Archives for November 2011

Oldest Trick in the Book


I’ve never been to nursing school. But I like to imagine it goes something like this:

On the first day, you walk into class, surrounded by other bright-eyed, eager young students ready to learn the art and science of nursing. Textbooks weigh down your bag, and your pencils are sharp and ready.

Before you stands your instructor, an impressive-looking MSN whose carriage suggests many, many nights spent awake amidst the cool blue lights and quiet beeps of a MICU. As you watch, she strides to the whiteboard and writes in block letters:

Lesson One: The ID Flip

Lesson two is eye-rolling.

Most hospitals, just like most ambulance services, require that clinical staff wear an ID badge at all time. This identifies them by name and role (nurse, doctor, PA, etc.), and often gives them access to secure areas as well.

Long ago, some canny soul discovered that when patients know your name, they can complain about you. If they decide that they don’t like you, whether justified or not, they can call people — like your boss — and unleash angry, entitled, and very personalized tirades about “Sarah Roberts, that mean witch who told me to shut up and stop smoking heroin.”

“Well,” we figure; “if they don’t know our name, they can’t complain.” So although the powers-that-be did insist that badges be worn, we started hanging them in odd places, like from our belt, or inside a pocket. Or covering them with stickers and other things. But the best of all answer of all was elegantly geometric, made especially easy by free-spinning retractable ID clips: simply twist the card so it faces your chest, and the only thing visible is whatever text happens to be printed on the back. Technically, you’re still wearing the thing, and if the boss notices you can just say “whoops, it got twisted,” but nobody can actually read your name, and, ninja-like, you can move through the ward unseen, a bescrubbed ghost.

The nurses have turned this into an art-form, and in some places it’s like finding a four-leafed clover to see an RN with a visible ID (usually I figure they’re new there). But we’ve become awfully fond of this in EMS as well.

People, I realize that the world’s a rough place, that patients can be impossible to please, and that even the best of us need to take steps to ensure we still have a job tomorrow. I do understand this. But there’s a certain point where you have to stop digging trenches, and realize that if you’re giving great care, following procedure, behaving professionally, and generally toeing the line, then you should be willing to stand behind your work. If you’re employed at the kind of place that’s willing to take any complaint as reason to show you the door, I assure you that no amount of ID-flipping will save you. Your days are numbered. Of course, even a good service will eventually start clearing their throat and looking at you pointedly if your personnel file begins to grow particularly fat, but at that point, maybe you really should consider managing your douche coefficient.

Besides, this should all be moot, because when you meet your patient you’re introducing yourself by name anyway. Because that’s just common courtesy when you greet people. And patients are people. Right?

Strive to do the kind of work that allows you the confidence to stand behind it. When someone points at you with forehead veins a-pulsing and demands to know your name so your supervisor can “hear about it,” tell them and tell them proudly. Sometimes, doing the right thing won’t be a defense against trouble — but you can be sure that playing “who, me?” will run out of rope even sooner than that.

Clip your ID somewhere obvious — mine goes on my shoulder — where patients and staff alike can easily see it, and know what to call you and what role you’ll be playing in this show. When I see somebody with a visible ID, I take this as a good sign about their responsibility and willingness to own their work. And those are qualities we need in EMS.

The “Big Picture” Diagnosis

Our topic for today: diagnosis using a broad constellation of indicators, not a single red flag.

To mix things up, rather than read about it, let’s talk about it.

Here’s the quote I mentioned, from TOTWTYTR at the CCC blog.

CPR for Dummies: How to Save a Life

One of the peculiarities of EMS education — and as a byproduct, of EMS practice and culture — is that we spend the majority of our time focusing on the minority of our calls. Think about it: your textbook has pages and pages devoted to ruptured aortic aneurysms, placentas previa, and mid-femur fractures — and when’s the last time you saw one of those? But scarcely a paragraph is given to the routine transfer, the drunk asleep on the sidewalk, or the MVC with minimal injuries. Call it an inverted pyramid: the most important stuff is low-volume, the most common stuff is pretty easy.

Whatever. The point is, at the very apex of this pyramid is the cardiac arrest. In its purest form, cardiac arrest is exactly why EMS exists. It couldn’t be higher stakes — as a disease, it’s absolutely certain to be life-threatening — and it’s terribly time sensitive, but the potential exists for a total cure if everything goes well.

Unfortunately, like many low-probability calls, we don’t get a great deal of experience with these — even less if your shift isn’t dedicated to emergencies. And when we don’t get much experience with something, that’s when training needs to fill in the gaps.

CPR and BLS resuscitation can seem like a confusing topic, especially given the frequent and seemingly arbitrary changes to the guidelines. The truth is, though, that it’s only gotten simpler and simpler — and you don’t need to follow the research (read: be a giant nerd like me) in order to know exactly what to do. Here’s the short, stripped-down, painless rules for how to save a life.


Push and Zap

Basically, after around sixty years of research on resuscitation, there are only two things that we know for sure help people survive cardiac arrest: chest compressions and defibrillation.

Literally, just those two things. Oh, there’s other stuff — ventilation, drugs, devices — that seem to help briefly, but so far nothing else has been proven to get someone’s heart beating again and let them walk out of the hospital with a working brain. Now, some of those other things do seem like pretty good ideas, and in many cases we started doing them before we knew if they’d really help or not, so we’re still doing them because people are used to it; it’s part of our training, and it’ll take some extra-compelling evidence to make us actually stop doing that stuff. But still, the story so far: chest compressions and defibrillation definitely help people survive, and that’s it.

What this means is that they should be your number one priority. If your patient is in cardiac arrest, that’s what they need. Other stuff? It may or may not be helpful; if you have the chance, or the personnel, and it doesn’t interfere with chest compressions and defibrillation, then you could go ahead and do it. It might help. But delaying or stopping the big two for that other stuff is like making a thirsty man wait for a drink of water while you comb his hair.


Early, Hard, Fast, Uninterrupted, and Full Recoil

Okay, so, chest compressions. Easy enough. Anyone can do ’em, all you need is your hands, just jump in there and push.

However, that’s not quite the whole story: the quality of compressions matters a great deal. We are literally pumping blood here; we are creating mechanical pressure to replace the squeezing of the heart. Just like you can wriggle a bicycle pump ineffectually without making much progress on inflating your tires, so too can you make goofy movements on someone’s chest without providing much perfusion. Even at its best, CPR only provides weak circulation compared to a real heartbeat; if you give poor CPR that’s even worse.

So here are the key components:

  • Early: Compressions should be initiated as soon as possible after arrest. That means, if I go down now, ideally you’ll start pushing on my chest as soon as I hit the ground. Typically that’s not possible, but mere seconds really do matter here; the longer there’s no circulation, the more tissue is endangered (all tissue, but particularly the vulnerable heart and brain), and the less likely that defibrillation will be successful — or if it is, the more likely there will be permanent complications.
  • Hard: Good chest compressions are a violent, aggressive act. We now recommend a depth of at least 2 inches in adults, which if you examine a mannequin (or fellow human) is remarkably deep. (Yes, “at least” means that going deeper is fine; compressions that are “too deep” are rarely seen in real life.) This isn’t a gentle cardiac massage, it’s not the mellow bouncing you usually see in movies, it’s a deep, powerful, oscillating thrust. It should tire you out, which is why we recommend changing personnel frequently; even when you think you’re still doing well after a few minutes, you’re probably not.
  • Fast: The recommended rate is now “at least” 100 compressions per minute. Since nobody knows what this means without a metronome, I highly recommend “musical pacing,” or using the beat of a well-known song to learn the rate. Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees is the classic; I like Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust myself. Again, 100 is an “at least” rate, so faster is better than slower. Admittedly, if you go extremely fast the heart won’t have time to fill between squeezes, but most “ludicrous speed!” CPR tends to have poor depth, and self-regulates anyway once you get tired.
  • Uninterrupted: Just like it’s essential to begin compressions as soon as possible, it’s equally essential to stop them for nothing. It’s not just that every moment you spend off the chest is “dead time” in which no blood is circulating; it’s worse than that. Chest compressions need to generate some “momentum” in order to create enough pressure to perfuse the heart; several consecutive compressions are needed before you’re really moving much blood at all. If you keep stopping — and studies show that everyone stops far more than they realize, to fiddle with one thing or another — you’re wasting those gains as soon as you’ve achieved them. Maximizing this “compression fraction” should be a primary goal; once you get on that chest, don’t stop for anything else unless it’s literally more important than circulating blood.
  • Full recoil: Among otherwise skilled rescuers, one of the most common errors is failing to allow for full recoil of the chest. In other words, you press down deeply, but rather than releasing fully, you start the next compression before you’ve come all the way up. This shortens the stroke of the pump just as much as if you were giving shallow compressions, and for several complex reasons (in particular the loss of preload) can reduce circulation in other ways too. We do this one particularly when we start to get tired, and begin to leaaaan forward to rest on the chest.


It’s really as simple as this: once the heart’s entered fibrillation (or to a lesser extent a pulseless V-tach), the only plausible way to fix it is with electricity. These people are not going to “come to”; they are not going to have a Baywatch moment where they cough out water and wake up, even if you give them great CPR. They have an intractable problem, and the cure for it is an electric shock. Defibrillation is life-saving.

For most of us, this means using an AED, the automated devices you see everywhere from airports to ambulances. The reason they’re everywhere is because their use is time-sensitive, and if you drop dead ten miles from the nearest one, it might as well be ten light-years. No matter where you are, compressions must be performed to buy you time, and a defibrillator must be found to shock you back. If both don’t happen quickly, you will probably stay dead forever.

There are argument about some of the technical aspects of defibrillation, such as pad placement and waveform, but so far none of these details have proven to be very important. What is important is that you shock early, and get ready to shock without interfering with those compressions. Whenever possible, while one person gives compressions, someone else should clear off the chest by cutting or pulling the shirt from under the compressor’s hands, place the pads around them, and start the AED’s cycle. For many models of AED, there will be a period of several seconds while it walks you through voice prompts (telling you to stay calm, call for help, etc; these devices are designed to be usable by laypersons with no training), which should be ignored while you continue your CPR.

Once the AED tells that it’s analyzing the rhythm, you will need to stop compressions; this is the computer’s opportunity to decide whether the patient can be shocked or not, and interfering with this will just delay the process. If it doesn’t advise a shock, get back on the chest; you may have better luck later. If it does advise a shock, get back on the chest anyway! It’ll need to charge first, which may take quite a few seconds, and remember — every second matters. (Just make sure the whole team’s on the same page here, so that nobody pushes “Shock” until you’re clear.)

As soon as the AED announces that it’s ready to shock, everyone should be ready: cleared from the patient and prepared to shock. In a coordinated fashion, the compressor should clear the chest, the shock should be delivered, and he should immediately resume compressions with a pause of only a second or two. Rinse, lather, repeat.

When do you stop this process? When someone much smarter than you says to stop; or when the patient demonstrates clear signs of life (such as movement, breathing, or improved skin signs — or for the medics, a spike in end-tidal CO2). Don’t keep stopping to palpate pulses and otherwise fiddle with the patient. Like a soufflé or a Schroedinger’s cat, you must have faith in the process here, because checking on the process will assuredly cause it to fail.


It Ain’t Rocket Science

People, there are other details to this process, which is why they make us take CPR classes and carry the little cards around. And in 2015, there might be some new ideas on how we can do it best. Research continues apace in the countless EMS systems around the world that are experimenting with different technologies, techniques, and methods to improve survival. That’s how we’ve come from 1–2% survival rates to the 50%+ that a few cities now enjoy. It’s slow going, but it’s going.

But the best methods won’t matter if you don’t use them, and a lot of effort has been given to make our current methods truly simple. You literally can’t go wrong if you give great compressions and defibrillate as soon as possible. You can certainly go wrong if you forget that those are the two most important, life-saving measures — but you’d never forget that, would you?

Push and zap, folks. It’s so easy, an EMT can do it.

Russ Reina: Moments in the Death of a Flesh Mechanic

Russ Reina runs one of my “sister blogs” on the EMS Blogs network, EMS Outside Agitator. Although no longer working in EMS, he spent over a decade as a medic, way back in ’70s when the paramedic concept was first being introduced in the US; he later became involved with various other things including writing a film, working with Native American healing arts, and a book — Moments in the Death of a Flesh Mechanic: a Healer’s Rebirth. More recently he’s become active in the online EMS community via his blog, forums (he’s a moderator over at, and similar venues.

Some time ago, Russ sent me a free copy of his book in exchange for my honest review. I read it, and enjoyed it, but it’s been sitting on my shelf since, because I haven’t been sure what to say about it.

To start with, let’s mention the elephant in the room. The stuff Russ talks about makes people uncomfortable. To be sure, he’s walked the walk, spending more hours on the road than many of us, and doing it in a time and place where that meant wielding tremendous responsibility in patient care. It’s hard to argue that he was a skilled and competent medic in his day, the kind of guy you’d be glad to have on scene or sitting beside you in the cab. But since then, he’s gone down a different road, and done a lot of… other stuff.

Tending fires in sweatlodges. Reiki. Personal growth and healing. If you click through his personal website, your first reaction is probably “… huh.” For the typical EMSer this is not really our wheelhouse, and at best, it places Russ firmly in the realm of alternative viewpoints. At worst it puts him in the same cart as the other EMS goofballs who do their job but are universally considered space cadets. (Admittedly this is a large cart, but still, it’s not great company.)

I confess that I share some of this attitude. I’m a simple, concrete guy at heart. But I also think that the things Russ talks about, and forces us to think about, are important — and that the reason we’re uncomfortable with them is the reason that we need to have that conversation.

The basic aim of his book is to weave together the calls he ran, the patients he sat beside, the lives and the deaths he saw, and look for the common threads. Not in the patients, but in him. As a paramedic, what was his role? When you take a step back from this job, when you stop for a moment and consider what it’s all about, what’s really going on?

If we’re diligent, and competent providers, we spend a great deal of time trying to improve the quality of our work: our knowledge base, our hands-on skills, our understanding of medicine and the human body — the how. But very little attention is ever given to the why. Why do we do this? It’s easy to be cynical — “well, the schedules are good, you get to cut people’s clothes off, and I was too dumb for anything else.” We’re professional cynics, and the job tends to beat the mushy stuff out of us. But although we rarely admit it, most of us did choose this job for real, human reasons. Something about helping people.

So we show up at the door wanting to help people. Then, usually a couple years later, most of us leave EMS to become nurses or electricians or vacuum cleaner repairmen. What happened between point A and point B?

You can call it burn-out, you can call it low morale. You can blame low pay and a “revolving door” culture and a million other things, most of which are valid and true. But the fact remains that even though people are coming to EMS with the right intentions, most of them aren’t surviving here for long, and of the ones who do stick around, many are empty shells, long since stripped of any human connection they once sought. This is an ill system. It’s not dying, we’re not end-stage, but we are not healthy or happy: the methods, mindsets, attitudes, and overall “immune system” necessary to keep us all going, to maintain our ideal homeostasis, is missing. Individually and collectively, as time passes we move down rather than up. Some rare individuals do find solid grounding and manage to put in 20 years as fully-functional people as well as caregivers, but they are the exception, and they do it by developing these tools on their own.

It’s not about competence. Many of our “walking wounded” are competent clinicians, adequate or even excellent technicians. Russ calls them flesh mechanics. We master the skills of of patching holes, adjusting rhythms, replacing fluids, and generally repairing the broken parts of the human body, all without ever acknowledging the people inside those bodies. To some extent, of course, this is an essential part of the job — it’s the M in EMS, it’s why we’re called to the scene. We ought to try and be excellent mechanics so we can save the most lives and mend the most harm. But this whole process is entirely separate and distinct from the motivations that brought us to the job to begin with. There’s a fundamental difference between tending to a car and tending to a person, and when we successfully manage to eradicate the human element, we quickly find ourselves unsatisfied and burned-out with our work. (It’s not like we’re getting rich doing it, or otherwise being externally rewarded.) Russ’s own journey of transitioning from a pure flesh mechanic back into someone who worked with people is the focus of his book.

Why do we do it? There are dozens of reasons you might pick. Some folks like to work and play at the boundaries, the liminal spaces between life and death. Some just really like meeting the people. Some, like Russ, have a more spiritual approach. Some find meaning from the teachings of traditional religion.

As for myself, I hate death, and suffering, and I want to guard people from it. And I think that I probably get an ego boost from fighting for the weak, and certainly from uncovering an interesting diagnosis. But most of all — and it’s the mindset I advocate for on this site — I simply adopt a deontological outlook: I believe that when we take a patient into our care, we assume a duty to do everything possible on their behalf. Not the duty to weigh the pros and cons, not to judge their need or worthiness, but simply to do it. Everyone deserves at least that.

But you might disagree. And that’s the key: many of us will disagree on how to handle the “why.” Unquestionably, I disagree with many of Russ’s views, or simply find them alien. However, I still think that it’s absolutely essential that we each find some meaning. There must be some human purpose to our work or we will not be happy, and eventually, we will not do it anymore. That’s the secret that Russ was able to uncover after enough years on the job and enough years away from it. Dozens of answers to the question are acceptable, but we at least have to ask the question; we do have to think about these things and not brush them aside. We have to operate on this level or we will not survive in the long run. Spirituality may or may not underly EMS as you understand it. But people — not just patients, not just broken machines — are unavoidably central to practicing medicine. You can do the job without that human connection, without the “why,” but it’s like showering with your raincoat on. You can’t feel it, and you won’t do a good job, and eventually you’ll give up and stop trying.

So to make a long story short, I think the task Russ has undertaken as an “agitator” is a tough one, and he won’t win many fans. Although he often clashes with the Rogue Medic, their jobs are not dissimilar; one is an continual gadfly working to force us toward better evidence-based medicine, and the other is a continual gadfly working to force us toward a healthier understanding of our job. I wouldn’t want to be either one. But I’m glad they’re here, because I also don’t want to watch good people being wasted in the cauldron of cynicism and pointlessness that is much of EMS today.

In any case, I do recommend his book. It’s an enjoyable read, well-written, with plenty of the entertaining stories that all veteran medics collect and that make the best EMS blogs and literature such good reads. It’s also a rare view of the early, Johnny-and-Roy days of paramedicine, and it’s fascinating to see what’s changed over the years and what hasn’t.

But mostly, I think it’s worth reading because Russ’s crusade really does have a vital purpose. If I have a quibble, other than the fact that his unorthodox background may turn many readers away from his message (although fairly little of that is present in the book), it’s that despite raising awareness to the problem, Russ is relatively silent as its to solutions. Of course, this may be the nature of the beast, where each of us needs to find his own answers. But on the large scale, I doubt the endemic disease of EMS will be cured in this way.

We can try, though. Let’s try.

Thoughts from WMEMS

This past weekend, I was able to attend the Western Massachusetts EMS Conference alongside such luminaries as Scott Kier and Kyle David Bates (of the extraordinary Pedi-U podcast). We sat through two days of outstanding lectures on various EMS-related topics, and walked away with some ideas and information I haven’t found anywhere else. Here are just a few of the unique pearls from the conference. Thanks to everyone for the great time!


Kyle David Bates on Mechanism of Injury

  • In an MVC, ejected (that is, fully ejected) victims have a 1/3 chance of a cervical spine fracture.
  • They also have around 25 times higher chance of mortality than an equivalent non-ejected patient.
  • Is “another death in the same vehicle” a legitimate concern when considering mechanism? Yes, but make sure that death wasn’t from an localized cause—for instance, a girder in the face, or they had a heart attack before they crashed.
  • How about “intrusion”? Over twelve inches into the patient compartment where your patient is found (meaning, visible from inside—not from the outside, which includes the buffer space of the walls), not including areas like the hood, trunk, etc. Alternately, over 18 inches into the patient compartment in areas where your patient is not found—for instance, the rear seating area, when you’re treating the solo driver.
  • “Distracting injuries” can mean painful injuries that distract the patient, but also gross stuff that distracts the provider. Consider a head-to-toe on virtually everyone, even when the funky arm fracture is drawing your attention.
  • Many “trauma” patients are no longer being treated with surgery anyway, so sending everything to the trauma centers overloads them for no reason.
  • One more reason why the sternal rub is not a great diagnostic: if they do clutch at their chest in response, is that localizing—or an abnormal, decorticate flexion response? Different GCS scores, but you can’t tell.
  • Are extremity injuries significant mechanisms? Penetrating injury proximal to the elbows or knees should be considered threatening to the torso, so yes. Pelvic fractures? For sure. (“How much blood can you lose into your pelvis? All of it!”)
  • With the automobile safety technology available today, you can crash fast, turn your car into a paperweight, but walk away unharmed. We no longer care about “high-speed,” only “high-risk,” which has many factors (see the Rogue Medic’s recent post on this).
  • Auto vs. pedestrians: kids get upper body injuries; adults get lateral trauma as we turn and try to get out of the way. Both can get run over.
  • Motorcycles. Harley-type riders seem to have more head injuries: they get hit by cars, due to low profile and dark clothing, and they wear partial helmets. Sports bikes get more extremity injuries: they wear good protection, are higher visibility, but they ride fast and run into things, breaking any and every bone they have.
  • Rollovers: no longer trauma criteria. You can roll and do great if you’re restrained. Number of rolls, final position, even roof intrusion have no correlation to injury severity.
  • Extrication time >20 minutes: no longer trauma criteria. Sometimes it just takes a while due to weather, access, etc, and newer vehicles are supposed to crumple more anyway.
  • Are burns trauma criteria? No. If they need specialized care, it’s a burn center, but this is not that time-sensitive—more a long-term management thing—so someone with burns and trauma should go to the trauma center instead, can be transferred later for burn care.
  • Helicopter transport: costs can range from $2,000 to $20,000 depending on distance, and insurers are refusing to pay many of these bills due to lack of necessity. Also consider the possibility of everyone dying in a fiery crash. Weigh cost vs. benefit.

Kyle David Bates on Shortness of Breath

  • Anxiety is caused by hypoxia; the cure for this is supplemental oxygen.
  • Sleepiness is caused by hypercapnia; the cure for this is bagging.
  • OPA or NPA? Testing the gag reflex may create a bigger airway problem (vomit). Better yet, check the mouth for pooled saliva; if present, there is no gag, use an OPA. If absent, they have a gag and are managing their own secretions, use an NPA.
  • Respiratory distress means there’s a problem, but they’re compensating (compensatory signs like tachypnea).
  • Respiratory failure means they’re decompensating (hypoxic/hypercarbic signs like altered mental status, cyanosis, falling sats)
  • Respiratory arrest means they’re not breathing.
  • Normal inspiration:expiration cycle about 1:2. Obstructive pulmonary problems impede expiration first, because that’s the passive process—it’s easier to inhale past obstructions because it’s an active process. So asthmatics have ratios like 1:4 or 1:5, they’re using active exhalation, and using auto-PEEP maneuvers. (Pursed lips in adults, grunting in kids.)
  • In adults, look for retractions intercostal (between the ribs) and sternal notch (between the clavicles); in kids, look substernal (below the ribs).
  • 40% of patients hospitalized with asthma have a pneumothorax! (Not necessarily clinically significant, though.)
  • Pulsus paradoxus/paradoxical pulses are a useful early sign of significant pulmonary dysfunction.
  • 90% of asthma attacks linked with an allergic reaction; however, rhinovirus (the common cold) may now be a contender. Others include: exercise (not sure why; maybe the temperature differential), active menstruation (asthma very common in young post-pubescent women—maybe the hormones), psychological (stress, panic), aspirin use.
  • Kids compensate great, so cyanosis (a decompensation sign) in kids is very late and very bad.
  • Risk-stratify these patients, because high risk patients can decompensate fast even if they look okay now. Previous hospitalizations? ICU admits? Intubations?
  • Cough asthma: no dyspnea, just dry coughing. It happens.
  • Smokers: measured in pack-years. 1 pack a day for 20 years is 20 pack-years, 2 packs a day for 5 years is 10 pack-years; 30–35 pack-years is where we start to see bad dysfunction.
  • Best place to check skin? Under the lower eyelid—lift it and check the mucus membranes. Dry for dehydration, pale for shock, blue for cyanosis, the whole gamut.
  • Ascites is a sign of fluid overload; try the fluid wave test. (Scroll down to “Examining for a fluid wave” here.)
  • Nebulized ipratropium/Atrovent: its role is mainly to reduce mucus and secretions (cf. atropine). Tachycardia etc. is not a contraindication, because it’s not absorbed systemically; it remains in the lungs.
  • Give nebs by hand-held mask or T-piece instead of strapping it to their face; that way you have a warning of deterioration when they can no longer hold it to their face.
  • Bronchodilators may not work great in beta-blocked patients.
  • Steroids take hours to have an effect, but the earlier they’re given the better the outcomes; give ’em if you have ’em.
  • If they need RSI, ketamine is nice because it also bronchodilates.
  • “Facilitated intubation” (i.e. snow ’em with a ton of benzos/narcs)? Be careful, because if you don’t get that tube, it’ll take forever to wear off; these aren’t short-duration drugs.

Kyle David Bates on Pediatrics

  • Use the Pediatric Assessment Triangle! Appearance, Work of Breathing, Circulation.
  • Appearance: General activity level and impression. Muscle tone, interactivity and engagement, look/gaze, crying. Appropriate appearance depends on age. Indicates a CNS/metabolic problem. (Make sure to check their sugar.)
  • Work of Breathing: Flaring, retractions, audible sounds, positioning. Remember they’re belly breathers.
  • Circulation: mostly skin. Cyanosis (bad), pallor, mottling (pallor + patchy cyanosis), marbling (in newborns—bright red skin with visible blood vessels, maybe some white areas—this is normal). Check cap refill on bottom of foot in little kids.
  • Shock in kids is most often from dehydration.
  • Airway: crying is a great sign. Remember to pad under the shoulders when lying flat, their huge heads can tip them forward and block the airway. Avoid NPAs in infants. In very small kids, breath sounds can transmit, so you may hear upper sounds in the chest or chest sounds in the trachea.
  • Under 2 months: peripheral cyanosis is normal, central cyanosis is bad. Limited behavior, often won’t visually track. Ask parents if their behavior is normal. Ask about obstetric history, it’s still relevant. They have no immune system really, so any infection (temp over 100.4) is a serious emergency.
  • 2–6 months: social smile, will track visually, recognize mom, strong cry and can roll/sit with support. May still be okay with strangers, but try to keep them with parents; if parents like you, they’ll like you
  • 6–12 months: stranger anxiety (unless they’re raised very communally). Very mobile and explore with their mouth, so always think about foreign body airway obstructions, especially up the nose, especially for dyspnea with sudden onset. Separation anxiety, so keep with parent. Offer distractions (toys, etc.). Do exam from toe to head so they get used to you before you reach their face.
  • 1–3 yrs (toddlers, “terrible 2s”): mobile, curious, opinionated, ego-centric, can’t abstractly connect cause-and-effect but learn from experience. Keep with the parents, distract them, assess painful part last (or everything you touch afterwards will hurt). May talk a lot or not much, it’s all normal, but they always understand more than they let on, so be careful what you say.
  • 3–5 yrs (preschool): magical thinkers, misconceptions (“silly” ideas like if they leak too much they’ll run out of blood), many fears (death/darkness/mutilation/aloneness), short attention span. Explain things in simple terms, relate to them (any cartoons or toys in the house you recognize?), use toys, involve them (here hold this, which arm should I use, etc). Don’t ever negotiate, just tell them what to do; praise them often; never ridicule.
  • 6–12 yrs (school aged): talkative, mobile, may not get cause and effect, want reassurance, involvement, praise. Live in present, may not think about danger or risk. Peer involvement. Speak directly to them, anticipate questions (will this hurt? am I going to die?), give simple explanations, don’t ever lie, respect privacy. If you need to do something painful (IVs, etc.) don’t tell them until just before, or they’ll dwell on it. Head-to-toe okay.
  • 13–18 (adolescents): regress when hurt or sick—act like big toddlers. Can understand and theoretically have common sense, but still take risks. Peer support. Speak directly, give concrete explanations, respect privacy, have patience.
  • Under 21 usually considered “pediatric.”
  • Degree of fever temp not associated with severity. No actual danger to brain until 106–107 degrees F or so.

Dr. Lisa Patterson on Trauma and Field Triage

  • RR <20 in infants is trauma center criteria since this is the one easily-measurable vital sign for them.
  • Crushed/degloved/mangled extremities: although not life-threatening, still worth the divert, because usually needs multi-specialty care (plastic surgery, orthopedics, hand specialists, etc.) to maximize function.
  • Calling in “altered mental status” or “unresponsive” is not super helpful—give a GCS or otherwise specify what you mean, there’s a big range here.
  • Trauma activations here are typically three tiers: category 1 (life threat), category 2 (no immediate emergency, but some concern or suspicion due to mechanism or presentation), consult (no concern on initial presentation, but later decision to admit, trauma paged down to consult).
  • Activation may alert/standby numerous parties including radiology, OR, pharm, blood bank, lab, ICU, respiratory, anesthesiology, social workers, etc. Not a small thing.

Sean Dorr on OEMS investigations

  • [This is Massachusetts-specific information; local providers can contact me directly if they want to hear about some of this material.— ed.]

Ginnie Teed on Organ and Tissue Donation

  • Donation is hugely hugely valuable and lifesaving, but there’s not nearly enough. About 60-70% of Americans are registered donors, around 100 million people, but only 1% end up as usable donors and we need far more. Low rates aren’t from consent, they’re from the logistics of getting viable candidates.
  • Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) is federal regulation providing basic requirements for process; states use this standard to form their own systems. Registered donors must be recognized and organ procurement agencies are required to advocate for them even against wishes of family, etc. Driver’s license “opt-in” now considered legal consent in some but not all states.
  • National Organ Transplant Act establishes the rules of the registry, blinds the entire process, prevents manipulation or line-jumping; the database is centralized and controlled; you can’t legally buy or otherwise get around the system. Manipulation is taken very very seriously and massively investigated, because it’s not only unethical, the pall it casts over the process makes others decide not to donate—the result is many lives lost.
  • Referrals (i.e. calling procurement organization to say, “we have a potential donor”) come from hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, whomever. This process is exempt from HIPAA.
  • Tissues tested more heavily than organs, because if an infection is carried through transplanted (i.e. nonliving) tissue, it’s almost impossible to eradicate.
  • Organs used: vital organs. Heart, lungs, kidneys and livers (most common), pancreas, sometimes small bowel. Max 9 organs per donor.
  • Tissues used: not living, usually good for about 24 hours after death. Bones (not marrow, which is living), although we try to not obviously mutilate people (for their family’s sake), skin (hugely beneficial), corneas, vessels, heart valves, pericardium, connective tissue (for orthopedic repairs).
  • Three ways to declare death: neurological (no brain activity; body only alive due to our mechanical support; recovery team responds to site and performs planned recovery); cardiac death (heart stops; not planned); planned extubation/cardiac death (patient is mechanically supported, determination made that there is no possibility to survive on their own; vent is pulled, if heart stops within 59 minutes they can take some organs; usually just the durable liver and kidneys unless bypass is available).
  • Live organs can only be taken from perfused patients. Someone “dead” (i.e. no pulses) can be a tissue donor but not an organ donor unless you get ROSC. No point in continuing CPR to “maintain the organs” if there’s no possibility of getting return of circulation.
  • EMS documentation absolutely critical for determining donor eligibility. Need to know downtime in arrests, how much CPR, any ROSC no matter how brief, events/mechanism leading to arrest. There are hard limits on fluid/blood/colloids received, so they must know how much fluid you gave (reasonable estimate is fine). Must document all needlesticks, number and location; if they find any holes that aren’t accounted for they’ll have to assume they’re a drug user or that additional lines were started and extra liters given. If you don’t want to document something at least tell the receiving staff.
  • If blood is drawn, label must be placed so that expiration date of tube is still readable (FDA requirement).
  • Every donor can save up to 200 people; failure to document can kill just as many.

UMass Memorial LifeFlight on Air Ambulance Transport

  • Consider: how do you want the helicopter used? Need their higher level of care? Rapid transport to trauma center? Transport multiple patients in an MCI to more distant hospitals to reduce burden on closest facilities? Can even split the crew to provide higher level of care for multiple ground ambulances.
  • Many services simply will not fly into a hazmat situation.
  • Best makeshift landing zones are schools—big open areas, everyone knows where it is.
  • Wires are a major hazard, make sure to warn pilot—you can see them but he can’t.
  • Need about 100 x 100 ft for an LZ, or 35–40 big-ish strides per side. Secure the area against bystanders.
  • Hazards to clear, alert the pilot to, or just pick another spot: poles, antennas, trees, bushes, livestock, stumps, holes, rocks, logs, mile markers, debris. Tall grass can hide hazards. Close all vehicle doors, put your chinstraps on, secure loose items. Don’t stare at the bird landing, turn your back and watch for hazards.
  • Bad surfaces are dust, dirt, snow, ice, hay. Snow should ideally be very fluffy or very packed. If they land and get iced they may not be able to take off again. Don’t wash down a dusty LZ unless pilot requests it. Paved areas are simplest and best. Large clear roadways can land multiple choppers in a row.
  • Lighting options: orange traffic cone at each corner, with a handlight placed in each at nighttime. Or, flashing ministrobe at each corner. Or, vehicle headlights crossing the LZ. Don’t shine anything up at the helo, don’t mark with loose material, don’t use flares.
  • Designate one person as LZ Command (not the IC). Nobody else communicates with the helicopter. Your portable radio probably won’t reach them; use the mobile in the truck. If there’s any hazard on final approach, say one word—”STOP”—and pilot will abort.
  • Most crashes are pilot error, and most pilot error is due to fatigue. There should be hour limits for a pilot, and this is a valid reason to refuse to fly.

Detective John LeClair, EMT-P, on Opiates and Prescription Pills

  • Heroin is still big, but pills are a huge player now too. You get an easy prescription from a walk-in clinic or ED, pay maybe a couple bucks with Medicare/Medicaid, and can not only sell them for easy cash but can crush and snort/shoot it for the same effect as heroin. Then if money or access runs low, you end up on heroin anyway to chase that high.
  • Oxycontin/oxycodone best selling narcotic in the nation ten years ago, but now on the wane. You scrape off the time-release coating, crush it and snort or chew it. “Hillybilly heroin,” “blue,” “oxycotton,” “kicker,” etc. Street price about $1/mg (40mg, 80mg, 160mg common), so many turned to crime. In Aug 2010, manufacturer (Purdue) added a “geling” agent which turns it to gel when it contacts water, making it difficult to snort. Try to snort this Oxycontin OP and it turns into a ball in your nose. Some people are sticking straws/tubes up in there to try and get it deeper and deeper, so airway obstructions are happening.
  • Percocet: oxy plus acetaminophen. For years the most common analgesic for sports injuries, so common among youth. Kids shared ’em, put out bowls of them at parties, girls prostituted themselves for pills. Taken with alcohol the APAP/Tylenol kills your liver. “Littles,” “little babies,” “little dogs.”
  • Opana/oxymorphone: getting popular after Oxy OP started ruining everyone’s fun. Same idea but you can still snort it. Twice as strong, and costs twice as much ($2/mg)
  • How to grind? Take a hose clamp, cut it, straighten it, tape it down, run the pill across the holes to grind it. Or use a Pedi-Egg, which collects the powder for you. The finer, the better high.
  • Heroin: snort, “skin pop” (subcutaneous), mainline. Must be pretty pure to snort, which it now tends to be, so popularity grew (people were afraid of needles due to HIV). However now some HIV/Hep is spreading through bloody noses and sharing straws anyway.
  • Smack, horse, china white, chiva, junk, H, tar, black, fix, dope, brown, dog, food, negra, nod, white horse, stuff. Dealers have their own “brand names.”
  • Heroin addicts are creatures of habit; get high same place, same way. Any change in their routine (e.g. different location) can get them amped up, changing their sensitivity and leading to OD even with their usual dose. Consider this if you find an OD somewhere like a car or alley.
  • “Cotton fever”: they pluck out wads of cotton from cigarette filters and drop it in the heroin to help filter it. Sometimes when they draw out the liquid they get a bit of cotton, and when they shoot it they get a sort of phlebitis/infection/sepsis.