for an arm when changing patient gowns. Those IV bags were like getting a grip on a handful of Jello.  Finally, hanging those flimsy bags could be difficult. It was necessary to free up the folded vinyl hanger and thread the small opening over the hook on an IV pole.

I am truly impressed by the variety of realistic sounds produced by electronic devices like that camera shutter clicking noise on cell phones or that  "whoosh" noise when sending an email. The Oldfoolrn  medical equipment design institute has come up with another innovation. How about an electronic IV pump or controller that emits a skeumorphic noise replicating that gurgling noise as a bubble coursing through a vented  glass IV bottle. Lots of old nurses would  truly love hearing  that reassuring noise again.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Blood Bag Blues

It's been a very long day. The somber cacophony of suctions sucking, Bovies burning, Airshields ventilators chugging , instruments clanging, and surgeons bellowing has decrescendoed to a strange and rare moment of blissful silence. Those weary legs wobble like Jello as they acclimate to an absence of weight bearing stress. The impending fatigue unleashes a contemplative frame of mind so different from the acute attentiveness  required of a scrub nurse busily loading needle holders and delivering the exact required instrument at the exact right time. My mind sometimes fixated on the remaining flotsam and jetsam scattered about the tiled temple as I planned my clean up activities.

Drained of their miraculous magenta contents, empty blood bags are neatly stacked sit on the anesthetist's  gas machine awaiting their round trip journey back to the hospital blood bank. The few remaining droplets of blood form an intricate spider web design visible through the transparent container that always reminded me of stained glass. The drained bags are now a component of the detritus remaining as an artefact of the previous surgical adventure with their own tale to tell.

Artefacts and relics mean different things to different people when their intended function has ended. I thought many times how strange it sounded to keep blood in a  "bank," but then I began to figure it out. Some of my very best insights occur when fatigued and sleep deprived as that caffeinated jolt works it's magic.

Blood bank CEOs and commercial bankers have much in common. Blood banks rely on the innate goodness of volunteer donors  whose reward might be a glass of orange juice and a stale cookie. Bankers of money pay paltry sums of interest to the hapless savers and charge exorbitant fees to credit card users. Blood bank CEOs and bankers reap their massive  salaries and stock options on the backs of little people just trying to do the right thing. In nursing it always felt as if large sums of money flowed  right around me much the same as the  blood in a suction tubing. Nursing and donating blood is a waste of time if you are doing it for the money. It may sound strange, but I always felt a sense of pity for the greed consumed CEOs lounging in their administrative playgrounds. They probably never had the warm feeling that comes upon you when really helping someone at a critical time in their life.

Blood had almost magical qualities when transfusions went well and the source of blood loss could be corrected. Used blood bags always had redundancy in miniscule sticky labels with an identification number. There were always plenty of these little stickers left over even when all the documentation was complete. I tried to keep the good juju times a rolling with these little stickers by sticking them on the back of my name badge or wrapped around the earpiece of my trusty stethoscope. I don't really know if they helped, but when times were tough, I could cheer my spirits with a quick glance at the back of my name badge.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Remembrance of Nursing Pins Past

The land of the free and the home of the brave was once home to 4,000 diploma schools of nursing  each with their own unique nursing pin. These pins were typically designed by committee and the final version was often a hodge-podge collection of sometimes divergent elements. It was tough for a committee to come up with a consensus for a coherent design.  At my alma matter the pins were the responsibility of the Admissions and Promotions committee and it required weeks of heated discussion to decide if one letter on the pin should be changed to reflect the conversion of our hospital to a "medical center." After much heated debate it was decided to change the "H" which was for hospital to "MC." Nursing pins were sacred symbols and change did not come easily.

Implant something in an adolescent brain while it's developing and it sticks forever. We were brainwashed  conditioned  into believing our pin was the ultimate reward for 3 years of soul crushing labor while  subjected to near constant badgering and belittling by down right mean instructors like Miss Bruiser. That beloved pin had a transcendant element to it that required a compulsory level of reverence. It was the alpha and omega to any 3 year diploma student. The  radiant pin glowing against a pure white background was the first thing your eye settled on when a nurse appeared on the scene and it told the story of a nurse's experience. If only nursing pins could talk.

I spent many hours staring at the cover of RN magazine when their annual nursing pin edition was published. A cover adorned with 30+ pins in glowing color was a feast for any diploma grad's  eye. The most common pin design was a Maltese cross with the schools initials plastered one on top of another over the center. I just loved pins with a singular sculpted design like the  Ravenswood Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago. The pin featured a beautiful version of the Good Samaritan that seemingly glowed in the dark. Wow.. that was one heck of a pin.

Speaking of good samaritanns this unusual pin featuring a beaver really got my attention. Simple, straightforward design at it's best. Beaver's are like nurses; hard working and they have the ability to modify their environment for unexpected needs. Beavers are also continually growing just like me after too much hospital cafeteria food. I really cherish this pin and think it has much better aesthetics than mine which resembles a policeman's badge. While working in psych, I found that it was prudent to remove my pin lest I be confused with an undercover cop.


Another animal themed nursing pin with a serene looking moose in the foreground framed by the hospital's name. I wonder why the moose is gazing in the opposite direction from the beaver. I think it looks better from a nurse's view looking down to have the animal facing the nurse.   The cross in the background forms a lovely backdrop. It takes a moose 3 years to attain adulthood and 3 years for a diploma nurse to graduate; an interesting fact that ties it all together. A moose also has muscular shoulders and nurses acquire the same qualities  after a stint on the orthopedic ward. I admire these two pins because they are straightforward and very pleasing to the eye.

So many pins contain multiple symbolic features that are difficult to decipher. I was admiring the floral design on a friend's pin and was quickly informed they were no ordinary flowers. "That's the Papaverum somniferum plant that is the source for opium," I was told. Her pin was symbolic of the nurse's duty to relieve pain.

It really bothers me when I hear that present day nurses must pay money for their nursing pins. A nursing pin was no ordinary commodity that could be purchased with money. Blood, sweat and tears were how we paid for our pins. The symbolic meaning of a diploma nurse's pin stays with a person forever. I sneak little glances at my pin all the time just to remind myself of who I was am.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Blowing Smoke to "Settle Your Nerves"






For some proven measures to ameliorate shaking hands and promote smoke free steady nerves please peruse my long forgotten post;  "A Fool's Foils for Fasciculating Fingers. Please pardon  my lame attempt at alliteration-sometimes my foolishness overwhelms me.

https://oldfoolrn.blogspot.com/search?q=A+Fool%27s+Foils+for


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Successful Swallowing Secrets

It's one of those rare occasions when it's time to sequester my foolishness to the back burner as I offer some time worn proven measures to help patients experiencing difficulty swallowing.  Long term endotracheal intubation,  TPN,   and neuro problems all invite dysphagia.

Position the patient upright and check for a gag reflex or at least some indication of an intact airway protective response. The famous ramrodding a patients posterior pharynx with a tongue depressor is not what I had in mind. The gagging and retching elicited by this cruel trick does not necessarily indicate a protective response against aspiration. A kinder, gentler  method of assessment involves asking the patient to say "Ahhh"  and observing if the uvula and posterior pharynx retract. I have also been told that an intact blink reflex indicates an intact gag reflex because the same nerves are involved. Cross over of neural impulses makes me hesitant to trust eye blinks as an indicator of airway protection.

Caution is the key so don't even think about injecting fluids into a patient's mouth with an Asepto or using drinking straws. The suction applied to a straw to permit atmospheric pressure to propel the liquid into the mouth can compromise airway protective reflexes. The act of applying suction can impede the transition to an airway protecting response.

Drinking from a glass replicates a familiar experience for the patient, but hyperextending the neck by tilting the head back to drink opens up the airway. The epiglottis is repositioned from closing the trachea-something to be avoided at all cost.

The secret to keeping the epiglottis positioned over the trachea when swallowing from a glass is to keep the chin level or even slightly tucked down. How do you raise the glass to drink without tilting your head back? All it takes is a few snips of your trusty bandage scissors to create an aspiration resistant drinking device.

Cut a nose clearance notch in the side of a paper cup and you can drink without tilting your head back maintaining the airway. Just drink from the side opposite the open notch and as the cup is tilted up to take a sip the opening accommodates the protuberating nose. The mandible remains level and the epiglottis remains intact covering the trachea.
Smaller notch for more petite noses. This 
aspiration resistant cup works perfectly for 
Oldfoolrn's like me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fevers - Antiquated Defervescent Interventions



Venerable, old nurses were taught that fevers were a destructive response that required immediate intervention to bring the body temperature back to that magic number of 98.6F or 37C. Since there were few real cures for much of anything back in the good old days, rigid authoritarian protocols, whether they worked or not, were established to control the chaotic world of febrile hospitalized patients.

Temperatures of all patients on the ward were routinely checked first thing in the morning with glass mercury  thermometers. We had one complete class session on the proper way of shaking thermometers down.  It's all in the wrist snap.  Fevers did not follow a rigid time  schedule and could spike rapidly just about any time of the day or night. It was easy to miss fevers with routine schedules because they could rise and fall with reckless abandon within a very brief time frame.

Protocol called for cultures for temperatures over 101F even if the cause was suspected to be neurologic and their was no sign of sepsis. Fevers climbing to that dreaded 102F threshold triggered a series of unpleasant and down right miserable interventions for suffering patients. Denial exists on both sides of the bedside rail and lots of compassionate nurses reported thermometer readings of 101.8 to put a halt or delay to some of the more miserable interventions to drop temperatures. Hyporeportinosis in it's finest glory.

This illustration shows the fight fire with fire fever treatment. That's a teapot propped up on the stand at the foot of the bed. The steam cools as it infiltrates the tented sheets and the nurse is applying ice packs to the patient's head. The thinking (if you could even call it that) behind the steam bath was that it opened pores and promoted a profuse diaphoretic response. From the patient's perspective, I suspect it felt like receiving a hot foot while having your head stuffed in a freezer. Miss Bruiser, my favorite nursing instructor had many tales about patients in steam baths; none of them pleasant. I don't think she ever had a temperature reported as 101.8.

Alcohol sponge baths were another weapon in the armamentarium to battle fevers. Equal parts of water and 70% isopropyl alcohol were combined in a bath basin. After placing axillary and groin icepacks the nurse swabbed the patient's entire body with the alcohol laced cooling solution. The shivering induced by the strategically place ice packs  was bad enough, but the fumes from the evaporative  cooling action of isopropyl alcohol was even worse. I'm certain the shivering and hacking cough produced enough muscular activity to counteract any of the cooling attempts. Some old nurses replicated the experience of greenhouse workers by borrowing misting bottles from housekeeping and spritzing the febrile patient with a toxic mist of alcohol and water.

Introducing ice water into just about any available orifice was another hoary nursing intervention favored by those practitioners with a masochistic vein. Nasogastric tubes were swiftly passed and flooded with boluses of ice water. Miss Bruiser would rest her oversized meat hook of a hand on the patient's epigastrum as the frigid water infused and arrogantly nod her head, "Ahh..he feels cooler already." It was always a mystery to me how she could feel past the barrier of the stomach wall, abdominal muscles, fat, and skin, but it was never prudent to question Miss Bruiser or her whacky methods.

Just about any ailment had a specific enema treatment and fevers were no exception. Febrile patients were subjected to backside buffoonery that entailed ice water enematizations. This approach from the rear did seem to reduce fevers, but I always suspected it was limited to the localized cooling of sphincter muscles when temperatures were measured with rectal temperatures. I always had the notion if Miss Bruiser could catch a glimpse of the patient's misery filled facial response to this frigid intrusion that she would temper or soften her approach to patients. Fat chance of this occurring, Miss Bruiser's field of view was limited to the icy enema tip and it's intended target.

Asking questions of old time nurses about the science behind their crude interventions could land an innocent student in a heap of trouble. Fever interventions were largely based on empirical notions and asking to see supporting data was seen as an indirect way of telling the person they really did not know what they were doing. Both parties full well knew there was no science to support their dubious activities and asking for the data when there was obviously none, was seen as rubbing salt in the wound.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Finger Cots - Minimum Coverage Saves Vintge Hospitals from Bankruptcy

"Here is your daily allotment of gloves. Use them judiciously and I better not here about one shift hogging them - remember they have to last 24 hours."
Finger cots substitute for gloves in budget minded hospitals

This was the warning issued by one of those stern nursing supervisors as she reluctantly surrendered a box of one size fits all gloves. A box of 24 latex (nobody was allergic to this substance in the good old days) gloves was supposed to suffice for three busy wards inhabited to the gills with patients vomiting, excreting, and  oozing every bodily fluid known to mankind. At least these fluids were organic, the Cidex based cleaning solutions we used on hospital equipment would make unprotected skin boil and bubble up like a dousing with boiling water. We always tried to handle cleaning solution soaked rags with forceps, but sometimes the volatile fumes were enough to accelerate skin lesions. Nasty stuff indeed and don't dare get caught wearing a precious glove on an ordinary cleaning mission.

Old school nurses eschewed gloves for reasons other than the negative impact such extravagant expenditures had on hospital budgets. Nursing was a hands on affair and this meant bare hands  with skin to skin contact. Gloves imposed an unnatural barrier and were viewed as an offense to the patient.

I was conditioned like Pavlov's dogs when I had gloves on. This was just not right and my shoulders hunched over with a strong sense of self consciousness. Even when using gloves appropriately, I was anticipating that cranky old nursing supervisor in the background  hollering and belittling me.

Finger cots came from the supplier in boxes and were clean (hopefully) but unsterile. Sterile finger cots like Montgomery straps and scultetus binders were produced in house by cantankerous, past their prime nurses who toiled diligently in central supply. Three finger cots were oriented in the same direction and placed in a glassine finished envelope which was then autoclaved. A piece of autoclave tape sealed the envelope and verified sterility by proudly displaying diagonal black stripes.

You could do lots of fun tasks with sterile finger cots such as dressing changes or Foley catheter insertions without bankrupting the hospital on  exorbitant expenditures like sterile gloves. Donning sterile finger cots took lots  more practice than  sterile gloving. After carefully opening the sterile packaged fingercots with your ever present bandage  scissors, place them business end down on a bedside stand. Judiciously apply a very small dab of tincture of benzoin to the tips of your thumb, index, and second finger with an applicator  and blow dry with a couple of puffs. Smokers (which compromised 95% of all nurses) with their comprised tidal volume might need three puffs.  Press your thumb into the very center of the rolled finger cot and let the tincture of benzoin work it's adhesive magic. With the finger cot firmly stuck to your thumb slowly and carefully unroll it with your free hand while touching only the inside surface of the finger cot. Rinse and repeat for your index and second finger.

Now that you're all  gloved cotted up it's time to rock 'n roll. To maintain sterility it is essential that you curl up your bare naked  third and fourth fingers. For the time being just pretend they don't exist (I used to make believe  they were burned off in a Bovie mishap.) You do not want them flopping about contaminating the sterile field or the catheter.  You can now use your finger cot festooned fingers to make like a forceps and guide that Foley home to pay dirt. When you're in (urine) haha, its time to peal off those finger cots and hook up the drainage bag.

Finger cots have limited surface area compared to gloves and can be predisposed to slipping off your digit at inopportune times.  The no finger cot left behind doctrine incorporates several measures to prevent in vivo loss of cot custody. The tincture of benzoin trick helps ameliorate wandering finger cot issues when sterile technique is used. For the more common everyday uses of finger cots  the keyword is restraint. Discretion is definitely the better part of valor when exploring any internal orifice with a finger cot. Never ever inset the finger cot into anything past it's cuff. If you poke that finger cot in deeper past the cuff all it takes is a sphincter contraction to strip it off faster than  a chimp can peal a banana.  It's a real challenge to gain purchase on a retained finger cot and the best course of action is probably benign neglect while hoping that it works itself out.
A tenaculum  grasping cervix and a cot on
the index finger. Note the 3 exposed fingers
providing traction on the tenaculum. Gloves optional.





Sunday, February 25, 2018

Spilling the Beans on Vintage Hospital Cafeterias

Lots of folks have bitter complaints about hospital cafeteria food.  Not me!  I actually enjoyed eating in the ultimate of institutional dining settings. Student  nurses had unlimited access to this crude, but very satisfying  sustenance  via  monthly issued meal ticket books. One day my clinical work was interrupted by that dreaded summons. "Report immediately to the nursing  director's office."  I was soon ushered into her inner sanctum by her assistant who was an authentic nurse with cap and pin; there were no nattily dressed executive assistants with perfectly coiffured  hairdos  for old school nurse executives.  I was somewhat  relieved by her cheerful demeanor, "Fool, the girls  (her generic term for all student nurses except for me. Male students threw her for a loop) have told me how much you enjoy the cafeteria meals and I wanted to give you extra meal ticket books." I stammered and stuttered a timid "thank-you," and slithered out dreaming of those perfectly round machine stamped salisbury steakette  patties. I was fascinated by the way grease gravy squirted out of them and glistened in the overhead florescent lights  when pressure was applied with a fork. Fine dining in all it's stomach gurgling  glory.

The Sisyphean task of tendering expeditious food service to intermittent parades of time pressured hospital personnel gave way to many unique innovations.  Fiberglass trays were easily propelled along shiny chrome runners that minimized friction as hungry diners made their selections. Just as ceramic tile was the defining element to the operating rooms, chrome was the underlying theme to old school hospital cafeterias. The shiny stuff was just about everywhere from the food displays to borders on any horizontal surface. Even the Sweeda cash register was chrome.

 A small army of colorful characters on the supply side of the chow line could cut a gigantic sheet cake into perfect 3 inch square pieces or whip up a massive vat of our favorite desert , Whip N' Chill in the blink of an eye. I don't recall the flavor of my favorite whipped desert but it was  red in color. That  food dye would leave a permanent stain so be careful with that white uniform.

Just about any standing kettle of soup or chili would acquire a 1 inch thick layer of gooey grease that rose to the top. These underpaid but well meaning food service workers had bulging forearms from the near constant stirring motion necessary to keep the grease in suspension.

In the OR all of our cases ended in an ectomy and in the cafeteria all the meat product entrees ended in the suffix ette. There was my favorite pork chopette, steakette,  hamcheesette, and last. but not least chicken croquette. None of today's  pretentious  light and fit, locally sourced artisanal food here. Artificial flavors and texture enhancers were embraced as a great space age wonder. Those clever scientists were hard at work making our food taste better. Great work and don't spare the MSG and nitrates.

The three horsemen of addictive, pathogenic food additives were proudly displayed as the centerpiece of each table. A gigantic cylindrical dispenser of good old fashioned sugar was always front and center, tempting nurses to drown their fatigue in a hyperglycemic rush. Pepper and salt were readily available. There was nothing like dousing highly processed foodstuffs in salt for a hypertensive boost. The artery clogging fat of a pork chopette could be supplemented by that insulated mini carafe of whole cream for your coffee. Some folks liked to add a spot of whole cream to their Whip 'N Chill to give it "extra body," but I preferred mine unadulterated.

Perhaps it's time to resurrect old school hospital cafeteria food. In the mindset of today's greedy hospital corporate types foods like this are an integral component of a dynamic profit circle. Consume these  high fat, high sugar, processed food and business is booming in the diabetic clinic and cardiovascular services. Besides, I have a decades long hankering for just  one more pork choppette

Monday, February 19, 2018

Major Operations and Thoughts and Prayers

A long, long time ago the mere mention of a major operation had genuine meaning for surgeons and nurses. It commonly referred to entering the peritoneum (abdominal cavity,) chest, or cranium. This was big time intervention and "major operation"  was a call to arms.  Hypervigilance and extra care were to be expected when it came to aseptic technique and surgical procedure.  Damp dust the overhead lights with alcohol soaked rags and be extra diligent with those hard to reach areas.  Buff those instruments to a nice shine with that trusty 4X4 during the case. Implement hypervigilance when it came time to count sponges.

"Major operation"  as a call to special action began to lose luster as more aggressive open procedures became commonplace. The term was tossed about casually and soon devolved into jocularity. Say, have you heard about Lansing Michigan? ...now that was a major operation.  As a nurse scraped that brown crud from a coffee percolator (remember those?) someone was bound to wise crack, "That looks like a major operation." At the end of my nursing life  in the OR, the term had fallen into extinction. That was the end of the blathering about major operations.

Lately I have been thinking about all those thoughts and prayers platitudes extended to the victims of mass violence. Mass killings have been occurring with the regularity of a Circadian Cycle and the predictable avalanche of thoughts and prayers has likewise crescendoed.  Mass killings...thoughts and prayers, rinse and repeat.

I betcha God has had a bellyful of these thoughts and prayers when they become a substitute for accepting responsibility and taking meaningful preventive action.

It makes my head spin when I consider the logistics of treating so many gunshot victims. In the good old days, which in reality, were not all that good, a couple of  Chicago style gunshot wounds would upset the apple cart. Rounding up appropriate staff  at all hours and disrupting OR schedules for the next day. Thoughts and prayers has become the linguistic equal to major operation.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Slide Rule Life Lesson

As a quiet young high school student, I had all the personality traits of a nerd, but lacked the mental horsepower to lay claim to the moniker. Siting in a class room, I found myself staring in horror at a gigantic model of a slide rule. Keuffel and Ester was the intimidating logo plastered on the mysterious looking device. Numbers on scales that moved laterally as the thing was expanded. I could not make heads or tails of it.

"Looks like a warning not to take physics class," I muttered to myself  under my breath. Mr. Green, a beloved teacher overheard my mumblings and immediately disagreed. "You can learn how to do calculations with a slide rule if you put your mind to it. Anything worth while is worthy of your time and effort."

Mr.  Green was one of my very best teachers. The concept of being a life long learner had yet to be recognized, but whatever the notion was called back then came through clearly in his lessons. He really was interested in my answers to physics problems and made tests interesting with references to Red Ryder BB guns and bowling ball pendulums.

To study waveforms, Mr. Green constructed home made ripple tanks and I spent more time admiring the elegant simplicity of his creation than learning about waves. The time and effort he invested in making physics interesting communicated the importance of learning. It's amazing how much easier it is to learn when the importance of the subject matter is recognized.

Yes, I did learn how to use that intimidating looking slide rule and can still recall the "C" scale is on the slide and the "D" scale is on the body....I think. At least my long term memory is clear as a bell, now if I can only recall what I ate for lunch. That's a post for another day.

In nursing school calculating dosages and solutions required lots of multiplication and division. I resurrected my old trusty slide rule and even taught a few of my classmates how to use it. They were impressed with my lickety-split calculations, but the real thanks belonged to Mr. Green.

Working from multiple instrument trays as a scrub nurse could really get my dander up, but I always thought of Mr. Green and reminded myself that I could learn how to manage the task, after all, I was able to master that blasted slide rule. Thanks, Mr. Green

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Cats vs. Dogs, ADNs. vs. BSNs, and the Ultimate O.R. Conflict: Burners vs. Knotters

These are certainly disunited times and there are many divisions among  nurses. The  endless ADN vs BSN debate has a life of it's own. Being an old time diploma graduate, I don't have a dog in this fight and will stick to conflicts I have direct experience with. When it comes to controlling bleeding in an operating room there are two very distinct and different types of nurses with profoundly diverging  ideas.  One group, the Burners,  just love to support surgeons using offensive, humming and smoking  electrocautery devices  or "Bovies." The  opposition composed of older, more  wise thoughtful nurses likes to cut ligatures for manual ties. I affectionately refer to them as the Knotters because nothing maintains hemostasis like a tightly secured and knotted ligature.


Opening an abdomen is done in sequence and when you are waiting for someone to fall asleep before you scar them for life, it's prudent to take a thoughtful, careful approach to minimize the inherent barbarism. Compassion is always best delivered person to person rather than nurse to patient so it's a good practice for the scrub nurse  to stop and think if this is how you would like to be treated lying on that cold, skinny table. Can you imagine your naked derriere  plastered against that gooey, mucilaginous, ice cold  Bovie  grounding plate smeared with conductive gel while the surgeon makes like Smokey the Bear and burns every bleeder in sight?  The alternative, silently tying off bleeders with ligatures is more appealing to the senses and exudes a kinder, gentler, more considerate approach.

 The buzzing behemoth  of a  Bovie  unit is the  Burners favorite piece of OR furniture (back in the day we had furniture, not equipment.) Bovies were an electrocautery device that looked like a Maytag and had connections for three electrical cords. One was plugged into the wall socket, the other connected to a large metal grounding plate the size of a cookie sheet which was smeared with conductive gel and unceremoniously scooted under the patient's buttocks right before they  fell asleep. the third cord was connected to the business end of this buzzing monstrosity of a machine and resembled a ball point pen.

Some of the Burners were frustrated artists and made the application of conductive goop to the Bovie grounding plate an exercise in self expression. That big metal plate was their canvass and the goop their medium. I noticed one of these Burners with her bouffant cap on sideways to mimic an artist's beret scribbling away with the goop and mentioned her sketch looked like it was part of a freight train. "Oh no...It's a caboose for the  patient's caboose," she haughtily replied. Never interrupt a burner at work on her art.


I always shuddered when I considered the last conscious thought  a patient had before anesthesia induction  was what it felt like to land their  keister on an ice cold, gooey piece of ice cold  metal. It reminded me of someone sitting in a giant tub of Jello. YUCH!

The Bovie generated a high frequency alternating current that was passed through the patient's body. There was minimal resistance at the grounding plate on the rear end, but lightening in a pen at the business end controlled by the surgeon operating a foot switch. There was big time electrical resistance at the Bovie tip: enough to occlude a vessel in a jiffy.

After the skin incision, venous bleeders begin to appear as little dark blue puffs of blood. The glistening white fat tissue forms a beautiful background for the little  pops of blood as the veins are cut. This part of the surgery always reminded me of those old 12 O'clock High TV shows with Robert Lansing. The puffs of blood resembled the bursts  of the anti-aircraft flack exploding near the vulnerable B-17s. "Hey doc we have a bleeder coming up fast at 12 o'clock," I sometimes felt like hollering out. The Bovie smoke further added to the flack resemblance. Members of the Greatest Generation made us Boomers look like slackers and surgeons from this vintage were very proficient Knotters.

Burners were very fond of simply snatching a bleeder in the jaws of a hemostat and then tapping the ringed handle with the Bovie. A puff of nostril bludgeoning smoke and that was that, no more bleeding.

For the knotters this was a time to pause and hand off meticulously cut strands of ligature. Back in the day I could take an endless spool of 3-0 silk and in the twinkle of an eye cut it into 18 inch lengths all exactly the same. These ligatures were held out like an offering to the surgical gods for the good doctor to  grasp and masterfully tie around a vein that had been lassoed by a hemostat. The scrub nurse then trimmed away the excess suture a millimeter distal to the knot with a straight Mayo scissors and it was time to move on to another bleeder. There was a reassuring rhythm to the process that was like meditation.

Hand tying did take longer than using a Bovie, but I always thought that tying off ligatures was a good way for the surgeon to limber up his fingers  before tackling the more serious stuff inside the abdomen. A time to reflect on the future course of action.

A knotter happily unwinding a tie from a ligature spool.
Ties and non-swaged  sutures were so revered they deserved
a dedicated table with 4 spools on the right and 4 on the left
Now for that burning question: Which of these tribes do I self identify?  I  survived long enough in the OR to beat those nasty Burner impulses into extinction and am an old foolish Knotter.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Infant Incubators - An Amusement Park NICU

"Step right up..for one thin nickel see pint sized preemies in their incubators"
Vulnerable patients seeking care and hucksters with remuneration on their minds are collisions of opposites. Contemporary hospitals have been corporatized and proud professionals have been turned into mere employees along for the ride. Balance sheets and office sitting bean counters rule the roost.

Health care  finance took an unusual course around the turn of the 20th  century.  Dr. Martin Courey, a pioneering OB physician  who was equal part showman had a brainstorm. "Incubator Baby Exhibits" were initiated at Coney Island Amusement Park adjacent to a roller coaster. This venture was so successful that it spread to many expositions including Luna Park here in Pittsburgh.

Dr. Courey was as adept at showmanship as he was in his medical endeavors. He dressed the premature infants in oversize gowns to emphasize their miniature size and preferred nurses with the stature of a football linebacker to minimize the size appearance of the babies. A hybrid physician and carnival showman.

The amusement park exhibit resembled a typical hospital ward with nurses providing care 24/7 behind a glassed partition. After paying their 5 cent admission (inflation later increased the price of admission to a dime) the public could position themselves so that the distance between them and the babies was the length that the wrist is distal to the elbow.

 At the time of the exhibits the babies were referred to as premature which had a different meaning than preterm. Medical literature of the day described the infants as "weaklings" and viewed them as lacking energy or vitality. There was much debate about the etiology being hereditary vs. immature development.

Most babies of this era were born at home and cared for by the mother. It was common practice to keep babies warm by placing them in a laundry basket warmed by hot bottles. The invention of the incubator involved a transition of care from the mother to an institutional setting. Low birth rate babies were soon transferred to the amusement park incubators for care. HIPPA regulations were many moons away in a distant future.

The amusement park shows were really a celebration of technology and the promises of hope for premature babies. Some things never change and today the publics' expectation of medical technology is stoked by images of robotic surgeries and laser beam miracles. You pay your money and take your chances.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Are Patient Lifting Devices Inhumane?

Cecil, a 26 year old quadriplegic reclines in bed waiting for a pair of nurses to transfer him to his waiting mobility device, an electric wheelchair. Standard operating procedure calls for the nurses to wrestle him to a sitting position with his legs dangling over the bedside.  The nurses then assume a position on either side of Cecil with their muscled arms hooked under his armpits.  A  Cape Canaveral countdown commences and at the conclusion we have a lift off as the stalwart  nurses heft Cecil's limp body into the wheel chair. A solid plop down completes the mission. The source of that ominous cracking noise is a toss up - a nurses back or shoulder joint popped.

The sensitive nurses recognize Cecil's vulnerable state of affairs and take measures to minimize the progression from helplessness to hopelessness by understating the difficulty of the manual transfer. No complaining or grunting and groaning by the nurses when the critical lift is at the peak of their muscular endurance. Pseudo smiles mask the aching backs and burning biceps. Cecil replies with a heartfelt "thank-you," as the nurses ignore their wounded backs and secure him to his electric chariot of a wheel chair.

When hospital administrators could reward nurses with service pins and non-monetary tokens there was little concern about nurse's damaged intervertebral discs or wrenched shoulders sustained while lifting patients. Angels in white were there to serve without concerns for remuneration.

Change was about to come when nurses had financial benefits like workman's  compensation and paid sick leave. Nurse's manual efforts to overcome gravity for their patients suddenly became an expensive commodity and red ink on hospital balance sheets demanded immediate action.

Hospitals began to institute a no lift policy and resorted to devices like the Hoyer mechanical lift for patient transfers. This handy dandy device had a hydraulic pump much like a car jack to lift patients. Straps or a sling were applied under the patients arm and legs and the operator initiated the lift by pumping a lever which resulted in having the patient suspended in mid air.

Cecil and most all patients that were accustomed to human lifts hated these mechanical monsters and pronounced them "inhumane." The herkey - jerkey movement of the Hoyer was offensive to some patients, but there was more to their aversions. Cecil related that here was nothing to hang on to and the feeling of being suspended in mid air was frightening.

I tried to understand Cecil's objection and related the lift experience to my climbing adventures as a foolish youngster. Climbing open structures like fire towers was indeed much more terrifying than scaling a solid rock face. Having a fixed object in front of you  as a reference took some of the fear out of the elevation. It's the  reason that mountain climbers don't necessarily make good workers on cell phone towers. The tactile presence of the nurse lifters added a measure of security to the precarious gravity defying adventure.

Old time nurses like me were falsely advised we were capable of lifting just about any patient if  "proper body mechanics"  were used.  Keep your back straight and let your legs do the work was the mantra. Science does not support this whacky notion. The spinal vertebrae can take only a limited amount of stress and damage to their fibrous structure is cumulative. Nurses have one of the highest occurrences of musculoskeletal injuries of any occupation.

The only inhumane aspect of lifting is  the high injury rate of manual lifters.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Scrub Nurse's Prayer

May your Mayo Stand rise up to meet you.
May the Bovie smoke always be at your back.
May the overheads shine glare free upon your sterile field,
and until the skin margins meet again,
may God load your needle drivers with 3-0 silk.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

New Year - New You Thanks to Tapeworms


A penny in the fuse box solution for weight loss. Maybe I can launch a new career in retirement as a tape worm sanitizer by training the little critters to jump into a bottle of Phisohex.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Trauma Blankets - A Macabre Masquerade

Let's face it trauma can be a visually offensive mess.  Before the age of enlightenment with paramedics and trauma centers, seriously injured patients were initially seen and promptly covered up in a trauma blanket by none other than ambulance attendants. The out of sight, out of mind  philosophy at it's finest. Trauma blankets were designed to camouflage the blood and gore making the victim appear aesthetically  pleasing to horrified onlookers  while essentially overlooking  the underlying trauma.

Bleeding? Get that trauma blanket STAT

  Ambulances were just converted station wagons like  Chevy Brookwoods or the Dodge Dart (below) and were maintained and operated  by funeral homes. Attendants were frequently apprentice undertakers and perhaps the skillset of closing body bags helped with trauma blanket application. Ambulance medical supplies were limited to a poorly designed stretcher with tiny wheels that fluttered back and forth like a butterfly's wings when in motion and of course the trauma blanket. Just the sound of those stretcher wheels clicking and clacking as they moved was enough to trigger nightmares and then a glance at a blood soaked trauma blanket was the coup de grace for a peaceful night's sleep.

Trauma blankets were heavy woolen affairs that could absorb their own weight (which was substantial) of just about any liquid or semi-liquid goo like sanguineous  substance. A chartreusy/maroon  color could obscure practically any blood  no matter the volume lost. Attendants made sure the victim was lying on the trauma blanket to mitigate the mess from pooling blood and rapped them up mummy style for the mad dash to the nearest hospital with that big V-8 roaring and drum brakes a smoking. The air  siren sounded like one of those air raid shelter blasts from old WW2 movies.

Removing trauma blankets upon arrival in the ER was like opening a Pandora's Box. Ambulance attendant transfers were done quickly with little finesse and no report from attendants who vamoosed as quickly as they arrived. Upon opening a blood soaked trauma blanket we found glass shards and a severed rear view mirror on the patient's chest. Alas..this must have been a motor vehicle mishap.

Ambulance attendants never heard of trauma shears so the bloody victim often had clothing that had clotted in place. A sort of crude hemostasis mechanism for the not so enlightened. Starting an IV on someone with blood stained extremities is a challenge and darn near impossible with the hypovolemic state induced by traumatic exsanguation.  Trauma blankets were probably one of the most useless, insensitive, and dimwitted items used in yesteryear's hospitals. They certainly creeped me out.

Before people regaled themselves with the flicker of glowing screens, events occurring in the immediate environment garnered diversion.  There was an oversize metal bath basin in the ER and a staff nurse noticed me inspecting the container with a quizzical expression. "That's for treating the trauma blankets. It's worth the show, so hang around after the next trauma," she said with a smarty pants look on her face.

Old time hospitals never discard anything; it's clean and reuse, trauma blankets were no exception. The blood assimilative nature of trauma blankets was reversed by placing it in the oversize bath basin and dousing it with a couple of liters of hydrogen peroxide. The explosive bubbling of the peroxide as it did it's work rivaled a Mt. Vesuvius eruption with the red foam serving as a stand in for volcanic lava. An impressive sight indeed.

History always repeats itself and trauma blankets have strong connective tissue to modern hospitals with their fancy atrium like  lobbies decorated with lush mini-forests of tropical plants. Those gaudy chandeliers  and fancy hardwood moldings add to the ambience. Patients who cannot pay for their treatment are not welcome here. These contemporary trauma blankets hide the uncontrolled diabetic or end stage pulmonary patients that lack resources for care and are forced to fend for themselves. The end result of untreated chronic illness is not pretty, but there is no blood on the ornate hospital's balance sheet.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Aortic Tears on New Years Day According to Dr. Slambow


New Years crashes sometimes resulted in torn aortas. Dr. Slambow
explains and acts out the mechanism.

When one year dissolves into the next, I often lapse into some serious retrospection of New Year's Days  past.  It's not the big time lifesaving trauma  surgeries  (I hate that all too common lifesaving balderdash. It's like a literate canker sore that shows up conjoined to it's favorite twin, trauma surgery.)  No, it's not those bigtime dramatic measures. It's the feckless and stupid little frivolities that come to mind like the way ratcheted instruments so neatly clicked in your hand or the way overhead lights glimmered and danced off a freshly prepped surgical site or being called in to work with my all time favorite surgeon, Dr. Slambow. I really miss him.

I've never been one to celebrate on New Year's Eve. Maybe it has to do with the fact that every one of these occasions resulted in a trauma call  when I was on duty.  I remember a variety of injuries; beer bottle broken over victims head and then stabbed with the left over glass shards, a young man that sustained a 12 gauge shotgun blast to his butt (not a good way to lose 20 pounds,) and of course the usual automobile wrecks on Lake Shore Drive with the victim sustaining an aortic tear that usually resulted in the poor souls  rapid demise.

One long night scrubbed with Dr. Slambow, I began asking questions as they popped into my young foolish, but curious brain, "Why do automobile mishaps cause torn aortas?" Dr. Slambow's eyes lit up like a New Year's Eve fire cracker and I knew I was in for a rare treat- the good doctor was going to act out his answerer. I could not wait.

He asked for a bloody 4X4 to use as a prop and as soon as I tossed down a needle holder that had been in play and fished around for the requested blood soaked  sponge it was show time. Just  as I expected, the rolled up sponge was going to play the part of the aorta and Dr. Slambow's partially closed fist was going to be a stand in for the chest cavity. This was going to be as good as his lecture on Sengstagen/Blakemore tubes when he inflated a used surgical glove (size 8)  that was partially filled with blood until the thumb portion of the glove exploded creating a colorful scene. The mess he created rivaled that of the grandma wrecked on  the Harley case we had last month. What a mess.

Dr. Slambow explained in his deliberate, eloquent tones that the great vessels in the chest were not tethered to anything and could rock back and forth in the mediastinum like a pendulum. He almost teeter- tottered of his booster stand as he rocked back and forth. Coleen, the circulating nurse was standing nearby to catch him in the event of a backward fall. OR nurses are taught to always anticipate the surgeon's action and we knew Dr. Slambow and his antics  all too well.

The good Dr. made a partially closed fist and suspended the twisted sponge between his index finger and thumb so that it resembled the tubular aorta hanging freely within the confines of his partially opened fist model of the chest. His next move was to make a punching motion with his fist just inches from my masked proboscis and suddenly arresting it's movement just before impact with one of the overhead lights. "There you have the mechanism of a torn aorta-the movement of the patients chest is suddenly stopped by impacting the steering column, but the heart is still moving forward a 65 MPH. The shear force tears the aorta."

Thanks for enlightening us Dr. Slambow, maybe next time you could explain why ostomy patients have so much trouble with excess gas. On second thought-never mind.