Assaulted in Waiting Room

Written by Tad. Posted in Kooks

A.L. was a 65-year-old man who came in complaining of having been assaulted. This was not any ordinary assault. It took place while sitting in our waiting room. But, wait. Let me start at the beginning.

For the last three years, A.L. had been assaulted many times by “private investigators.” They used a gas to render him unconscious, then inflicted trauma to his legs. Most of the time, the trauma was localized to his calves but, lately, they had moved above the knees. They didn’t actually land blows on him but would grind their palms into his flesh, causing localized pain and swelling. He said they did this to avoid leaving any bruises as evidence. When he woke, he always found new areas of swelling and tenderness, which he could identify by carefully feeling the flesh of his legs.

These assaults happened almost daily and sometimes up to four times per day. They could happen anywhere, including in the parking lot walking into the hospital. Often, he was alone, as when he was working in empty offices at night where he was trying to run his janitorial service. They could also happen when others were around, as in the ED waiting room. He was even assaulted while in bed with his girlfriend. When I asked him how it could be possible that someone could gas and assault him while he was sitting in our crowded waiting room, he said, “They are very sneaky. They have their methods.” The fact that no one else had ever seen this happen did nothing to cause him to doubt it took place.

He provided excruciating details about the techniques used to assault him. He meticulously described how they did all of this without leaving any evidence. He said they had, within the last month, changed to a different type of gas as they were afraid he might be getting immune to the effects of the gas previously used.

Since he was always unconscious when these attacks happened, I asked how he knew who was doing it and why they were doing so. He said he knew because he once “came to” just as they were leaving and he saw the bushes outside move as they rushed away.

When asked why someone would be doing this to him, he was evasive. It was clear he believed someone felt wronged by him and that these attacks were retribution for that wrong. He refused to elaborate on what that wrong might have been or who was having the private investigators assault him.

He said he had been to the police many times and they refused to take him seriously, which upset him. He also admitted he had been to our emergency department many times for the same thing and, again, had not felt supported in his struggles.

After talking to him for about twenty minutes, fascinated by the details and long course of his delusions, I asked him what he thought I could do for him in the emergency department. I had to ask this question several times before I got a specific answer because, rather than answer the question, he would just go back and repeat details of the assaults.

Finally, he said he wanted me to put casts on his legs so “they” couldn’t inflict any more injuries. He wanted help getting a single medical care provider who could see him each time he presented so that person could document, over time, the various injuries he suffered at the hands of his assailants.

He seemed to understand when I told him I would not be able to cast him. However, I could respond to his second requests by referring him to get a primary care provider.

Up until this time, our conversation was very calm and agreeable. That all changed when I finally told him he had paranoid delusions. That really set him off. He started to holler and swear at me, saying he was not delusional. He had evidence of everything he was telling me if someone would take him seriously and not just blow him off as everyone, up to that point, had done.

I finally had to pull out the line I use at times like this. “You know these things are true and I can’t convince you otherwise. But I also know they are not true and you can’t convince me they are. So, we will just have to leave it at that and it’s time for you to go.”

I told him his discharge papers would include directions for contacting a mental health provider and I encouraged him to do that. He left very unhappy. I had no hope he would follow my recommendation.

A few weeks later, I saw this same gentleman, again. He came in with exactly the same story and, of course, had made no effort to get any mental health assistance. I felt so sorry for him but there was, literally, nothing I could do to help him. Even listening to him didn’t help when he saw that he was not believed.

Check out this article to better understand fixed delusions. This describes my patient very well.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delusional_disorder

 

Big Bloody Guy

Written by Tad. Posted in Kooks

The other night, a woman rushed in asking for help getting her injured boyfriend out of the car. She said he had been drinking with friends when they called to say he had been stabbed and needed her help. When she got there, he was covered with blood, nearly unconscious and unable to stand. The friends helped her load him into her car and she rushed him to the hospital.

A nurse and a tech went with the woman to her car. There, they found a man slumped in the front seat. He had dried blood all over his face and soaked into his clothes. He moaned as they moved him into a wheelchair and pushed him into the emergency department.

When I entered the trauma room, I saw a tall, big-boned, muscular man covered in blood. His head was thrown back in the wheelchair and he was moaning. Though conscious, he did not respond to staff’s questions or instructions. His size and passive posture led to a quick conversation about how to best get him out of the wheelchair and onto the gurney. I bent over and, talking closely into his ear, firmly encouraged him to help us get him onto the bed. That was enough to get him to stand and move over to the gurney, where he fell back, moaning, his eyes closed the whole time.

I then stepped back against the wall at the foot of the bed while the nurses and techs got him undressed, placed him on a cardiac monitor, recorded some vital signs and started IVs.

Just then, the trauma surgeon walked in and asked me what was going on. I told her he had been stabbed, he seemed to be very drunk and we were in the process of evaluating him for possible serious injuries.

Suddenly, the man, who had hardly been able to hold his head up, leapt from the gurney, hollering loudly. He pulled the IVs out of his arms, yanked the monitor leads from his chest and tore off his gown. Throwing everything on the floor, he stood, naked, in the middle of the room, blood running down his muscular arms from where he had pulled out the IVs. Everyone was amazed at his miraculous transformation. He had suddenly gone from being a nearly unconscious rag doll to an erect, angry man who was hollering, swearing and waving his arms threateningly. Staff immediately stepped back away from him and pressed against the walls of the room, wondering what might happen next.

At first, his profanity-laden tirade was directed at no one in particular. Soon, he focused on me. Though his eyes had been closed and he had been acting incoherently, it became obvious he heard what I told the trauma surgeon and was very upset that I assumed him to be drunk.

He walked forward and got right up in front of me. Waving his arms wildly and pointing at his bloodied face, he screamed at me for saying he was drunk and not paying any attention to his stab wound.

I can’t say I was not afraid but I just stood, statue-still. I stared him straight in the eyes and did everything I could to not respond to him at all. Not getting a reaction from me, he turned and walked around the room, hollering at others who stood, lined against the walls. He picked out a nurse in the farthest corner, called her a “bitch” and gestured threateningly at her.

Recovering their wits somewhat, some of the staff tried to calmly talk him down. He paid no attention to them. He continued to pace the room, completely naked, with dried blood all over his face and fresh blood dripping down his arms. At times his ranting seemed incoherent. Then, he would say something like, “Look at me! Standing here buck-naked in fronta y’all. What the
f—?” All the time this was going on, his poor girlfriend was sobbing in the hallway outside the trauma room.

Eventually, he seemed to tire of it all and started looking for his clothes. Several of us encouraged him to let us evaluate him to make sure he was not seriously injured. This, he refused, demanding to be given his bloody clothes so he could leave.

This presented a difficult ethical question. When he came in, it seemed he was impaired. A person in that condition could not wisely refuse medical care. If he had tried to leave, it would have been appropriate to restrain him until we were sure he was either okay or competent to assume the risks of leaving against medical advice.

Now, I had a very different patient. He was alert, talking clearly in full sentences, and able to pick me out as the one who insinuated he was intoxicated. What was my responsibility? Did we need to tackle and restrain him to protect him from making a bad decision and leaving? Should staff be put at risk in order to make sure he didn’t leave until it was clear he was alright?

By then, security officers had arrived, waiting for my instructions on to how to deal with this man. I had to decide. He was big, strong, upset and covered with blood. I knew it would be a nightmare to try to take him down. Rather than put staff at higher risk, I told everyone to let him leave if he wanted to. It took him quite a while to get dressed as he kept getting distracted and continued hollering at people. Eventually, however, he walked out.

The next day, I got the following email from one of our physician assistants, referring to this same patient:

Hello Dr. Tad,

A patient presented to the ED today to apologize for his behavior during his most recent ER visit. He was very sincere, and wanted to apologize for his horrific behavior. He is very sorry and appalled at himself, stated he is not normally like that, and continued to profusely apologize, asking to please have me pass on how remorseful he was.

Sincerely,
C.M. PA-C

 

 

 

 

Too Many Pushups

Written by Tad. Posted in Kooks

A 15-year-old boy got in trouble at football practice. As punishment, his coach sentenced him to do 150 pushups over the weekend. His mother was assigned to monitor him and make sure he was compliant.

On Monday, he was unable to move his arms, which were in severe pain, and he noted that his urine was darker than normal. All of this concerned his mother, who brought him to the emergency department. This story of over-exercising, followed by excessive muscle pain and dark urine was worrisome to me. Quick blood and urine tests confirmed my suspicion. He had rhabdomyolysis.*

The excessive use of the muscles of his arms and shoulders caused enough muscle damage that a protein, myoglobin, was released from the muscles in such large amounts that it turned his urine dark. If not treated, that same protein could be toxic to the kidneys. This patient had to be admitted to the hospital to get pain medicine and IV fluids until his muscles healed and the myoglobin was cleared from his blood and urine.

Over-exercising is one of the more common causes of this condition. As far as I know, I have never seen it just from over-use of the upper extremities. Since your legs have so much more muscle mass than your arms, it is a lot more likely for this to develop after over-use of the legs. For example, we often see prisoners who do squats over and over until they develop rhabdomyolysis. They come in from jail with leg pain and dark urine and have to get admitted to the hospital.

I wonder if my patient’s coach will assign 150 pushups as behavior modification again.

 

*I posted a case previously about rhabdomyolysis. Please see Dancing with the Stars in a previous post.

Also, for more information, check out this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhabdomyolysis

 

Mr P., Again, Again

Written by Tad. Posted in Kooks

I am so sorry. Looks like this was still not working for some people. Here it is again. I am confident it will work this time. Thanks for your patience.

One the doctors I work with forwarded this article to me. It was written by Otis Warren, an emergency physician. It paints a great picture of a specific patient but also of the bigger social problems associated with public alcoholism.

Enjoy!

http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/35/11/2138.full

 

Eye Poke Defense

Written by Tad. Posted in Kooks

I was working in the Accident Room of Charity Hospital in New Orleans. A young man came in complaining of pain in both of his eyes. He said he had been in an argument with another man in a bar. The other guy had stuck out two fingers and poked my patient in the eyes. The pain caused my patient to bend over. When he straightened back up and opened his eyes, the other guy poked him again, the same way.

He was in so much pain that his friends brought him to the emergency department. A quick evaluation showed that his only injury was corneal abrasions or scratches on the front, clear parts of his eyes. Though this is a very painful condition, it rarely results in a complication and usually heals within a day or two. As per the custom then, we medicated and patched both of his eyes and sent him out with a prescription for pain medicine. His concerned friends helped him out of the emergency department and into their car.

Though we didn’t want to laugh at the patient, we did have a good laugh when I reminded everyone that, in The Three Stooges, Mo would poke Curly in the eyes in the same manner. When Mo tried to poke him again, Curly would use the Eye Poke Defense. He would hold his flat hand up, with the fingers extended, in front of his nose so that Mo’s finger tips could not reach Curly’s eyes.* I joked that our patient should have remembered that trick and it would have helped protect his eyes.

A few hours later, I was surprised to see this same patient come back in, patches still on his eyes, complaining of abdominal pain. He was in a lot of distress and clearly had something serious the matter with him. Only then did we get the rest of the story of what had happened at the bar.

When the eyeball-scratching altercation took place, the bouncer jumped right on the situation and, literally, threw both young men out of the bar. My patient was having trouble with his vision because of his eye injury and his balance because of all the booze he had consumed. When he was thrown out of the bar, he fell, striking his lower abdomen on the top of a fire hydrant.

A guy who has been drinking in a bar usually has a full bladder and a blow to the lower abdomen in this situation can lead to a rupture of the bladder and that is just what happened to our guy. Though he was just kind of sore there during his first visit, it wasn’t until he lost some blood and the blood and urine had some time to irritate his abdominal cavity that he started to get sick. He had to go to the operating room to have his bladder repaired.

Though holding his hand up, like Curly, may have prevented some injury to his eyes, I don’t think it would have done anything to protect his bladder.

 

*Here is a picture of Mo trying to poke Curly, who is very effectively using the Eye Poke Defense.

eye poke defense

Delusional Parasitosis

Written by Tad. Posted in Kooks

Two people came in an ambulance together. He was twenty-eight, she was twenty-six. They were put in the same room and had been instructed to undress and put on gowns. They both told the intake nurse they had things crawling out of their bodies. He focused mostly on his skin but she also had “things” coming out of her eyes, ears, nose, mouth and vagina.

 

When I entered the room, he was sitting quietly on the gurney while she was agitated and walking around the room. Usually, I start by talking to patients to find out what their symptoms and history are. Then I do an examination. It was not possible to do that in this situation because, as soon as I walked in the door, the young woman started to talk and, boy, did I get an earful! She came to me and started showing “them” to me. She had an LED flashlight and a magnifying mirror. She held the mirror up to her face, shined the flashlight onto her eyelid and said something like, “See that!”

 

When I asked her what I was supposed to be seeing, she gave me an exasperated look, turned the light and mirror to her lip and asked me, again, to look with her at what was crawling out. When I told her I didn’t see anything, she loudly voiced her indignation, pointed to her skin and said, “See! There it is right there! Are you telling me you don’t see anything?”

 

Patients with mental problems causing them to believe their skin is infested often have sores where they have been digging at themselves. They point to these sores as evidence of their disease. In this woman’s case, there was not a scratch or sore anywhere she pointed, just normal skin.

 

As soon as she detected that I didn’t believe she was infested, she got really upset. She started referring to others who had seen “them” and asked me what I thought the others had seen, if there was really nothing there. The most specific I could get her to be when referring to other witnesses was “the doctor at the shelter,” but she was too agitated to tell me if she had been previously seen by another doctor and what, if anything, had been done for her.

 

When I continued to be unconvinced she had something coming out of her various body parts, she suddenly turned her attention to her partner. She pointed to his skin, which was marked by multiple sores which looked like he had been picking at himself. He was not nearly as animated as she was but he sat there, patiently trying to help her identify things crawling out of him. He was no more successful in showing me what they were looking for than she was.

 

When I tried to get specifics about how long this had been going on, what these things looked like, how big they were, what color they were and where they went after they crawled out, it only made them more indignant, unhappy and agitated.

 

At this point, I turned to an approach I developed years ago to deal with patients who are convinced they have a problem when I am sure they don’t.

 

I told them I recognized that they knew they were infested with something and I acknowledged how upsetting this must be. I told them I also knew they were not infested. I told them they had a mental disorder and named it: delusional parasitosis. I said I understood that they didn’t believe me. I also told them I was firm in my opinion and they were not going to convince me otherwise. In concluding, I said something like, “So, it is time for you to leave. I will give you the telephone number for our Mental Health Urgent Care clinic as well as a number to get a Primary Care Physician in a clinic.”

 

I have found that this sort of firmness is necessary because truly delusional people can’t be convinced. The more you try to get them to see logic, the more they get upset that they are not convincing you. I just have to tell them I am sorry, recommend they get psychiatric follow up and send them out, almost always upset and unhappy with me.

 

In this case, things just went from bad to worse when I followed this time-tested approach. The woman got even more agitated. She paced around the room, hollering about the lack of care they were being provided. She demanded to see my boss and the head of the hospital so something could be done. She was so agitated that the nurses called security and soon there were three uniformed officers outside the room. It got so bad that a Sherriff’s officer, there with a prisoner from the county jail, came to the room to see what was going on.

 

My two patients refused to get dressed. Refused to leave. Refused to take their discharge papers. They said they were not going anywhere until something was done for them. Finally, after the Sherriff threatened to arrest them, they got dressed and stomped out, the woman hollering and cursing.

 

Over the years, I have seen many cases of delusional parasitosis and its companion condition called Morgellon’s Disease, where people think they have fibers coming out of their skin. Each case has been a little different. Some patients are calm and, in every other way, reasonable. They talk logically of their complaints. They are pleasant in taking recommendations to follow up with their doctor but they remain convinced they are infested. On the other end of the spectrum, some patients act truly crazy, as with the woman described above.

 

Sometimes people connect their infestation to their environment. I once saw a man who was certain something was crawling out of a mat he had to stand on at work. No matter how many times the mat was changed and the area cleaned, as soon as he went back to work, he got them again.

 

I had a patient who was sure she was infested with bedbugs. No matter how I tried to help her understand that bedbugs just crawl out of your bedding at night, suck your blood and then crawl back to the bedding to wait for another night, she was sure she had bedbugs under her skin. She could not be convinced otherwise.

 

Another time, I saw a twenty-five-year-old woman who was convinced she had lice in her hair. The fact that no lice or nits could be produced had no effect on her beliefs. She had been treated multiple times for lice and, yet, she was sure they persisted. She constantly dug at her hair with a pencil until she had a huge ball of tangled hair on the back of her head. Even as she talked with me, she dug and dug in her hair, trying to get a bug out to show me.

 

Once, I had a couple come in wanting papers they could use to force their landlord to do something about the bug infestations they had from their apartment. Their place had been fumigated multiple times and the landlord and pest people told them there were no bugs. My patients were unable to provide a bug as evidence. Yet, they wanted a doctor’s note saying they were, indeed, infested so they could force the landlord to do something about it. When two people are equally involved in a delusion, it is called folie a deux.

 

I have seen many patients with delusions over the years. This case was amazing for two reasons. It was a fascinating case of folie a deux. Also the woman had absolutely the worst case of delusional parasitosis I have ever seen. She had things coming out of every part of her body. She was agitated and aggressive. She was threatening and refused to put her clothes on and leave when she was dismissed. It is an amazing example of how your brain can play really nasty tricks on you.

 

If you are interested, read more at my favorite medical reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delusional_parasitosis

To Room 11, Stat!

Written by Tad. Posted in Kooks

The other night, an overhead announcement in the emergency department caught my attention: “Dr. Tad to Room 11, STAT! Dr. Tad to Room 11, STAT!” Since I know my staff would not call me like this unless there was a real reason, I dropped everything and hustled to Room 11.

I got there just as the patient was being moved from a wheelchair onto the bed. I made my way through the crowd of staff filling the room, everyone hurrying to take her clothes off, get vital signs, put her on a heart monitor and start an IV.

When I got to the bedside, I saw a young woman who looked dead. She was pale as a sheet. She was unconscious and not breathing or moving. I could not feel a pulse.

I barked orders to make sure someone was doing each of the many things that needed to be done at once. In situations like this, we use the pneumonic “ABC” to prioritize our actions. “A” is for Airway. Before figuring out what her underlying medical problem was, we first took steps to protect and keep her airway open. I told the respiratory therapist to prepare to intubate her, pass a tube into her windpipe.

After Airway comes “B” for Breathing. Once the airway was open and protected, we would check to see if the patient was breathing well. If not, we would need to breathe for her by putting her on a ventilator.

“C” is for Circulation. Does she have a pulse? What is her blood pressure? Is she bleeding? What needs to be done so that blood is getting to her vital organs?

In Room 11 that night, I soon was able to stop worrying about “A” and “B” because, once she was out of the wheelchair and flat on the gurney, enough blood got to her head that she woke up. She started to complain of pain and asked for water. Airway and Breathing were good.

It was now obvious that Circulation was her problem. Along with the pallor I already described, her blood pressure was low and her pulse was fast. These are all signs of hemorrhagic shock. Since she was not bleeding on the outside, my assumption was that she was bleeding internally. I took a quick listen to her heart and lungs. I felt her abdomen, which was tender and distended. More orders were given in response to this new information.

As the rest of the team pressed to get IVs started and get blood work for the laboratory, I turned to find out who had brought her in. I went into the hall and found her concerned husband, a young Vietnamese man. His English was weak, but there was no time for a translator. I was able to learn that she had been complaining of abdominal pain and might be pregnant.

As soon as I heard that, I instructed a clerk to call the obstetricians and tell them to come to Room 11 immediately. I then ran an ultrasound probe over the patient’s belly and found just what I was expecting. Her abdomen was full of blood.

I called for Type O-negative blood to be rushed up from the blood bank so a transfusion could be started. This blood can be safely given to anyone if there is not time to check the patient’s blood type. The blood bank keeps some available for just this kind of situation.

About this time, the obstetricians came rushing into the room. I quickly told them what I had found and what we were doing. One stayed to help with the resuscitation and to try to get more information from the husband. The other called the operating room to say they were bringing the patient straight up.

The pregnancy test came back positive just as they pulled her gurney out of the room, headed for the operating room. There, they found her abdomen full of blood from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy.* She had a rough go of it but they were able to stabilize her by stopping the bleeding and giving her more fluids and blood. She left the hospital a few days later. She had a scar on her abdomen and was missing the fallopian tube in which the pregnancy had established itself. Otherwise, she was no worse for wear.

Reviewing this case fills me with gratitude. This lady was dying. It makes me glad I knew what was needed to keep that from happening. It also makes me glad we have the facilities to provide the care she needed. In times gone by and in many places in the world today, if this happened to a woman, she would be dead. I am really appreciative of my team. They did just what was needed when a life was on the line. I am also grateful for good luck. If the patient and her husband had delayed in coming to the hospital or gotten stuck in traffic or lost, we might not have had the chance to give her the services we trained hard to provide.

 

*If you are interested in reading more about ectopic pregnancy, here is a reference frpm my favorite medical resource: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ectopic_pregnancy

 

Two Patients with Broken Ribs

Written by Tad. Posted in Kooks

I recently went mountain biking in Moab, Utah. Unfortunately, I fell just as our ride was starting. It was soon apparent to me that I had broken some ribs on the left side of my chest. I painfully rode back to the trailhead and found a ride back into town, rather than trying to ride the rest of the 26 miles we had planned for that morning.

Since there is really no treatment for broken ribs, I knew there was no reason for me to seek medical care. I just set myself up on the couch of our rented condo and tried not to move around too much until I could head back home.

A week later, I was back at work, feeling better and was taking only ibuprofen for pain. “This has not been that bad,” I thought to myself. Little did I suspect that a surprise setback lay ahead.

I woke up on Saturday morning, eight days after my fall. As I got out of bed, I was surprised that I had more pain in my chest than I had been experiencing the previous few days.

While I was in the shower, the pain got a lot worse and any movement was now causing severe pain. Getting dressed was really tough but I pressed on, feeling sure it would soon pass.

As I started down the stairs into the living room, I was seized with a muscle spasm along my left spine that left me completely incapacitated. I hollered, stiffened and became unable to breath or move until the muscle spasm relaxed and the broken ends of my ribs were not being driven against each other.

The spectacle I presented on the stairs caused everyone in the house to come running. My wife, son and daughter-in-law rushed to my side, trying at the same time to understand what was wrong and wondering how they could help.

Several things went through my head as this was going on. I know enough about this sort of thing to understand, basically, what was going on. The pain from my broken rib was causing my back muscles to go into spasm. That was causing severe pain which was making the muscle spasms worse. Whenever I moved, I was caught in this terrible cycle and the only thing that helped was to not move, at all. Understanding this, I was not worried that I might have some terrible, life-threatening condition. I recognized that this understanding helped me a lot, compared to people without my training and experience who might be freaking out, wondering if they were dying or something.

I next thought that I always have to ask my patients to rate their pain on a scale from 0 to 10. In doing so, I sometimes wonder what pain I would rate at a level of 10, the most pain anyone could experience. “Now I know,” I thought.

After I was through with my clinical and analytic thoughts, my attention turned to how to get off the stairs. If I moved my trunk at all, like to take a step, the pain would come back and I couldn’t move. There was nothing I could do about it. With help from my wife and son, I forced myself down the stairs and collapsed on the couch, trying not to scream the whole time.

There I stayed the rest of the day, unable to move without triggering the same terrible pain. When it came time to try to take a nap, I needed help from my wife and son who moved me as if I were a piece of fragile furniture, trying to keep my spine from moving.

At bedtime, they helped me in the same way back up to my bed. The next day I still had pain and had to be careful but was some better. By the following day, I still had the rib pain but all of the spasms were gone. Today, I am almost pain free. I am back to riding my bike with no problems.

Now, I told you that story to tell you this one:

The next week at work, I introduced myself to my next patient. She was a lady about my age who told me a sad story about being attacked three days earlier by her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. She had been knocked to the ground and injured her chest. She told me she was pretty sure she had broken a rib and, knowing there was nothing to do for it, had just been taking ibuprofen and putting up with the pain.

What brought her in was that she had woken that morning with severe muscle spasms on the same side as her broken rib. The pain was so severe she was incapacitated by it and was worried about a complication of her chest injury.

As I listened to her, I had a hard time not smiling, which I knew would not be perceived well. As soon as she had a chance to tell me of her concerns, I briefly told her of my experience the weekend before. I explained what I thought had happened to both of us. I reassured her that what she was going through was completely understandable and she had nothing to fear. I also assured her that we would get her feeling better in a short time.

After some intravenous morphine and valium, she was feeling much better. She went home relieved to know she was going to be fine, happy to be out of pain and appreciative of a doctor who was able to empathize so distinctly with her suffering.

There is some irony in recognizing that she went to the emergency department and got some help while I just stayed at home and suffered.

Vicodin, Thank You Very Much

Written by Tad. Posted in Kooks

One night this week, one of my physician assistants came to me frustrated that the patient he had gone to see had run him off, saying he wanted another doctor. Matt had addressed two complaints the patient had: difficulty urinating and a nagging cough. When the patient went on to more complaints, including shoulder pain he had been suffering with for over a year, Matt recommended he take up these more chronic problems with his primary care physician. That is when the patient ran Matt off.

It was now my turn. I found an elderly man asleep on a gurney wearing sunglasses and a beret pulled down over his face. I introduced myself and went over his first two problems. When I asked him if he had any other concerns, he told me about his shoulder pain, for which his primary care doctor usually gave him Vicodin. He then said all he wanted was to be treated with sympathy.

I asked him if he had come for sympathy or for Vicodin. He calmly answered, “Vicodin would be fine, thank you very much.”

This all took place in the hall right in the busiest part of the emergency department and as soon as he answered my question, I was surrounded by suppressed laughs. I had not intended my question to be comical. I’m sure he didn’t intend his answer to be funny either, but, together, they made everyone laugh. This was especially funny to staff surrounded every day by people looking for opioids for their chronic aches and pains.

 

Susana

Written by Tad. Posted in Kooks

A sixty-year-old woman came in by ambulance. The nurse entered “abdominal pain, flank pain” as the chief complaint. The nurse advised me that the patient was deaf and only spoke Spanish, so I grabbed some paper and a clipboard before going in the room.

I introduced myself and showed her my name badge so she would know my name. She motioned that she was deaf. I smiled, nodded, and pointed to my “Hablo Español” button as well. I then wrote on the paper, “Que pasa?” (What’s going on?)

She took the clipboard and started writing. “This isn’t going to be too bad,” I thought to myself.

When she returned the clipboard, I saw she had written, “Susana,” which was her name. That was about the best we did. With her reading my lips and using her sketchy Spanish, I was finally able to learn that she was, indeed, deaf. She only spoke Spanish and didn’t know any sign language. She also had never gone to school and didn’t read or write. On top of that, no family member had come in with her; someone who, I hoped, would be better able to communicate with her than I was.

Usually in medicine, we rely a lot on the history to start figuring out what is the matter with someone. In this case, through lip reading and pantomime, I was able to understand that she was having pain in her lower abdomen and flank. That was about the best we could do. I examined her and ordered tests, doing more tests than I might normally have to do since I didn’t want to miss something.

The tests all came back normal, her pain was controlled with the medicine I gave her and we were finally able to get hold of a family member who came in and helped get her discharged.

When it comes to communication challenges, it is hard to beat a non-English speaking patient who is deaf and doesn’t sign, read or write.

Copyright © 2014 Bad Tad, MD