Author Question: Treatment of Teen Suicide Victim (1/2)

Pink Asks:

Hi there! I’m so glad I’ve found your site and thanks for taking the time to read this. Ok, here goes.

I’m writing about a fifteen-year-old boy who is being abused physically and sexually by his father. One day at school, he tries to commit suicide by slitting his wrists. He becomes scared by the amount of blood, so he leaves the restroom to try to find help. He is found by his teacher and passes out. Now, I know with any kind of suicide attempt, the police are always contacted, and given the all clear for the paramedics.

Jordyn: I think it would depend on the city, county, school district (and whether or not there was a school resource officer) as to the level of police involvement if he just really needs medical attention. I would advise that if this is written about a real place you ensure they have co police response because a paramedic team would be able to handle this call.

Pink: What will the ED staff do to stabilize a patient who has slit their wrists? Is surgery necessary if the wound is pretty deep?

Jordyn: We always look at airway, breathing, and circulation first. If the patient is talking to us then we can quickly check off the first two as at least functional for the time being. As far as circulation the priority is to stop all active bleeding first by direct pressure. Also, does the patient exhibit any vital sign measurements that show he’s suffering from blood loss—which in this case could be increased heart rate, low blood pressure, and also low oxygen levels.

After that, the medical priority for this patient is to further control the bleeding and determine how much blood he’s already lost. Direct pressure is the method used to control the bleeding. Blood work would be done to look at his blood counts to see if he needs any blood replacement. Next would be to look at if he damaged any arteries, tendons, ligaments or nerves during the attempt. Generally, an exam of the function of the fingers can reveal if there is a concern there. For instance, do his fingers have full range of motion? Do any fingers have areas of numbness? Arterial bleeding is very distinct so it’s usually obvious if an artery has been severed. If he has damaged anything that would limit the function of his hand then he would need follow-up evaluation by a hand surgeon for surgery. If there is no damage to the structures as listed, there is a possibility the wound could be closed in the ER as a simple laceration repair.

Pink: Upon discharge, what will the patient be given to take home for treatment of their wound (the slit wrist)?

Jordyn: If the patient gets a simple laceration repair (merely closing the skin even if it takes a lot of stitches) then pain could be managed at home with over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol or ibuprofen. If the patient requires surgery, a short course of a narcotic may be given for pain control,    but we also have to look at other factors to determine if this would be wise for the patient (are they a current drug addict or is there continued concern for suicide attempt). If the patient has surgery, then it is up to the surgeon to determine the patient’s home pain relief.

Pink: If a nurse or doctor notices any bruises on the patient’s body, can they examine an unconscious patient?

Jordyn: Yes, an unconscious patient’s skin can be externally examined. In fact, it is often protocol to do so because we are looking for clues as to why the person is unconscious.

Well continue this discussion next post.

Medical Review of Fox’s 9-1-1

I’m so happy to be back blogging! I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday season and is ready for a new year. Today is officially my 20th wedding anniversary! Can you believe that? I know I can’t. It’s crazy to think how much time has gone by.

Considering the occasion, I thought it would be best to write a positive (well, mostly positive) review of a new TV show— Fox’s series 9-1-1. I know . . . you can pop your eyeballs back in. This is truly a rare event considering much of this blog’s time is spent skewering medical inaccuracies in print, movies, and the small screen.

9-1-1 is a series devoted to dispatch, police, and fire calls. I’ve watched the first two episodes and was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. Now, it does have some problems. Writing completely to stereotype would be the biggest.

Let’s look at what they did well.

1. The characters face consequences for their actions. I’ve said all along that it’s okay for medical people to do bad things in fiction, but there must also be consequences for their actions. The point of this are many. It increases the conflict in the story AND reflects real life. Too many times in fiction medical people are shown doing bad things without consequence. One firefighter is shown facing some serious repercussions for his poor (saying that lightly) choices.

2. There is respect for HIPAA and also how hard that is for medical people. HIPAA is the patient privacy law. Because of HIPAA, most of us who work on the front lines (EMS and emergency departments) rarely ever hear how our patients do after they leave our care. This is, flat out, not easy for any of us and it makes closure difficult.

3. Shows the problem of poor coping mechanisms. It is true that healthcare people do not always have the best coping mechanisms. Hello, to all the nursing units with the mandatory chocolate drawer. Some develop addictions  and can have bad co-dependent relationships. It was nice to see highlighted that the stress of this work does take an emotional toll.

4. Highlights the difficulty of work/life balance. Of course, all professionals face work/life balance issues, but I also feel like the nature of our work makes it hard to feel like you’re getting a break. If you’re taking care of a medically/terminally ill loved one at home, and then go to work doing the same thing— there can be little room to breathe.

5. Medical information was not distracting. The medical information was kept pretty light in the first two episodes and not too distracting. There were a few minor medical errors I’ll keep close to the vest for now.

Have you watched the new Fox show 9-1-1. What did you think?

Author Question: Pediatric Near-Drowning

Carol Asks:

I’m writing a scene that involves a child approximately eighteen-months-old. She was submerged for an unknown period of time (no more than a couple of minutes) on a beach after being struck by a rogue wave that knocked her down.

When found, she has a pulse, but is not breathing. Rescue breathing is started within thirty seconds of rescuers reaching her. She coughs up water shortly thereafter and is breathing on her own by the time the ambulance arrives.

This is the outcome I’ve written. Would this be correct?

A couple of days in the hospital for observation. She’s a princess so they insist on whatever tests CAN be done even if they normally wouldn’t be (X-ray, CT to check brain function.)

Neurologist tells the family that given the length of time in the water, how quickly she was given CPR, and the total length of time not breathing, she will likely suffer only minor cognitive issues at worse, and those may will not present until she starts school.

I’m presuming oxygen via nasal cannula or mask as well as an IV started in the ER.

This does not take place in the US, but I’m presuming standard procedure would be an investigation to find out how she ended up unattended long enough to make it to the waterfront. It’s truly an accident– the first time the child escaped from the house. Is this acceptable? Particularly if there was supporting video evidence?

Jordyn Says:

The scenario you have outlined is reasonable.

Here are a few of my thoughts.

This is a patient we would probably admit into the hospital– at least for a day. More depending on what happens in the first twenty-four hours would determine the need for a more lengthy stay.

For instance. as long as the child has an oxygen requirement with this type of mechanism, they can’t go home. Even if they have normal oxygen levels, any type of increased work of breathing would also probably keep them in the hospital until that resolved. However, if the child’s oxygen levels are normal and they exhibit no signs of respiratory distress for twenty-four hours then we might be hard pressed to keep them in the hospital. Remember, you have to be really sick to stay in the hospital these days.

Of course, with her position as princess, it could be easily foreseen that everyone operates with a greater degree of caution.

Chest x-ray would be reasonable and expected in this case. Paramedics starting an IV and oxygen, particularly in the case where the child received rescue breathing, also good. However, one of the first things that will happen when the child get’s to the hospital is that we will remove the oxygen to see where she settles out on room air. This would be an important piece for us to know. She’d be placed on an oxygen and heart monitor with frequent assessments of her breathing.

As far as doing other testing, particularly a CT scan to determine if there’s been any brain damage, I would argue against this. Now, do physicians “cave” sometimes to pressure by royalty. Of course— I’m sure this has happened. Just as here, if it were the president, some testing might be done that might not be necessary to “cover your . . . “.

Medically, however, if she never lost her pulse and was quickly revived, I think the risk of brain damage is extremely low. As long as your heart is beating, your brain is receiving some oxygen. Your blood does have a reserve volume of oxygen molecules on your blood cells for situations just as this. Children are very oxygen sensitive, and it doesn’t take long for them to lose their pulse in an oxygen deprived state. Knowing she still had a pulse when she was pulled from the water, especially considering her age, would mean to me that her down time was probably very little.

Also, the CT scan will likely not show any injury. Absence of injury also doesn’t mean she may not have learning difficulties in the future. So, I don’t think there’s much to be gained by that test— and the subsequent exposure to radiation which is something we balance a lot in pediatrics.

As far as the investigation, I think what you outline is reasonable, particularly if there is supporting video evidence of her slipping from the castle.

Thanks so much for your question. Good luck with your story!

Author Question: Small Town Care for Complex Medical Patient

Holly Asks:

In the very first chapter of the story I’m working on, the main character gets sent to hospital. The character in question is a sixteen-year-old female who has been missing for eleven years. She is found in the woods surrounding the town it’s set in and presents naked, severely malnourished, heavily pregnant, and with a gunshot wound to her leg. There are other superficial injuries that one might get when attempting to flee nude through dense woodland. The town and hospital are relatively small. The hospital has seventy-five doctors and forty-five nurses on staff and it’s in a fairly isolated location.

I’ve got a few questions:

1 – Would the hospital I’ve  described be able to treat a patient in this condition? What would be the basics of this treatment?

2 – Is there a procedure hospitals have in place for patients who act violent? My character hasn’t been around people for eleven years. She’s borderline feral and she attacks a doctor when she wakes up. Since she’s pregnant, I wasn’t sure if they’d be able to sedate her.

3 – Can doctors share information about patients with police officers? Since she’s a missing person and a minor, the police are going to be involved but I’m not sure how much doctors can share.

Jordyn Says:

Hi, Holly! Thanks so much for sending me your questions. These are complex ones for sure.

Question #1: Could a small town rural hospital be able to care for this patient? Maybe. One thing I want to clear up is your ratio of doctors to nurses. Usually, there are many more nurses in a given area than physicians so maybe adjust your numbers if you’re making a point about this in your novel.

When I first read your question, I thought the medical care aspects might be cared for by a rural hospital, but it was going to be a tough undertaking. This victimized teen is going to need, at a minimum, five services to be in place to stay in a rural hospital— a good general practitioner (to manage her overall care), a nutritionist (for the malnutrition), a surgeon (surgical evaluation of the gunshot wound), an OB/GYN (for the pregnancy), and a psychiatrist and/or psychologist (just because she’s been held hostage for eleven years.) Already that list is going to be tough and likely insurmountable for the area you mention.

What tilts the balance for me in saying she would have to go to a large, urban center are the psychiatric issues you mention in your second question.

Question #2: Yes, hospitals have procedures in place for violent patients, but the staff and mental health care specialists who will be required to manage her care are likely to be found at an urban center.

Violent patients are generally managed in a step-wise fashion. Can talking to them de-escalate their behavior? Is there something they’re requesting that we can give them to get them to calm down? Does she have some sort of object (like a stuffed toy) that giving her would help if it was safe for her to have?

If it’s more a fight response because of what she’s been through and she’s a danger to herself and others then she’d have to be restrained and placed under one on one observation. This type of patient can tax staffing resources which is another reason why transfer might be best.

Each drug is given a category related to its potential to harm a developing baby that is easily searchable via the internet. The categories go from Category A to Category D. Category A is deemed safest to D which has proven adverse reactions in humans. Just because a drug is listed as Category C or D doesn’t mean it might not be used. Several things would be taken into account— what we call risks versus benefits.

For instance, if she was late in her pregnancy, the doctors could risk it because the baby is fully developed. This is tough, though. Many physicians will err on the side of what’s safest for the pregnancy. However, you can’t leave a patient restrained forever and some form of psychiatric medication could be warranted here.

Question #3: Can doctors share information with police officers? Yes, they can. There is actually a special provision listed in HIPAA (the law that rules over patient privacy) that allows for this. Police officers mostly need to document what “serious bodily injury” the patient has suffered so they can determine what criminal charges to bring against a perpetrator.

The other thing to consider is the size of the local police department. Small towns may not even have their own police department but rely on the county sheriff’s office and/or state police to handle the investigation of this crime.

I actually think the best place for this teen would be the closest children’s hospital. Children’s hospitals have specialized teams in place to manage issues particularly around crimes against children. The caveat would be her pregnancy— for which she would likely deliver at an adult center.

Hope this helps and good luck with your story!

Author Question: Family Notification of Death

Themelina Asks:

I have read some of your posts and I am wondering if I could please have some help regarding a book I am writing. I have three scenes in my book that are in a hospital. The background story is that a girl gets notified that her mom and sister have been in a car crash. Her mom has died and her sister is currently in surgery. Is it right that a police officer comes to her house and lets her know or does something else happen?

After she finds out she faints, and hits her head. I don’t want to make this part sound too serious. However, I still want her to go to the hospital. So what floor would she go to? How long would she stay?

Lastly, the third scene is where the sisters see each other after surgery for the first time. She is paralyzed. How could she communicate with her?

Jordyn Says:

Thanks, Themelina, for sending me your questions.

Question #1: Who would notify the family of the death? I could see this happening a couple of ways. If the mother was declared dead at the scene of the car accident then the police would notify the family. If the mother is transported to the hospital and the hospital team declares her dead then it probably falls on the hospital team to notify the family.

We don’t generally like to give death notifications over the phone. I’m not saying it’s not ever done, but not preferred. We would likely call the family and ask them to proceed quickly, but safely, to the hospital. This might also be preferred because the sister is requiring surgery and except in the most extreme cases surgeons generally like consent before they operate. If there is not a parent to give consent (you don’t mention a father in your scenario) it could fall to the sister, if she is eighteen or over, to give consent for her sister’s surgery.

Question #2: People who pass out and hit their heads are rarely admitted to the hospital. I’m assuming you want this sister to suffer some form of concussion. She gets the awful news about her family, passes out, hitting her head in the process. If she wakes up rather quickly (a few minutes or less), is oriented to person, time and place, and doesn’t show neurological signs of a brain injury that might require surgery then she would get a physician evaluation, a few hours of monitoring to be sure her symptoms are improving, and then she would be discharged home. There would also be no need to wake her up through the night. This is a myth.

Question #3: You don’t specify in your question the level of the sister’s paralysis. Her ability to talk will depend on the level of paralysis. Patients paralyzed from the neck down are, at least for a while, on a ventilator. When a person has a trach, there are special adapters for the trach that allows people to talk. However, a trach is not placed at the beginning and it takes time for a person to learn to talk with the special valve. If she is on a breathing machine and can’t write (because her arms are paralyzed), but is awake and can understand questions then we use a system of eye blinking for responses. One blink for “yes”. Two blinks for “no”. And obviously more simply phrased questions.

Hope this helps and good luck with your story!

Author Question: Police Officer DNA

Victoria Asks:

I am writing a book and hoping you could help me with a question I have. Would a cop’s DNA come up in the system if it is collected from a rape victim ?

Jordyn Says:

This is a very intriguing question you ask and I actually had to go to my brother (thanks, Karl!) who works in law enforcement as a detective for the answer.

What follows is his take.

When cops are hired their fingerprints are taken. If their DNA was needed to differentiate their DNA from another person’s at a crime scene they would do so, but it’s not a routine thing.

Lots of cops are former military and I would say in the last twenty years if you served then your DNA would be on file somewhere. I don’t think it would be part of CODIS (the Combined DNA Index System) though because that’s only a criminal database.

If a cop was suspected, I’m not sure there would be a backdoor way to get his DNA profile from one of those sources I mentioned (military or CODIS). Officers working the case could easily swab something like his patrol car, computer keyboard, or something else owned by the department because there’s no expectation of privacy there.

In the last ten years or so a lot of jurisdictions are collecting DNA from any person arrested on a felony. The court orders it. I’m sure there have been challenges and as far as I know it has been held up.

Also, anytime there’s a new submission to CODIS, the profile is automatically checked against unsolved crimes. When police take DNA from a crime scene with no suspect, they submit the profile to CODIS and it goes on record. Later, if someone is arrested for a felony and their DNA is submitted to CODIS, now matching a name to the profile, it could clear the older case.

Escaping Hunted

Hunted was a new reality show that aired earlier this year on CBS. Nine pairs of people “go on the run”. If they survived twenty-eight days they won $250,000 per team. This show was really interesting as an author to watch because it highlighted what kinds of tactics law enforcement uses to capture evaders of justice. Some things I didn’t even know existed.

Here are things NOT to have your characters do if they are on the run from law enforcement.

1. Don’t contact anyone you know. The couples that lasted the longest really stayed away from their network of friends and family.

2. Internet use will be your downfall. The hunters, as they are called, comb through all your social media and even use it against you. In one instance, they saw one contestant loved a particular basketball team because he had photos of being at their games and wearing their jerseys. The team’s name ended up being a password to one of his online accounts. They also would post “wanted” posters on contestant’s Facebook page asking for help in locating “fugitives”.  Also, deleting your social media accounts doesn’t really work. “Nothing is ever erased on social media.”

3. They will access everything to try and find you. They can access real time banking information. Vehicle registration. Closed circuit TV cameras. They’ll look at your old high school yearbooks. There are systems in place on major highways that automatically capture and scan license plates and they can put an alert out for it.

4. Burner phones. Burner phones may not necessarily be the answer. Although the phone may not pop up with a name, they can see the phone number that you’re calling from on the receiving person’s phone bill. A new, unknown number calling? They’re going to guess that it’s you. Once they pin down the phone number, calls between you and people you assume are safe can actually be listened to.

5. Telematics. In all cars built after 2010, GPS satellites can be used to track your car.

6. Mail Cover. Did you know the post office takes photos of every letter sent through their system? Yea, me either. A warrant can be issued for a particular address to try and find you. Here’s an interesting news story specifically about mail cover.

7. Don’t do something you would normally do. If you’re a parent, don’t call your children. If you’re an outdoor expert, maybe don’t go camping. Many duos were successful if they stayed off grid, but many also grew tired of being on the run after a few weeks and would contact friends and/or family for respite. That’s when they were usually caught.

Hunted was a fascinating show of real life cat and mouse. If you’re an author, it’s definitely worth the time in research to take in the episodes.

Only two of the nine couples made it twenty-eight days. Do you think you could last that long?