Furosemide is good for filling the patient’s bladder, but the patient probably did not call for help filling his/her bladder.

- Rogue Medic

A Conversation on Mechanism of Injury

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I was talking with one of the long time, weekend, night shift nurses. The people I count on to do what is right for the patient, because the administrators are not around.

Well, I mentioned in passing – I thought it was going to be just in passing – about the recent comment kerfuffle about MOI (Mechanism Of Injury criteria for trauma triage, or just mechanism). This is the assessment skill substitute for assessment that people use as a justification for flying uninjured patients in helicopters.

As if that is safe.

All of a sudden, the nurse started a little tirade about a medic who brought in a patient to this non-trauma center ED (Emergency Department) because he did not bother to report on the MOI when calling for medical command destination decision.

I do not remember what the mechanism was, but it was something vehicular and must have sounded bad, because that’s what MOI means -

The 911 call sounds bad!

or

That dent looks like it is going to cost a lot to repair!.

That has nothing to do with the patient, except that the mechanism suggests things to be more careful in assessing for.

This is all that mechanism means.

You might want to pay extra attention to these things suggested by mechanism.

Mechanism is not assessment.

Mechanism is the equivalent of stereotype, or prejudice, or bias, or racism.

Mechanism is not about understanding.

Mechanism is a shortcut that encourages ignorance.

Mechanism is just a superficial substitute for a patient assessment.

Mechanism is for those who cannot assess real patients.

Anyway, being the blunt person that I am, I interrupted the nurse’s rant, because my shift is only 12 hours long and her rant was looking like a filibuster. I didn’t even have to ask the obvious question about what a simple assessment showed, because the nurse mentioned over a dozen rib fractures and a flail chest.

Clearly, this is not a patient who should have been transported to the local ED with several trauma centers less than 20 minutes away by ground. This is a case, if reported accurately, of an incompetent medic. And not just a little bit incompetent.

Back to mechanism.

What does mechanism add to the assessment of a patient with a flail chest?

-

A flail chest is a portion of the ribs acting like a trap door. The ribs are broken in so many places that there is no resistance to pressure, except when the patient exhales.

Breathing is not very complicated. The diaphragm creates negative pressure. On inhalation, the diaphragm pulls away from the chest and the accessory muscles also cause the chest to expand. This sucks air in.

On exhalation, the diaphragm and accessory muscles relax and create pressure. This forces air out.

With a flail chest segment, breathing mechanics are mostly normal for everything except the flail segment. The rest of the chest is creating a pressure difference that moves the air. As long as the ribs are intact, they will all move together. When there is a flail segment (2, or more, ribs broken in 2, or more, places is the textbook definition) that broken part of the ribs will move the opposite direction from the rest of the ribs. The flail segment will move in the opposite direction from the intact part of the ribs.

When the ribs are expanding out to create negative pressure, the negative pressure is pulling air into the chest, but the negative pressure is also pulling the broken ribs inward.

When the ribs are relaxing and creating positive pressure, the positive pressure is  forcing the air out of the chest, but the positive pressure is also forcing the broken ribs outward.

This is one of those assessment findings that is hard to miss. The patient may be trying to keep you from assessing that part of the chest, because . . . well . . . it hurts. It doesn’t hurt a little bit. This isn’t just a hairline fracture that hurts a lot. This is a bunch of broken bones that are moving around – a lot – with every bit of breathing.

Not – It only hurts when I laugh.

Not – It only hurts when I move.

But – It only hurts when I breathe.

The normal response to the first two is pretty easy. If it hurts, when you do that, don’t do that.

That doesn’t work very well for breathing. Go ahead. See how long you can hold your breath. Now take a hammer and break a bunch of your ribs. Now, how long can you hold your breath? Not the same thing, at all.

The only time that a flail chest should be missed is when the ribs are not completely broken, in which case, it is not really a flail chest, except for the textbook definition of 2, or more, ribs broken in 2, or more, places. That is the textbook definition. The textbook definition should include the paradoxical movement. Paradoxical movement is what everyone is supposed to be looking for.

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Paradoxical means the opposite of what we would ordinarily expect. We would ordinarily expect the ribs to all move together. With a flail chest, the flail segment is moving in the opposite direction from the rest of the ribs.

If the patient is conscious and not disoriented, the pain should be a clear clue to examine the part of the chest being protected. The patient’s arm may act as an excellent splint. Expect to use a lot of morphine/fentanyl/Dialudid. Pain will interfere with breathing more than the opioids will. Fentanyl is less likely to affect cardiac output (blood pressure), so that is my preference.

If people are missing flail chest, we need to ask Why?

We don’t need to complain that the person is ignoring mechanism.

Focusing on mechanism just ignores everything we understand about assessment.

Or do we just not understand assessment?

Mechanism Of Injury criteria for trauma triage encourage incompetence.

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Fly Everyone, Let the NTSB Accident Investigators Sort ‘Em Out

Many people think that my posts on science and logical fallacies are not related to EMS. For a Fantastic Feast of Fallacies, head on over to A Day in the Life of an Ambulance Driver. Read his post Is that helicopter really necessary? More important is to read the comments.

Ambulance Driver is referring to a post at M.D.O.D. by the title of Do You REALLY Need the Helicopter?

First, Ambulance Driver writes this:

Over at M.D.O.D., ERdoc85 wonders if some of his patients are being transported inappropriately via helicopter.

And the answer to that question is, “Hell yes, most of them.”

Ambulance Driver does not write a lot of words in his post, but he does provide a lot of evidence.

The Cult of Mechanism
ems1.com
The Ambulance Driver’s Perspective
by Kelly Grayson

Mechanism of Injury in Prehospital Trauma Triage
ems1.com
The EMS Contrarian
by Bryan E. Bledsoe

Alright, I’ll Say It
ems1.com
The EMS Contrarian
by Bryan E. Bledsoe

Two Dead in Oklahoma Medevac Crash
EagleMed chopper crashed enroute to pickup a patient

JEMS.com
by Ken Miller, Associated Press Writer
Friday, July 23, 2010

Ambulance Driver finishes up with this:

And if your primary justification for the flight is mechanism of injury, or the helicopter is the quickest way to clear an ER bed, or to allow your ground EMS crew to go back into service sooner, you’re part of the problem.

Nice and concise with a lot of evidence and some recent news about the real dangers of HEMS (Helicopter EMS).

Dr. Bryan Bledsoe, often wrongly accused of hating helicopters, hating flight crews, and just hating EMS, concluded Alright, I’ll Say It with this paragraph:

I had better bring this tirade to an end. While flying home today from Philadelphia, it hit me that I knew more people who have been killed in a medical helicopter accident than by virtually any other means. At some point in my life I have met or spoken with at least five people who later died in medical helicopter crashes. They were all great people and died doing what they loved. We owe it to their legacy to assure that not a single flight nurse, flight paramedic, pilot or patient dies unnecessarily.

The highlighting is mine. The hating is not there, no matter how much people would like to believe that the only way anyone could point out the problems with HEMS, or with EMS, is to hate HEMS, or to hate flight crews, or to hate EMS.

How many people spend as much time trying to improve EMS as Dr. Bledsoe does? Certainly not those who ignorantly criticize him.

You might think that any contrary opinions expressed in the comments would be well thought out, so that those commenting would not completely embarrass themselves. You would be a hopeless optimist. Maybe some quotes from the comments will cure you.

Reading the comments, I wonder how these Fly Everyone, Let the NTSB Accident Investigators Sort ‘Em Out types even mange to put decipherable sentences together. These comments certainly do not demonstrate anything that passes for understanding.

Even in the week since that post, there has been another fatal HEMS crash.

Arizona: Helicopter Crash Kills 3
By The Associated Press
Published: July 29, 2010

Here is a sampling of the commentary in defense of unnecessary helicopter flights and in defense of the unnecessary deaths of flight crews and patients.

I find this article insulting.

. . . and yes I have lost friends in airmedical crashes, but I still continue to fly and support our system.

Because if he were to admit that a lot of them died unnecessarily, that would really mess with his cognitive dissonance.

Did he read any of the linked articles?

Maybe.

Did he understand any of the articles?

Not much chance of that, assuming he did read any of them, with his cognitive dissonance protecting him from the truth.

Support our system, even if it is killing us! Go Team! Rah! Rah! Rah!

Better to be insulted, than to think.

Another writes:

I WOULD RATHER BE SAFE THAN SORRY.

This is safety?

This is not being sorry?

Then this clown accuses Ambulance Driver of being a city slicker.

Someone else criticizes a flight medic for agreeing with Ambulance Driver about the unnecessary flights.

i am sorry to hear that you get silly calls, but that is part of the job and you go when you are requested. if you dont take it then we get called as the ground crew, then you get to get back to your nap or tv show you are watching.

This one appears to think that the danger involved is limited to missing one’s favorite TV show and having to watch it later on TiVo®. He probably only remembers this bit of poetry:

Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:

This from a raconteur wanna be:

Or better yet, when we get launched for an MVA and then declined because they end up taking the patient to the local hospital. Then invariably we’re called about 4 hours later to pick up a soup sandwhich and take them to the Level I trauma center. And what was the Rx given at the hospital, other than a cashechtomy?

Invariably?

adverb
in every case or on every occasion; always:

He is describing a problem. It might only be an imagined problem, since he does seem to have wandered, more than a little bit, from the path of the truth. He seems to be very interested in providing an entertaining story about how he could save the day, if only they would call him earlier. He does not seem to have much interest in improving anything for his patients, unless it involves him swooping in from the sky to rescue them.

Are any of these comments not great examples of the failure of logical thinking and the victory of bias?

Better safe than sorry imagines that transport by HEMS is not any more dangerous than transport by ground. Not only that, he claims that transport by HEMS is safer than transport by ground EMS. I do not doubt that this is the case, when he is the one treating patients in the ambulance. He does seem very dangerous.

Then he assumes that Ambulance Driver must not be familiar with rural EMS, even though Ambulance Driver regularly writes about rural EMS. Better safe than sorry seems to think that the only way anyone would not agree with him is to be unfamiliar with what he deals with. I do not know much about what he deals with, but I can tell you that it is not reality. In his mind, he redecorates reality with a Feng Shui that is pleasing to his prejudices.

Then there is the guy who thinks that the most dangerous part of HEMS is repetitive stress injury from overuse of the TV remote.

Picture Credit

A real medic would walk away from that, with the patient in one arm and the pilot over his shoulder. Piece of cake.

Just put down the remote and fly, you sissies! We need to sacrifice you on the altar of the Magic Rotor Cure! Think of the Glory!

EMS flight crew is only the most dangerous job in the US, so why not abuse them to death – the patients, too.

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Trooper 2 Points Out Helicopter EMS Problems – I

For decades, Maryland’s medical helicopter system was praised nationally. A midnight crash changed that and put the program under the most intense scrutiny in 39 years. The crash of Trooper 2 occurred during the deadliest year ever for medevacs.[1]

This is the subtitle, or extended subtitle, of an excellent and thorough article in today’s Washington Post.

The MSP Aviation (Maryland State Police Aviation) program was praised for one reason. MSP Aviation tells everybody that MSP Aviation is the best.

OK, there was another reason. MSP Aviation was extremely lucky. This story points out some of the many ways that MSP Aviation was only prepared to have everything work out just right. MSP Aviation might as well have been selling subprime mortgages for all of the foresight they demonstrated.

I know. I know. I’m just critical of MSP Aviation because I don’t like helicopters, or MSP, or something else. That is not true. What I do not like is when people claim to be helping other people, while they really are endangering the people they claim to be helping.

Here is video that scratches the surface of what went wrong. There isn’t just one problem, but a combination of problems. Until this point, MSP Aviation only seems to have avoided this combination by incredibly good luck. Some changes have been made, but other problems are being left in place.

HEMS (Helicopter EMS) flight crew is the most dangerous job in America.[2] We cannot ask flight crews to take unreasonable risks, while their bosses are making excuses for irresponsible shortcuts.

The State Police reviewed their efforts and concluded that the search teams “did an amazing job given the circumstances,” said Maj. A.J. McAndrew, commander of State Police aviation. “There is some aircraft that takes days to find,” he said in an interview. “It only took us two hours.”

Seven years, two weeks, and two days after a hijacked plane is flown into the Pentagon. This law enforcement administrator is bragging that, within minutes of the same building, within minutes of buildings that are the targets in many terrorist’s wet dreams, he lost one of his helicopters for only two hours.

For over 20 minutes nobody seems to have known that the helicopter was even missing.

Protect

And

Serve.

Maybe it is Duck And Cover, at least at MSP Aviation.

This is not leadership.

This is not risk management.

This is just politics.

Alright. This is also leadership. This is just not good leadership.

There are 2 sentences MSP Aviation needs to learn to use.

We have a problem.

We need help.

For many people, neither is easy to admit. When somebody else’s life is on the line, we need to admit these early.

I have been critical of many mistakes at NASA, but if Apollo 13 had been handled the way that the flight of Trooper 2 was handled, would Apollo 14 ever have left the ground?

Footnotes:

^ 1 Fatal Flights – Where’s Trooper 2?
Vanishing in Midair

By Mary Pat Flaherty and Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Article

^ 2 Observations on the NTSB HEMS Hearings
Rogue Medic
Article

Dr. Blumen shows that the fatality rate for dedicated HEMS flight crews is 113/100,000 workers, while the official deadliest job is in the fishing industry at only 111.8/100,000, which is lower than that for HEMS. HEMS flight crews are not disposable. Neither are patients.

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