Author Question: Directed Organ Donation– In a Suicidal Way

Susan Asks:

My character ends up killing himself in order to be a heart donor. Problem is how does he kill himself without damaging the heart? Also, there needs to be enough time for EMT’s to reach him before his heart stops. Therefore he needs to be brain dead only . . . Is it something he could plan or is it too far fetched? For instance, a shot to the head?

Jordyn Says:

Hi, Susan.

Very interesting if not morbid question you ask here. It sounds like what this character is trying to accomplish is some sort of directed organ donation upon his death. His demise would have to ensure brain death, but also ensure that paramedics arrive in time to at least establish a heartbeat and get him to the hospital. There is a narrow window for this to happen. The most common time frame given for brain death is lack of oxygen for four to six minutes after the heart stops beating.

This character would have to time his heartbeat stopping and then EMS arriving around four to six minutes after. I actually would probably not choose a gunshot wound to the head. There could be a couple of things problematic with this. EMS might not choose to treat if the wound looked particularly devastating. Also, if there were damage to the facial structures, particularly the airway itself, resuscitation to even get a heartbeat back would be challenging.

I think an injury caused from anoxia (or lack of oxygen) would be your best choice. Of those, I would think drowning, hanging, ingestion of sleeping pills and/or drugs (that wouldn’t cause heart damage), and possibly carbon monoxide exposure might be your best options in my opinion.  However, there is discussion in the literature whether or not it is wise to donate the organs from someone who died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Hope this helped and good luck with this story!

Author Question: Bullet Graze Wound Near the Ribs

Ella Asks:

I’m writing a pseudo-novel, and in order to inflict the most possible pain on my character without leaving him entirely incapacitated or even dead, I have a couple questions.

1. Would one be required to go to the hospital for a bullet graze?
2. If one is grazed on the side in roughly the 6th-8th rib area, how much would they bleed?
3. If you were grazed in the 6th-8th rib space, would it be possible that the bullet would fracture a rib?
4. If so, how severely?
5. How would a fractured rib and graze impact basic motor functions?

Jordyn Says:

Hi Ella!

Thanks for sending me your questions.

I think first it’s important to understand what a graze wound is medically— which would be a skin injury without serious underlying injury. The bullet nicked the person and that’s about it. Is it required that the person goes to the hospital? No, I think going to the hospital would be determined by if they could get the bleeding to stop and how extensive the injury is. The smaller the graze the less likely the need for the hospital.

Treatment would be:

1. Apply direct pressure to stop the bleeding.
2. Clean the wound thoroughly– sometimes vigorous flushing with relatively clean water and a touch of something like dish washing soap can be enough if the character is choosing not to go to the hospital. This can reactivate bleeding because the clots are getting washed out as well. After cleaning, apply direct pressure with the cleanest item available (preferably sterile gauze) or a really clean cloth.
3. If the wound edges can come together consider using butterfly closures to close the wound. This might also indicate that the person requires stitches. Sometimes you can apply antibiotic ointment over the butterfly closures to help control infection (something like over-the-counter antibiotic ointment), but keep in mind the oily nature of these ointments will tend to loosen anything with adhesive (like the closures as well).
4. Cover with a bandage.
5. Consider a tetanus shot if it’s been over five years since the last one.

Reasons to consider visiting the ER would be a large wound, unable to control the bleeding, and/or the wound is nicely approximated (and might benefit from stitches to control bleeding and reduce scarring), and to update the character’s tetanus shot. If the character is exhibiting any difficulty breathing this would be another reason for an ER visit.

How much bleeding would occur if the graze was near the 6th to 8th rib? Again, considering a graze wound is mostly a skin injury then applying pressure should be enough to stop the bleeding. Think of this type of wound as a cut or abrasion.

Could a graze wound fracture a rib? Yes, this is possible. How severely? This could be up to you as the author. The fracture could range from a simple fracture (a line is seen through the bone but the bone is stable and the parts stay together) to a type of fracture where the bone breaks apart into small pieces. The more extensive the rib injury, the more extensive the skin injury will likely be (and also increase the chances for internal injury) and could border past a simple graze wound.

A fractured rib and graze wound will have some effect on motor functions— mostly to the upper body. The person should still be able to walk and run but the motions of the arms (while running) will be painful. Fractured ribs are very painful so a person will naturally inhibit motion of the upper body to keep the pain from flaring up so raising the arm on that side while holding a weapon will hurt, but won’t be impossible. Taking deep breaths will be painful so anything that increases a person’s respiratory rate (like running) will hurt. Pain can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen particularly if just a simple fracture. Every day the pain should improve and be pretty tolerable in seven to fourteen days. The actual fracture (depending on how complicated) will take four to six weeks to heal.

Hope this answers your questions and best of luck with this story!

Author Question: Does Blood Loss Effect Fever?

Fraidy Asks:

I was wondering how blood loss would effect a fever? The character is ill with strep throat (or a stomach bug) and a fever that makes her want to cover up under layers of warmth. This is before an accident involving shattered glass and deep cuts and moderately serious blood loss. Would her fever be brought down due to the blood loss or would it complicate things more?

Jordyn Says:

Hi Fraidy! Thanks so much for sending me your question.

In your question, you don’t specify whether or not the patient/character has received treatment for the cause of her fever. In the case of strep throat, they should have been prescribed an antibiotic, and should be feeling markedly better in 24-72 hours. There can still be fever, but it should not be as high as the days go on if the antibiotic is working against the bacteria that is growing.

If this accident occurred say after three days, I would imagine she should be fever free by that time.

However, let’s say the character was just diagnosed and still has increased fever related to the illness.

I would theorize that a high fever, 102 degrees and higher, could cause your character to have some exacerbated symptoms related to additional blood loss. A high fever will naturally increase a patient’s heart rate— and so does blood loss. There could also be a concern that an untreated infection could cause the patient to go into septic shock, of which one complication of sepsis is lowered blood pressure. Low blood pressure is also a symptom of blood loss— if the patient bleeds out enough.

The combination of these two things, low blood pressure and increased heart rate, in light of a patient with a high fever and blood loss can paint a complicated picture for the medical team. They may not know which (blood loss or infection) is making their patient so sick so they would take a dual approach to their treatment which could entail the following.

1. Drawing labs that look at blood counts, blood chemistries, but also those that would address sepsis concerns like blood cultures. Also type and cross for blood. Initially, for symptoms of low blood pressure and tachycardia, the patient will usually receive fluid boluses of normal saline IV.

If the patient is really hypotensive (low blood pressure) and tachycardic (increased heart rate) and is not improved from the IV fluid, the medical team might choose to give O negative blood instead of waiting for a formal type and cross to come back. If the patient is actively bleeding and the bleeding is hard to control, they could opt to start giving blood right away.

2. Consider antibiotics early in the course of treatment once any body fluids are cultured the provider thinks necessary to determine the source of infection. It is helpful if a family member could offer insight into what infection the patient might have or the symptoms they were experiencing before the accident.

3. If the blood pressure remains low despite fluid boluses IV and perhaps blood, then patients are generally placed on a vasopressor which is a class of medications given as a continuous infusion IV to help raise blood pressure.

4. Treat the fever with a fever reducing medicine like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If the patient is headed to surgery to treat wounds from the car accident, then acetaminophen (or Tylenol) might be preferred.

Hope this helps and best of luck with your story!

A Nurse’s Open Letter to Teachers Everywhere

I probably shouldn’t write this post. It will probably be considered controversial– even though it seems like it shouldn’t. However, I am writing from a place of lessons learned and I want to share those lessons with . . . teachers everywhere.

I was happily reading some on-line celebrity news (as a destressor) when I came across this article about Anthony D’Amico. The article explains that his 2 m/o daughter went in for her regular immunizations and he experienced ” . . . an overwhelming urge to punch out the nurse . . . ” as she was delivering the infant’s shots.

Now, I’m sure, he meant this as a unifying post among parents everywhere– that none of us like to see children experience pain. I get that. As a pediatric nurse, however, I was horrified. His first instinct is not to pick up and comfort his child or say reassuring words, but to injure the nurse providing lifesaving preventative care. I’m sorry . . . that just not cool.

Would it surprise you if I told you that nurses experience the most violence of any profession . . . including police officers? Here’s just one of many articles that eludes to that fact. I first started nursing in 1993. My first job was as an adult ICU nurse. During that first year, an elderly vented patient grabbed my stethoscope that was on my neck and began to choke me with it. I could not break their grip and only when a passing respiratory therapist saw my predicament was I freed from possibly a very serious injury and/or death. Sadly, that’s not been my only incident. Getting cursed or sworn at is common— not rare. I’ve been personally threatened with unwarranted law suits just so I would bend to a family’s demand. I’ve had men raise their fists at me more than once. I’ve seen so much worse happen to other healthcare workers.

When I first started nursing those twenty-six year ago, it was an unwritten expectation that these events were tolerated and nothing happened to the perpetrators. It was, “part of the job”. These “people are sick” and “they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Well, a police officer can still charge a drunk person if that person injures them physically. For decades, a nurse was not permitted to even think this was an option.

Not only do nurses experience violence from patients and their families, but from co-workers as well. In my own state, a hospital close to where I live (I am not employed there) a nurse was nearly strangled to death by a doctor.

Now, that is SLOWLY changing. Hospitals are beginning to see and understand that patients, families, and co-workers should not be allowed to commit violence against nurses (or any healthcare worker) for any excuse or reason. It’s inspired the hashtag #silentnomore.

People should be held accountable for their actions despite being sick, tired, and or frustrated. Change is not a speedy process. Hospitals are balancing employees need for safety and the image they project. It is a complicated issue. Should a nurse be able to involve law enforcement if a mental health patient injures them during a psychotic break? Not an easy answer. And I might add, nurses are reluctant to do so knowing the underlying medical states that drive many of these situations, but they are also so very tired of the violence. This violence contributes to reduced quality of life, PTSD, moral injury, and people leaving the profession.

This is why I write this post. Not for me and my fellow nurses who know this hell that we live in with violence . . . but for the legislators and school administrators who are loosening consequences for students who are defiant, disruptive, and dangerous. I speak specifically of this new law in California that passed the Senate and is moving forward to their assembly.

Interestingly, I couldn’t find much commentary about the CA law except from conservative commentators. Here is one such example. Perhaps it’s because California lawmakers believe that there is bias in how school based punishments are merited out.

I don’t know the veracity of those claims. That’s not the point of this piece because this trend of backing off of student punishments for outrageous classroom behavior is not isolated to one state. Here’s one example from 2002 where a teacher resigned because a Kansas school board wanted her to reverse failing grades for students who had plagiarized. 

I am writing this because when disruptive classroom behavior and even violence is tolerated in schools from children or teens— they eventually become adults and then it becomes a problem for all of us. Ask any pediatric nurse when limits should be set and it starts from the beginning.

At some point we have to set firm and clear boundaries for bad behavior. When did it become reasonably sane to allow anyone to exhibit unruly and/or violent tendencies without consequences? Nurses have known all along that this was insanity and we are suffering from this, but felt powerless to do something about it because it was an expected part of our jobs. Nurses are now collectively saying we can’t live like this anymore.

Teachers . . . unruly and violent behavior should not be tolerated parts of your job. If we say to students that there is “zero tolerance” for violence and bullying then how can we allow it to happen to another one of our most trusted professions? The issue is, the behaviors before violence need to first be curbed. Kids know what boundaries are– their job is to test crossing them. Now the boundary is moving to allow more egregious behavior from students toward their teachers.

This is healthy?

So from this nurse to teachers everywhere– please fight to uphold the standards of behavior you expect in the classroom. Don’t give an inch. It could be your life that is at stake.

If anything, please learn from this nurse’s storyOr this nurse’s story. Need another one? Or this? Maybe her story will change your mind.

Hold the line in the classroom . . . hold the line for all of us.

Child Abuse Injuries: Part 2/2

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. Last post, I covered how a given history for an injury may be a signal that an injury was intentionally inflicted. Today, I’m going to cover how the injury itself may give off clues for an abusive injury.

1. The injury is beyond the child’s developmental level. You’ll notice this is the first clue I gave concerning the history, but it also plays into the injury itself and I’m going to talk specifically about infants. Any bruising in an infant to the face, head and neck when they are not yet pulling themselves up to a standing position is concerning for abuse. To create an injury, you have to fall off of or run into something and you need to have some velocity behind it. Now, of course, injuries in this age group can have lots of accidental causes, but the story needs to match the injury.

2. The injury has a pattern. Consider typical childhood bruises. They are roundish in shape, of varying circumferences, and received from a low-velocity type injury . . . say the child running into a counter with their forehead. Anything that makes a visible pattern generally requires high-velocity force to imprint the pattern onto the skin. If I loop a belt and tap you with it, there likely won’t be any injury at all. However, if I take it and swing it at you like a pitcher throwing a baseball, it has the potential to create a loop like bruise.

3. The injury is not over a bony prominence. Again, if you have children, think back to their younger days when injuries were common. When they fell, where did they bruise? Head (scalp, forehead, nose, chin), elbows, shins, and knees. Most often, kids fall or run into something in a forward motion. Bruising to the buttocks in a diapered child is particularly concerning. Often, they will fall onto their bottoms, but they also have extra padding.

4. There are a lot of bruises. This is not definitive but can be a signal for abusive injury, particularly if the pattern is not a normal bruising pattern as in #3.

None of these items is taken in isolation as a single indictment against the caregiver. Let’s say you accidentally drop a toy onto your two-month-old’s face while cleaning up. It causes a bruise and you want it checked by the pediatrician. The pediatrician is not going to report you. Why? You have a plausible story (dropping something onto the baby’s face), it is a low velocity injury (the bruise is probably small and round) and there is only one.

Medical professionals look at the totality of the child’s case: the history, the social environment, and the injury is considered before a report to child services is made. Reports are not made lightly.

The above offers some beginning guidelines. In the comments section, give a specific injury that might be concerning for abuse.

Child Abuse Injuries: Part 1/2

Nothing is more heartbreaking than to take care of a child that has been abused. April is Child Abuse Awareness Month so I thought I’d do a few posts about child abuse injuries and how medical providers pick up on the fact an injury may be intentional or inflicted.

As a pediatric nurse, I’ve been witness to child homicide at the hands of abuse. Yes, it is murder. It’s a necessary part of my job in dealing with these families, perhaps even the confessed abuser, as I care for the child abuse victim. And yes, there is a lot of conflict in these situations.

How do we as pediatric medical providers begin to suspect that an injury is abusive? During the initial evaluation of an injury, confession among abusers is rare (perhaps, they will confess later.) Often, there is a history given to account for the injury. Both parts: the history of the injury and the injury itself can give red flags for abuse. Today, let’s examine the story and how it may signal an abusive injury.

1. The story not realistic considering the child’s developmental level. This is more common than you might think. Most people cannot rattle off when a child should meet certain developmental milestones so they’ll say the child injured themselves in a manner that is beyond their developmental age. For instance, “my daughter broke her arm by rolling off the couch”. The baby is two-weeks old. Infants typically roll over starting at 3 months. Here’s a great resource for any writer/parent for developmental milestones.

2. The story changes. Just like other criminals, abusers can have a hard time keeping their story straight. Often times, the more abusers are questioned about the plausibility of the story, it will begin to change. Medical staff interviewing a potential abuser can be like a detective getting a criminal to confess. The doctor will often approach the caregiver several times to ask questions about the injury to see if the story changes. In later interviews, the doctor may say, “This injury is suggestive of abuse.”

3. The story has too much detail. This one may seem odd, but it can be a red flag for abusive injuries. If you have children, think back to their toddler/elementary school years when they seem to come home with lots of bumps, bruises, cuts and scrapes. If asked, could you come up with an explanation for each and every injury? Likely, no. Abusers will try and explain away every injury. A non-abusive parent will be truthful and likely say, “I have no idea how that happened.” and then probably feel guilty about not knowing.

What other parts of a medical history/story might give a signal for abusive injury?

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.