PASSING IN A SCHOOL ZONE


The sign said “20 mph between 7 and 5 on school days.”  Oregon has two types of 20 mph school zones: that and “20 mph when children are present.”  I was doing 20, when a guy behind me pulled into the center turn lane, accelerated, passed, pulled in, driving far more than the 35 mph speed limit after the zone.

I caught him at the next light.  So, to save a few seconds, the guy broke a few laws, wasted gas and brakes.  For nothing.

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

“Why didn’t you call a neurosurgeon?” The plaintiff’s lawyer asked me in a deposition, back in 1978.

“I and my attending did, Sir,” I replied.

“Why didn’t you hurry and do it sooner?  The patient might not have been paralyzed.”

“He already was when I first saw him, Sir.”

The patient, with ankylosing spondylitis (AK), a bad disease that fuses bones of the spine, had fallen and had cracked his spine.  Unfortunately, an orthopedist tried to move the neck, producing spinal cord injury and partial paralysis.  I resented being blamed for the catastrophic outcome, and it would be the first of a long number of bad encounters I had with the legal profession.

Technology now allows non-radiologists to view many images before the radiologist.  This increase in speed of transmitting information occasionally comes with a cost.  Recently, an individual with AK and a neck injury was felt to have a normal C-spine X-Ray, according to a physician’s reading in a trauma center. The reading was wrong but fortunately did not cause a similar catastrophe.  Radiologists should read these images before anybody moves the spine of a patient with AK.  I’d make it mandatory.  It doesn’t guarantee a good outcome, but it improves the probability of such.

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

A Chance Fracture has nothing to do with luck.  Or maybe it does.  Formerly called seatbelt fractures, before shoulder harnesses, they occur with violent forward flexion of the thoracolumbar spine.  The anterior or front part of the vertebra flexes and compresses, the posterior elements fracture.  It is highly unstable, and the proximity of the fracture to the nerves in the spinal canal means paraplegia may occur.

A patient was seen after an automobile accident, and a physician noted free air under the diaphragm on one image.  This means a perforated viscus, usually the bowel.  The patient was quickly taken to the operating room, for speed matters, and the “bowel was run,” meaning that all of it was checked.  The radiologist, in the meantime, looked at the images, noting no free air but saying there was an Chance fracture.

Oops.  In 100 yards, the speed limit will be 35. Did you have to pass?

The patient now has an abdominal scar, is at increased chance for adhesions and a bowel obstruction as a result, and was fortunate not to be paralyzed after having been moved.  Waiting a few minutes for the radiologist’s reading would have avoided an operation.  Free air requires immediate attention, but surgery may be delayed until the diagnosis is clear.

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

A third patient had a dislocation of the hip, a bad injury, and was taken to the OR before the radiologist reported a clot in the iliac vein.  Such clots are a risk for pulmonary emboli and complicate surgery, something the surgeon must know pre-operatively.  There was time to think; fifteen minutes wouldn’t adversely have affected the outcome.   Like the guy passing me, hurrying may save time, waste time, or cause a bad accident.

I don’t practice any more.  I wasn’t a trauma doctor, but as a neurologist I saw plenty of trauma long before we had Level 1 centers.  I am out of date.  But I know the ABCs, airway, breathing and circulation, which were and are essential to deal with immediate survival.  Here, seconds and minutes count.  Otherwise, I palpated the entire patient, looking for injuries that weren’t obvious, but might become significant problems.   It’s easy to see an obviously fractured femur and immediately want to fix it.  A wise radiologist said, “The first thing you must do in an emergency is take your own pulse.”  By that, he meant to stop and think for a few seconds.  If you don’t have a few seconds, it’s probably too late.

Time.  It is about time.  Knowing how much time one has matters.  Knowing how much time one has to think matters more.  Time.  Is it worth doing 45 in a 35 zone?

Technology has revolutionized medicine.  Improved communication would as well, if we actually did it.  If several people with significant injuries arrive at a trauma center, they must be triaged.  Some need help more quickly than others.  For some, it is sadly too late.  Many may require the same test; the order in which they get it must be established.  Communication means telling the radiologist the history of the patient, what the clinical concerns are.  It improves the reading of the image.

Ask a radiologist sometime how good clinical histories are.

Today, we do whole body scans.  These take time to perform, valuable time. Taking extra minutes to scan the entire body may delay doing an important test on a second patient. These scans deliver much ionizing radiation and are expensive.  Neither of the latter two is an immediate concern, but they are issues.  Radiologists read hundreds of images quickly, and that requires…..time.  Anything that limits the number of scans is good.  Clinical evaluation does just that.  Patients with free air under the diaphragm likely have a rigid abdomen.  Chance fractures produce severe back pain.  This information helps the radiologist immensely.

When I was responsible for caring for many sick patients, I triaged them, trying to make best use of time, an important commodity in my life.  I needed time to eat, sleep, think, see patients, and summarize my thoughts.  I had only so much of time, and only I could prioritize it….until the day came when I realized I could no longer fit what was expected into what time I had.  Hurry is both dangerous and stressful.  Kids suddenly jump out into the street.

Television makes it appear that speed saves save thousands of lives, that everything must be done in a hurry, and that death is prevented with seconds to spare.  That simply isn’t true.  Time is important, because waiting can be deadly.  But there must be time to think, to reason, and to plan approaches, too.  Or people will die.  We all make mistakes.  We can prevent many with better standardization, lessening fatigue, fewer interruptions, ordering only what needs to be ordered, giving information to radiologists, allowing them time to read images before people are rushed to surgery.

Once one is beyond the ABCs of resuscitation, there is time to think and plan care.  That time must be used.

The next light will likely be red, anyway.

Tags:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: