911 S2/E2: Determining Death

In Episode 2 of this season’s Fox series 9-1-1, a devastating earthquake has hit LA county.

The team is searching for victims when they come upon a patient where only her lower legs are visible. The paramedic reaches down and assesses her pulse at her foot and determines that she’s dead. Time to move on.

Can you feel someone’s pulse in their foot? Yes, you can. He’s palpating what’s called the dorsalis pedis pulse.

Should it be used to determine if the patient is dead? To this, I would say no. The problem is, when the body goes into shock, it shunts blood toward the central aspects of your body to ensure blood flow to your vital organs so even though the person is alive, you may not be able to feel the pulses in the feet. This is why when checking for life, the use of central pulses is encouraged— for instance the femoral or carotid pulses. Also, this victim could just have two broken legs with compromised blood flow to her feet causing the lack of pulse.

However, I’m not going to give them too much grief for this. In a mass casualty situation, sometimes you do just need to move on and save who you can.

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