I had a forty-year-old man come in with perfuse rectal bleeding. He had a polyp removed from his colon two days before. He said there was no problem during the procedure but he had spent the next night in the hospital for some reason and just gone home twelve hours before he rolled into Room 15.
His pulse was fast and his blood pressure was low, signs of hemorrhagic shock. He had piles of clotted blood between his legs and it was starting to drip on the floor and was tracking up the bed under him and on the sides of his back. To complicate things, he was as fat as a whale. In fact, he was so fat, he had a tracheotomy in the front of his neck so he could breath.
Now, all of this was bad enough but he informed me he was also a Jehovah’s Witness and would accept no blood products. Usually, someone who is in hemorrhagic shock and gets no blood transfusion dies.
I took a quick peek at him and it became rapidly clear that, because of his morbid obesity and his shocky state, it was going to be nearly impossible to get an IV in him. This was urgently needed to give him fluids, even if he would not take any blood.
This is why I went into emergency medicine and I went to work. I started calmly barking orders and telling my support staff what I needed them to do to help me. I tried unsuccessfully to get a large intravenous (IV) line under his collarbone into his subclavian vein. He was just too fat to be able to get the needle at the proper angle and deep enough to hit the vein. I tried to use the ultrasound to look for his internal jugular vein but was unable to find it because his neck was too fat. He also was too fat to use any landmarks on his neck to direct my needle so I couldn’t use that approach. In the mean time, I had called the gastroenterologist, telling him to come in and scope the guy to get the bleeding stopped. I felt this was our only hope. I called the intensive care unit physician to get him an ICU bed and I called the trauma surgeon to come help me with the IV. Basically, I was pretty sure he was going to die so I called everyone so no one would wonder why I had just sat there and let him die.
Fortunately, for the patient, two good things happened. First, just as the trauma surgeon got there, I was able to get a huge IV into his right femoral vein so we could get some fluids in him. I was only able to do this after the nurse pulled his belly towards his head so I could get into his groin and get access to the vein. The second stroke of good fortune was the bleeding seemed to have slowed, if not stopped. So, by the time he went up to the ICU, his blood pressure and pulse were stable. If he was going to die, at least it wouldn’t be in the emergency department. I did everything I could and it worked out well. Good story.
I will never win a customer service award for this one, though. The guy, along with presenting a HUGE challenge to caring for him because of his religious beliefs and his morbid obesity, he was a huge whiner, too. I finally got so sick of him asking me if what I was going to do would hurt that I told him to shut up. I said something like, “Sir, you are about to die. Everything I am doing is to try to keep you alive. You have to assume it is going to hurt. Just shut up and let me try to save your life.” I felt bad about it and he continued to whine so I don’t know if it did any good. When he wasn’t whining, he was talking on the phone telling his mother goodbye or mumbling praises and prayers to God. Very interesting.
As it turns out, he didn’t die. In fact, he came back one night the next week to see me again. He told me he got his bleeding fixed by the gastroenterologists and was discharged a couple of days later. He came back in to see me again when he had some pain that freaked him out. Fortunately, he was fine and went home. Still, it gave me a chance to apologize to him for being short with him but also to explain my fears he was going to die and the effect it had on me. He accepted my apology and thanked me as we shook hands before he left for home. It was a nice kind of interaction we don’t get too much of in emergency medicine.