Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Author Question: Surgical Spleen Removal

Amanda Asks:

I have a character who was shot in the side, not life threatening, but he had to have surgery to remove his spleen as well as the bullet because some rib fragments damaged his spleen.

My question is how long would he be in the hospital after surgery? I'm sure when he first comes home he'll be getting around in a wheelchair or something while he heals and gets his strength back. When could I plausibly have him on his feet slowly walking around? I don't want any dramatic complications with his injury or anything. He's going to heal up great and be perfectly fine afterward.

Jordyn Says:

I ran this question by some of my nursing cohorts who focus in adult surgery.

Having your spleen removed would require a couple days stay in an intensive care unit. This would be due to risk of post-surgical bleeding and concern for infection.

The surgical nurse I spoke to said these patients are up and walking by the time they come to the floor so there would be no need for the character to use a wheelchair.

Once research point that is helpful with this question is that you can Google search for discharge instructions regarding many kinds of operations. For this one, I searched for Home Care Instructions after Spleen Removal. This document gives excellent information that can be translated into your novel.

For instance-- how long the patient should expect to have pain. Driving and lifting restrictions which can help determine what they would physically be capable of in your novel.

FYI-- patients who have had their spleens removed are at more risk of serious infection. Your spleen is part of your immune system. So some infections that would normally not be a big deal for the general population can be life threatening to those who have had their spleen removed.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Author Question: Management of Unusual Patients

Amy Asks

I hope you can address this. Or, if not, point me at a resource that can. I am writing a short horror story in which a patient complains about not being able to get clean. She washes and then within an hour, she's dirty again. And if she doesn't wash, the dirt just accumulates. She's a magnet for dirt. The patient is not complaining of Morgellons and has no history of drug abuse. Neither does she have a history of (or current problems with) OCD behavior.

My assumption is that the doctor would review proper hygiene with her and then find a tactful way to make a referral to a psychiatrist or psychologist. Is that correct?

What questions would the doctor ask? What language would she use when documenting this meeting? And what would she do when more patients start presenting with the same complaint?

In my story, the complaint becomes a pandemic. With this illness, it's always possible to wash away the dirt, you just can't keep it away. What are the long-term health consequences of not being able to remain clean? I know that it will increase the possibility of local infections but can you become ill from simply being dirty? (This hypothetical illness would only attract dirt, not pests. But would being dirty make it easier to attract and harbor fleas, ticks and lice?)

Thank you for any help you may be able to provide me!

Jordyn Says:

Wow, Amy. This is a very intriguing question.

I’ll have to take it from an ER nurse's standpoint. A patient who presents with a complaint of dirt accumulation despite showering definitely raises some eyebrows. If the patient is not expressing wanting to kill themselves or others—then there’s no immediate need to involve psychiatric services. The doctor may say something akin to, “I don’t think this has a medical cause. I think it might be best to follow-up with your regular physician for a referral to a mental health professional.”

Mental health evaluations are rarely done in the ED by an ER physician. These services are likely contracted out or handled by someone else other than the ER physician. You may have heard this phrase about ER docs, “Knowledge of all. Master of none.”—Meaning they have a significant knowledge base but are not specialists. Their job entails identifying a true medical emergency and managing that—so in absence of that, they’ll refer on.

I would say localized infection from open wounds is the biggest risk. As far as attracting other pests—what kind of environment do they live in? Just because you have extra dirt on you doesn’t mean you’ll have lice, etc.

I also ran you question by friend, author and ER physician Braxton DeGarmo.

Braxton says:

I cannot think of a single scientific way that someone could become a dirt "magnet." As such, the idea of a pandemic in which people can't keep clean would very much require some sort of fringe science explanation and to pull the plot off you’d have to build that idea in bits and pieces to make it believable—much like Crichton did for re-building ancient DNA from amber to clone dinosaurs.

Now, as a psychiatric condition, this is very plausible. I've taken care of people who thought they were shrinking and that snakes were under their skin. All of these were manifestations of a psychotic break. So, yes, a tactful referral to psych would be warranted. It would be easier to come up with something that causes such a psych pandemic than one where people keep attracting dirt and grime.

The problem, though, is that everyone's psychotic break would be different. So, again, you’d have to build some case where they all share OCD or the opposite, an attraction to dirt to where they purposefully seek to get dirty. Both scenarios will require some work to build scientifically plausible causes.

Perhaps, there could be an illness that leads to a specific deficiency and the dirt they instinctively "collect" somehow fills this need and is absorbed through the skin. To the casual observer, they just look dirty, but a closer look finds common mineral “X” or whatever, within everyone's grime. And it's the only common factor, thus leading the protagonist or someone to figure it out.

Most folks have heard of people with certain deficiencies sharing a common trait, such as pica to fill an iron deficiency. So, this might be an easier way to build plausibility.

As for the specific questions, yes, local skin infections might become more of a problem, but not necessarily any systemic issues. Likewise, with fleas and such. Degree of skin cleanliness has nothing really to do with such infestations. 

Best of luck with this novel! Very intriguing idea. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ahhh-- James Patterson and Medical Fictionism

First, let me be clear. I am a fan of James Patterson. I love his novels-- mostly I'm sticking to the Alex Cross novels these days.

However, I also have a love/hate relationship with Mr. Patterson. LOVE the Alex Cross novels-- hate the medical info.

I don't think Mr. Patterson is hurting for money which is why I've requested several times on this blog for him to hire me as his medical consultant-- because though he's a great story teller-- he does need help in this area. 

In Hope to Die (Alex Cross #22) James sets up a very implausible medical scenario that I'm going to discuss here. There are spoilers in this post-- you have been duly warned to read no further if you haven't read the novel. 

In this book, Alex's entire family is kidnapped. That includes his ailing, elderly grandmother (who is at least in her late 80s or early 90s from what I can tell), his middle-aged wife and a couple of teen-aged kids.

They are drugged, placed on life support and housed in a cargo container for about a week, On top of that, the cargo container is being moved (placed on a boat, etc) so it is not stationary.

AND-- there is not a medical attendant 24/7. Just a group of people, drugged, on life support for a week. Oh, they are checked ONE time during the week.

Okay-- sure.

Let's talk about the medical aspects and how this scenario would never work.

1. The tubes. When someone is on life support-- there's going to be a tube in every orifice as they say. The tube that keeps them breathing. A tube into their stomach to drain secretions. A tube into their bladder to drain their urine. And they will still poop-- I'm just being real people. So if no one is there to drain these items and ensure that they stay in the proper place it will cause life threatening issues for the patient.

2. The drugs/fluids. It's not so much that I have a problem with the drugs that were used-- more the fact that no one is there to change them out. Keep in mind, someone on life support cannot eat or drink for themselves. This has to be provided for them. If your goal is to just keep them hydrated then an adult needs, let's just say, 100ml/hr to maintain hydration. That means a one liter bag is going to last 10 hours. Then the sedation drugs themselves need to be changed out as well-- they are not going to last forever.

3. The oxygen. It is very rare that a ventilator doesn't use oxygen. Ventilators generally don't run off O2 tanks. They need a special source with adapter. So, how are all four of these vents running? Even if we could leap to oxygen tanks-- again-- who is changing them?

4. Electricity. Everything connected to the patient runs on electricity. IV pumps can run on batteries for a certain length of time but probably not more than 12 hours. Ventilators require a power source-- they must be plugged into something. There is nothing scarier for an ICU nurse than when the electricity goes out and you're waiting for a back-up generator to kick in. Most often-- this is seemless because vents are plugged into emergency outlets that are always fed electricity expcept under dire circumstances-- like a hurricane or tornado takes out your back-up systems. If that happens, the patient must be manually bagged with an oxygen tank.

5. Turning. If bed-ridden patients aren't repositioned every few hours they are going to develop pressure sores. This puts the patients at risk for skin breakdown and infection. Also, immobility increases the risk of developing blood clots as well.

6. Drug Metabolism. The author is also assuming patients metabolize drugs and use the same drug dose. This is not true. Drug dosages in pediatrics is calculated based on the patient's weight. Adjustments are made in the elderly population as well.

So James-- loved the story but the medical scenario . . . please.   

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Problem with Camels and MERS

If you're like me then you're intrigued by viruses and how viruses are transmitted-- then you'll be fascinated by the story of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.)

MERS is a coronavirus (in the same family as SARS-- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). It first popped up in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

On June 9th, 2015 the World Health Organization issued a statement encouraging people not to eat or drink uncooked or unpasteurized camel products-- including camel urine. Of course, that was the big headline.

What's interesting is that if you read further into this statement, it's not exactly clear how MERS began to infect humans. We know that humans can infect one another but not easily which is good news.

How did humans first become infected? What is the reservoir-- that seemingly innocuous place where the virus lives but doesn't necessarily make its host sick?

Strains of MERS that have infected humans have also been found in camels. It is possible that other sources exist in animals but none have been identified yet. The WHO believes this then supports the theory that human infection is coming from camels.

It doesn't take much of an internet search to determine that consuming camel products may be culturally important in the Middle East-- hence the warning.

If you'd like to read more about MERS and its animal to human transmission then check out this link.