What has COVID-19 taught us thus far.

On a brighter note, more than 150 countries have less than 100 cases as of April 5, 2020. That being said, there probably isn’t an unaffected country on our planet. I am from Nepal, and we have identified 9 cases with one local transmission as of April 5, 2020. One recovered, and 8 in isolation with no death reported to date.[1] It may be hard to comprehend the effect 9 cases have on a country where the probability of dying between the age of 15 and 60 years is 171 per thousand, but total expenditure on health is only 5.8% of GDP. The effect is fairly straightforward but too subtle to get the spotlight amidst this crisis. I contemplated if this is the right time to document these subtleties, but reflections are most useful for future reference only if made accurate. And a major component of accurate reflection is the “time since the event.”

I will take you to the time during my USMLE step 3 preparation and try to tie that in with my point here. One typical day during my preparation, I was doing my 2nd Uworld block and stumbled upon a deceivingly simple question. The gist of the question was: why do patients ask for euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide? I, in the hope of breezing through the question, answered physical pain. To my surprise, that was the most common wrong answer—the right answer: the anticipation of a lack of control and loss of autonomy.
If we are to understand the fear my country is going through, we need to let that information sink. The anticipation of a lack of control makes people ask for help in ending their life.

Nepal ranks 150 in terms of the overall health system in the world. I have been a doctor in one of the most academic tertiary care hospitals here, and I won’t hesitate a second to tell you that our health system will break the moment a fraction of the so-called tsunami of COVID-19 hits us. The country has been on lock-down for nearly two weeks now and plans to stay that way for some more days [Meetings is ongoing, and the final decision hasn’t been reached]. Of course, that will mean people will not have enough money to sustain. Patients of chronic illness will not have enough medicine. The country’s already crippled economy will be damaged beyond repair, and whatever first steps the country was attempting to make towards development will not only be held but legs fractured and eyes blinded. If God forbid, the pandemic hits us hard, no one in Nepal will have outrage that we did not increase the number of ventilators. That just isn’t a variable worth considering [to the general public], given our economy. We are talking about a country where when a village gets a USG machine; it is not used until inaugurated by someone at a position and the inauguration is celebrated like a festival. Everyone who understands the stake knows that we are praying to avoid a war we will invariably lose.

Having said that, I am impressed by the steps taken by the country. Lock-down was a gutsy move. Right when the director-general told people of WHO that lock-down is just a second window of opportunity for countries to prepare for what is to come, I was interested in what our preparedness looks like. Makeshift quarantine rooms are being constructed, test kits being brought in [Update: test kits were of too poor quality to use and hence were returned to China].[2] Patan Academy of Health Sciences, where I studied, has taken the initiative to make their own PPE. Some municipalities are mobilizing locals to make sanitizers, and the government is subsidizing some of the public expenditure. Of course, proportional to the country’s economy, but all this is happening when the country has 9 cases. Remember that actual physical pain was a wrong answer, and the anticipation of future suffering was the right one?

Number of ICU beds increased as preparation for COVID-19 at Patan Academy of Health Sciences, Nepal. Image by Saugat Sen Dhakal via https://www.healthaawaj.com/news/11928/
PPE being prepared at Patan Academy of Health Sciences, Nepal. Image by Saugat Sen Dhakal via https://www.healthaawaj.com/news/11928/

With people staying inside comes a myriad of difficulties. We have already seen it happen, “lucky” us! Everyone will start hoarding on essential supplies, which will increase the price because, apparently, the market still runs on supply and demand. Fear, loneliness, and abundance of time to ruminate on every minuscule of a problem on earth will start showing their effect. Depression, anxiety, and many other psychiatric morbidities will use the time as a breeding season. Household violence increases, and quality of life will take a big toll. Less affluent portions of the population will take a bigger hit in all aspects because inequalities in health are a double injustice; most affected are the people who are already suffering. The graph we hope to flatten will lend its height to the one plotting many other problems.

But we are willing to take that trade and probably everyone should. By no means am I saying that Nepal is doing a great preparation because I know it isn’t. There is much more we can do if we had the resources and global political influence.

We have seen countries with abundance kneeling before this virus. I pay my deepest sympathies to the lost lives around the world and even deeper respect to the frontline warriors. My message here, I guess: When prevention is better than cure is wrong not only because there is no cure but also because you know you will fail to provide care, you better prevent it as your life depends on it. Because it probably does.

Cite this article as: Sajan Acharya, Nepal, "What has COVID-19 taught us thus far.," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, April 13, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/04/13/what-has-covid-19-taught-us-thus-far/, date accessed: July 3, 2022

References

  1. WHO. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report—76 [online], 06 apr 2020. [cited 2020 Apr 6]. Available from: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200405-sitrep-76-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=6ecf0977_2.
  2. Sapkota R. Nepal to test COVID-19 test kits from China. Nepali Times [Internet]. 2020 Apr 1 [cited 2020 Apr 6]. Available from: https://www.nepalitimes.com/latest/nepal-to-test-covid-19-test-kits-from-china/ 

A Medical Student’s Encounter with Disaster

a medical student's encounter with disaster

25th April 2015

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on 25th April 2015, affecting 35 of the 77 districts of Nepal and causing a death toll of over 8000 lives with 22,309 people reported as injured and an estimated 2.8 million displaced. The following article is based on the first-hand experience of a then fourth-year medical student from Patan Academy of Health Sciences, a tertiary care center in Lalitpur District, one of the worst-hit districts in Nepal.

Rescue work following 7.8 Richter scale earthquake. Image by Omar Havana via https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/04/nepal-after-the-earthquake/391481/
Rescue work following 7.8 Richter scale earthquake. Image by Omar Havana via https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/04/nepal-after-the-earthquake/391481/

Reflection

25th April 2015, started off as a casual Saturday morning. At the boy’s hostel, everyone was preparing for the inter-medical college football tournament which was to start off that day, until the first jolt changed plans for the whole day and many more days to come. Our first response was to rush out of the hostel and make sure our family members and friends were okay. Just as all of us were frantically, unsuccessfully so, trying to contact our families, a friend of mine came running and informed that all medical students were to go to the hospital with their aprons. We had not even considered going to the hospital until my friend arrived; maybe because none of us had faced such a situation before or because we were yet to come back to our right state of mind.

Students ready to receive disaster victims. Image by Online Khabar via http://www.pahs.edu.np/patan-hospital-earthquake-disaster-relief-fund/photo-gallery/
Students ready to receive disaster victims. Image by Online Khabar via http://www.pahs.edu.np/patan-hospital-earthquake-disaster-relief-fund/photo-gallery/

As we reached the hospital, it was already flooded with injured patients from the disaster. Everyone started doing what they could. Some started giving analgesics to people who were agonized by the pain, some started talking and trying to calm down people who were on the verge of hyperventilation, some took gauge pieces and pressed it against the bleed on people’s head and some helped in patient transportation. There were a lot of people doing a lot of things, but neither was I in very observant state of mine nor could I recall enough now to mention the minute details. One thing I remember with absolute clarity is that me and my friends (as I found out in the after talks) forgot that we were trying to contact our families when we were called.

Medical students providing Tetanus Toxoid injection to victims. Image via http://www.pahs.edu.np/patan-hospital-earthquake-disaster-relief-fund/photo-gallery/
Medical students providing Tetanus Toxoid injection to victims. Image via http://www.pahs.edu.np/patan-hospital-earthquake-disaster-relief-fund/photo-gallery/

A lady was lying on the floor, covered with mud, she wasn’t moving at all. My friend and I suspected she was seriously injured but didn’t see any obvious wound from where we were standing. We went near and tried to feel the carotid pulse. Never in my life had I even remotely imagined that one day I will confuse whether or not the carotid pulse is present. But there I was. I didn’t feel the pulse, but I was reluctant to admit that she didn’t have one; so we decided to ask one of our teachers. We did and got the obvious answer. Now we were to put the black tag on her and take her to the black area. She was the first to be taken to the black triage. Before putting her down from the stretcher, we took the pulse again. It was one of my first encounters with death declaration.

I came out of the front door and was among a lot of injured patients; nerve wrecked students and doctors trying to help people in the best possible way. It was then that most of us remembered that we hadn’t contacted out families yet; maybe sadness had taken over our survival instinct or maybe we were learning to keep our professional duties up ahead. This continued for the day and the next day was nearly the same; only a little more organized. Basically, the name of the game for the couple of days that followed was help in all that you are capable of.

Apart from being the most traumatizing experience of our life until now, this earthquake also taught us some lessons and profoundly so. I knew that survival instinct takes over everything at first when you perceive a threat to our life; however, once you are just out of the instinct and see before you, the circumstance that you are trained to deal with, you prioritize things and work in the line of your training.

Survival instinct takes over everything at first when you perceive a threat to our life...

Students raising awareness to prevent possible outbreaks. Image via http://www.pahs.edu.np/patan-hospital-earthquake-disaster-relief-fund/photo-gallery/
Students raising awareness to prevent possible outbreaks. Image via http://www.pahs.edu.np/patan-hospital-earthquake-disaster-relief-fund/photo-gallery/

a need for disaster curriculum to be rigorously taught to every medical student.

One thing that I realized while trying to help the casualties that will help me every time I sit to study is: no matter how much you memorize stuff until you really understand something well, you won’t be able to use the knowledge when it is most needed. The disaster drill that we performed a few months before the disaster helped us make sense of triage, proper transportation and of what was happening. I realized the importance of training and keeping myself updated on skills that we need at times when we are less likely to think rationally. Also, I felt a need for disaster curriculum to be rigorously taught to every medical student. Medical students formed an important workforce during this disaster. Having occurred on the weekend, medical students were the most readily and adequately available resource. However, with limited knowledge and skill, medical students left to work unsupervised are prone to cause harm to themselves and patients; hence proper training and work delegation are required so that they can become a better-skilled workforce.

This was yet another example for me to ponder and reinforce upon myself that not everything will go on as planned; hence, I need to keep myself updated and work on my improvising skills. This event as devastating as it was also made me feel proud of what I am training to become and instilled in me more passion towards my profession.

Further Reading

  • World Health Organization, Regional Office for South-East Asia. Nepal earthquake 2015: an insight into risks: a vision for resilience. New Delhi, India: World Health Organization, SEARO; 2016. Available from: https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/255623
  • Sheppard PS, Landry MD. Lessons from the 2015 earthquake (s) in Nepal: implication for rehabilitation. Disability and Rehabilitation. 2016 Apr 23;38(9):910-3.
  • Nepal earthquake of 2015 – link
Cite this article as: Sajan Acharya, Nepal, "A Medical Student’s Encounter with Disaster," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, August 5, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/08/05/a-medical-students-encounter-with-disaster/, date accessed: July 3, 2022

Laceration Repair: A Rural Encounter

The word “emergency” carries some connotation with it. A lack of time to act, a situation that demands speed, a sense of acuity. Medicine on the other hand is related to healing, soothing and improving, a slow and gentle process. I sometimes wonder if the name of the specialty (Emergency Medicine) is an oxymoron.

Etymology aside, this specialty of medicine has meant at least two different things to me at two different settings. I have worked as an intern at Patan Hospital, a tertiary care center and as an in-charge of emergency services of Beltar Primary Healthcare Center (PHC), a government establishment in rural Nepal. I intend to describe my perspective and illustrate what different experiences of emergency medicine in different settings has to offer. I hope in doing so, I’ll be able to illustrate some of my workarounds that make the difference less overwhelming.

I have been posted at Beltar PHC, Nepal for the past 18 months. The center has been running primary emergency services. Initial stabilization and proper referral are two major ways Beltar PHC helps to save lives. The nearest city where cases are referred to are Dharan (50.5 km away) and Biratnagar (92 km away). Emergency personnel includes one doctor on call, one paramedic, two sisters for delivery and one office assistant. Laboratory and X-ray services are not available apart from office hours. Emergency investigations available include ECG, UPT and Obstetric USG. The government freely supplies medical equipment and a limited number of medicines.

Entrance to Emergency Services at Beltar PHC
Former Emergency Setup at Beltar PHC
Former Emergency Setup at Beltar PHC

A 27-year-old male

A 27-year-old male with a cut injury on his right forearm was brought to the PHC. It was a quiet day at the Emergency Department (ED) and most of the cases were OPD cases that did not make it on time.

One-way ED helps people here, albeit not an ideal way, is to act as a rescue for patients who travel long distances to get to the OPD if they do not make it on time.

The patient had a clean wound, about 5 cm long with smooth edges. We washed the wound using tap water; a practice equally efficacious to using saline but way more affordable for a rural setup. To suture the wound, we made our equipment ready. A long suture thread was cut from a nylon thread roll sterilized in betadine, some gauze pieces prepared by our office assistant that had been autoclaved and stored in an old dressing drum were taken out.

Suture materials at Beltar PHC
Dressing Drums at Beltar PHC

The thread was inserted into a needle, probably too big (turns out what needle size to use and when was a dilemma of privilege). Sometimes, we use needles that come with 2 ml syringes instead; they are sharper for skin penetration than the big suture needles our government freely supplies. The wound was sutured and the patient discharged.

That night I reflected on how things would have been subtly but significantly different at Patan Hospital. A sterilized suture set, autoclaved, packed and ready to use along with a ready to use surgical suture would be available. The procedure would have taken place in a more private space and not where visitors had the opportunity to peak in through our foldable privacy screen. Maybe the patient would have had to wait longer to get attention but the difference would not have been much, considering the time it takes to prepare every instrument here.

Each minor aspect of this difference deserves to be heard, talked about and their solution sought for. I plan to write about each of these as a series of article that follows. Proper resource allocation is a time and economy intensive goal; nevertheless the ultimate one. Maybe small workarounds are what we need during the period of transition, especially for places like Beltar.

Laceration repair is a common procedure in every emergency department. Setting differs and with it the availability of resources. Nevertheless, the core principles that govern patient care and the science behind it remains the same. While we wait for more convenient and sophisticated solutions, which all patients deserve, here are some points to remember regarding laceration repair that can help provide an acceptable standard of care even in resource-limited settings.

  • While working in rural, one should be well aware of its limitations. Some lacerations that require surgical consultation and need to be referred include (1):
    • Deep wounds of the hand or foot
    • Full-thickness lacerations of the eyelid, lip, or ear
    • Lacerations involving nerves, arteries, bones, or joints
    • Penetrating wounds of unknown depth
    • Severe crush injuries
    • Severely contaminated wounds requiring drainage
  • Non-contaminated wounds can be successfully closed up to 18 hours post-injury while clean head wounds can be repaired up to 24 hours after injury (2).

  • Drinkable tap water can be used for wound irrigation instead of sterile saline. At least 50 to 100 ml of irrigation solution per 1 cm of wound length is needed at a pressure of 5 to 8 psi for optimal dilution of wound’s bacterial load. The wound can be put under running water or can be irrigated using a 19-gauge needle with a 35 ml syringe (3).

  • Local hair should be clipped, not shaved, to prevent wound contamination(4).

  • Strict sterile techniques are unnecessary to be followed during laceration repairs. The instruments touching wound (sutures, needles, etc.) should be sterile, but everything else only needs to be clean(1). Clean non-sterile examination gloves can be used instead of sterile gloves during wound repair(5).
  • Local anesthesia with lidocaine 1% or bupivacaine 0.25% is appropriate for small wounds while large wounds occurring on limbs may require a regional block (1). Epinephrine should not be used in anatomic areas with end arterioles, such as fingers, toes, nose, penis, and earlobes.
  • Maximum doses of local anesthetic are as follow (6):
    • Lidocaine (without epinephrine): 3 – 5 mg/kg
    • Lidocaine (with epinephrine): 7 mg/kg
    • Bupivacaine (without epinephrine): 1 – 2 mg/kg
    • Bupivacaine (with epinephrine): 3 mg/kg
  • The suture used for skin repair include non-absorbable sutures (nylon and polypropylene) while absorbable sutures (polyglactin, polyglycolic) is used to close deep lacerations. For skin closure, silk sutures are no longer used because of skin abscess formation, their poor tensile strength and high tissue reactivity. In general, a 3–0 or 4–0 suture is appropriate on the trunk, 4–0 or 5–0 on the extremities and scalp, and 5–0 or 6–0 on the face (6).
    • Sterilization of sutures can be done by complete immersion in povidone-iodine 10% solution for 10 minutes followed by rinsing in sterile saline/water. Sutures that can be sterilized or re-sterilized include monofilament sutures (Prolene or Nylon) and coated sutures (Vicryl, Ethibond) (7).

Timing of Suture Removal (6)

Wound Location Time of Removal (Days)
Face
3 - 5
Scalp
7 - 10
Arms
7 - 10
Trunk
10 - 14
Legs
10 - 14
Hands or Feet
10 - 14
Palms or Soles
14 - 21

Tetanus Prophylaxis (8)

Wound Previous Vaccine Tetanus Vaccine
Clean Wound
Previous vaccine ≥3 doses - The last dose within 10 years
No Need
Previous vaccine ≥3 doses - The last dose more than 10 years
Yes
Previous vaccine ≥3 doses - NOT RECEIVED
Yes
Contaminated Wound
Previous vaccine ≥3 doses - The last dose within 5 years
No
Previous vaccine ≥3 doses - The last dose more than 5 years
Yes
Previous vaccine ≥3 doses - NOT RECEIVED
Yes + TIG

Factors that may increase chances of wound infection (9)

  • wound contamination,
  • laceration > 5 cm,
  • laceration located on the lower extremities,
  • diabetes mellitus

Antibiotics

  • Prophylactic systemic antibiotics are not necessary for healthy patients with clean, non-infected, non-bite wounds(10). 
  • Prophylactic antibiotic use is recommended for (11): 
    • human bite wounds 
    • deep puncture wounds
    • wounds involving the palms and fingers
  • Topical antibiotic ointments decrease the infection rate in minor contaminated wounds. 

References and Further Reading

  1. Forsch RT. Essentials of Skin Laceration Repair. Am Fam Physician. 2008 Oct 15;78(8):945-95
  2. Berk WA, Osbourne DD, Taylor DD. Evaluation of the ‘golden period’ for wound repair: 204 cases from a third world emergency department. Ann Emerg Med. 1988;17(5):496–500.
  3. Wheeler CB, Rodeheaver GT, Thacker JG, Edgerton MT, Edilich RF. Side-effects of high pressure irrigation. Surg Gynecol Obstet. 1976;143(5):775–778./ Moscati RM, Reardon RF, Lerner EB, Mayrose J. Wound irrigation with tap water. Acad Emerg Med. 1998;5(11):1076–1080.
  4. Howell JM, Morgan JA. Scalp laceration repair without prior hair removal. Am J Emerg Med. 1988;6(1):7–10.
  5. Perelman VS, Francis GJ, Rutledge T, Foote J, Martino F, Dranitsaris G. Sterile versus nonsterile gloves for repair of uncomplicated lacerations in the emergency department: a randomized controlled trial. Ann Emerg Med. 2004;43(3):362–370.
  6. Forsch RT, Little SH, Williams C. Laceration Repair: A Practical Approach. Am Fam Physician. 2017 May 15;95(10):628-636.
  7. Cox I. Guidelines for Re-Sterilising Sutures. Community Eye Health. 2004;17(50): 30.
  8. Kretsinger K, Broder KR, Cortese MM, et al. Preventing tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis among adults: use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccine recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR Recomm Rep. 2006;55(RR-17):1–37.
  9. Quinn JV, Polevoi SK, Kohn MA. Traumatic lacerations: what are the risks for infection and has the ‘golden period’ of laceration care disappeared? Emerg Med J. 2014;31(2):96–100.
  10. Cummings P, Del Beccaro MA. Antibiotics to prevent infection of simple wounds: a meta-analysis of randomized studies. Am J Emerg Med. 1995;13(4):396–400.
  11. Worster B, Zawora MQ, Hsieh C. Common Questions About Wound Care. Am Fam Physician. 2015 Jan 15;91(2):86-92.
Cite this article as: Carmina Shrestha, Nepal, "Laceration Repair: A Rural Encounter," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, June 21, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/06/21/laceration-repair-a-rural-encounter/, date accessed: July 3, 2022