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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Complacency

The familiar click of the speakers turning on let me know we were getting a call about a second before the tones went off. If you're used to working at my station you can hear that quiet click over all kinds of ambient noise. We were being dispatched for a residential fire alarm.


We roll on a lot of false alarms. Residential fire alarms are almost always the result of someone over cooking their dinner or a bag of popcorn. So many false alarms can lead to complacency, just like the villagers in the story of the boy that cried wolf. We were just like those villagers, unprepared to act when the time came.

We pulled up to the 3 unit apartment complex and found the courtyard between that building and the one next to it full of people, including a lot of kids. It was a weekend, it wasn't too cold, and it wasn't too late. Besides, the fire department was coming. Everyone likes to see a spectacle.

My captain and I were both "turned out" but neither of us had our bottles (SCBA) on. There was no smoke, This was another false alarm.

We headed over to the apartment and someone approached us. They said that they lived above the unit in question. They heard the smoke detector going off below them and smelled something like burning food. They had knocked on the door but no one answered.

It wouldn't be the first time that we've been to a house where someone left a pot on the stove. We knocked on the door again just to be sure. We also checked the windows. They were all closed and locked with the curtains drawn. The windows and the door were cool to the touch so there was little concern.

We determined that the renters and the manager had been called but there was no answer. With the indications we had that something wasn't right, my captain gave me the word. It was forcible entry time.

Let me just take a moment to say how much I love being a firefighter. It's fun. Especially at times like this.

I was already lined up with the front door. I did a forward kick that would have made my kids MMA instructor proud. When the door flew back I was greeted by a wall of smoke that extended from the ceiling to the ground.

*CRAP*

My captain and I ran back to the rig to grab our SCBAs. We should have had them on already. Crap. I hate that feeling.

I grabbed the pack from my seat and threw it on while I walked back to the apartment. Now the crowd had moved back. No one wanted to get in our way. By the time I reached the door I was masked up. I stepped up to the doorway then disappeared into the smoke.

While the entire place was filled with smoke is wasn't thick and black. There was also no accompanying heat. The fire had snuffed itself out, suffocated....starved for precious oxygen. I made my way to the kitchen and found that there was indeed a pot on the stove with the burner going. The family had placed several baby bottles in a pot of boiling water to sterilize them and forgotten about it.

Once the water had boiled off the plastic started to burn. The knobs on the stove were melted and the paint on the wall was charred and blistered.

We opened the windows and doors and used a fan to remove the smoke. We moved the burnt items out of the house and then disconnected the stove and moved it to the center of the kitchen. With all that done we again checked to make sure the fire hadn't moved into the walls or the cabinets.

It could have been much worse. At least they had working smoke detectors.

And I learned a valuable lesson about complacency.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Postponing The Inevitable

In my area resources are dispatched to EMS calls in two waves. First, as soon as the location of the medical emergency is confirmed, the fire department is dispatched. We roll with lights and sirens to all of them because the person calling 911 doesn't always get things right (for instance calling because their husband fell and needs help getting up only for us to find out he fell because he's dead). The call taker in dispatch then triages the call (using an EMD program). Once the severity of the call is determined the ambulance is dispatched with the appropriate response (code 2/3, low, medium or high priority). This allows the most critical patients to have access to an ambulance sooner....in theory. Once the ambulance is dispatched the dispatcher will inform us on the radio the nature of our call.


We were on our way to get dinner in the East end of our district. While sitting at a signal light waiting for the green arrow the radio chirped. Beep beep, "Truck 51, medical response. 1234 5th street. Map page 117 xray."

We were only a couple of blacks from the address and we were facing the right direction. My engineer flipped on the lights and hit the air horn. We were no longer waiting for that green arrow.

We pulled up to the house less than a minute later. The 911 call taker was still getting information from the caller when we walked up. The ambulance had yet to be dispatched.

I asked the lady what was going on. She replied that her husband had collapsed in the bathroom and was no longer breathing. The call had taken a turn for the more serious.

I turned to my captain and asked him to go grab the Autopulse. I grabbed the victim and drug him out into the bedroom where we would have enough room to work. I immediately checked for a pulse and then started on chest compressions. He couldn't have been down very long.

My engineer grabbed the BVM and started breathing for the patient. My captain soon returned and let me know he had called for the next due engine just in case we needed the manpower. Once the Autopulse was on things started to get a little less hectic. I placed the defib pads on the patients chest and checked a heart rhythm. PEA or pulseless electrical activity.

PEA is a heart rhythm where the heart, electrically speaking, is working ok. The problem is the muscles are not responding to the electrical impulses telling them to pump.

We resumed resuscitation efforts. AMR showed up and they had an intern with them (the son of a member my department). I allowed him to start the IO and then to intubate the patient. The intern performed both skills perfectly.

We then settled into a routine of medication administration, CPR and heart rhythm/pulse checks. My captain had already talked to the wife and explained what was going on. She was prepared for the worst.

After a third round of Epinephrine and some more chest compressions we preformed another rhythm/pulse check. On the heart monitor the wave form had changed. And at my patients neck there was a corresponding pulse of blood.

 He had a pulse.

We quickly but carefully moved our entire operation to the back of the ambulance. There the poor intern tried to remember all that he had to do while being peppered with questions from his preceptor and me. He did a good job.

Before arriving at the ER we had a repeat set of vitals, a 12 lead EKG and had started inducing hypothermia. My patient was even starting to fight the ET tube. A good sign. He might actually live.


***********

A couple of weeks later we stopped by the house where my patient had lived to check on him. His wife informed us that he had lived for 10 days in the ICU under heavy sedation. He had suffered a stroke which had caused the cardiac arrest. There was no possibility for recovery. All we did was postpone the inevitable and give the family a chance to say good bye.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Emergency Medical .....Prevention?

In the fire service there is a saying. The fire service is 200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress.


While not really true it can, at times, feel like it is. There seems to be some in the EMS world that are trying to follow that tradition.

Recently an article was written for the Contra Costa Times that covered a pilot program in Alameda County. Some of the paramedics from two departments within the county (Hayward and Alameda City) are receiving extra training. They, along with medics from a total of 12 projects throughout the state, are going to be able to not take patients to the hospital. Instead they will have the latitude to take the patient to an urgent care or other health clinic. This would potentially save the patient an expensive ambulance ride to the hospital and would (again potentially) free up the emergency department to treat someone that is actually seriously ill.

The program also includes post clinic visits by the paramedics for some limited patient follow up. The goal is to prevent the need for another 911 call. Prevention is better than a cure.

There has been some serious opposition to this pilot project. I'll start with the opposition in the paper...The nurses union. The nurses union is screaming that paramedics aren't capable of doing something like this. That we lack the training/knowledge.

Tricia Hunter, executive director of American Nurses Association/California said, "They're still not licensed registered nurses, not licensed physicians, not licensed mental health professionals." 

She's absolutely right. Paramedics are not RN's or MD's. We are however licensed paramedics. Paramedics can do most (if not all) of the commonly accepted nursing skills in CA (starting IV's, assessments, medications administration...) plus medics can do some things that RN's can't like pleural decompression. For a list of what paramedics can do in CA click here and scroll down to scope of practice. Oh, and did I mention that paramedics are trained to do these things generally under standing medical orders (meaning we diagnose which patients need what treatment and do the treatment without consulting anyone) and to do them in the field? Anyone can start an IV in a well lit Emergency Room. Try it on a freeway, in a wrecked car that's upside down, in the rain and at night.

So let us not go down the road of paramedics not having the training.


Really the nurses union is worried about losing jobs. Paramedics taking their patients to other care facilities and  medics going out and trying to prevent the need for emergency health care in the first place (by visiting patients in their homes) could lessen the need for nurses. I get it. That's the role of a union. Save jobs. But I don't agree with that, if it means we can't even look into the possibility of a better method of health care delivery .

Vicki Bermudez of the California Nurses Association said, "We think the money is better spent on existing services we know work." 

Really? You think our current model of health care works? Long wait times in Emergency Departments. Outrageous costs. Everyone seems to blame health insurance companies but they're not the ones charging $5 for two pills of Tylenol. Clearly you haven't been a patient in a while. Anyone with some common sense can reasonably deduce that our current health care delivery model isn't working. Let's try to fix the system. I'm not saying this is the solution but it may be part of one. Let's try it and find out. 

And obviously the guys with the medical license (the MDs....you know...the guys and gals that medics and nurses work for) think this idea has merit. So get with the program.

Enough with me ragging on the nurses union.
 
Now I'll move on to other complaints I've come across from people that have read this article. I'm going to generalize these somewhat.

There is the complaint about a cousin/brother/father/grandmother that was treated incorrectly on a call one time ergo medics can't do this. All these stories are anecdotal. To the people that use these arguments I have two points. First, you weren't there and you probably don't have all the facts. It's quite possible what the medic did was correct. Second, hypothetically speaking, if you were there AND had all the facts, that doesn't preclude the possibility or even the likelihood that the medic that treated your family member/friend/significant other was probably an idiot. They are out there in every profession. You may have just been unlucky and got one.

Then there are people that claim medics can't do this because of liability issues. Now remember, I'm talking about CA and not anywhere else. I don't know the laws in the other states. Here (and I assume almost everywhere else) medics work under the medical license of a doctor. As long as paramedics follow proper protocols they are covered. 

The CA Health and Safety Code Section 1799.104 (b) states "No EMT-II or mobile intensive care paramedic rendering care within the scope of his duties who, in good faith and in a nonnegligent manner, follows the instructions of a physician or nurse shall be liable for any civil damages as a result of following such instructions."

Section 1799.106 (a) goes further and states, "In addition to the provisions of Section 1799.104 of this code, Section 2727.5 of the Business and Professions Code, and Section 1714.2 of the Civil Code, and in order to encourage the provision of emergency medical services by firefighters, police officers or other law enforcement officers, EMT-I, EMT-II, EMT-P, or registered nurses, a firefighter, police officer or other law enforcement officer, EMT-I, EMT-II, EMT-P, or registered nurse who renders emergency medical services at the scene of an emergency or during an emergency air or ground ambulance transport shall only be liable in civil damages for acts or omissions performed in a grossly negligent manner or acts or omissions not performed in good faith. A public agency employing such a firefighter, police officer or other law enforcement officer, EMT-I, EMT-II, EMT-P, or registered nurse shall not be liable for civil damages if the firefighter, police officer or other law enforcement officer, EMT-I, EMT-II, EMT-P, or registered nurse is not liable."

As long as medics aren't negligent I think we're ok.

Next there are those out there that think paramagics don't have the ability to figure out where a patient should go.

Are you kidding me? Paramedics make destination decisions all the time. where I work we have to decide between the closest hospital, trauma centers, stroke centers, burn centers, and cardiac centers all while keeping in mind patient condition, traffic, helicopter flight time and helipad at the hospital, and patient requests. In other counties in which I've worked we had to decided weather a kid needed to go to an emergency department approved for pediatrics, a pediatric medical center or a pediatric trauma center....and that was just for the kids. I don't think that adding one or two more possible places to drop off our patients is going to be very taxing.

Another thing detractors say is that the medics in their area are too busy to do follow up visits. News flash. Paramedics in almost every urban area are busy. But if we take the time to do a little preventative maintenance on our frequent flyers maybe, just maybe, they will call 911 a little less often. Which in turn will me the medics will be a little less busy. Also I'd much rather do a follow up visit at 2 in the afternoon versus responding to a 911 call to the same person at 2 in the morning. That's the same as saying that fire departments are too busy to work on fire prevention. Do you have any idea how many lives have been saved by smoke alarms/detectors, better fire codes when in building construction, sprinkler systems and the like? I bet it's not a small number. Again, prevention is better than a cure.

And the safety net (my phrase not theirs) that the nurses union says we are operating without (I know I said I was done picking on them. I'm not)....that's why we have cell phones. My medical director, a doctor, is just a call away. When in doubt, call for further direction. And if we're not sure weather a patient should be going to an ER or Urgent Care....take them to the ER.

Now I understand that this is a pilot program. When we try it things may not work out the way they are supposed to. But the current system is broken. We need to do something. Why not this?


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sometimes I Just Shake My Head

The call came it at oh dark thirty. OK. Really it was about 2:30 am. Right about that time when you're really enjoying being asleep.


Dispatch said that we were responding for leg pain but had the ambulance rolling code 3. Something just didn't add up.

When we arrived on scene I found my patient sitting on the stairs by the open front door. I knelt down and asked her name and what was going on. Her reply, "I can't sleep."

I asked if she was in pain thinking that we might be there for some new onset of pain. She said that she had back pain from the 2 screws and multiple operations she had had. So I followed that question up with an inquiry about any new pain to which she answered in the negative.

I then asked a couple of more questions that might possibly lead me to understand why this woman had called 911 because she couldn't sleep. No dice. She just had insomnia that night.

Fortunately for me the ambulance showed up quickly. I turned to the medic and said, "She can't sleep." That was the sum total of my pass along to the ambulance medic. I was a little frustrated. I felt like telling the insomniac that I couldn't sleep either because of her. But that wouldn't have been very professional. I still wanted to.

For the record insomnia does suck. But calling 911 after not falling asleep for a couple of hours....come on.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Who Needs A Helmet?

Dispatch gave us an update while we were rolling. We were responding with Engine 110 for a traffic collision. Unfortunately the collision was between a vehicle and a high school student on her way to school.


Engine 110 arrived just before us. They were kneeling at the patient who was sprawled out on the street. The street was busy. It is a major artery in the city and cars get moving fast.A few feet away from the knot of firefighters there is a skateboard. Well, half of a skateboard. The other half was no where to be found.

The young woman was unconscious. The medic checked to see if she responded to painful stimulus.  She did. She contorted her body in decorticate posturing which is indicative of severe brain trauma. WE placed her in full spinal immobilization and loaded her up into the ambulance.

Since engine 110's crew only had 1 medic and we had two on my crew I road in to the hospital with the ambulance. In the back we started two IV's, placed her on the heart monitor and checked her CO2 levels. A more detailed head to toe exam was also done. There were no other injuries that were visible other than a bad goose egg on here head.

During transport the patients condition continued to worsen. She started having decerebrate posturing. Her brain was swelling and causing further injury.

At the trauma center we were met by the trauma doc and the neuro-surgeon. We gave our report and answered a couple of questions regarding the scene including probable speed of the vehicle that hit her. The surgical team whisked her away to CT for a brain scan and then I assume she went into surgery. The neurologist didn't have high hopes for a positive outcome.

She probably would have been at school the next day if she had been wearing a helmet.....correctly.
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