911: Let’s Provide Some Medical Care

In the Season Two/Episode Eight airing of the FOX television show 911— there was a great scene on how to really provide no medical care.

The setup: A gay couple is getting ready to go on a bike ride. Much time is spent in a musical montage showing their lives together. It’s clear they have had a loving relationship and remain deeply in love. One gentlemen goes to load a bike onto a SUV when, in a series of unfortunate events, he gets pinned by the SUV to the entrance gate— akin to Anton Yelchin’s accident (though they do show in the episode the SUV was placed in neutral).

He is discovered by his partner who then calls 911. Upon arrival, there isn’t much done for his lover. He is essentially declared dead on arrival.

Then, the gentleman who discovered his partner, goes unconscious while a firefighter has his back turned. Literally only a few seconds have expired when the firefighter discovers he’s passed out. They provide one and a half cycles of CPR and kind of shrug their shoulders declaring that he’s died, too.

This is unacceptable management of this patient. It’s essentially a witnessed arrest so they were correct to start CPR immediately, but at the very least, he should have been connected to an AED for rhythm analysis and probable defibrillation. A very common reason for sudden collapse are arrhythmias that will respond to electricity. There’s no reason why this gentleman’s treatment  should have been so sparse. It would have increased the drama and the tension of the episode to have this patient get a full resuscitation.

The Good Doctor S1/E6: Killing Patients

At some point in every medical person’s career, we face a time when we think or may have altered the course of someone’s life either by a medical error causing serious harm or death.

Truth is, it’s a team effort to keep patients from suffering from these complications. We are all responsible for looking out for one another regardless of scope of practice. For instance, if an EMT sees something the doctor (or new resident) is doing wrong, they should speak up to prevent harm from coming to the patient.

In this episode of The Good Doctor, the staff is dealing with an MCI or Mass Casualty Incident. A bus full of wedding guests has crashed. After several of them are treated, it is discovered that a woman is missing at likely still at the crash site.

A resident leaves with an EMS crew (this in itself is highly unlikely) and finds the missing woman. On scene, the resident diagnosis her with a flailed chest and subdural hematoma (a collection of blood on the brain).

What is a flail chest? It’s when two or more consecutive ribs are broken on the same side creating a free floating segment of the chest wall. This can inhibit the patient’s ability to breathe and also puts the patient at a higher risk of having a pneumothorax (or air collecting outside the lung inhibiting the lung’s ability to fill with air.)

The resident chooses to intubate and then drill a bur hole into the patient’s head for the swelling. Upon arrival to the hospital, the ER doctor notices that the patient’s oxygen level is low (like in the 70s— normal of 90 and above) and pulls back the tube and the oxygen levels increase.

When someone is getting intubated, it’s natural to push the tube in too far and because of the anatomy of the lungs, it will pass into the right lung. It’s later noted in the show that because the resident intubated the right lung and that’s the side that had the failed chest, the patient suffered from persistent hypoxia (or lack of oxygen) and her brain died because of that.

Was this patient’s death preventable?

Putting aside that this patient could have been hypoxic during the time she laid for an extended period of time in the ditch, this death could have been preventable if the EMS crew, who would have been monitoring the patient’s oxygen level (and so should the resident if involved in transporting the patient) had spoken up about the dramatically low level.

When a person is intubated, these are the following checks that happen to ensure the tube is in the right place.

1. Does the chest rise and fall equally. In this patient’s case, the right side of the chest would not have risen that much if several ribs were broken and the lung was deflated which should prompt the doctor to do number two on this list.

2. Are the breath sounds equal? The patient’s lungs are auscultated (listened to with a stethoscope) to determine this. They should be equal. If not, then there is a problem with that patient’s lung (one is deflated, etc) or the tube is in the wrong position. At that point, the tube could have been adjust. If the patient’s breath sounds were severely diminished on the right side (especially after trauma) then a need decompression should have been done on that side as a rescue measure to try and reinflate the lung some.

3. Are the patient’s vital signs improving? This would be primarily the oxygen level. It can take a few second to a few minutes for the patient’s oxygen levels to reach normal but they should improve. If not, then something is wrong with the tube and it should be evaluated.

4. Is there the presence of carbon dioxide measured as end tidal CO2? There are quick measure devices in the field to check that carbon dioxide is coming up through the tube. This also ensure the tube is in the right place. In the hospital setting, we will watch this number continuously.

5. Ultimately, in the hospital setting, an x-ray is done to confirm proper placement in the field but if the above items or done, the tube (or endotracheal tube in this case) should be in the right position.

If the EMS crew would have spoken up and/or if all three of the crew members had been performing their job correctly by monitoring the patient’s oxygen levels (which is a very basic thing to be monitoring) then this patient’s death could have been prevented.

It’s up to every member of the healthcare team to ensure patient safety.

9-1-1 S2/E1: What Can be Diagnosed in the Field?

Fox’s 9-1-1 series is beginning Season 2. The series is enjoyable, but there is some definite leeway the series takes when making certain field diagnosis.

In the first episode of the season, a man gets hit with an old artillery shell in his leg. As noted on the picture on the right, by simply shining a flashlight into the wound, the paramedic declares that his femoral artery has been severed. This could be more believable if there was even some mild pulsatile bleeding, even with a tourniquet in place, at the site which is characteristic for arterial bleeding.

Later in the episode, a picture of the wound is shown with a “live” shell in the anterior thigh. The fact that it is a live shell is made by a firefighter who is former military based on the color. I can’t comment on whether or not that’s true— I’m not military— but the team does make a decent choice (since the patient is stable) to not take him inside the hospital.

When the bomb squad gets there, they are able to take this sweet x-ray in the field. It is a plain, diagnostic x-ray. There is no way for an EMS crew to take an x-ray like this. Can the bomb squad? Yes. So the show is doing it’s due diligence by having the bomb squad perform this task. However, the bomb squad would not need the military to diffuse this— my law enforcement brother who used to work with the bomb squad verified this.

What other things have you seen shows diagnose in the field that they wouldn’t be able to do?

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.

Disaster Status: Part 3/3

Dianna Benson returns to conclude her fascinating three part series on hazardous materials. You can find Part 1 and Part 2 by following the links.

I was on-shift the night an industrial hazardous waste plant burst into flames. I have all the inside information, but it won’t be released to the public, so I’m sorry to say I can’t share most of it with you. What I can say— inside the facility was stored toxic material that ignited.

The fire quickly grew to a plume of smoke then the entire facility erupted into a fireball with several rapid fire explosions. This swift and extreme domino of events occurred simply because the burning toxic chemicals were stored right next to oxygen cylinders— and oxygen feeds fire. You guessed it, properly stored oxygen is essential.

The reverse 911 system was activated. Recorded messages called all nearby residents and warned them to evacuate. View the photos included here— it was an intense explosion and the burning toxic chemicals created a massive haz-mat situation.

The chemicals involved in that explosion react negatively when mixed with water, so we were forced to allow the fire to burn itself out. Two days post the onset of the incident, a foam application extinguished the remaining flames.

Even though this makes for boring fiction, emergency agencies that night proved pre-planning and inter-agency training and execution results in excellent emergency incident response outcome. My crew along with many other emergency crews, successfully worked the potentially deadly incident— no loss of life and only minor exposure issues occurred. But think of the endless possible dramas that could have happened.

All photos are courtesy of Apex Fire Department.

Disaster Status: Part 3/3. Write realistic hazardous materials scenes. 
Click to Tweet.

*Oringinally posted January, 2011.*

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Dianna Torscher Benson is an Award-Winning and International Bestselling Author of suspense. She’s the 2014 Selah Award Winner for Best Debut Novel, the 2011 Mystery/Suspense/Thriller Genesis Winner, a 2011 Genesis double Semi-Finalist, a 2010 Daphne du Maurier Finalist, and a 2007 Golden Palm Finalist. She’s the author of The Hidden SonFinal Trimester  and Persephone’s Fugitive. The 2nd edition of The Hidden Son released in 2016.

An EMT in Wake County EMS since 2005, and a victim advocate practitioner since 2016, Dianna authentically implements her medical, rescue, and crime victim advocacy experience and knowledge into her suspense novels. She loves helping people in need, often in their darkest time in life. Dianna and her husband live in North Carolina with their three children.

 

Disaster Status: Part 2/3

Returning today is award winning author, Dianna Benson, for Part 2 on her series involving hazardous materials. You can find Part 1 here.


A Real-life Haz-Mat Incident

In Graniteville, South Carolina On January 6, 2005 in Aiken County, a railroad engineer left his train for the night to sleep at a hotel in town. Before leaving his train, he failed to properly reline the railroad switch for mainline operations. Meaning, he simply forgot to change the rails on the track. Changing the rails would’ve closed off the track where his train was parked, successfully forcing an incoming train to veer-off onto another track and pass the parked train.

In the middle of the night, an incoming train, planning to pass the town, collided with that parked train, which contained chlorine gas, sodium hydroxide, and cresol. The collision derailed both locomotives and many freight cars. The parked train’s tank car, containing ninety tons of chlorine, ruptured and then released sixty tons of the gas, creating a haz-mat spill and also polluting a nearby creek.

A true haz-mat team— trained, experienced, and equipped for such a catastrophic event— is not located in small-town Graniteville. Only a few of Graniteville’s emergency crews are trained in haz-mat. Their training, expertise, and equipment is insufficient for an incident of this magnitude.

Inside the Avondale Mills plant near the crash site, a man in respiratory distress called 911. From a dispatcher’s viewpoint, this situation is heart-wrenching. Even if rescue crews could’ve safely entered the area to extricate the man, it would’ve been pointless due to his immediate exposure to chlorine.

He was suffering from bronchial chlorine burns and he died a painful death while on the phone with the 911-dispatcher. For haz-mat training purposes, I listened to that chilling 911 recording. Overwhelmed in every way, that dispatcher could only listen as this man gasped his last breaths. Understandably, she had no words of comfort to offer him. That gave me a passion to become a 911 dispatcher once I’m too old to run the streets.

When that man plead with the dispatcher, “Please, don’t hang up. I don’t want to be alone.” I would’ve spoken with him about his family and his passions in life in order to get him as calm as possible. I would’ve talked about God and offered to pray with him. Often when people suspect their death is imminent, they suddenly forget all about being atheist, agnostic, stumbling in their faith, or whatever else, and reach for God.

Due to this haz-mat incident, nine people died, two-hundred and fifty were treated for chlorine exposure, and five thousand-four-hundred residents within a mile radius of the crash site were forced to evacuate for nearly two weeks while haz-mat teams and clean-up crews decontaminated the area.

Think of the fictional characterization possibilities within this tragedy:

1) Plagued by guilt, the train engineer is pushed over the edge by predisposition to mental illness, and becomes a murderous psychotic (an example of a villain in one of my books). What similar characters could you develop? To be honest, though, my heart goes out to that train engineer. My greatest fear in life is making an unintentional mistake as an EMT, resulting in a patient’s death.

2) The 911 dispatcher: For fictional purposes, let’s suppose it was this dispatcher’s first day alone (no longer training) on the job that horrible night in early 2005, and she resigns, making her first day also her last. Think about the baggage she would carry for years to come. In addition, what if she was already in a severe financial bind and now being jobless she’s in dire straits? She’d make a likable and fascinating main character.

3) Me, a future 911-dispatcher— what if a character had aspirations to be an amazing dispatcher but fails miserably? What if he/she is unable to handle the stress of the work and is then lost in life on where to head career-wise? Another idea for a terrific main character.

Disaster Status: Part 2/3. Write realistic hazardous materials scenes. Click to Tweet.

*Originally posted January, 2011.*

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Dianna Torscher Benson is an Award-Winning and International Bestselling Author of suspense. She’s the 2014 Selah Award Winner for Best Debut Novel, the 2011 Mystery/Suspense/Thriller Genesis Winner, a 2011 Genesis double Semi-Finalist, a 2010 Daphne du Maurier Finalist, and a 2007 Golden Palm Finalist. She’s the author of The Hidden SonFinal Trimester  and Persephone’s Fugitive. The 2nd edition of The Hidden Son released in 2016.

An EMT in Wake County EMS since 2005, and a victim advocate practitioner since 2016, Dianna authentically implements her medical, rescue, and crime victim advocacy experience and knowledge into her suspense novels. She loves helping people in need, often in their darkest time in life. Dianna and her husband live in North Carolina with their three children.

Disaster Status: Part 1/3

Nothing can complicate a story more than a disaster hitting the town in your novel. What would a realistic response look like from the EMS community? There’s no one better to talk about disasters than an EMS professional. Dianna Benson is here for a three part series on EMS and hazardous materials.

Worst Possible Haz-Mat Situations

In a hazardous-material situation, a small town can easily and rapidly become overwhelmed and thus unable to efficiently handle the crisis at hand due to their limited resources. Below is a list of some additional factors beyond “the town is small” that would heighten the chaos, and for writers, would create solid fictional conflict.

Scenario: Traveling at high speeds, two tanker trucks collide; both roll-over. One truck is an atmospheric pressure tank; the other is a cryogenic liquid tank.

Additional possible factors….

The accident occurs:
1)      Near a school during school hours
2)      Near a stadium filled with spectators and athletes/performers
3)      Near a power plant
4)      Near a hazardous waste facility
5)      Near the town’s landfill (landfills contain countless haz-mats)
6)      Near the town’s water treatment plant
7)      Near the town’s only EMS station
8)      Near the town’s only hospital
9)      Near the town’s only fire department
10)  Near the town’s only police department
11)  During rush hour traffic
12)  During a storm
13)  At 3am
14)  The closest haz-mat team is four hours away

In all of the ten “near” cases above, assume those buildings/areas are contaminated by hazardous material spills from both trucks. Haz-mats are often airborne (so air vapors), which are the most deadly simply because air vapors are invisible— they travel quickly, through most any material (including ventilation systems), and without warning. Plus, they’re next to impossible to contain. Sometimes an unusual cloud or smell is detected, but obviously that warning comes concurrent of the smell and/or cloud discovery, so those individuals in or near the hot zone are already exposed. Keeping safe distance from the hot zone is the only way to eliminate exposure.

Minimum safe distances depend on the chemicals of the hazardous materials present, but an example of an initial minimum safe distance is: 1,000 feet downwind, 500 feet upwind, 330 feet complete radius. Avoid downwind areas entirely and stay upwind. Clearly, continuous monitoring of wind changes is vital.

What additional scenarios and additional factors can you think of?

Disaster Status: Part 1/3. Write realistic hazardous materials scenes. Click to Tweet.

*Originally posted January, 2011.*
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Dianna Torscher Benson is an Award-Winning and International Bestselling Author of suspense. She’s the 2014 Selah Award Winner for Best Debut Novel, the 2011 Mystery/Suspense/Thriller Genesis Winner, a 2011 Genesis double Semi-Finalist, a 2010 Daphne du Maurier Finalist, and a 2007 Golden Palm Finalist. She’s the author of The Hidden SonFinal Trimester  and Persephone’s Fugitive. The 2nd edition of The Hidden Son released in 2016.

An EMT in Wake County EMS since 2005, and a victim advocate practitioner since 2016, Dianna authentically implements her medical, rescue, and crime victim advocacy experience and knowledge into her suspense novels. She loves helping people in need, often in their darkest time in life. Dianna and her husband live in North Carolina with their three children.