Just Some Broken Ribs

Just Some Broken Ribs

The phone was ringing incessantly. I barely woke up. In my pitch dark bedroom, the ringing phone was the only light source. I slowly grabbed my phone while involuntarily rubbing my eyes. I looked at the caller I.D. It was my father. And what time was it? 1:30 am! In a typical day, this might be an early hour for me, but I was attending a local Emergency Medicine conference that day; so I went to bed early.

I cradled the phone between my ear and shoulder. My father’s voice was fussy. “Someone lies unconscious on the street,” he said hastily. “Can you come and help us?” I asked him to call for an ambulance by that time. He said that he already called. 

While I was preparing in a hurry, my heart started to beat faster and my mind swelled with CPR guidelines, syncope algorithms and my past experiences.

My home is down the block from my parents. I ran there and saw a crowd gathered around a man who was lying on the street. When I passed through I realized someone was doing CPR. I have spotted my parents standing in the crowd and my eyes met with my father. He pointed my younger brother, a trainee surgeon also lives in the same area and was taking his turn on the CPR and checking his pulse. I rushed near them and he filled me in with all they know about the citizen at that point.

The first responder to the cries of the patient’s wife was an ambulance driver with ten years of experience. He said he pulled the patient out of his vehicle. He laid down the man in his 50s suffered from heartburn for the last couple of hours and was about to go to the hospital but lost his consciousness as soon as he started the engine. Since the man wasn’t responding, the former driver started the CPR. About 3 minutes later, my brother showed up along with my father and he took the turn while they kept checking for any response. He said that the rhythm never lasted longer than 10 seconds. So I asked them to keep it up and I took my turn till the ambulance shows up.

It was clear that the patient endured a heart-related condition, probably a myocardial infarction. And I knew by experience that with a proper CPR and early defibrillation, these patients have a high chance of returning of spontaneous circulation, and survival.

The ambulance arrived in a couple of minutes. Paramedics jumped out of the vehicle and rushed to the scene and recognized that I am an Emergency Medicine resident at the State Research and Education Hospital. They let me control the situation. The first rhythm was read on the screen as ventricular fibrillation (VF) and we delivered a shock and started chest compressions again. With the equipment they’ve brought, I intubated the patient while they monitored him with the defibrillator from the ambulance. The nearest hospital was 10 minutes away, and we have shocked-compressed for at least 4 or 5 times in an ambulance moving fast. IT-WAS-HARD!

We have arrived at the hospital. After 10 minutes of additional CPR and proper mediations, spontaneous circulation of the patient returned spontaneous circulation. And a control ECG was consistent with Inferior MI. In a couple of minutes, we were in a different ambulance, headed to the nearest hospital with a coronary angiography unit and ICU.

I took a deep breath after we have delivered the patient to the ICU safe and sound. It was over, for now. One week later, he returned to his home with full recovery, without any neurological sequelae. They were very thankful.

Later on, I’ve heard many funny words people were chattering about this incident. One has particularly given me the giggle. It was coming from an ENT specialist. He said, “So that was no big deal, they probably overreacted and caused him a couple of broken ribs.”

Yeah, there were just some broken ribs… and a life saved.

Further Reading

Cite this article as: Ibrahim Sarbay, Turkey, "Just Some Broken Ribs," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, August 16, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/08/16/just-some-broken-ribs/, date accessed: November 25, 2020

So What About Those Ambulance Crews?

A few years ago, a staff pediatrician at my hospital asked me who ranked higher - a paramedic or an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)? I remember thinking two things: first was the obvious "duh!", but the second was "hmm...maybe some things are not so obvious to non-Emergency Medicine (EM) physicians."

If you are already doing an EM rotation at an Emergency Department (ED), then chances are that EM is already established or is being established at that locale. Chances are, your ED is receiving ambulance traffic and of course you know the answer to the above question.

So why even talk about pre-hospital emergency medical services (EMS) at all? What does that have to do with your EM/ED rotation, or even with your future EM practice?

Image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay

Receive your information about a patient directly from the ambulance personnel.

For one thing, it’s simply prudent and efficient. What was happening at the scene? Who called? Who else is coming? What did the EMS medics do or not do? What is the patient’s primary concern, and does that match or not match the ambulance crew’s primary concern?  Much information can be lost or misconstrued if we solely rely on the nurses, even worse – on paper, to tell us the full story.

Watch the patient on the EMS gurney carefully

Often their facial mimics, gestures and the way they are looking around the ED will tell you a lot. Can they transfer to the ED bed themselves? What’s their body mechanics while doing that?  There is much to learn here in just a few seconds –  trust me.  The patient may not end up being yours, but in a little bit of time, an hour or two, look them up on the ED board and see if your own initial impression was right: sick or not sick? Serious or so-so? Admitted or discharged?  This is a critical skill to hone for any EM provider.

Anticipate EMS patient needs even before they are roomed.

While it is true that most of our ED patients are walk-ins, multiple analyses have shown in multiple locations around the world that the EMS patient population tend to be sicker. So this population is where some of those cool and awesome procedures that you want to see, learn or perform are often found.  Healthy 18-year-old man, tall, suddenly short of breath while playing basketball with his friends – there is your chest tube arriving, see?

Your main task is to learn to comprehend the entire emergency care system. EM providers in EDs do not function in isolation. We are part of the emergency care continuum and should thus be those most proficient is seeing and knowing the big picture. EMS is the beginning of that picture.

EM physicians all around the world participate in pre-hospital work via multiple avenues:  supporting public and sporting events, serving as cruise physicians, staffing ICU-ambulances and EMS support vehicles, flying on medical helicopters, writing EMS protocols, training paramedics and providing real-time phone, radio or teleconsultations. Chances are, you will too!

So while you are rotating at an ED, especially a foreign ED or one away from your home base, take a small effort to learn about the local EMS. Talk to the medics, talk to ED personnel taking EMS radio calls and look pertinent things up on the internet on your own (like local EMS protocols). Talk to the attending EM physicians in your ED –  chances are, one of them is the local EMS guru!

Some simple things you may wish to focus on to gauge any EMS system anywhere

Finally, many an interesting medical student or resident research project began out of some EMS-related consideration or observation, so keep your eyes and ears open for those research ideas!  Good luck!.

Cite this article as: Anthony Rodigin, USA, "So What About Those Ambulance Crews?," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, May 31, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/05/31/so-what-about-those-ambulance-crews/, date accessed: November 25, 2020