Friday, July 17, 2015

Week 5 How Many Fucking Shifts Jesus

I didn't write the day of this shift because I was too busy sobbing like an open drain at a Sufjan Stevens concert that night, and then afterward my friend dragged me to her house and forced me to watch (okay, fall asleep trying to watch) Tinkerbelle and the Legend of the Neverbeast. (She has a two-and-a-half-year-old and might be going a little crazy.)

Opened the shift with a decent duo: a GI bleeder and a post-laminectomy. The latter was only under my care for a few hours, as her biggest issue was pain-- a lot of pain-- and she had come to the ICU because all the pain meds made her loopy on the medical floor and they wanted to watch her a little closer. We were concerned by how dramatically her neuro status had declined; she wasn't somnolent or respiratory-depressed at all, as you'd expect with someone having an opioid OD, but she was totally hallucinating and paranoid. We don't like to see major mental status changes in a pt who's fresh off a major back surgery and/or had an epidural (as is common with back surgeries), because there's always the chance of infection in the central nervous system.

She cleared up around 0845 and seemed totally fine. I interviewed her a little more closely about what she thought had happened, and she said: "Oh, I just have these episodes. Never really thought they were a big deal." Straight from there to a head CT, where the radiologist noted what could be a lesion-- possibly a tumor-- in her head. From that point the neuro team got involved, and because she wasn't really critical care status they moved her off the ICU.

That interview process, by the way, is one of the more ticklish and annoying aspects of nursing, but one of the most important if you want to catch things before they go south. Most people are hesitant to offer their own opinions about their medical issues to healthcare staff, which means that sometimes valuable bits of information get withheld because the patient doesn't want to look dumb in front of the doctor. Thing is, we aren't mind-readers, we rarely have a truly comprehensive health history, and we don't always connect the dots with the same one-on-one scrutiny that a person can perform on themselves. We might not be able to take a pt's diagnosis at face value, because we can't expect them to have a full medical education (I mean, shit, I can't diagnose anybody either), but we can definitely get a lot of crucial information from a person's opinions about their body.

It's like: you might not know exactly what's wrong, but by god, you know something's wrong. And we don't always know even that much, until your vital signs start to crash.

There's a saying that, when a pt tells you they're dying, you fucking listen. People don't just toss that phrasing around. They might not be able to tell you exactly why they're dying, but they know their body is about to lose its grip. 

That kinda came into play later in the shift. More on that later though.

My other pt, the GI bleeder, was a bit of a weird dude. He'd gone AMA the week before and returned vomiting blood, and in addition to a massive variceal banding, he also needed a TIPS procedure. 


If you need a refresher on liver failure and what it does to your guts, here's my patho lesson from last week.

So this guy, a chronic heavy drinker who regularly mixes Tylenol PM with his vodka (do not fucking do this, alcohol + tylenol/paracetamol = liver-ripping molecular knives), has a liver so blocked that all his esophageal vessels are bubbling up like a teenager's face. All the blood vessels around his liver and intestines are completely blown out and ready to explode. Medical treatment hasn't helped him at all, and eventually we'll run out of chances to catch his bleeds... so the next step is a TIPS.

A transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt, TIPS, is a tube that connects the blood vessels on either side of the liver. Now the intestines can dump straight into the system, bypassing most of the liver. If you're guessing that this can have amazingly nasty side effects, you are absolutely correct-- jizz proteins and brain-pickling nitrogens and straight-up chunks of shit are free to wander. Your liver is still getting a little filtration done, and making what proteins it can, but if it's almost completely cardboarded sometimes blood doesn't even bother and just travels by shunt... which cuts off blood flow to the liver and can kill you. But hey, you won't bleed to death?

As is common with families that involve alcoholism, this guy's family-- him and his wife, his children being estranged-- was extremely enabling and secret-keeping and just weird, with bad ideas about boundaries. He and his wife insisted that his hospital bed be moved closer to the wall sofa, so that he and his wife could hold hands as he slept; his wife refused to leave the room at any time, and spent weird amounts of time in the room "changing" (ie naked for some reason????) so that any entry to the room had to be preceded by lots of knocking and calling out. Super codependent, super enmeshed, super inappropriate, and super terrified of "being caught." When I stumbled across the pt's wall charger plugged in by the sink, a totally normal thing that everyone does, the wife reacted as if I'd caught her slipping her husband booze. Families afflicted with alcoholism run on secret-keeping, and most family members have a hard time telling what's an actual secret and what's normal, because they're so used to keeping the world at bay. I felt really, really bad for them both, because things will never get better for them without help, and they'll never get help because they're so invested in the secret and so locked into the psychological addiction of enabling. 

But he went down for this TIPS at two, and did pretty well, so he's got maybe another year or two's worth of chances to break the secret and get their lives back.

While all this was going on, Rachel went home. She isn't even going to rehab-- she's been totally off vent for a while, even taking a few steps at a time, and she went home in a medicab to her children and her own home. I hope things go well for her.

The exploding poop guy was doing much better. A few days of nonstop diarrhea had loosened his belly up to the point that, when I poked my head in, I could see the droopy skin of his abdomen flopping as his nurse turned him to wipe his ass. 

A couple of people asked me how somebody can live without shitting for six months. (Hopefully tomorrow I can get caught up on replies?) The answer is: you can't live without shitting for six months. You can, however, be massively chronically constipated, and if it starts slowly and doesn't advance too quickly, your body gradually learns to compensate for the increasing blockage. You shit liquid around the blockage, mostly. But eventually even that deteriorates, and soon you're backed up to your neck. Literally. So this guy hadn't pooped in something like a week, but he'd been working on that week of constipation for so long that it damn near killed him.

The last pt I got for the day was an utter clusterfuck. She was an older woman, a marathon runner, who had developed a hiatal hernia and had it repaired via Nissen fundoplication (wrapping the stomach around the esophagus, which I can't describe any better than Wikipedia). Her wife is an RN and had been staying with her since the surgery a couple of days before, and yesterday had started expressing some concerns about the pt's status: requiring more oxygen, having increased pain, unable to advance her diet, and just "looking weird." Overnight the pt's oxygen needs had increased to the point that, when I finally got report, she had been on a non-rebreather mask at 15 liters, satting 89% O2 (you and I probably sit between 96% and 100%), for almost six hours without anybody insisting there was a problem.

Sometimes nurses make the worst pts. This nurse, however, impressed the hell out of me both with her insight and her grace in light of the medical floor staff's failure to recognize her wife's decompensation... though honestly I would have been a lot pushier than she was. I can't nitpick. She's trauma-ortho and I'm ICU and therefore she's a steady time-managing proceduralist while I'm a neurotic compulsive paranoid with control issues.

The transfer was awful. Charge told me I'd be getting a pt shortly, so I asked my break buddy to watch my TIPS guy while I took a fifteen-minute nap, and notified the charge and the unit secretary to call me on break if report came up. Instead, I enjoyed a nice snooze, checked on my TIPS, poured myself a cup of coffee, and walked down the hallway to find the new pt waiting for me-- no RN, no report, just a confused transport guy from CT and a pt who looked like she was about to crash on me.


As we moved her into the new bed, she grabbed my arm and gasped: "I think I'm dying." Then she was too short of breath to say anything else. I keep my hair back in a sloppy french braid, but I'm pretty sure half of it popped out and stuck up straight in the air. Remember what I said earlier? That's not a good thing to hear from any pt.

She had subcutaneous emphysema with crepitus-- crackling bubbles under her skin-- from her shoulders up to her temples. A quick chest x-ray showed that she had a massive pleural effusion, so I got her sitting up on the side of the bed, and the pulmonologist stuck a needle in her back and pulled out a liter of bloody-clear fluid, which improved her breathing but was extremely alarming. Her wife watched the whole procedure and looked increasingly apprehensive, especially when the pulm ordered the fluid checked for amylase-- one of the enzymes secreted by the pancreas, which belongs in the intestines breaking down your food, not in your lung cavities. 

Sure enough, the radiologist showed up twenty minutes later to tell us that her CT showed a giant rip in her esophagus, with communicating fluid and free air between abdomen, thorax, and mediastinum. This is SUPER BAD AND HORRIBLE and requires immediate surgery. Unfortunately, our cardiothoracic surgeon that day had started an open heart an hour before and wouldn't be available to operate for at least another four hours, and the nightmare in her gut was massive enough that she would need a GI surgeon and a thoracic surgeon to perform the surgery. We intubated her immediately to stabilize her, then transferred her to another hospital in the area, a thirty-minute drive at the end of which the op team was already preparing the OR. I hope she's okay, for her wife's sake. I can't imagine being a nurse, knowing what I know, and watching helplessly as my spouse suffered horrible pain and life-threatening health events. I don't know how she wasn't flipping tables and kicking doctors all night, watching her wife go from nasal cannula to mask to non-rebreather without being assessed for critical care status needs, watching her face blow up with subcutaneous air without somebody at least asking for a chest x-ray to rule out pneumothorax. 

This is why nurses make terrible pts. We get all freaked out and controlling about our care. It's just ridiculous. Any time my husband spends in the hospital is time I will spend gnawing my tongue off in the middle so I don't get thrown off the campus.

Let me tell you, though, getting that pt with no report and no prior warning was more of a wake-up than any amount of freshly-poured coffee that I promptly forgot about and left on the station until it got cold and the unit secretary threw it away. A pt with no report AND massive sub-q (uh, that's subcutaneous in nurse jargon) emphysema will give your sphincters a workout. I had to stay a little late just to write up the incident report. Still a little stressed out just thinking about it.

I only worked eight hours though, and after that I went home and washed up and put on something way too shabby and sloppy to wear to a concert, but I guess it didn't matter because I had a blast. Or possibly an emotional breakdown. It's kind of hard to tell. I will write about today's shift tomorrow, after the morning's meeting with my sister's social worker. 

My sister, btw, is doing really well, but she reminds myself a lot of me at that age-- questionable personal hygiene, terrible time management, serious lack of some basic social niceties. The usual rural-religious homeschooled stuff. But she's just as smart and articulate as I remember, and has charmed my friends and responded well to all our conversations about my expectations for her time in my home, and I'm really glad to have her with me as she starts her adult life.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Jesus, your blog makes me want to stop doing lots of unhealthy things like drinking too much, eating sugary shite and barely exercising but I will definitely be stopping mixing alcohol with paracetamol 'so that it actually works'. Liver-ripping molecular knives, indeed.

    ReplyDelete