Author Question: Help Me Knock Out My Character!

Elizabeth Asks:

I need to temporarily drug character. She will ingest it unknowingly (probably through coffee). I’m also considering having her drink one glass of wine, so the culprit could be the drug itself or the combination of the two, but I’m open to other possibilities.

It would need to be an OTC drug or something with easy access. Also, the drug would either have to wear off on its own or need be handled by an EMT without access to a hospital or medical equipment. What drug would get the job done? Would sleeping pills work and if so which kind would be best? How much would the character need to ingest? And how long before it takes effect and wears off?  Thank you!

Jordyn Says:

Hi Elizabeth!

Thanks for sending me your medical question.

You specify that the drug would need to be over-the-counter or something with “easy access”. Your two possibilities would truly be something over-the-counter or a prescription medication is stolen from someone else.

There are plenty of over-the-counter medications that cause sleepiness. The three most common would probably be diphenhydramine (Benadryl), dimenhydrinate (the active ingredient in the Dramamine that causes sleepiness), and doxylamine succinate. Several combination medications contain these active ingredients. For instance, if you look at multi symptom cough medicines, you’ll likely see one of these medications. Same with Tylenol PM or Advil PM. To a lesser degree, Melatonin and Valerian Root can also cause drowsiness.

The problem with all of these over-the-counter preparations is that they don’t have the same predictable impact. One person might take one of these medications and fall asleep in fifteen minutes. Another might take it and not be sleepy at all.

A safer bet would be to have this character steal a prescription medicine from someone. This opens up your possibilities of what drug to choose that would have a more predictable effect. Some of those drug categories would be benzodiazepines (such as Valium and Xanax), opioids (like morphine and fentanyl), and the hypnotics (like Ambien and Lunesta). Also, muscle relaxers like Soma and Flexeril have sleepiness as a side effect.

Then, of course, your character could obtain an illegal drug like Ketamine or GHB (aka the date rape drug).

The OTC medications will probably have the least disastrous side effects if given in normal doses. Your chances of injuring your character go up exponentially with these other drug classes if proper medical attention isn’t give if the character stops breathing. This would be the leading cause of medical calamity using a prescription or illegal drug.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide. I think the best thing for you to do would be pick a drug from each of these classes: over-the-counter, prescription, and illegal— and research a few to decide. If you type in the exact name of the drug and the question you want answered (like dose, onset of action, etc) you will usually find drug guides that can answer these questions for you.

Hope this helps and good luck with this story!

Author Question: Prioritizing Medical Care

Ethan Asks:

My main character was in a fight. He has a skull fracture with epidural bleed, a dislocated shoulder, and a twisted ankle. He arrives at the hospital unconscious. Would the ER try relocating the shoulder right away or wait for him to regain consciousness first? Just a common anterior shoulder dislocation. Also how? I’ve seen too many videos to know the ‘tried and true’ from a best guess. How would you do it?

Jordyn Says:

For this patient, the neurological injury would take precedence. It doesn’t matter much about his shoulder if he never wakes up. So, if he does have an epidural bleed, that would be the surgical priority. When he’s under anesthesia for the surgery and his epidural bleed has been stabilized, they could relocate the shoulder intra-operatively.

The videos you’ve seen are probably accurate— yanking and pulling a certain way to get the shoulder back in. Sometimes, if the patient is just sedated enough, the shoulder will relocate on its own, but it is more common to have to pull it back in to place.

The only thing that might make them rush with the shoulder is if they felt that the patient wasn’t getting blood flow into his hand on that side. Since he’s unconscious, he really couldn’t say if there were any numbness to that hand that would also be an indicator he might be having trouble with blood flow into the hand.

That being said, I’ve not personally seen neurovascular compromise with a “simple” shoulder dislocation (though I’m sure it does happen on occasion) so precedence would be his head injury.

Author Question: Polar Bear versus Shoulder

Laurie Asks:

I’m a debut Christian romantic suspense author and I wondered if you could help me with a medical question.

My hero is mauled by a polar bear. He’s suffered a dislocated right shoulder, tearing of the ligaments, rotator cuff, and whatever tendons are in the shoulder and across his scapula. He’s got bite punctures on his upper arm, his right ear was bitten and repaired via plastic surgery. He’s got a scalp laceration with twenty-eight staples to reattach it.

My hero is an RCMP cop and he needs to get back to work.

Can you tell me what he’d have done surgically to repair the rotator cuff and ligaments? How long would he realistically be off work and need physical therapy?

Jordyn Says:

I reached out to Tim Bernacki, an awesome physical therapist, who rehabbed by own shoulder after I dislocated it. If you live near Castle Rock, Colorado check out clinic called Front Range Therapies. I highly recommend him.

Tim Says:

A massive rotator cuff tear (RTC) along with ligament tears and dislocation would lead to quite a surgery. One of a kind. The massive tears I’ve seen used multiple anchors (versus one or two for the “common” repairs).

Some of the massive tears also used either synthetic or pig skin patches because of the tear size. The ligaments would also need to be repaired with more anchors. This person would be in a sling with an abduction pillow at the side for probably eight to ten weeks (versus six weeks for the smaller tears).

Therapy could start earlier than when the sling comes off but would entail only passive range of motion (provided by the therapist). The tricky thing here is that if one portion of the RTC is torn, the protocol would incorporate stretching of that repair last in the sequence of stretches. Likewise, strengthening would incorporate moving in that one direction later than others.

With this person, all directions of movement would need to be respected. This person will need a truly great therapist, or I would expect them to get about eighty percent of their range/use/strength in the end. If all goes well, I would anticipate full range around four months post-op.

Strengthening would begin around three to four months post-op and could go on for at least three to four months itself. For full duty police work, minimum time from date of surgery to return to work I’d guess is eight months, but more likely around ten months. Most police officers return to working on restricted/light duty (if the injury was work related). Light duty is typically communications and/or desk work, working cold cases, helping with investigations, but not leaving the station.

Author Question: Rehabilitation after Gunshot Wound Injuries

Sean Asks:

Hi Jordyn!

Looking for a little bit of help with some 9mm gunshot wounds. I was going for non-lethal aside from possible bleeding out and injuries that would have long recovery time.

I have a character get shot at point blank range in the lower right abdomen from the front. Then in the right shoulder/clavicle, also from the front, about five to ten feet away, breaking the clavicle. Finally, in the left calf from behind from ten to fifteen feet away, breaking the tibia which is made worse when the shooter grinds his foot into it.

I’m guessing the shoulder/clavicle and calf/tibia would require a sling or cast and a serious amount of PT. The abdomen wound I’m guessing would require some reconstructive surgery depending on if and how much the bullet bounced around?
I figured it would take her almost a year to walk without assistance from those.  Am I close in that assessment? Thanks in advance for ANY help!
_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Jordyn Says:

 

Since this is largely a rehab question I reached out to Tim Bernacki, a great physical therapist, who I highly recommend from personal experience. If you live near Castle Rock, CO look up his clinic, Front Range Therapies.

Tim Says:

Generally, time frame of healing is 6-8 weeks for most things, especially soft tissue. All these injuries would require surgery. The clavicle fracture would require an open reduction/internal fixation (ORIF)—this means that there is an incision made and hardware placed to stabilize the fracture.

I wouldn’t know what is done if the clavicle is “shattered” and is in a multitude of pieces. The wound would have to be a glancing hit that results in a fracture. Anything more severe in the area could result in ruptured arteries, as well, and the person cannot die from this wound.

The tibia fracture also would require an ORIF—either plate, screws, or rod with locking screws. The difficult thing in all this would be that due to the leg recovery, the person will be using an assistive device, but probably cannot use crutches due to the clavicle pain. Perhaps a walker could be used. Depends on how conditioned the person is, how young, etc . . .

The leg injury would require limited weight bearing for 6 weeks I would guess. If all heals as expected according to x-rays, then they would transition into weight bearing as tolerated (WBAT). Probably would have a limp for several weeks after that. Likely wouldn’t run until four months following surgery if all goes well. The clavicle would probably have a sling for maybe 2-4 weeks (if no repairs to muscle or rotator cuff were done). After that, overhead reach would be most affected and for several months.

As for the abdominal injury, other than not bearing down with pressure for a short time, I wouldn’t think there are other issues to consider.

I’ve seen some gunshot wounds (GSW) where the bullet enters, hits a long bone, changes course and travels along the bone. This assumes the round is a practice round (full metal jacket) and not a hollow point. Hollow point bullets or defensive rounds open up when they hit something, resulting in a much-enlarged object/wound. I’ve seen rounds left in place because taking them out was unnecessary and I’ve seen rounds removed because of the location. Sometimes there are exit wounds and sometimes there aren’t depending on what stops the round. Sounds like there wouldn’t be an exit wound with the clavicle and leg but could be with the abdominal (perhaps in the low back).

Hope this helps and good luck with your story!

Author Question: The Perfect Skull Fracture

Ethan Asks:

I’m looking for the Goldilocks of skull fractures. My main character is a college age male that got into a fight. I’ve tried doing my own research but I’m second-guessing myself on which part of the skull to hit. I’m looking for a crack (not a shatter), minimal blood loss, he stays conscious for ten minutes or so, and a hospital stay of about five to seven days. I’m guessing there’s no way to avoid a concussion, as long as there’s no permanent brain damage I can work with it. Is such a skull fracture possible? If so, where on the skull?

Jordyn Says:

Yes, there is such a skull fracture that I think would fit your scenario perfectly.

In a small amount of cases, patients who receive an injury to the side of their head causing a fracture of the temporal bone can tear their middle meningeal artery causing an epidural bleed.

An epidural bleed/hematoma is considered a neurological emergency. Most of these patients will require surgery to save their lives. With epidural hematomas, the patient can have an initial loss of consciousness followed by a distinctive lucid period, and then worsening neurological status after that.

This article gives a nice overview of the condition and treatment for epidural hematomas. Also, this is a good article as well.

Hope this helps and best of luck with your story!

Author Question: Drug Dosing in Super Human Metabolism

Racheal Asks:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic of medicine and dosage within the context of someone with super-human levels of heightened metabolism. Obviously, the concept pushes the question dangerously towards completely fictional answers, but I’m hoping for any input you have at least in the abstract. For instance, would you give the patient more concentrated doses, more frequent doses, larger doses?  What kind of medicines would be prescribed/would correlate with the metabolism bit in context of painkillers and treatment of a gunshot wound?

Jordyn Says:

Regarding your question surrounding metabolism– I think both could be true that the patient may need to receive higher doses and be dosed more frequently depending on the half life of the drug. Fentanyl and Versed could be two of the drugs given for chest tube placement– one for pain and one so the patient doesn’t remember the procedure. These would be given if the patient is fairly stable with good blood pressure. You could look up these drugs and see how fast the peak. Peak time is when the patient will be under the full effects of the medication. From that, you could put in whatever metabolism rate you wanted (2X, 3X or faster) and be able to determine how much more quickly they would need to be redosed on the medication. Also, you could look at the drugs half-life. Half-life is when 50% of the drug is metabolized by your body. You could look at this number, factor in their sped up metabolism rate, to also know how frequently they might need the drug.

You can ususally research this on-line fairly easily by searching for drug information sheets. I’ve included one here for Fentanyl.

I thought this would be a great question to run by Sarah Sundin who is a fabulous author and real life pharmacist. I hope you check out her wonderful historical novels set during WWII.

Sarah Says:

A higher metabolism would lead to a higher clearance — shortening the half-life of the medication. That would mean increasing the frequency for dosing from every twelve hours to every eight hours or every six hours. Often that means an increase in dose as well. Of course, we have to clarify “metabolism.” Some drugs are cleared by the kidneys (renally) and some are cleared by the liver (hepatically) and most are a combination of both. Whatever function you speed up for your character would have to match the primary method by which that medication is cleared.

To research how a drug is metabolized in the body you would search for “pharmacokinetics of Fentanyl” as an example. These articles would help you determine by what method in the body the drug is cleared.

Hope this helps and good luck with your story!

Author Question: Details for Chest Tube Placement

Rachael Asks:

I’m sure you get questions on this all the time, but I was wondering what insight you can provide on traumatic wounds. My project is science fiction and the characters in question have enhanced healing and a sped up metabolism which I’ve just been using as my cure-all, smooth-over for any inaccuracies thus far. But then I found your blog- which has been incredibly fascinating and entertaining.

The first question I had which led me here was in general for a gunshot wound to the chest though not involving the heart. Namely, the various potential complications, the meds, supplies, or procedures that may be employed, and the sorts of phrases and terminology and reactions that may be overheard from the staff working on the patient. I’ve read on the risks of things like a sucking chest wound and consequential lung collapse, punctured lung, of course blood loss, but I still am at a loss for particularly the things the medical staff on hand would be saying or doing. (Bonus points if you have any tips for the internal monologue for the victim besides “ow.”)

Jordyn Says:

Hi Racheal! Thanks for sending me our question.

Your question is hard to answer. You don’t give specifics of the injury though it looks like you’re leaning toward a collapsed lung. There are a couple of ways you can research the feel of an emergency and that is by watching reality based (non scripted) shows that center on emergency medicine or look for teaching videos (or live videos where they capture the procedure on a real patient on You Tube).

For instance, a patient with a collapsed lung will likely need a chest tube placement. You can search You Tube for “placement of a chest tube” and see what comes up. The below video is pretty good as it gives lots of technical detail on what the physician is doing, seeing, feeling, and even what medicines might be prescribed for the patient. However, it does lack a lot of language of what would be said to the patient during the procedure.

The next video shows more patient interaction and what might be said. Between these two videos you could probably extrapolate together a scene. I will say that typically patients are connected to a larger suction device, but what the below physician is connecting to looks to be a more portable device so the patient can be up and walking. Also, a patient with a tension pneumothorax who is crashing may not receive local anesthesia and may even be unconscious.

Your best option, once the scene is written, is have a medical person who actively is practicing in the field review it. If your scene is written from the POV of the doctor placing the tube, it would need to be more technical versus if you’re writing it from the POV of the patient. You can also search Google for patient experiences of having a chest tube placed to get a feel for the inner dialogue you’re looking for.

Hope this helps and good luck with your story!