Posts Tagged ‘Emergency Department’

In case of Emergency, Break Glass

May 18, 2010

Note: This is the entry I posted last night. It was active for about five minutes before I pulled it down to tell you about Gabriella’s heart transplant. (She’s awake and doing well, at last report!)

The day is going normally and suddenly you (or your Cardiac Kid) have a problem. And it’s not a stubbed toe or a skinned knee, it’s a We need to go to the hospital right now problem. What do you do?

Your first move should be to grab your Heart Book. What’s a Heart Book? Glad you asked!

One of the most frustrating things about Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs) is that they affect each one of us differently. My Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) is slightly bigger/smaller, it is in a different location in the Septum… whatever. The end result is that two people with the same defect rarely have the same symptoms.

And you need to assume that when trouble happens, you’re going to be quickly overwhelmed. You’re suddenly stressed out, you aren’t thinking clearly, and if you are the patient you could be in pain. No matter why, just assume that mentally you aren’t going to be much help.

So the first thing you should do (or do after calling 911) is to grab your heart book. Since CHDs affect everyone differently, your treatment plan is going to be different – and the information your doctor needs is in your heart book.

First, your book needs to contain all your important personal information: Copies of your driver’s licence, birth certificate, insurance policies, Organ Donor Card… what ever you need to prove that you are you, that goes in the front of your heart book. If you travel internationally it wouldn’t hurt to put a copy of your passport in there, also.

Next, you need a drug chart. CHDers medications are usually pretty involved; so I’ve included one as a .pdf file in the blogroll. (or you can CLICK HERE to download it) Save a copy to your computer (you’ll need another copy when the doctor changes your meds!) print out a blank copy and fill in your medications and dosages. Keep a current copy in your Heart Book.

Have a page outlining your heart defect, the name, address and phone number of your cardiologist, and general treatment options. Also be sure to note what shouldn’t be done. Saline? Ok, but I’m on a low sodium, controlled liquid diet, so I’ll probably need an extra dose of diuretics later. Keep pumping me full of saline and things might get ugly. MRI? No way Doc, I have a pacemaker! Echocardiogram or CAT scanner for me!

Get your cardiologist to draw a diagram of your heart with all the surgical corrections. Speed may be critical when you have an emergency, so don’t make the Emergency Department doctors get an x-ray to figure out what is going on inside your chest.

You can also include EKG forms in your folder, that will be helpful. You’re going to have a strange beat pattern, so it will help if you have an EKG strip taken at a regular checkup, so they can see what your heartbeat normally looks like. Getting an EKG strip isn’t hard – the next time you have one done, just ask. Some will just run two strips and give you one, others will photocopy the original. You may have to sign a form that says you asked for it, in case there is every any question, but there shouldn’t be any problems getting your EKG. Be sure to update it occasionally and keep it current.

Now here’s the hard part – we’ve got to take this information and condense it. Remember, this is your secret weapon that you only use when there is an emergency, so we don’t want to present the doctors with a copy of War and Peace. You need to get the important information across clearly, concisely, and quickly. Ask your doctor. Better yet, catch an Emergency Department doctor when he isn’t on duty and ask him/her: If I came into your hospital with this information, would it help you do your job?

I hope this information will help you put together a terrific Heart Book that will be invaluable.

And I hope you never have to use it.

Get the notes!

August 4, 2009

My main task yesterday was to get my information together and fax the Medical Records department at Johns Hopkins. I don’t know what happened to them or where they went, but I have misplaced some of the photocopies of my records that I had gotten from them.

It was rather surprising that I actually got them. I emailed them and asked if records from February of 1967 were still available.  Surprisingly, they said they would look for them! And now I have managed to misplace them! Ain’t life grand?

You really ought to have a copy of your medical records handy, just in case. The more complex of an illness you have, the more useful they will be. I have multiple copies – an 8×10 folder (Which I take with me when I travel and leave somewhere in my room that it will be easily seen), a 3×5 folder in my back pocket, and a copy stored on a USB stick clipped to my belt. If I get taken into an Emergency Department unable to speak, I ‘ve got what I need.

And you have to look through everything and decide what’s important and what is not. I edit mercilessly – that unexplained fever I had in the 5th grade probably isn’t a concern any more, so that report stays at home. This is what I have in my heath folder: my vital statistics, insurance information, who to contact, allergies, information about my defect, corrective surgeries, diagram of my heart, and the last EKG I had. The basic stuff.

What you can also have that is invaluable is your surgical report. Whenever an operation is performed, a careful record is kept of the procedure. Here’s an example: Alfred Blalock’s surgical report of the first Blalock-Taussig shunt. (Page 1; Page 2) Having them is almost like letting that doctor travel back in time and see the original operation – he might have to call for a surgical consult to help him interpret them, but he’ll know exactly what was done during your operation.

Getting your surgical records might be difficult. The older you are, the better the chance they have been stored, filed and lost, and perhaps even disposed of. If you are the parent of a young child, be sure to ask for the surgical notes. The doctor may say, “Sure, no problem!”, or he may have to ask you to sign a form to show that they were transferred legally. You might have to jump through the hoops that the HIPPA law places in your way, but if they can be obtained, get them. Hopefully you’ll never need them, but if you do, they could save your life!

Free does NOT equal more!

April 9, 2009

I had finished my shopping a few days ago and was sitting in the store’s entrance foyer talking on my cell phone. A few feet from me was a table of free samples: packs of Advil, Tylenol, and some of the other painkillers that are handy to have around. As I talked, I watched this woman walk up and take ALL of the Tylenol samples: the stack of two pill packs she stuffed into her pocketbook must have been an inch thick. As the blogger Happy Hospitalist (One of the best medical bloggers I’ve seen, he’s worth your time!) would say, in her world, FREE = MORE.

I’m sorry, ma’am, but FREE does not equal MORE. Here’s a good example: In a six year period, nine patients accounted for 2,678 Emergency Department visits, for a total cost of  over three million dollars. Anyone want to guess who paid that three million? Probably not those nine people.

Emergency Departments are becoming more and more overworked. EMTLA (The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act) laws state that if you present with an emergency condition you have to be treated, with no thought to your ability to pay (There are provisions and exceptions, but that is the general meaning of the law.) Show up at the door marked EMERGENCY! and the doctor will see you, no questions. Come one, come all, because FREE=MORE.

It’s so bad that Emergency Departments are trying to figure ways to cut “Preventable Visits” – Emergency Department visits that could be treated just as well somewhere else – a clinic or a “regular” doctor’s office.

One thing that an Emergency Department can do is to shut down and convert the space into an Urgent Care Center. An Urgent Care Center may be big enough to handle the cases that an ED can, but they don’t have to: EMTLA does not apply to Urgent Care Centers. So they can question you on your ability to pay, and they can (and do) refuse treatment. And thanks to FREE=MORE, a community loses its first line of defense against trauma and sudden onset illness.

This is why we can’t have nice things.