Author Question: Surviving Stab Wounds to the Abdomen

Anonymous Asks:

I have a character in my story who is stabbed three times with a three inch, narrow blade trench knife in the abdomen. I’m trying to avoid the guts or arteries and make it as non-lethal a spot as possible. He is a doctor and also a spy. I would like him to live and make a complete recovery.

He is two hours away from a hospital and has a friend to help him get there. Here are my questions:

1. Would it be feasible for him to live that long while he gets to the hospital for treatment?

2. Would he want to leave the knife in during travel time so he doesn’t bleed to death?

3. Or do I need to rework the scene so he’s closer to the hospital? If two hours is too long, what’s the maximum time he could have in travel before it’s too late?

Jordyn Says:

anatomy-254129_1280This is an example of all things are possible, but not necessarily probable. Of course, people survive devastating injuries every day. Miracles do happen. This is the category I would put your character in to.

The largest problem with him surviving these injures in the length of the knife and how many stab wounds he has. Three inches is long when it comes to knife wounds— particularly if the full length is buried into the abdominal area. We have to operate on a worst case scenario until the patient proves otherwise. Looking at the picture to the right, you can see all that is located in the abdomen and how likely it is that something devastating to this patient would be punctured or nicked.

If you want to keep the scenario as is, then I would have all the punctures be to the lower abdomen and to either side. This could puncture the intestines and bladder. These would need to be surgically repaired, but should be survivable (if the bleeding is minimal) for a couple of hours.

You’d definitely want to avoid the left upper and right upper abdomen which house the spleen and the liver. If these are punctured, your character would likely bleed out within two hours. Also, more midline to the abdomen is the descending aorta (a very large blood vessel), which also would lead to rapid hemorrhage and low survivability.

Leaving the knife in is up to you as an author. I could see his friend doing either thing. In a panic, he removes the knife. Or, maybe he has some medical knowledge where he thinks leaving it in place might be a good idea. I would pick whatever increases the tension for your scene.

Two hours is reasonable if you pick the injuries I describe above. I would caution you, though, to give the reader an image that there is little bleeding and the pain is somewhat tolerable. Rapid bleeding, a hard distended belly, accompanied by signs of shock (rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, paleness, clammy skin) would be poor prognostic indicators for surviving two hours.

Hope this helps and good luck with your novel!

Sarah Sundin: WWII US Army Hospitals Part 3/3

This is Sarah’s final installment on WWII Army Hospitals. I’d like to thank Sarah for all her hard work on these terrific posts. Click the links for Part I and Part II.

US Army Hospitals in World War II—Part 3

Ruth squatted beside his cot. “Have you ever flown before, Corporal?”

            “No, ma’am. A man’s meant to stay on the ground.”

            “How long did it take you to get to England?”

            “Almost two months, ma’am, zigzagging around them U-boats.”

            “Mm-hmm. Well, tonight you’ll have dinner in New York. You may change your mind about flying.”

a-memory-betweenIn my novel A Memory Between Us, the heroine becomes a flight nurse, pioneering medical air evacuation. If you’re writing a novel set during World War II, a soldier character may get sick or wounded, and you’ll need to understand how patients were evacuated from the battleground to the hospital and perhaps taken stateside.

In my first post,  I discussed the chain of evacuation. In my second post, I discussed more details about mobile and fixed hospitals, and today I’ll cover evacuation of the wounded.

Manual Transport

On the battleground, medics or fellow soldiers could manually carry a wounded man further to the rear for aid. Methods included the supporting carry (walking side-by-side), the arms carry, the saddleback carry (piggy-back), and the fireman’s carry.

Litter Transport

American litters were made of canvas stretched over aluminum or wood poles with stirrup-shaped feet to keep them off the ground. A litter could be carried by two people, but a litter squad consisted of four men, to rotate if traveling long distances and to assist over obstacles. Ideally, litter transport was only used for short distances, but in mountainous or forested or swampy terrain, litter transport was the only available means. Mules were often used in the Mediterranean Theater to carry litters in rocky, mountainous terrain.

Motor Transport

Ambulances were used to transport patients, usually from an aid, clearing, or collecting station to a field hospital, or for transport further to the rear. Ambulances could carry seven seated patients or four patients on litters.

Water Transport

Jeeps were often used, both on the battleground and to transport further to the rear. Rugged and maneuverable, jeeps could cover terrain inhospitable to ambulances. With litter brackets, a jeep could carry two patients. Armored divisions also used light tanks to transport their wounded.

During an amphibious landing, the best way to handle the wounded was to send them back on departing landing craft, which carried them to hospital ships off-shore. Patients could be removed from danger and transported quickly to get needed care.

Hospital ships were used offshore after an invasion to care for the wounded before field and evacuation hospitals could be set up. They also transported patients who needed long-term care to general hospitals further to the rear. Another use of hospital ships was to transport to the US any patients who needed long-term convalescent care or those who qualified for a medical discharge. They carried several hundred patients and delivered full medical care, but transport took a long time and carried the danger of enemy attack at sea.

Rail Transport

Hospital trains were used within theaters of operation to transport patients from one hospital to another. They were used in the continental US, Britain, continental Europe, India, and North Africa. They could carry several hundred patients with excellent medical care.

Air Transport

Medical air evacuation was new and revolutionary, but by the end of the war, it proved successful. Planes can traverse inhospitable terrain or dangerous seas—and quickly. At the front, the wounded were gathered at collecting stations at airfields. C-47 cargo planes carried 18-24 litter patients or a higher number of ambulatory patients further to the rear. A team consisting of a flight nurse and a surgical technician cared for the patients in flight. The larger C-54 cargo plane was used for trans-oceanic evacuation. Danger still existed, both from the inherent risks of flight and also because the planes carried cargo and couldn’t be marked with the Red Cross.

Resources for Research

Office of the Surgeon General. Medical Field Manual: Transportation of the Sick and Wounded. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, Feb. 21, 1941 (available free on-line at http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/ref/FM/index.html ). Please note the date—some of the material, especially about air evacuation, became quickly outdated.

For better information on air evacuation, please see:

Links, Mae Mills & Coleman, Hubert A. Medical Support of the Army Air Forces in World War II. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Surgeon General, USAF, 1955.
*********************************************************************************************
sarahsundin2
Sarah Sundin is the author of the Wings of Glory series from Revell: A Distant Melody (March 2010), A Memory Between Us (September 2010), and Blue Skies Tomorrow (August 2011). She has a doctorate in pharmacy from UC San Francisco and works on-call as a hospital pharmacist.

***This content is reposted from December 17th, 2010.***

Sarah Sundin: WWII US Army Hospitals Part 2/3

This week, I’m pleased to host author Sarah Sundin as she shares some of her wonderful research that served as the backdrop for her Wings of Glory Series. You can find Part I here.

US Army Hospitals in World War II—Part 2

Ruth passed precise military rows of the hospital’s Nissen huts. Redgrave Hall stood to the west, but she headed south across the road the ambulances used and entered a lightly wooded meadow and another world. How could one family own so much land?

          If Ruth had resources like that, she wouldn’t be in a fix.

a-memory-betweenIn my novel, A Memory Between Us, the heroine serves as a US Army nurse based in England. If you’re writing a novel set during World War II, you may need to write a scene set in a military hospital, and you’ll need to understand Army hospitals.

Last post, I discussed the chain of evacuation, today I’ll discuss more details about mobile and fixed hospitals, and on the next post, I’ll cover evacuation of the wounded.

Mobile Hospitals

Field hospitals (400 beds) and evacuation hospitals (either 400 bed or 750 bed) arrived within a few days of an invasion and followed the army, staying about thirty miles behind the front. They were close enough to treat patients quickly and send them back to the front quickly as well.

These hospitals relied on mobility. They usually used canvas tents, but also used schools, barracks, hospital buildings, hotels, Mediterranean villas, and an Italian stadium. A few days before a move, the hospital stopped admitting patients and evacuated their current patients to other hospitals. They packed their equipment and personnel into trucks, advanced, set up, and were ready to admit patients within hours.

When ambulances arrived, triage officers sent patients to pre-op, medical, shock, or evacuation wards as needed. Surgical teams worked twelve hours on, then twelve hours off.

In the European Theater (England, France, Belgium, Germany), the field hospitals stayed closer to the front, with the evacuation hospitals further to the rear. In the Mediterranean Theater (North Africa, Sicily, Italy, southern France), field hospitals and evacuation hospitals were often used interchangeably. Both theaters practiced “leapfrogging” as the front advanced—hospital A would pass hospital B, then hospital B would pass hospital A. This reduced the frequency of moves.

Fixed Hospitals

The station hospitals (250, 500, or 750 bed), general hospitals (1000 bed), and convalescent hospitals (2000 or 3000 bed) were set up far from the front to keep patients safe from danger, but also to keep them in the theater, which made it easier to return the soldiers to duty. In England before D-Day, field and evacuation hospitals waiting for the Normandy invasion functioned as station hospitals to care for patients.

In each theater of operations, fixed hospitals operated in what was called the “Communications Zone.” In the European Theater, the COMZ was originally in England, then as the Allies approached the German border, the COMZ extended to include Normandy and Belgium. In the Mediterranean Theater, Morocco served as the first COMZ, then Algeria. When the Allies invaded Sicily and Italy, North Africa was the COMZ, and as the front advanced, the COMZ was established in the Naples area of southern Italy. In the Pacific, fixed hospitals were first established in Hawaii and Australia, then followed into secured regions.

Fixed hospitals moved less often and occupied more permanent facilities. American units used some standing hospitals in host or occupied countries, but most were a collection of Nissen huts, 20-ft by 40-ft corrugated tin semi-cylinders. In England, these hospital complexes were often placed on estate grounds, and had concrete floors, flush toilets, clean water, and were heated by coal-burning stoves. In the Mediterranean and Pacific, facilities were more primitive but improved over time. In these theaters, mosquito netting was draped over the beds to prevent transmission of malaria.

Fixed hospitals in the Zone of the Interior (continental United States) enjoyed the benefits of modern buildings and facilities. However, shortages of medication, equipment, and personnel were always a problem.

*********************************************************************************************
sarahsundin2
Sarah Sundin is the author of the Wings of Glory series from Revell: A Distant Melody (March 2010), A Memory Between Us (September 2010), and Blue Skies Tomorrow (August 2011). She has a doctorate in pharmacy from UC San Francisco and works on-call as a hospital pharmacist.

***This content is reposted from December 15, 2010.***

Sarah Sundin: WWII US Army Hospitals Part 1/3

I’m so thrilled to have author Sarah Sundin here this week. If you’re looking for information surrounding WWII, check out all of her posts. Recently, she did a series on WWII nursing. They’re an excellent resource.

US Army Hospitals in World War II—Part 1

Lieutenant Doherty wrote on the clipboard while the mercury rose, and Jack glanced around the Nissen hut, which was like a giant tin can sawed in half. Four coal stoves ran down the aisle, with ten beds on each side, only eight of which were occupied. Jack didn’t mind the extra attention.

In the Wings of Glory series, my B-17 pilot heroes keep getting injured and hospitalized. If you’re writing a novel set during World War II, your soldier characters may need treatment, and you’ll need to understand how and where patients were hospitalized.

sarsunwoundsolToday I’ll discuss the chain of evacuation, on December 15th, I’ll discuss more details about mobile and fixed hospitals, and on December 17th, I’ll cover evacuation of the wounded.

The Chain of Evacuation

Wartime medical treatment occurred on muddy battlefields under fire, tent hospitals only miles from the front, and sterile stateside hospitals.

A complex chain moved patients to where they could best be treated. At all points along this chain, decisions were made regarding when to treat, when to return to duty, and when to evacuate further to the rear.

Organic Medical Units

These units were attached to combat units and followed them into battle.

Battlefield: Medics performed first aid and moved the wounded to the aid station, often under fire.

Battalion aid station: About one mile from front. Physicians and medics adjusted splints and dressings, administered plasma and morphine. Soldiers reported to the aid station for treatment of minor illnesses or mild combat fatigue.

Collecting station: About two miles from front, near regiment command post. Further adjustment of splints and dressings, administration of plasma, treatment of shock.

Clearing station: About four to ten miles from front. Treated shock and minor wounds. Grouped patients in ambulance loads for transport to field hospitals.

Mobile Hospitals

These hospitals were assigned to a theater of operations, and could be packed and moved quickly.

Field Hospitals: Within thirty miles of clearing station—were supposed to receive the wounded within one hour of injury. Surgery was performed for the most severe cases.

Evacuation Hospitals: Treated illnesses and less urgent surgical cases. Patients could be reconditioned here to return to the front.

Fixed Hospitals

These hospitals were set up a safe distance from the front, either in the theater of operations or stateside.

Station Hospitals: Usually attached to a military base, designed to treat illnesses and injuries among personnel stationed at that base.

General Hospitals: Large facilities where patients received long-term treatment.

Convalescent Hospitals: Designed for rehabilitation.

Resources for Research

Cosmas, Graham A. & Cowdrey, Albert E. The Medical Department: Medical Service in the European Theater of Operations. Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Medical History, 1992.

Wiltse, Charles M. The Medical Department: Medical Services in the Mediterranean and Minor Theaters. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1965. (available free on line at http://history.amedd.army.mil/books.html)

Condon-Rall, MaryEllen & Cowdrey, Albert E. The Medical Department: Medical Service in the War Against Japan. Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Medical History, 1998.

Links, Mae Mills & Coleman, Hubert A. Medical Support of the Army Air Forces in World War II. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Surgeon General, USAF, 1955.

*******************************************************************************************

sarahsundin2
Sarah Sundin is the author of the Wings of Glory series from Revell: A Distant Melody (March 2010), A Memory Between Us (September 2010), and Blue Skies Tomorrow (August 2011). She has a doctorate in pharmacy from UC San Francisco and works on-call as a hospital pharmacist.

***This content is reposted from December 13, 2010.***

Netflix Suspense Movie Clinical: Treatment of the Suicidal Patient

Proper Treatment of a Suicidal Patient. 

clinical-netflixNetflix recently released a psychological suspense (perhaps some would call it horror) movie called Clinical. It surrounds the story of psychiatrist Dr. Jane Mathis who is an expert in dealing with PTSD. She is recovering from her own traumatic experience, a patient attempting suicide in front of her, and has vowed to not care for these types of patients until her own issues are resolved. However, the work of regular psychiatric problems doesn’t seem fulfilling enough so she takes on the case of a facial transplant patient named Alex.

In one particular scene, Alex calls Jane and states he “took too many pills”. I don’t know how this could be viewed other than a suicide attempt. Instead of calling 911, she goes to his home. Once there, Alex is first scene barely conscious, but is evidently able to stand up and answer the door. From that point on, the conversation goes something like this:

Alex: “Did you call an ambulance?”

Jane: “What did you take? If you don’t tell me, I’m going to have to call 911.”

Alex eventually becomes unconscious. Jane then administers a drug via IM injection. In the next scene, Alex is vomiting.

Jane is holding a prescription bottle in her hand. “How many of these pills did you take?”

Alex: “I just wanted to sleep for a while. What did you give me?”

Jane: “It’s called naloxone. I only use it for emergencies.”

Just. Awesome.

Issue One: I can’t imagine how many ethical and legal lines it crosses that this psychiatrist did not have this patient involuntarily committed to the hospital under an M-1 hold when he clearly tried to commit suicide. I’ve seen M-1 holds placed on patients for far less than an actual attempt.  Clearly, this is a big medical no-no and really doesn’t do the patient any favors. Just because the patient’s worried financially about an ambulance ride doesn’t mean he doesn’t get one.

Issue Two: Let’s discuss the medical drug naloxone or Narcan. This is a reversal medicine for drugs that contain opiates. This would include drugs like morphine and heroine. It’s not clear what drug Alex took— all he says is sleeping pills. To me, sleeping pills would more than likely contain some kind of benzodiazepine, of which there is no reversal a doctor would personally carry, though one is available in the hospital setting.

Issue Three: The scene where the patient is vomiting after the Narcan is administered. I’m not sure if the writers are portraying that the drug induces vomiting so that the patient throws up the pills. If so, that’s not medically accurate. Narcan reverses the effects of opiates at the receptor level. It immediately brings the patient out of their high and they’re usually not very happy about that. Most often, we don’t want to fully reverse the drug as this can put a patient at risk for seizures so we may titrate the dose just to reverse the diminished (or lack of) breathing induced by taking too much of the drug.

I actually think it’s okay the doctor did these things if it would have been pointed out by her mentoring/treating psychiatrist that she acted inappropriately and he was going to report her to the Board of Healing Arts because of her actions.

That would have ramped up the tension/conflict on many levels.

Author Beware: This Is Us

Dear This Is Us— please portray nursing accurately. 

Few can argue with the success of the new NBC drama This Is Us. I’m an avid watcher of the show myself. If you like your heartstrings being tugged at every conceivable corner and you’re not watching then you’re missing out on a great opportunity for a good cry. Well, really, several good cries per episode.

nbc-this-is-us-midseason-aboutimage-1920x1080-koThat being said, I was mildly disappointed in a medical scene portrayed in Season 1, Episode 11. If you haven’t seen it, I don’t think I’ll be spoiling much unless you don’t the the fate of Toby post his Christmas collapse. If that statement is true then you should stop reading here.

In episode 11, Toby is getting prepped for heart surgery. He is anxious, but not overly so. It’s a cute and funny scene. There is a flurry of activity as the nursing staff gets ready to take him to pre-op. The conversation goes something like this:

“Name.”

“Toby Damon.”

“Place of birth.”

“Hope Springs.”

At this point, a nurse comes in with a very large needle and makes it noticeable to the patient.

“What is that?” Toby asks. “Holy Cow. Look at the size of that thing! I’m a big guy but geez.”

The nurse then inserts the needle into the IV port and delivers the medication. Another staff member says, “Look this way, we’re getting ready to take you to prep.”

Toby— after the medication takes effect. “What’s in that?”

Nurse replies, “You’re fine. Don’t worry about it.”

Toby asks again. “What was in that needle?”

Nurse responds. “Just medicine.”

Ugh. I mean, really? Let’s take a look at the medical problems with this scene from mild to annoying.

Problem #1: Place of birth is never asked. Although, I do like that they use what is called two patient identifiers— it’s never place of birth. Usually, it’s your birthday. Also, if he’s going to surgery, there should be some communication with the patient about his understanding of the procedure he’s going to have. “Sir, my name’s Jordyn. I’m one of the OR nurses here to take you to the pre-op area. What procedure are you going to have done today?”

Problem #2: It’s called Pre-op. Not prep.

Problem #3: This is getting more egregious. We don’t insert needles into IVs anymore. They are all needleless system. I get that it looks more dramatic to come in wielding a big needle, but it isn’t medically accurate. I haven’t seen an IV system you had to access with a needle in over fifteen years. In fact, in most tubing systems you can’t even insert a needle anymore.

Problem #4: If you are using a needle and the patient is anxious— don’t show them the needle. Obviously, this is one way to increase the patient’s anxiety which is not the direction we want them to go.

Problem #5: The patient asks the nurse twice what he’s being injected with and she doesn’t disclose it. Honestly, this goes against the very fiber of the nursing code. Nursing is about telling your patient the truth and educating them about what’s happening to them medically. Now, in an anxious patient, the explanation doesn’t need to be long. She could have simply stated, “Sir, it’s very common to be anxious before surgery. This medication is called Versed and will help you relax a little bit.”

Just so the staff writers of This Is Us are aware, I am available for medical consultation. Don’t make me hate a show I love by portraying medical people like they don’t care about a patient’s very direct questions. Little is seen in this scene of the medical staff using other methods to calm and relax this patient other than shoving a medicine in his IV and not even educating him about what it is.

That’s not how we take care of patients.

Author Beware: Ransom’s (TV Show) Cancer Problems

Author Beware: Ransom’s (TV Show) Cancer Problems 

There’s a new show airing called Ransom on CBS that centers around a high priced, privately paid negotiation firm. However, they might want to shell out some dollars and hire a medical consultant.

ransomIn the second episode, the show centers around a young man who has just received a lucrative major league baseball contract when he’s diagnosed with cancer, specifically AML, which is a form of leukemia. People kidnap his bone marrow donor and hold her for ransom.

What follows is a major spoiler alert for this episode so read no further is you haven’t seen the show.

The main medical problem centers around this patient’s choice for treatment. In the episode, he decides he doesn’t want chemotherapy and wants to go directly to a bone marrow transplant because “chemo will ruin my lungs and I won’t be able to play baseball.” Of course, the donor is found in time, the baseball player has “surgery”, and quickly recovers in a few days.

Issue One: A patient cannot go directly to bone marrow transplant. Conventional therapy must always be tried first. Bone marrow transplant is never first line therapy for this type of cancer.

Issue Two: A patient will get chemo and/or radiation to wipe out their own immune system in order to receive the bone marrow transplant. A patient cannot have any of their own immune system when they receive their “graft”. It also takes days to accomplish this and the patient is in strict isolation during this process because they have on immune system to fight off disease.

Issue Three: A patient receiving a bone marrow transplant does not go to surgery. The donor does get the cells, but it is simply via a transfusion (as in the same fashion as receiving a blood transfusion). They don’t even leave their hospital room. The person who actually goes to surgery is the donor to harvest their bone marrow.

Issue Four: Can anyone say isolation? Both before and after a bone marrow transplant, the patient is in strict isolation. This means ALL visitors must be gowned, masked, and gloved. The mother cannot be having a conversation with her son without any of these in place.

Showing the patient sicker would have made for a more intense episode. Even better would have been if his own immune system had been wiped out and the actual cells were taken for ransom— that would have truly been a life or death scenario.

I’ve never seen a situation where portraying the real medical scenario makes stories more boring. Writers everywhere— real life is always better than made up implausibilities.