I Needed That
Let’s just say I don’t know as much about pediatric resuscitation as I should. I know the basics of course, but there are nuances in the the emergency treatment of children that are not as easy to remember as they are for a standard 75-kilogram adult. We also get many, many more adult trauma and critical patients then we do children so it’s a question of practice. I mention this because residency can be very humbling and never more so when you don’t have a good idea what to do and have to get more guidance from the attending than you probably should. I am extremely glad I have a year of training left because a pediatric respiratory arrest that came in the other night demonstrated, yet again, that despite the agitprop from the mid-levels, there is a purpose to residency training and you cannot just throw somebody out to the public with a couple of years of medical training.
Just to summarize, I asked for the wrong medications for sedation and paralysis, failed to intubate, had to pass it off to my attending, and even struggled to get a central line. Ouch. I have been reviewing Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) since then so some good has come out of a bad experience but it is, as I said, very humbling. The Emergency Department is a team. The nurses know their job as do the techs, respiratory therapists, and everybody else. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that I should know mine.
So I was kind of moping around after that, seeing the drug seekers, emergency colds, constipation, and the only other patients with who I felt I could be trusted when I got called to a code on one of the medicine floors. I was the first one there, got a report from the patient’s nurse who was doing CPR, assessed the patient, and we ran a very strong code that I think gave the patient every possible chance to live even though he did not pull through. I think I successfully identified the problem, took the appropriate steps to resolve it, intubated a very difficult airway on the first pass, and generally did everything I was supposed to do and that I used to watch other residents do three years ago when I was a sheepish brand-new intern just trying to stay out of the way.
Residency is a series of highs and lows, at least for me. Some days nothing happens and I tool along complacently. Sometimes I royally screw up and feel like I’m never going to get it. And then sometimes I discover that I know what I’m doing.
Up and down.
Up and down.
You Have It Exactly Backwards
In regards to a recent article of mine detailing the differences between physicians and mid-level providers, a reader commented that patients neither care what initials are after our names nor about the “expansiveness” of our training but only that they are treated with compassion and understanding. This is another variation of the common mid-level mantra of “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better Even Though My Formal Training in Medicine is a Small Fraction of Yours.”
The reader has it backwards. The patients don’t care about our initials, whether “MD,” “NP,” or “PA-C,” because they tend to assume anyone with a white coat is a physician. Mid-levels are not exactly quick to identify themselves as mid-levels although to be fair this is mostly because there is no clearly recognizable title that they can use. I walk into the room and say, “Hello, I’m Doctor Bear.” What do you say if you are a Nurse Practitioner? You’re not a Nurse and you’re not a doctor so first names are used and the patient assumes what they will. The key point is the assumption that the person in authority the patient finally sees after all the preliminaries is a physician with whatever training and education the patient imagines a physician should have.
So it’s not that the patients don’t care, it’s only that regardless of the complaining and dark conspiracy theories to which they subscribe when they are not under our care, patients have complete trust in the medical profession when it is up in their face and the mid-levels tap into this trust whether they deserve it or not. Physicians, especially residents, also tap into this trust, the coffers of which have been filled by every honorable physician who has practiced before us. It goes without saying that we may or may not deserve this trust either.
As to not caring about the expansiveness of our training, I am reasonably sure that most patients, if they knew the difference, would much prefer a residency trained physician leading the team resuscitating their drowned child (see the first part of this article) and would not tolerate anybody but a residency trained surgeon removing their gallbladder. Again, there is an assumption of a certain expansiveness and many patients would be appalled to discover that you can be a mid-level provider with only a couple of years of formal medical training. For the information of the laypeople who may be reading, the bare minimum for any physician in any specialty is seven years. I will have had eight years of formal medical training when I’m finally done (I am almost done with my seventh year) and some specialties train for upwards of a decade after medical school.
As for treating patients with compassion and understanding, this is probably the easiest thing about medicine and as it requires no special skills or training, has become the last refuge of egalitarian scoundrels who, when pushed into a corner will come out swinging, brandishing their superior compassion as if long periods of medical training somehow strip physicians of their basic humanity.
People who know me would probably attest that I am a very humble guy who is completely aware of his limitations. This does not mean that I feel compelled to subscribe to some politically correct, totally egalitarian word-view.
Futile is as Futile Does
I like Dinosaur and agree with much of what he says but I feel compelled to comment, yet again, about what I think is his misunderstanding of futile care. Of course we both agree that strictly being elderly is not an indication to pull the plug just as we agree that many of the elderly can walk out of the hospital after treatment for diseases that would have been a death sentence fifty years ago (and still are for the elderly in the Great Freeloader Kingdoms Across the Big Water). But seriously now. I had a patient about a month ago who had suffered a massive stroke a few years before and essentially spent her now diminished life laying in her own stool, breathing through a hole in her neck, eating through a hole in her belly, and making the occasional trip to the Intensive Care Unit when her lungs or upper airway became too full of fluid to be suctioned by the indifferent minimum wage hands in the warehouse where she is stored. She had a pacemaker to keep her heart beating, a defibrillator to jump start it when it didn’t, and a small pharmacy’s worth of medications to ensure that she will shuffle off her mortal coil in fits and starts.
As is common with bed-bound, demented patients who are only infrequently turned and cleaned, she had developed a large decubitus ulcer that had eaten into her back all the way down to her sacrum, the polished bone of which could be seen clearly when the nurse rolled her on her side. This particular ulcer had eroded almost to her anus and was almost impossible to keep clean as every one of her frequent bowl movements poured into and around it. The surgeon who we consulted suggested a colostomy to redirect bowl contents to a pouch on the abdomen as the first step to any definitive treatment.
Perhaps when the next step in your treatment is a surgical re-working of your guts to prevent complications from the complication of having no other function in life but to lay in your own stool staring blankly at the ceiling and all the pretty lights and alarms, well, perhaps it’s time to talk about quality of life and what, exactly, the couple of hundred thousand dollars on the table are buying us and the patient. Sometimes the line between futile care and reasonable medical efforts is not clear and I can’t always discern it. But what we do to some patients is madness. Utter madness.