Dr. Strange Should Know Better

If you haven’t seen the movie Dr. Strange, you have been warned that this blog post will contain spoilers to the movie.

Dr. Strange, released in 2016 as part of the Marvel Universe, features a stereotypical, obnoxious, arrogant, and rich neurosurgeon. He is greatly skilled, but is known to turn down patients in order to keep his perfect surgical record. Unfortunately for the character, he is in a terrible car accident and both his hands sustain multiple fractures that cause permanent nerve damage and therefore lead to the end of his promising career.

Dr. Strange is like many patients when the medical establishment can’t offer complete healing. He begins to investigate alternative/investigative medicine for treatments. He hears from a physical therapist that a patient with a complete spinal fracture is up and walking around. Dr. Strange responds to this by saying, “Show me his file.”

I’ve said all along in this blog that medical people in films, television, and novels can do bad things. Your job as the writer is to let the reader know that you know that the character is misbehaving in his role. This allows the reader to know you’ve done your research and they can trust you as an author.

Dr. Strange asking for this patient’s chart if flat out a HIPAA violation. He never cared for the patient and he has no right to know what’s in his medical record. There are consequences for HIPAA violations and having the character suffer these is a great way to add tension and conflict to the story.

A second medical violation in the movie is the treatment of Dr. Strange’s chest wound. He suffers a blade wound to the chest and transports himself back to his old hospital to be treated by a colleague. There are a few problems with this scene.

Problem #1: That there is a sterile operating room in the ER. No, this isn’t standard. Can sterile procedures be done in the ER? Yes, but not a sterile operation as in the OR.

Problem #2: Wrong ECG rhythm. Dr. Strange has diagnosed himself with a pericardial tamponade. A cardiac tamponade is where fluid is collecting in the sack around the heart thereby impinging on the heart’s ability to pump blood.

The rescue procedure for this is a pericardiocentisis— or removal of the fluid from around the heart. His love interest confirms the diagnosis by percussing his chest. This is probably the least reliable way of diagnosing this problem. Any well equipped ER should have some sort of bedside ultrasound to aid in the diagnosis. The ECG monitor first shows a rhythm of bradycardia— the heart beating too slowly. This again is one of the least likely rhythms related to this condition.

Problem #3: Wrong placement of the needle. In the movie, the doctor is shown placing the need straight into the chest. It should be at an angle pointed to the left shoulder which this nifty video on You Tube shows.

Problem #4: Shocking asystole: I’ve blogged a lot on this. You cannot shock asystole. It won’t improve the outcome for the patient and is contraindicated. First treatment is high quality CPR and a dose of epinephrine or adrenaline. Also, this is not the correct paddle placement for defibrillation. It should be just to the right of the patient’s sternum and over the apex of the heart or more to the left side. They also cannot be placed over clothing.

Problem #5: OR is next. Most likely a patient like this with penetrating trauma to the chest would likely go to the OR, or at least some follow-up radiology studies. Not just stitched up and sent on his way.

Something Strange about Dr. Strange

Most love a good operating room scene where a brilliant mind and steady hand save the day. Dr. Strange fulfills this role in his self-titled movie and was most enjoyable to watch.

However, there is one scene that concerned me.

See anything strange besides the man who carries the name?

The two main characters are creating a burr hole in the skull to be able to retrieve the bullet lodge near the medulla. The are in full sterile attire except for their masks.

Several years ago, I was called to the OR to assist with the removal of a brain tumor guided with ultrasound. No one in that room went without a mask covering their mouth and noise. In fact, I was not even allowed to enter the suite without a mask in place.

All of the surgeons, nurses and surgical assistants surrounding the table also wore face shield to protect their eyes from any splatter of the patient’s biological fluids.

So you can imagine my disdain when watching the movie, Dr. Strange, and discovering two surgeons hovering over a patient’s head, creating burr holes in his skull without masks. Upon further research, the wearing of masks in the OR has caused some controversy.

According to Lisa Maragakis, Senior Director of Epidemiology and Infection Control at John Hopkins Health System, some studies have shown the absence of a mask in the OR “have virtually no bearing on the patient outcomes when surgeries are performed by healthy doctors in sanitary operating rooms.” (Maragakis, 2016) In some European hospitals, surgeons are no longer required to wear masks.

However, she also discusses what happens when a surgeon sneezes. Personally if it were my open brain, I’d not want my surgeon’s droplets nestling into my head wound.

Here in the US, most hospital and operating room protocols still require our surgeons to don the traditional surgical mask and encourage facial shields.

Perhaps, one day that will change, but right now, I’m glad wearing surgical masks are not strange.

References:

Sugarman, J. (2016). What Do Surgical Masks Really Protect Against? Retrieved May 28, 2018.
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Shannon Moore Redmon writes romantic suspense stories, to entertain and share the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. Her stories dive into the healthcare environment where Shannon holds over twenty years of experience as a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. Her extensive work experience includes Radiology, Obstetrics/Gynecology and Vascular Surgery.

As the former Education Manager for GE Healthcare, she developed her medical professional network across the country. Today, Shannon teaches ultrasound at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and utilizes many resources to provide accurate healthcare research for authors requesting her services.

She is a member of the ACFW and Blue Ridge Mountain Writer’s Group. Shannon is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. She lives and drinks too much coffee in North Carolina with her husband, two boys and her white foo-foo dog, Sophie.

Reverie: Not so Medically Dreamy

NBC has launched a new summer show titled Reverie.  In it, Mara (ex traumatized cop, maybe psychologist) is recruited by a company specializing in making-your-dreams-come-true via a hyper advanced virtual reality program. The participants receive an implant that allows them to interact virtually with a program partly of their design.

Problem becomes, some of the clients don’t want to leave. Hence, our heroine, Mara, is recruited to go in after them and pull them back to reality.

In the first episode, it’s noted that the client has been in his dream world for two weeks and it’s commented by the staff that he’s essentially comatose. The man is lying on a bed connected to an ECG monitor and some oxygen via nasal cannula as pictured below. They give the man two days left to live providing a time pressure for the heroine.

However, medically, this man would have already been dead because they are not providing for either hydration or nutrition. This could be solved simply medically by inserting a feeding tube via his nose and providing free water interspersed with bolus liquid feeds. After all, thousands of people live in comatose states for years if their basic medical needs are met such as oxygen (if needed) and nutrition.

The heroine, Mara, is psychologically damaged. She’s had a significant personal trauma she hasn’t quite worked through. There is also a concern expressed by the designers of the program that something might not be quite right with it. When Mara enters the virtual reality program for the first time to retrieve a voluntarily trapped client they run an EEG on her which measures brain waves.

After she successfully retrieves the client, there is a conversation between the designer and lead dream architect that something is wrong with Mara’s EEG— something that indicates she could have a mental illness.

An EEG cannot diagnose a mental health disorder. Its use might be to determine if a patient has a medical cause that may be masked by some psychiatric like complaints such as a seizure disorder or sleep disturbance.

In episode 2, the producers must have gotten some feedback that they needed some actual medical equipment if they were concerned about these clients suffering medical complications. This time, a woman’s heart is going into erratic rhythms, specifically V-tach, because of the stress she’s under in her dream scape. But the medical equipment must make sense. What’s pictured in the photo to the right is what we call a rapid fluid infuser. It delivers IV fluids very quickly. Typically, it would be used in a trauma patient or one who is suffering from overwhelming sepsis where rapid delivery of IV fluids can be lifesaving. It is not appropriate for this patient who is suffering from a heart arrhythmia— much better to park a defibrillator at her bedside.

Have you watched Reverie? What do you think of the show’s premise?

Dear Medical Thriller Author: Please, Ask a Nurse

I just got done reading a recently released medical thriller by a well known author. The novel, overall, was really enjoyable. Truly a captivating story line. However, there is one medical scene that continues to bug me because of the medical inaccuracies that could easily be solved by having a nurse with expertise in the area read over the scene.

In the last three medical thrillers I’ve read, the author always notes the doctors that helped with the novel, but I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard a nurse mentioned. Trust me, they needed a nurse. Our expertise is in delivering the medical care as ordered by the physician so we know what makes sense and what doesn’t.

In the scene, the patient is suspected of ingesting the poisonous mushroom Amanita Phalloides also known as the Death Cap. The patient has potential political fallout so our hero, a family practice physician, is designated as team leader for this code over two ER physicians. I’ll discuss some of the things I find problematic with the scene.

The hero admits he’s not an expert on mushroom toxicity, but doesn’t phone a friend. One of the first things that should be done in addition to providing for the patient’s medical needs is consulting a toxicology expert (a poison control center is a great place to start). In toxic ingestions of any kind, the medical team needs to know how to counteract the poison. This targeted therapy may be the only thing that will save the patients life. Even if the patient is provided stellar medical interventions, if they’re not given the antidote, it will all be in vain and the patient can proceed to death. That being said, not every poison has an antidote, which then means supportive care.

Let’s discuss these two statements from the novel:

“BP is sixty over palp,” said a nurse, taking the measurement by palpating with her fingertips.
“Pulse one forty-eight by monitor. I can’t even feel a carotid pulse.”

First of all, taking a palpated blood pressure is not usual in the hospital setting. This is typically done by EMS as a quick and dirty measure for obtaining a BP because it is really hard to hear through a stethoscope with sirens blaring above you. Next thing is, one of these two people are wrong. A carotid pulse is considered a central pulse so if it can’t be palpated then the patient is pulseless, has no BP (because you need a palpable pulse to have a BP), and therefore requires CPR no matter what is seen on the monitor. This rhythm is called pulseless electrical activity (PEA) and is treated medically like the patient is asystolic or flatlined. Treatment is high-quality CPR and IV epinephrine, but our hero calls for a central line.

Then there’s this statement:

“Right now, D-five normal saline at two hundred an hour. Wide open.”

D-five normal saline is an IV solution. This is typically not given in a code situation which I won’t highlight here. In reading about this mushroom’s toxicity, I get why the author chose this IV solution, but the reader doesn’t know and so it should be spelled out what the doctor is worried about clinically for this ingestion and how he’s going to treat it.

However, what’s really wrong with this statement is that it is a contradiction in terms for the nurse. Either the rate is 200 ml/hr or the rate is wide open which means the IV bag is let to run into the vein via gravity as fast as it will go. In an adult patient, the IV bag could be delivered in as little as five minutes depending on the size of the IV catheter that’s been placed.

Lastly, this gem:

“Compressions at ten per minute.”

There is a lot wrong with this medical scene (too much to blog about here), but this is by far the most egregious. I read this to my accountant husband and even he knew this was not medically correct. In fact, I googled, “How fast should you do CPR?” and it gives the correct answer without having to click into a web site which is 100-120/minute. This can’t even be a typo because one hundred and ten— can you really mistype that?  Flat out, this is an easily researched aspect and there is prolific information out there on doing CPR.

Dear Medical Thriller Author: Please, Ask a Nurse Click to Tweet
What’s Wrong with this Medical Scene? Click to Tweet

Just as I ask doctors about the medical accuracy of my scenes, so should nurses be asked. Particularly those who are actively practicing in the area.

Medical Review of the Movie Flatliners 2/2

I’m continuing my review of the movie Flatliners that released last year which is a reimagined redux of the original 1990 movie.

In the movie, a group of medical students intentionally put one another into cardiac arrest so they can have a near death experience (NDE). Let’s examine medically whether or not their method would work.

The plan is to anesthetize the inductee with Propofol (which is a short term anesthetic), cool their core body temperature, and then defribillate them with electricity causing them to flatline. Keep in mind, asystole means there is no electrical activity happening in the heart. You can read a post I did here on how electricity or defibrillation really works.  Amazingly, in this medical center’s basement in another fully functional hospital with a very expensive MRI to be used during a disaster.

Issue #1: A medical center has a fully functional part of the hospital with an expensive MRI that is doesn’t use. Any empty, unused space in the hospital is a drain on the budget. Especially an expensive piece of radiology equipment. No sane hospital anywhere would be leaving that piece of equipment unused in a basement.

Issue #2: What they show is not an MRI. MRI scans take a long time and can never be done in 60 seconds.

Issue #3: Trusting a fellow medical student to resusciate you. Need I say more?

Issue #4: Knowing that they are going to put someone in cardiac arrest, no one really bothers to hook up a resuscitation bag.

Issue #5: During one code that begins to run several minutes, one of the students orders another to put the cooling blanket back on because “she’s too warm”. This flies in the face of every resusciation protocol there is. There is a somewhat well used phrase that you must be “warm and dead”. Suboptimal body temperature makes resuscitation more difficult. They are only making their job harder.

Issue #6: Endotracheal tubes have a balloon on the end that must be inflated to stay in place and deflated to take out. No one seems very concerned about this.

Issue #7: You cannot deliver electricity over clothing. Bare skin only. Also, paddles are really not used any more for a variety of reasons. Most hospitals have transitioned to patches. The paddles are used as a back-up.

Issue #8: Propofol is a distinctive milky white substance. Seems easy enough to draw up some milk in your syringe for the movie to simulate this.

Issue #9: You cannot shock a heart that is in asystole into a normal rhythm. You can see my post above for that. Can you shock someone into asystole? There is a rare possibility that you can shock someone and stop their heart. However, the common rhythms a person would go into because of this is V-tach and V-fib and not asystole. The movie depending on this rare event for every flatline is unrealistic.

Issue #10: You can tell when a shock is delivered to a patient because generally they have quite a few muscles contract. Patients never come up off the bed as dramatically as on film or television. In fact, I’ve never seen a patient come up off the bed at all.

Have you seen Flatliners? What did you think of the medical aspects?

 

Medical Review of the Movie Flatliners 1/2

Flatliners 2.0 released in October, 2017. If you haven’t seen the movie (or the original from 1990) then you may not want to read this post as there will be spoilers involved.

Flatliners centers around a group of medical students who become curious with the phenomenon of near death experiences (NDEs) to the point that they “flatline” one another so that they can purposefully have one.

This first post will deal with a medical scenario that happens in the first ten minutes of the film. We’ll look at two screenshots from the movie.

Here is the conversation among the medical students when their new patient arrives.

Paramedic: “Transfer from Holy Cross. Thirty-eight year old construction worker fell off a beam. Persistent coma. GCS 6.”

Marlo: “Standard procedure for a GCS 6 admit calls for 2 large bore IVs and diazepam on standby.”

Ray: “Seizure meds won’t do any good. Whatever is wrong is in his spinal column and not in his brain.”

Marlo: “And what medical protocol are you citing?”

Ray: “The protocol of actually living in the real world. Where guys with crappy HMO’s go undiagnosed with spinal injuries.”

Marlo: “Actually he’s on seizure meds which is a medical protocol of reading his chart.”

 

At this point an alarm sounds and the students begin to panic. This is the screen shot at the moment of panic. It shows the monitor. The patient’s heart rate is a nice steady 73. His oxygen level is 100%– can’t get any better than that. His respiratory rate is 19– the patient is on a ventilator. I don’t know– things looks pretty good to me for this patient.

An attending doctor arrives.

Attending: “What is it?”

Student: “Respiratory failure.” (Based on the screen shot, there is no basis for this. Also, nothing is quite hooked up correctly at the head of the bed for an ER.)

Attending: “He might be hemorrhaging. Page neurosurgery, call a code, and get CT on standby. Students, clear the room!”

They then show another monitor in the room which appears to show ventricular fibrillation (V-fib) which is a lethal, but shockable rhythm. Yet, no one starts CPR.

End Scene.

Issue #1: I’m not sure how a medical student within the first ten seconds of getting this patient can know if the problem is in the brain or the spinal cord. For me, the problem seems likely to BE in the brain considering his persistent vegetative state.

Issue #2: Because of the patient’s insurance, he didn’t receive an accurate diagnosis. Mmmm . . . I know this myth get’s perpetuated. You don’t necessarily need expensive tests ALL the time to get an accurate diagnosis. CT scans and MRI scans aren’t really seen as extreme measures anymore. Though they are expensive the cost has come down.

Issue #3: Nothing these medical people say makes any sense medically. What evidence is there that the patient is in respiratory failure? The photo of the first monitor doesn’t suggest that. What evidence is there that the patient is hemorrhaging into his brain? Fixed and dilated pupils? Unequal pupils? A worsening coma score? None of that is presented in the scene.

Issue #4: The one medical problem they seemingly show is the V-fib in the second screen shot. Good to call a code, but research has shown that early and effective CPR is the one thing that is best at bringing people back. The next is early defibrillation which no one seems to anxious to accomplish.

Is it that hard to find good medical consultants for movies?

Fox’s The Resident: Everything Stereotypically Bad About Hospitals (Part 2/2)

Today, I’m continuing my review of Fox’s new medical drama The Resident and all that is bad about it. You can find Part I here.

Let’s continue our list.

THE RESIDENT: L-R: Manish Dayal, Emily VanCamp, Shaunette RenŽe Wilson, Matt Czuchry, Valerie Cruz and Bruce Greenwood in THE RESIDENT premiering midseason on FOX. ©2017 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Justin Stephens/FOX

Bargaining with IV drug users for drugs. In one scene, the younger protege is seen bargaining with an IV drug user so that she’ll give into his demands and it becomes a bartering of sorts like buying food in an open market. Hands down, the physician should decide what his bottom line is and not waiver from it.

Effective CPR is “until the ribs crack”.  Effective CPR is just the amount of compression depth it takes to generate a pulse that can be felt. It is a risk factor that the patient’s ribs can break, but it is not the clinical guideline we shoot for.

An environment of “no questions asked” is dictated. The senior resident gives his junior resident this mantra: “Do what I want you to do. No questions asked.” Again, this type of environment is intolerable in the hospital setting and should never be dictated . . . like ever. A questioning environment has been shown to increase patient safety and smart hospitals are encouraging this very thing. Most hospitals also have a mechanism in place to go above the bedside medical team if family concerns are not being addressed.

A surgical resident get first dibs on the new, bright, shiny, robotic surgical wonder. Need I say more?

The attending surgeon pretends to do a surgery. Remember the new shiny surgery robot? Remember the attending from Part I that has obvious hand tremors and should not be doing surgery? Did I mention this attending surgeon is an ego maniac (he even leaves positive medical reviews for himself)? Well, since no one has ratted out this well . . . rat . . . it must be him that first uses the machine. However, physically, he can’t do it. So he sets up a ruse where it appears he’s doing the surgery where in reality his uber smart, highly capable resident is. I cannot tell you how ethically bad this is on so many levels.

There are several issues that surround a lengthy medical code in the ER. The IV drug user that bargains for drugs in the beginning codes related to a heart infection. She is coded for nearly 30 minutes— the junior resident keeps it going for that long because of his emotional connection to the patient. Of course, just as he decides to call it, the patient gets her pulse back.

The senior resident is mad at him because he’s just revived a “vegetable”. Honestly, it is the senior resident’s job to watch their underlings. There would have eventually been an attending doctor overseeing this code. So, the person least responsible for the length of this code is the junior resident. Everyone higher up on the totem pull has the ability to stop the code.

Hospitals keep vegetative people alive for money. This is so patently false it’s laughable, but is probably more believable for the general public because many think hospitals will do anything to meet their bottom line.

I’ve been in nursing twenty-five years this May. I first started in adult ICU nursing and in that unit in Kansas there was avid discussion of clinical pathways to put people on to withdraw unnecessary (futile) care. In fact, I would say I’ve seen the opposite— at times a push to take people off of life support sooner then may be warranted from both the family and/or medical providers.

A resident taking it into their own hands to discontinue life support. Because the patient has no hope for life and he sees that the family is in no hurry to stop life support, the resident decides to turn off the machines. Fortunately, he is caught by a fellow resident and quickly turns back on the life support and the patient suffers no ill effects. Again, highly unethical. How about . . . having some hard conversations with the family about the viability of their daughter and helping them come to this decision? I know this is painted in the episode as a merciful thing for this doctor to do, but it would have been murder if he succeeded. He does not have permission to discontinue life support and cannot do so on his own accord. Period.

Also, there is no reason to be dumping a bucket of ice cold water onto a patient’s face . . . like ever.

I guess I should be thankful to The Resident for giving me all this blog material. It’s the only thing good about the show.

Tell me what you think of The Resident? If you’ve seen an episode, will you keep watching?