Care of the Burn Patient

Linda Asks:

In my middle grade novel my main character’s dad was a fireman in NY.
He was present during the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings.
He was burned severely and is in the hospital – near death.

My main character remembers his last conversation with his Dad in the hospital right before he dies.

The dad is hooked up to all kinds of beeping machines and is wrapped in white gauze.
After he talks to his son for the final time, he pushes a button for more morphine.

Questions:

Do they still wrap burn patients in gauze?
Is morphine used on severely burned people?

Jordyn Says:

From the point of view of your character– yes, burns are wrapped in gauze. They are specialized dressings, but a character aged 10-13 could perceive it as gauze only.

Yes, morphine is still used for pain.

My only concern is this character having a conversation with his dad. You don’t describe the nature of how he was burned, but a severely burned patient, particularly one close to death, is likely on a breathing machine and, therefore, unable to speak to his son.

You could change the scene to be that he’s so sick that they are getting ready to intubate the character’s father, and the medical team gives them a few moments to talk before they put the father on the breathing machine. He could still die quickly after from his injuries.

The Use of Hypothermia Post Cardiac Arrest

Emily Asks:

I am playing around with one of my character’s being shot life threateningly, but of course it’s gotta be something he recovers from with time.

This character is in his late 20s and in good health before the incident takes place.

At first, I was toying around with the idea of making the gunshot wound similar to what Kate Beckett had in the show Castle at the end of season three. The trouble is, I do not know how medically realistic her wound was, as you have pointed out Castle’s medical inaccuracies before. If you have possibly seen the episodes in question, could you give me some feedback on the medical aspects of Beckett’s shooting?

In relation to this, her heart supposedly stopped twice during the whole ordeal. I have been researching induced comas, and while they seem to be used for patients having more of a direct injury to the head, in the case when a victim’s heart stopped twice and is resuscitated both times, would there be any reason to keep them in an induced coma for a time due to lack of oxygen to the brain?

Then, after researching, I am playing around with giving this guy a collapsed lung from the bullet, which is small caliber.

1. In what hypothetical cases would this kind of injury require immediate surgery?

2. Are there any complications that could be serious enough for the said character to have to go back into surgery at a later time?

3. My character happens to be a bass singer for an acapella band. Would a collapsed lung affect his career at all even after he made a full recovery?

Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my questions!

Jordyn Says:

Beckett’s Gunshot Wound:

I had to go back and find some videos that were related to this. Shockingly, I found this scene pretty medically accurate. I found one that showed her coding one time. Though I definitely could have missed some. The determination to put someone in therapeutic hypothermia or targeted temperature management (as now termed) related to their heart stopping is dependent on whether or not they wake up immediately after their code.

A patient that wakes up spontaneously and quickly after a pulse is restored has intact neurological function. Those that remain comatose have a concern for neurological injury related to oxygen loss to the brain during the resuscitation and therefore the medical team could choose to put the pt in a “hypothermic” state to try and prevent this neurological injury.

This is slightly different from a medically induced coma that patients with traumatic brain injury might be placed in to prevent brain swelling. The difference is actively cooling the patient. I have not seen the use of hypothermia in the traumatically brain injured population (though this does appear to be an area of study), but use of medically induced comas, yes.

There are definite guidelines that the American Heart Association has put out that outline this course of treatment. You can find one such article here.

If your character codes and doesn’t wake up– then this would be a reasonable course of action medically, but written under the guidelines in the article.

In regards to your specific questions.

1. It’s more likely than not that a gunshot wound to the chest would go to surgery, particularly if the patient presents with any abnormal vital signs especially low blood pressure. There’s just so much there that could be damaged. The heart. The lungs. The blood vessels.

2. Yes, there could be a number of scenarios where the character could require more surgery such as a blood vessel that’s leaking that’s not found the first time during surgery and continues to bleed. Infection– specifically some sort of abscess formation could be another reason, but that would take some time to develop.

3. I don’t personally foresee a problem with his acapella career after his lung is healed. It would take time to get to the point where he was. If you wanted to affect his career, a patient who is intubated (placed on a breathing machine) can develop vocal cord damage as a rare complication.

Best of luck with your story!

Author Question: Motorcycle Injuries

Tory Asks:

I’m currently writing a fan fiction and the two main characters get in a motorcycle crash. The female just found out she was pregnant. I have three (very unrelated) questions. Could the crash send her into cardiac arrest? Would the male (who was driving) be able to survive with just a broken arm and a sprained ankle? And would the baby survive?

Jordyn Says:

Hi, Tory. Thanks for sending me your questions.

1. Yes, a motorcycle crash could send someone into cardiac arrest.

2. Could the male survive with just a broken arm and a sprained ankle? Sure, this is possible, but I don’t know if it’s probable. When looking at accidents, medical people always look at the injuries of the other people involved to determine how serious everyone’s injuries might be.

If the female in the accident suffers a cardiac arrest, it would be surprising that the male walks away with just, essentially, a broken arm. You could make it more believable in the description of how the accident happens. For instance, the female is thrown from the bike, but the male is trapped underneath it. You could also have them differ in the type of protective equipment they’re wearing (helmet, jackets, etc.)

3. Would the baby survive? Again, it depends on a lot of factors. How far along is she in the pregnancy? Cardiac arrest— how long is she pulseless? What other injuries does she get in the accident? The sicker she is from her injuries, the more likely she will miscarry the pregnancy. The body will defer energy and resources to the mother over the pregnancy. Then again, some women have maintained a pregnancy through terrible injuries so you would have some leeway as an author here.

If the mother is far along in the pregnancy (at least 22-24 weeks along) and in cardiac arrest the providers might consider C-section to save the infant. So, without more details as to the nature of the accident, her injures and the state of her pregnancy, it would be hard to say if the baby would likely live or die.

Good luck with your story!

Forensic Question: Testing a Blood Sample for Pregnancy

Jordyn Asks:

Can you test a blood sample to see if the person who left the blood behind is pregnant?

Amryn Says:

For most traditional tests, it would require a fair amount of blood be left behind in order for perform a pregnancy test. The blood would also need to still be in liquid form rather than dried.

It’s not something that would be done for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that samples are usually conserved as much as possible for forensic testing. So while it’s possible with the right set of circumstances, it likely wouldn’t be done since the blood would be used for DNA testing rather than diagnostic testing.

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Amryn Cross is a full-time forensic scientist and author of romantic suspense and mystery novels. Her first novel, Learning to Die, is available on Amazon. The first book in her latest series, loosely based on an updated Sherlock Holmes, is available for pre-order on Amazon. Look for Warzone in January 2015. You can connect with Amryn via her websiteTwitter and Facebook.

 

Author Question: Nurse Comforting Orphaned Child

Erynn Asks:

First Question: What’s the protocol when a child is brought in after a traumatic event (like being the sole survivor of an accident) while waiting for next of kin if they’re not local? I had originally written a scene where a nurse was comforting him, but I feel like I remember a reader telling me they wouldn’t be allowed to hug or hold a child . . . .even if they’re alone. Is this correct? Are there nurses who wouldn’t care and would do it anyway?

Second Question: Would CPS (child protective services) necessarily be involved? The child in question has an adult sibling and a will exists that will show that he should be the guardian. Would there be any hoops for him to jump through before they let him take him home?

Jordyn Says:

I’ve worked as a pediatric ER nurse at two different large pediatric medical centers and have never been admonished to not hug or hold a child if that’s what they emotionally required. I actually find that utterly shocking any hospital would tell their nurses not to do this— though obviously understand why.

A pediatric nurse will always provide age appropriate care. Infants and toddlers usually need to be held to be comforted. With a school age child or older we would go based on the child’s cues. We would probably ask, “Do you need a hug?” or “Can I sit with you?” Sometimes, open ended questions are hard for kids who are dealing with traumatic events to answer. Questions like, “What do you need right now?” probably won’t elicit much of a response so the nurse will ask very pointed questions.

Who else could assist the child? An ED tech. A volunteer. A child life specialist.

I think you’d need to place close attention to where this novel is set and the hospital would need to match your setting. Community ER’s (common in rural areas) are more comfortable dealing with the adult patient so they might approach this situation very differently and not have as many resources available.

Child Life specialists are generally not staffed 24/7 so I would keep that in mind. I also haven’t found them outside pediatric hospitals. Same with chaplains– may not be available 24/7. Depends on the type of hospital.

As a pediatric institution, we also would probably not involve Child Protective Services though probably social work consultation would be advisable in this situation. In CO— we generally reserve CPS for concerns for abuse.

If the adult sibling could prove legal guardianship in the case of the death of the parents than the child would be released into their care. Even in the case of lack of paperwork, the child would likely go to next of kin, of which it sounds like would be this sibling.

Happy writing!

Author Question: Gunshot Wound to the Torso

Heather Asks:

If my hero gets shot in the torso, is there somewhere it can hit that won’t be fatal? It can be a “miraculous” miss, that kind of thing. He can be weakened and bleeding, but I just need him to stay conscious for maybe five to ten minutes after? Any ideas?

Jordyn Says:

Sure, there are always miracles.

In medicine we view the torso as including the chest and abdomen. Generally the diaphragm is the dividing line between the two. So the chest is everything above the diaphragm and the abdomen is everything below it.

Gunshot wounds to the chest not hitting anything is tough. Think about everything that’s there. The heart, lungs, major vessels and arteries. Can a bullet pass through and miss everything— or hit something less minor and just cause bleeding? Sure. Anything is possible. I would recommend staying away from the left side of the chest for the wound— just so much there. The right chest and lower might be more believable because it’s just the lung sitting there. There are major blood vessels that underline each rib so nicking one of those could cause the bleeding you want. Hit outside or inside enough and you could miss the lung.

Abdominal wounds could go either way. A lot to hit in the belly as well, but also good odds for missing. If he’s wearing a bullet proof vest, you could have the bullet enter through his side and low– just under the lung and diaphragm. Problem is you have highly vascular organs on either side– the liver on the right and the spleen on the left. So, I’d aim below that as well or merely have them be grazing wounds to these organs. This could also cause significant, but survivable bleeding.

Hope this helps and happy writing!

Author Question: Flesh Wound to the Stomach

Heather Asks:

If someone got sliced by a knife (lightly— not deep) in the stomach, I know they’d get stitches, but would they be able to move around the next day or would it take a couple of days or more? If so, I’d better move that slicing injury. The slice did not go through the muscle.

Jordyn Says:

If the cut doesn’t go into the muscle, the character should be fine getting stitches and then being able to move. It might be mildly sore, but not crippling by any means.

Keep in mind, depending on the size of the wound, a lot of movement can pop stitches. If he’s doing a lot of strenuous activity, and the wound is large, even if it doesn’t go through the muscle, the movement could pop the stitches and open the wound.

Also, any wound, even stitched close, is at risk for infection. Could be another complicating factor for your character.

Happy writing!