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1209717_19610439The focus of this web site is medicine. In this blog, you’ll read about patient stories. The situations have been changed to be HIPAA compliant. Factual statements may or may not be true. I may change ages, gender or presenting complaints about patients. I may even entirely make up complete patient encounters from my fertile imagination. Trust me, if you think I’m writing about you, I’m not. There are billions of people in this world and readers send me stories about patients all the time. It isn’t you.
You’ll also read a lot about health care policy. I may throw in posts about life lessons, computers, and will even throw in family stories once in a while. If you’re looking for articles about politics, sports, or celebrities, you’re in the wrong place – unless the topics have some relationship to medicine.
If you want to add a guest post or to cross-post something from your blog, or if you have a patient story you want me to write about, e-mail me. See more information in the “About Me” page.

“You’re Next”

By Birdstrike MD I saw a story in the news about something that happened to an ER doctor.  It reminded me of something that had happened to me before, so I started writing about it.  Then my imagination got a little bit carried away.  So, let’s just say parts of this story are absolutely true, and other parts are, well…just read along.  I walk in for my ER shift.  There’s a letter in my department mailbox.  It’s a hand written letter from a patient.  I open it, “Hey doc!  I just wanted to thank you for taking care of me last week.  It was one of the low points of my life and I really had hit rock bottom.  You’re the first one to talk to me like a human being.  You convinced me to get help.  They finally let me out.  Thanks, again.  You saved my life.  You’re a great doctor.  We should hang out sometime.” Sincerely, Jerry —– Cell: XXX-XXX-XXXX” I remember the patient.  I admitted him for severe alcohol intoxication, depression and suicidal thoughts about 2 weeks ago.  It’s not that often that you get to start out a shift with a “thank you” letter, albeit with a bizarre request at the end to “hang out sometime.”   In this ER game, you take every pat on the back you can get, because they don’t come every day. I walk to the pit to see my first patient.  First up is, “Broken wrist.”  I walk into the room and it’s him, Jerry, the letter writer.  “Hi, Jerry, what can I do for you today?” “This,” he holds up his mangled right hand and wrist.  “I got pissed off and punched a wall.” “Wow, you sure did a number on yourself.  What happened?” I ask. “Did you get my letter?” he asks. “Yes.  Why do you ask?” I wonder aloud. He stares at me silently, and uncomfortably long.  “Oh, I don’t know,” he trails off, staring through me.  “Just fix me up, and we’re good.” I walk out of the room.  That was weird, I think to myself.  I put in an order for x-ray of the hand and wrist.  I put that plate up in the air to spin, and move on to: Chest pain, Migraine, “Can’t see,” Sprained knee, “Menstrual,” “Sick still,” Split lip, “Vag drip.” Jerry’s x-ray is done.  Wow.  He’s completely shattered his wrist and 4th and 5th metacarpals in his hand.  I haven’t seen a one this bad in a long time.  I walk into his room.  “Jerry, you’ve badly fractured your hand and wrist.  You’ll probably even need surgery.  I’m going to call the orthopedic surgeon.” “No.  I want you to fix it.  You owe me, big time,” Jerry says. “No, you don’t understand.  It’s badly fractured.  You need a surgeon for this, a specialist,” I explain. “Did you hear me?  I said, ‘NO ’,” he says, gritting his teeth so hard they could shatter. After years of seeing anything from little old ladies to psychopathic criminals, it takes a lot for a patient to truly bother me, but this guy is truly disturbing in a way that’s hard to describe.  It’s time to get out of this room.  “That’s the way it has to be for you to get the best care,” I say and walk out of the room. As I get to the door, he yells, “This s—t is your fault mother f—-r!  You should have called me back.  I left my cell number on the letter for a reason.  YOU shattered my hand and wrist.  This is because of ...

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It’s ALIVE

There was a lull in the patients at 2:15 AM. Conversation turned from splinting and IV drips to baby names and childrearing as two of our nurses are currently pregnant. The aroma of freshly-brewed coffee filled the air. Then the next patient registered. A girl in her early 20s. She sheepishly came up to the registration window and said “there’s something crawling inside of me.” Yes, we thought it, too. “OK, ma’am. When was your last menstrual period?” “I think it may have been a month ago … or maybe two months.” “Did you check to make sure you’re not pregnant?” “Yes, a home pregnancy test was negative about three weeks ago.” “How long has this been going on for?” “About 3 weeks.” Yes, we thought it, too. “If this has been going on for three weeks, why did you wait until 2AM today to decide to come to the emergency department?” “Well … it was worse.” “At 2:00 AM tonight?” “Yeah. Usually it feels like a chipmunk running around inside there. It will scamper around a little bit, then it will stop. Then it will scamper around a little bit more, then stop. I was trying to get my mom to feel it tonight and it wasn’t moving, but then it felt like it had hiccups or something. I couldn’t sleep.” One of the pregnant nurses and I gave each other quizzical looks out of the corners of our eyes. Then the secretary came in and handed us the results for the normal urinalysis and the negative pregnancy test. The pregnant nurse and I gave each other another quizzical look out of the corners of our eyes. “No other problems? No diarrhea? No discharge? No pain?” “No. Nothing. Just something moving. I really need to know what it is.” The patient was rather thin. Her exam was normal. Since she was so thin, it was easy to feel that there were no masses in her stomach. Nothing. “Wait! There. Do you feel it? Feel it hiccuping right there?” She grabbed my hand and held it firmly to the middle of her stomach. “You mean that regular pulsing down deep?” “Yeah! THAT! What is it?!?” “Tell me something, can you feel the same pulsing in your neck?” At that point, the pregnant nurse standing behind me blurted out “Thank GOD! I thought I was crazy! Every time my baby moves, I feel a pulsing in my neck, too. I had no idea what it was and was too embarrassed to ask. So what is it?” “She’s not pregnant, remember?” Then both of them in unison ask “So what’s causing the pulsing?” “Her pulse maybe? Here, check your wrist and see if the pulsing is going at the same rate as the movement in your stomach.” It was. “The biggest blood vessel in your body runs right down the middle where you are feeling the movement. You’re supposed to be able to feel pulsations there.” We all got a good chuckle. After the patient went home, we all sat around the nursing station telling baby stories. While she was talking, one of the nurses started rhythmically contracting her stomach … about 60 times per minute. Everyone else joined in unison shortly thereafter. The pregnant nurse turned red. “Hey, it’s my first baby. Cut me some slack.” Everyone just kept talking and rhythmically contracting. “I’m wrapping up his poopy diapers and mailing them to all of you.” “As long as you don’t bring him in for hiccups, I’ll be fine,” I said. “You’re going to be the first one for a poop bomb, WhiteCoat.” ...

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Healthcare Update — 11-14-2013

See more updates over at my other blog at EPMonthly.com Jury finds cardiologist and hospital liable for performing unnecessary cardiac stenting in patient. Patient wanted $50 million in damages, jury can’t agree on damage award. Judge throws out case against cardiologist during jury deliberations leaving hospital as only defendant. Veteran’s hospitals paying out record amounts in settlements and court judgments for medical malpractice claims. Some of the claims include – a 20-year Marine Corps veteran paralyzed after a routine tooth extraction – an Air Force veteran who died after a surgeon burned a hole in his heart with a laser – an Army veteran who died after doctors repeatedly failed to diagnose and treat a cancerous growth that was present on the patient’s chest x-rays for more than three years – another veteran who bled to death after being left in a room after a liver biopsy and never re-evaluated The payments for VA negligence come from the Treasury budget … meaning from our pockets. One State rep notes “We focus so much on sending our soldiers to war. But when they’re coming back, we don’t have the same focus on taking care of them.” Another article in the Dayton Daily News gives more details about several of the cases. Association or causation? After drug companies voluntarily withdrew many pediatric cold medications and recommended against using others until patients reach 4 years of age, the percentage of ED visits for adverse events from such medications decreased from 4% to 2.5%. Dr. Melvyn Flye arrested for perjury when he made untrue statements as an expert witness at trial. How often do you see that happen? Actually, I think it should happen more. Arrest incidentally occurred in July, but the article just came across my newsfeed this week. Patients gone wild. Patient upset because emergency physician won’t refill his Norco prescription leaves hospital emergency department and stabs emergency department greeter in the neck on his way out the door. The greeter is in serious condition. Godspeed to her. The patient is in the Greybar Motel. Hope he doesn’t even get Tylenol. Another article on the incident courtesy of Scott DuCharme – thanks! Popular Science calls this a “rare new bacterium.” Tersicoccus phoenicis is found in NASA “cleanrooms” and is resistant to chemical cleaning, ultraviolet rays, and other sterilization procedures. Interesting questions develop in my mind. First, I doubt that the bacterium is “new,” but suspect that it is just that no one has ever looked for or found it yet. Perhaps “newly discovered” would be a better term. Second, if chemicals and sterilization don’t kill it, then what does? If the only thing absent from clean rooms is bacteria, then likely the growth of other bacteria somehow hold the growth of this bacterium in check. Hat tip to Instapundit for the link. Will the Unaffordable Insurance Act (if you were wondering, I refuse to call it the “Affordable Care Act” because it isn’t “affordable” and it doesn’t provide medical “care”) provide more reimbursement for emergency department patients? If Medicaid payments stay the same (which they won’t), then this study suggests that receipts for previously uninsured patients will increase by 17-39%. Great save. Orlando emergency physicians perform needle cricothyrotomy on an infant with a pacifier tightly lodged in his throat. Patient went to surgery and an ENT surgeon had to remove the pacifier in pieces. Why don’t newspapers ever publish the names of the doctors that do great things like this? Seems like almost all of the publicity is for malpractice and other allegations of badness. Alicia Gallegos, former medical legal reporter extraordinaire for the ...

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Got A Light?

By Birdstrike MD I walk into the ED for the 7:00am shift.  I’m 24 hours post-night shift so my body thinks it’s 3:00am and my brain feels like it’s been embalmed for 3 days.  I take my last swig of triple dark-roast Starbucks and sign up for my first patient. Chief complaint: “Lost light” Is that a misprint?  Maybe it’ll be a quick and easy one to start the day, I think to myself.  That’s just what I need, so my coffee will have some time to kick in.  I’ll just send this guy off the Lowe’s or Home Depot, I laugh to myself, so he can get a new light.  I walk into room 13 and there’s a man laying in a fetal position on a stretcher, with the bed sheet over his head.  I walk up to the side of the bed and say, “Hello sir, I’m Dr. Bird, what can I help you with today?” “Well, doc, I’m in a bad spot.  I was holding on to a light bulb, and it just popped right in,” he says with a whimper, avoiding eye contact.  Looking at his face, I notice he is as white as the bed sheet.  He’s pale and looks like death. “What are you talking about?” I ask him. “Lift up the bed sheet,” he says, looking behind himself. I lift the bed sheet and he is lying in a pool of blood.  The back of his gown is soaked.  I glance up at the blood pressure monitor and the automatic cuff had just rechecked his blood pressure: 88/58.  “Sir, are you having rectal bleeding?” I ask. “I guess you could say that.  The light bulb just popped right in,” he says again. “What?  Oh…I get it.  You mean…you, put it up your rectum?” I ask, now knowing exactly what happened.  For an ER doctor, things like this are not shocking.  In fact, they are part of the portrait painted for us every day; the bell curve of the ER doctor’s experience. “And it popped!” Ouch, I think to myself.  O U C H !  “It broke?” “It exploded in there,” he cries.   2 IVs, bang! Fluid bags hang. Time to call the OR gang. KUB ordered, Let’s see the x-ray. “Am I dying, Doc? Is this my last day?”   There it is on the x-ray: one homicidal light bulb clearly visible inside one rectum cut to ribbons, with its countless shattered glass shards, doing their best to bleed the life out of a man. “Am I gonna make it doc?” he asks me again. “You’re going to make it,” I answer.  “You got yourself here quickly.  If you had waited any longer, you might not have.” “Doc, can you please tell my wife…” “Wife?” I interrupt, surprised. “And my kids…” “Kids?” I ask. “Yes, doc, we’re here on vacation.  It’s our first family trip to Disneyland.  You wouldn’t understand,” he says, as he pulls the bed sheet over his head, as if to crawl under a rock to hide and never come out. Just then the OR team barges in the room commanding, “We’re ready for him.  Let’s go!” “What do you want me to tell your wife?” I ask him. “Doc, please, a hemorrhoid.  Just tell her it’s a little hemorrhoid.”   ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. This author does not divulge protected patient information or information from real life court cases. Any post that appears to resemble a real patient, real person, real co-workers or trial can only be by coincidence. This author does not post, has not posted and will not post factual identifying information ...

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Why Patient “Satisfaction” Could Be Making You Sick

By  Birdstrike MD All patients should be treated with professionalism and respect.  We all want our patients leaving our care happy, healthy and satisfied, if at all possible.  However, sometimes patients don’t leave an Emergency Department very happy or satisfied.  Sometimes the doctor could have prevented it, but many if not most times, such dissatisfaction has little if anything to do with what the treating physician did, or didn’t do.  The reasons for a patient being dissatisfied with a particular healthcare encounter can be very complex.  It’s not so simple as to just include a line in a survey such as, “Were you satisfied with your doctor?”  Who should be held responsible for the results of these surveys, is where the crux of this debate lies. So why are Hospitals obsessed with “patient satisfaction”? It’s the same reason Walmart puts greeters at the front door (the ED), not the back door (in-patient floors) and the same reason the Government collects taxes and not sea shells: Money.  The question we really need to be asking is: Why is the obsession with patient satisfaction in the ED so soul-crushing to those that work there?  1-Lack of Control A patient pulls into the ED parking lot.  The lot is full.  He doesn’t feel well, he’s in a hurry and having to search for a parking spot irritates him.  The wait to see a doctor is long, too long.  Once finally in his room, he sees a drop of blood on the floor from the previous patient.  He’s disgusted.  Despite great care by the doctor, it biases his overall view of the experience.  As much as he tries to remain objective, the patient satisfaction score suffers.  The patient gives a “1 star out of 5” review after discharge, but writes in the comments, “Doctor and nurse were great, though!”  The tabulated score remains 1/5, or “FAIL.”  The doctor gets pulled aside at her next group meeting and is told she’s on watch due to low scores.  She’s never been fired from a job in her life, but now her job is in jeopardy, over something which she has no control. A patient leaves an ED satisfied.  He gets a patient satisfaction survey and throws it aside.  He has no need for it.  The visit went great.  It’s his preferred hospital for anytime he gets in a bar fight and needs to be sewed up.  He got in, got his knuckles stitched, and got a free Sierra mist and a meal tray.  On his way out the door, he tweets, “#CityGeneralERrocks!” on his smart phone to the world’s prospective ER “customers.”  Six weeks later, all has healed well, and there’s barely a scar.  Then, the bill comes.  “!&@!?#€!!!,” he thinks.  “$920?  Screw that place!”  He grabs the survey and nukes the hospital, doctor and nurse all with the lowest score possible.  He writes in the comments, “I would have rated you a ‘negative infinity’ if the scale went that low!” You can save a life, walk out of the trauma bay drained but proud, and be pulled aside and told that on last months survey, you didn’t get a patient a coffee “like they do at the car dealership.”  You are told, “Get those scores up.  Administration is watching.”  It translates into, “You suck.”  It’s not that big of a deal, right?  Maybe you should brush it off, but you are human.  You haven’t “evolved” to the “new way” yet.  You’ve heard of ER doctors losing their group contracts and therefore their jobs over things like this.  It bothers you. There’s a complete and utter ...

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Memorable Patients

In my medical career, there have been a handful of patients that I remember well. Like frames on a storyboard, when I think back upon the tens of thousands of patients I have treated, these patients always seem to come to mind. Perhaps as a precursor of things to come, I even wrote stories about some of them early in my career when I saw them. I remember the first time that I drew blood on an elderly patient and how it seemed like her room was a prison cell. I’m sure she passed away a long time ago, but I can still remember looking into her eyes and wondering what this poor woman had been through in her life. I remember one of the first surgeries that I was asked to scrub in on during my Ob/Gyn rotation. They called it a “TOP”. I was excited to be a part of it. Then I learned that “TOP” stood for “Termination of Pregnancy.” I remember feeling uneasy as the resident showed me how to use the currette. I remember almost passing out when I looked through the speculum and saw a tiny white hand laying across the red surface of the patient’s cervix. I remember almost vomiting as a resident as a nurse told me that an intoxicated patient with dizziness just needed to “sleep it off” … right before he vomited a liter of blood all over her and over the curtain a couple of feet behind her. And of course there was the lollipop lady. I wrote a post about her already. Recently another patient was added to the storyboard of my medical career. I’m not sure if there was anything so memorable about her, but perhaps it was her blase demeanor in the face of a rather messy problem. Well … you can decide. The patient was in her mid- to late-60s, was well spoken, pleasant, and well-kempt. She had changed into a gown and her clothes lay neatly folded on the chair across the room. Her problem was a regulation of her bowels. First, she had diarrhea for a couple of days. She took some Imodium and Pepto Bismol and the diarrhea stopped. But then she had no bowel movement for two days. That was to be expected since after diarrhea stops it often takes the body a day or two to create more stool. The patient became concerned after having no bowel movement on the second day and she took a laxative, thinking that she may have a bowel obstruction. Then she had black colored diarrhea. Her stool was hemoccult negative, meaning the black color was likely from the bismuth in the Pepto Bismol. Bismuth combines with small amounts of sulfur in your GI tract and can turn your tongue and your stool black. Examining her closer showed that there was dried black crust all of the way down the inside of both her legs. She had passed enough diarrhea that her buttocks had become inflamed and it hurt when she sat down, so she preferred to lay on her side. She got a liter of fluid, we got a CBC, chemistries, and a stool sample just to make sure there wasn’t an infectious etiology for her symptoms and that she didn’t have a metabolic acidosis. Everything was normal. Then the strangeness began. I went back into the room to see how the patient was feeling. I could hear the lid on the infectious waste container slamming shut as I entered the room. Then I got hit head-on by a foul smell. I pulled the curtain ...

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