Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Dix, Hamm, and Pulmonary Fibrosis

I mentioned pulmonary fibrosis in my last post. We had three big cases on our ICU in April, all three of them pretty difficult.

Pulmonary fibrosis is essentially scar tissue-- the formation of thick, tough, fibrous tissue that grows through and fucks with your lungs until you die of not being able to breathe. Imagine a transporter accident like in The Fly, but between a pile of wet cardboard and your dick, and you’ve got a little of the idea.

The treatments for pulmonary fibrosis include nebulizers to help open the parts that aren’t scarred up; steroids to reduce the growth of scar tissue (not always effective); and a host of other last-chance drugs that might have been helpful, maybe once, to some other pt whose pulmonary fibrosis took a little longer than usual to kill them. It might have been another drug, or luck, or fucking homeopathy for all the proof we have, but if it might have worked, we’re probably gonna try it.

The cure for pulmonary fibrosis is a lung transplant.

So when our first pulm fibrosis pt turned up eligible for an eventual transplant, we transferred them to the hospital where they would live until they either died or went on the table. We don’t do lung transplants here. They’re complicated.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


Somebody tried to tell me today that we aren't allowed to ride around dangling from the elbows on the cardiac walkers, making TIE fighter noises. Fortunately I was on a cardiac walker at the time so I just screeched away with my toes dangling over the linoleum, faster than they could shuffle after me in their Dansko mules.

We’ve had some extra-special pts on the ICU lately. Things seem to come in waves, a month at a time, and this month’s theme seems to be a tie between “exhausting psych” and “heartbreaking pulmonary fibrosis.” April started out with a seemingly straightforward admit: a woman with a fresh spinal fusion, history of chronic pain, and osteoporosis.

Ellen Hamm* was the first pt I took with my latest preceptee, Lizzie, who comes to us fresh from a psych hospital-- sharp and bright and already jaded as hell. “I hope my experience is useful on the ICU,” she said, and sighed when I toppled into chair-spinning gales of laughter.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Crowbarrens, chest tubes, and death on the ICU

People die on the ICU.

This is just a fact of life: we can’t save everybody. Bodies fall apart if enough bad things happen to them. Sometimes we can keep part of the body alive, but not the rest; sometimes we can support consciousness even when the body is doomed, although eventually even consciousness will fade. More often, we can keep the body running even while the brain is completely dead.

You’ll notice that, with other organ systems, we use different terms than with the brain. If your kidneys have some working tissue, but aren’t strong enough to get your blood really clean, you have renal failure. If your kidneys are so fucked up they shrivel into black raisins and you never pee again and you depend on a dialysis machine to clear out all your nitrogen waste products forever, we call it end stage renal failure, not renal death.

If your liver is a huge lumpy pile of scar tissue and blood can’t flow through it at all, you aren’t experiencing liver death (although you will soon die unless you get a new liver), you’re in end stage liver failure. If your lungs are full of gross shit and require mechanical assistance to get oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of your blood, you are in respiratory failure; if your lungs are filled with scar tissue and nodules and all the cilia are burned out and every breath uses up more oxygen than it gains, you are in end stage respiratory failure. All of these things lead directly to death, although we’ve learned to cheat them a little better over time, but they are not death.

We also talk about heart failure, in which the heart can’t move blood well enough to maintain equilibrium without medical help. We even talk about end stage heart failure sometimes, although this mostly means this person is about to be dead. The true end stage of heart failure is cardiac death.

We call it death, because for a very long time, the lack of a pulse was death. There was no way to get it back. Once you crossed that line, you were gone.

But we’ve learned to cheat even that death, sometimes, if we’re lucky. We can, if we’re willing to break ribs and insert tubes and flood the body with toxins, restart the heart. We can even support a fatally wrecked heart for a while with ventricular assist devices. What was once death is now closer to failure.

So if we’ve blurred the line between life and death, what’s left? Is there anything that can be so damaged that we can’t compensate for it? Is there anything that truly goes beyond failure into death?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Hey guys, update is delayed until tomorrow-- we are emergently moving to a new apartment (ours is suffering the wrath of every backed-up storm drain in the neighborhood thanks to a failed drain valve) and my laptop is infected with this horrible virus that's disabled my wifi.

The virus is really bad and has taken a while to deal with, but a friend of mine took it to her bearded beloved and had the damage repaired, to my endless gratitude and debt.

Watch out for the virus, you guys. It's called Windows 10. Do NOT download this horrible piece of malware, or it will wreck all your hardware inside-out.*

(This is tongue-in-cheek. Technically, even if it destroys your computer, it's not EXACTLY a virus.)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Whitney the Muslim

I apologize for the brevity of this post. For those of you that follow my scrawlings on Something Awful, I’ve been doing an AMA for the last twenty-four hours on the BYOB forum, which has diverted just a little of my writing powers.

I did manage to rant with embarrassing fervor about fruit that I like.


Sometimes the ICU runs like you expect it to: occasional periods of panic, lots of gross chores, and a slump around 1600 when you can catch up on your charting. Sometimes it gets a little crazy, and if you have a really rowdy pt with a lot of things going wrong, you can easily spend a whole shift on your feet and do all your charting after you’ve passed your pt to the next shift. And sometimes, the whole ICU loses its goddamn mind at once, and all your pts are desperately high-acuity and breaks only happen if everyone works together, and staffing calls random people on their days off and begs them to come in—not to take pts, but to serve as an extra flex nurse, just to help people get all their chores done.

When this happens, you have to be a special kind of dumbass to actually answer your phone, let alone come in extra. Unfortunately for me, I am that exact kind of dumbass. That week, I worked a lot.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Post incoming tomorrow! Eventually I hope to be able to update every Saturday night, but right now my husband's schedule and mine are both in flux. Sunday nights might work better for me this spring.

I hope you guys are okay with a whole bunch of griping about terrible human beings, cause that's what I've got for you. Also, my religious alignment has apparently been reassigned. That's how bad my week was.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Wishbone, Leah, and the Return of Crowbarrens

Every shift, we introduce ourselves to our pts, explain how long we’ll be there today, and talk about our goals for the day. Some people have very simple goals: don’t die is popular, as are things like control pain and get out of bed. Some people will have procedures during the day, endoscopies or central line placements or dialysis.

Occasionally, the most important goals aren’t things we can cheerfully schedule with our pts: come to peace with impending death, or manage not to shit directly on anyone’s scrubs. In those cases, we find simpler goals: order breakfast and lunch early so they don’t have to wait, take a walk and get some sunlight, that kind of thing.

Then we do our assessments, because nothing helps your day get moving like peering at some guy’s butt and hoping that pink spot on his tailbone isn’t turning into a pressure ulcer.