Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Honoring a Do Not Resuscitate tattoo in an unconscious patient

Also to be posted on ResearchBlogging.org when they relaunch the site.
 

The DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) tattoo is the kind of problem that leads doctors, nurses, and EMS to pretend to be lawyers, lawyers to pretend to be ethical, and patients to be treated against their wishes.

EMS transports a patient to the emergency department. The patient has a chest tattoo of Do Not Resuscitate and what appears to be a signature.
 

Paramedics brought an unconscious 70-year-old man with a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes mellitus, and atrial fibrillation to the emergency department, where he was found to have an elevated blood alcohol level.[1]

 

It appears that they have access to the patient’s history, but they do not have information about a DNR in the history.
 

Because he presented without identification or family, the social work department was called to assist in contacting next of kin. All efforts at treating reversible causes of his decreased level of consciousness failed to produce a mental status adequate for discussing goals of care.[1]

 


 

The patient does not currently appear to need an invasive airway, or anything else that would be prohibited by a DNR, so there is time to consult with others.
 

This decision left us conflicted owing to the patient’s extraordinary effort to make his presumed advance directive known; therefore, an ethics consultation was requested.[1]

 

Do we honor the stated, although perhaps not letter of the law until after a court decision, DNR?

If you want to be resuscitated, do not tattoo DNR, or Do Not Resuscitate, on your chest.

But what if he did it while drunk?

There was a case of a patient doing that.
 

When asked why his tattoo conflicted with his wishes to be resuscitated, he explained that he had lost a bet playing poker with fellow ancillary hospital staffers while inebriated in his younger years; the loser had to tattoo “D.N.R.” across his chest.[2]

 


 

They are called Darwin awards for a reason.

Hold my beer and watch this is not usually the start of a tale of wisdom, but of providing a learning opportunity for others.
 

It was suggested that he consider tattoo removal to circumvent future confusion about his code status. He stated he did not think anyone would take his tattoo seriously and declined tattoo removal.[2]

 

After driving to the bar, while sober, an individual decided to drive home, while drunk.

The person should clearly not be held accountable for a decision made while drunk.

A person puts a mask on and uses a cap gun to hold up a store where a friend works, because that kind of thing is funny. Someone calls 911, or . . ., and the humor loses something in translation to reality.

I can be very silly, but I take the wishes of the patient seriously.

If a DNR tattoo was a joke, well, that was may be a bad decision, because you don’t know who is going to be deciding how to treat you when you are not capable of expressing your wishes competently.

The EMS laws tell me that I should always start CPR (CardioPulmonary Resuscitation), while calling a doctor for permission to stop, because the wishes of the patient are less important than the wishes of the doctor on the other end of the phone.

I know too many immoral doctors, nurses, and EMS personnel.

For example, a patient who has a clear DNR, clearly states that intubation is not wanted, but is deteriorating. The doctor occasionally returns to ask the hypoxic patient, Do you want to breathe? The patient keeps indicating that intubation is not wanted. Finally, the patient, through surrender to the harassment or disorientation secondary to hypoxia, says, Yes.

The doctor gets to perform a procedure and satisfy himself that the right thing was done, because it is what the doctor wanted.

Is that an extreme example? It was not seen as extreme a couple of decades ago. Maybe today it is recognized as abuse, because we recognize that the purpose of patient care is to take care of the patient, not the doctor, not the nurse, not EMS, not the supervisors, and definitely not the lawyers.

But you have to obey orders. If the military did not obey orders, we would have chaos.

Even the military does not require that anyone obey any unlawful order.
 

Any person subject to this chapter who–

(1) violates or fails to obey any lawful general order or regulation;
(2) having knowledge of any other lawful order issued by any member of the armed forces, which it is his duty to obey, fails to obey the order; or
(3) is derelict in the performance of his duties;

shall be punished as a court-martial may dire(ct.)[3]

 

Refusing to follow unlawful orders is not easy.

People in EMS will often state that the reason they did something wrong (as in something bad for the patient) is that they did not want to get yelled at by the doctor and/or nurse.

Clearly, our integrity is not what it should be.

Should we only go out of our way for the patients we like? No. My objection to using the guy who obtained the tattoo while drunk, abd does not want to remove it is nothing to do with his drinking or his bad decision, but with his lack of concern for others. My concern is for people who do care what is done to them, regardless of the lack of concern of this uncaring patient.

Of course, the uncaring patient has had the opportunity to have this explained to him and he has decided to live with that risk. He may not have made the best decision, but it is his decision and it probably will not affect him.

But the person with just a tattoo does not have a legal tattoo!

Maybe it is not legal.

Maybe it is legal.

That is for a lawyer to decide.

As the article states, this patient has gone to extraordinary effort to make a statement with this tattoo.

In the absence of something to show that the tattoo does not express the patient’s informed decision, I accept it as expressing the patient’s wishes.

If I am there it is to take care of the patient, not the medical command physician, not the protocol, not the quality control department, not the legal department, not the supervisors, not the doctors, or nurses, in the emergency department, . . . .

When our medical and legal systems are so broken that we feel that we are forced to harm our patients to be able to do our jobs, we need to stop making excuses and start to change things.

Footnotes:

[1] An Unconscious Patient with a DNR Tattoo.
Holt GE, Sarmento B, Kett D, Goodman KW.
N Engl J Med. 2017 Nov 30;377(22):2192-2193. doi: 10.1056/NEJMc1713344. No abstract available.
PMID: 29171810

Free Full Text from NEJM.

[2] DNR tattoos: a cautionary tale.
Cooper L, Aronowitz P.
J Gen Intern Med. 2012 Oct;27(10):1383. Epub 2012 May 2. No abstract available.
PMID: 22549297

Free Full Text from J Gen Intern Med.

[3] UCMJ 892. Article 92—Failure to obey order or regulation.
Uniform Code of Military Justice
Subchapter 10
Punitive Article

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Comments

  1. This. A hundred, nay, a million times, nay, forever.

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