Reader Question: Medication Charges for OR

This reader question was asked in the comments and Kim gave a very detailed answer that I thought should be posted as well.

Susan Asks:

I have a question. I have had several surgeries, including foot surgery where a block was used. The list of medications on my bill were astounding! I understand the induction agent, narcotics and versed, but what is the anesthesia gas for? Just to keep the patient asleep? I love these posts!

Kim Says:

Hi, Susan!

Thanks for your question. One of the fascinating things about anesthesia is that there are as many different ways to give an anesthetic as there are different types of patients. Anesthesia is based on the type of surgery you are having, your own health/anesthetic surgery, preferences of the surgeon as well as the experience and preference of your anesthetist.

In the old days, you breathed in an anesthetic gas until you were asleep. If you ever had anesthesia with ether, you’d understand why we’ve continually looked for better ways to render patients insensible to pain.

Another way was to “block” the pain impulses by the use of local anesthesia either as a “field block” (blocking the area similar to what a dentist does), as a spinal or epidural, or a block of an extremity. One thing we’ve learned through the study of pain is that blocking the area with a local anesthetic decreases the over all amount of pain a person has post op. Because the nerve impulses to the brain are blocked, the brain doesn’t respond by releasing stress chemicals that cause inflammation until after the local wears off which means that less pain and inflammation happens over all.

So the “modern” way of doing an anesthetic has changed to what we call a multi-modal approach.

1) The block was to prevent pain and to keep you comfortable for a time after surgery.

2) The induction agent (versus breathing enough gas to go to sleep which isn’t especially pleasant in an adult) puts you to sleep initially, while the Versed (an amnestic) and narcotic (pain relief) provide other pieces of the anesthetic puzzle.

3) The anesthetic gas is added after you are asleep from the induction agent and also provides amnesia and pain relief. It also helps to control blood pressure changes from surgical stimulation or the use of a tourniquet in extremity surgery (used to keep the sterile field “bloodless” and expedite the surgery).

With the advent of outpatient surgery, patients no longer snooze the day away waking up from their anesthetic. They need to be deeply asleep and then awake enough to go home in a matter of hours. Using a multi-modal approach (using a combination of drugs for different reasons) is much more effective than each of those drugs by themselves.

For example, without the use of the anesthetic gas, much more narcotic is required. Without the narcotic, much more gas is required to do the same job. Every drug has side effects which increase with dosage and in the case of anesthetic gasses, time.

Using a combination of drugs allows us to keep the side effects to a minimum. It is a common misconception that we give a patient an anesthetic drug and then coast through the surgery and like magic they wake up when it is over. Even surgeons think so.

In reality, though it seems like a large number of medicines, each one has a specific purpose and one of the reasons anesthesia is safer and more pleasant than the old days.

Probably more info than you wanted, but I enjoy when people who are interested in what I do. I’ve been a CRNA for 34 years and I still find it absolutely fascinating!

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Kimberly Zweygardt is a Christ follower, wife, mother, writer, blogger, dramatist, worship leader, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, a fused glass artist and a taker of naps. Her writings have been featured in Rural Roads Magazine, The Rocking Chair Reader, and Chicken Soup for the Soul Healthy Living Series on Heart Disease. She is the author of Stories From the Well and Ashes to Beauty, The Real Cinderella Story and was featured in Stories of Remarkable Women of Faith. She lives in Northwest Kansas with her husband where their nest is empty but their lives are full. For more information: www.kimzweygardt.com

Author Beware: Movie Patriots Day and Narcotic Distribution

Recently, I took in the movie Patriots Day starring Mark Wahlberg that follows the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing that took place on Monday, April 15, 2013.

The movie is insightful and entertaining and I don’t think I’ll be spoiling anything by discussing it here. Plus, the issue I’m highlighting really has nothing to do with the events of the actual bombing.

Mark Wahlberg plays Sergeant Tommy Saunders. In the movie, he is suffering from some sort of chronic knee injury. He walks with a limp and is looking to get off patrol for this very reason.

In the aftermath of the bombing, he goes to one of the local hospitals to interview witnesses. He approaches the nurses’ desk and asks a nurse for something for pain. The nurse offers Lortab, a scheduled narcotic, but he declines and asks for Tylenol or ibuprofen instead.

Yea— just no.

Even in a disaster, a nurse is not going to be handing out scheduled medication for several reasons that I’ll highlight below.

First, what are scheduled medications? The FDA schedules medications that have the potential to be addictive. Schedule I medications are highly addictive and have no currently accepted medical use— drugs like heroin and LSD. Lortab is a Schedule II medication– which means it’s highly addictive, but does have a medical use. All scheduled drugs in the hospital have a process where they are counted to ensure no one is diverting (not using the medication for its intended purpose) the medication.

Narcotics counts where there is less drug there than should be are taken VERY seriously. Even in a disaster situation, these would be watched closely. The nurse would not be handed a bottle of Lortab to dispense as she wishes.

Why would a nurse not be able to simply give this police officer Lortab in a critical incident where there is a large influx of patients and things are generally crazy?

1. The police officer is not a patient. Any medical treatment rendered by the hospital should be documented. Now, I could see the nurse tossing him a few Ibuprofen considering these circumstances. In all likelihood, this would be frowned upon but understood. Not so with a narcotic.

2. It is outside the nurse’s scope of practice. Scope of practice deals with what a provider can and cannot do. It is generally determined by the state licensing board where the individual practices. Scope of practice issues tend to be a big pitfall for writers everywhere and I’ve blogged about it previously here and here.  A nurse cannot order medication for a patient without a standing protocol in place— this is a provider function. A nurse also cannot dispense medication— this is the function of a pharmacist. Even with automated medication dispensing systems, there is usually a pharmacy double check before the medication can be pulled from the machine. In an emergency this function can be overridden, but that is highly frowned upon.

Overall, Patriots Day was an entertaining film and most probably won’t even realize this error. However, in writing please keep in mind scope of practice issues. Not every medical provider can do every medical function— even during a disaster.

PSA: Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning

This is an educational post from your friendly neighborhood pediatric nurse.

During summertime, pediatric nurses are confronted with an increasing incidence of preventable injuries— the biggest one in my opinion is drowning.

It is not uncommon to get pediatric near-drowning cases in the summer. Obviously, more kids are playing in large bodies of water whether it be a shallow baby pool, regular pool, lake or ocean. Kids can drown in very shallow water. Also, just because your child has passed a few swimming lessons doesn’t mean they won’t drown. Kids in open bodies of water should be wearing life jackets.

The classic set-up is a party where there is some type of pool where all the kids are enjoying themselves. The adults are drinking and socializing and no one is watching the children play. Some adults feel that the older kids can keep an eye out for the younger ones— I cannot scream enough at the top of my lungs how patently false this is. If you have a teen who is a certified lifeguard and is tasked with watching the children in the pool I might agree. Otherwise, no.

At any party where kids are swimming, including a little tiny baby pool, there needs to be a sober adult who is watching the children AT ALL TIMES! I truly cannot express this enough. Drowning can happen in a minute or less. You cannot merely check on them every ten to fifteen minutes— that can be too late.

Also, drowning may not look like drowning and I’m including a couple of videos that highlight the point.

Enjoy the summer, but be safe! Keep an eagle eye on those kiddos enjoying the water.

Author Question: Gunshot Wound to the Torso

Heather Asks:

If my hero gets shot in the torso, is there somewhere it can hit that won’t be fatal? It can be a “miraculous” miss, that kind of thing. He can be weakened and bleeding, but I just need him to stay conscious for maybe five to ten minutes after? Any ideas?

Jordyn Says:

Sure, there are always miracles.

In medicine we view the torso as including the chest and abdomen. Generally the diaphragm is the dividing line between the two. So the chest is everything above the diaphragm and the abdomen is everything below it.

Gunshot wounds to the chest not hitting anything is tough. Think about everything that’s there. The heart, lungs, major vessels and arteries. Can a bullet pass through and miss everything— or hit something less minor and just cause bleeding? Sure. Anything is possible. I would recommend staying away from the left side of the chest for the wound— just so much there. The right chest and lower might be more believable because it’s just the lung sitting there. There are major blood vessels that underline each rib so nicking one of those could cause the bleeding you want. Hit outside or inside enough and you could miss the lung.

Abdominal wounds could go either way. A lot to hit in the belly as well, but also good odds for missing. If he’s wearing a bullet proof vest, you could have the bullet enter through his side and low– just under the lung and diaphragm. Problem is you have highly vascular organs on either side– the liver on the right and the spleen on the left. So, I’d aim below that as well or merely have them be grazing wounds to these organs. This could also cause significant, but survivable bleeding.

Hope this helps and happy writing!

Author Question: Flesh Wound to the Stomach

Heather Asks:

If someone got sliced by a knife (lightly— not deep) in the stomach, I know they’d get stitches, but would they be able to move around the next day or would it take a couple of days or more? If so, I’d better move that slicing injury. The slice did not go through the muscle.

Jordyn Says:

If the cut doesn’t go into the muscle, the character should be fine getting stitches and then being able to move. It might be mildly sore, but not crippling by any means.

Keep in mind, depending on the size of the wound, a lot of movement can pop stitches. If he’s doing a lot of strenuous activity, and the wound is large, even if it doesn’t go through the muscle, the movement could pop the stitches and open the wound.

Also, any wound, even stitched close, is at risk for infection. Could be another complicating factor for your character.

Happy writing!

Author Question: What Happens to the Child of an ER Patient?

Susan Asks:

I am wondering what happens when a mother is injured and her seven-year-old child is with her. The unconscious woman is discovered by a passer by who calls 911. She wakes up, an ambulance arrives and she is taken to the ER.

I assume the child who is fine would go with them if the police haven’t been called. The woman is from out of town and knows no one in the city so the child can’t be picked up by anyone. The mother has a concussion and is kept overnight for observation. I am most interested in learning what would happen with the child at the point that they arrive at the ER while the mother is being examined.

Jordyn Says:

From the EMS standpoint— yes, they would bring the child with the parent.  As far as in the ER, if the mother is awake, the child would be in the room with her. The ED staff can assist with care of the child until the mother is feeling like she can manage. A child this age could be given activities to keep them entertained (coloring, snacks, a movie, etc).

If the child needs more than that then a member of the staff (like an ED tech or volunteer) could provide some assistance until the mother is feeling better and able to care for the child on her own.

Also, a concussion is not a reason for admission to the hospital. Not even overnight observation. Concussion patients are generally not admitted— even with a loss of consciousness at the scene. Even a minor car accident with loss of consciousness does not require admission if everything else is okay.

You don’t specify her mechanism of injury in your question. For concussion we want to see them alert and oriented and that their concussion symptoms (headache, dizziness, nausea) improve or resolve. CT scanning is more common in the adult population for head injury so if that shows no bleeding then there’s really no reason for her to stay in the hospital. If you need her admitted, I can help you have the character meet admission criteria.

Hope this helps and happy writing!

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!