Saturday, 13 April 2013

Guardian Angels

My Peri-Op Collapse weeks had me mainly based in ICU, apart from a seemingly unconnected trip to the urology wards on Friday.  I though t I would quite enjoy ICU.  The paediatric conference I went to in Brighton last year had featured a talk from a paediatric ICU consultant, and he'd made it sound really appealing and something I had been seriously considering.  Whilst I did enjoy me week, I don't think it is a specialty I can see myself doing as a full time career.  Plymouth is the second largest ICU in the country, beaten only by Birmingham Selly Oak, but the turnover in patients is the same, despite Birmingham having 4-5 times the number of beds.

The day starts with a ward round where a roaming computer and a team of Doctors goes from bed to bed discussing the patients progress with their designated nurse and amend any management plans as necessary.  Each patient is surrounded by a multitude of equipment - monitors, syringe drivers, dialysis machines etc, all hissing, beeping and blinking.  A nurse is responsible for watching over the patients, making a note of how their vitals change over the course of the day and this is fed back to the ward round.  For the majority of patients, this was fine, but I felt a little sorry for the ones who were awake, as twice a day a collection of people gather at the end of their bed, peer at them and discuss them from a distance, and then move on.  It didn't appear that they were included in the ward round, and it was mostly left to the nurse to explain if they felt it necessary.  I imagine it is bad enough to be that sick to be confined to an ICU bed, your friends and family kept from you apart from a few hours a day, being watched over constantly by a stranger, in some cases stripped of your voice by being intubated or having a tracheostomy, having no control over any aspect of your life and then to be peered at and discussed twice a day by more strangers that still don't talk to you.

I found it all pretty heartbreaking.  My patient I was allocated to had come in for a simple checkup in the liver clinic.  They have a condition that is currently baffling liver experts and so they come for regular tests to try and get to the bottom of it.  It looks like damage from fatty liver disease, except there's not enough fat in the liver to have caused it.  They came in with a bit of a cough and had to be persuaded to keep their appointment by their partner, as they felt too sick to go.  After the Consultant saw them in outpatients and some routine bloods were taken they were admitted for rehydration, treatment for community acquired pneumonia and then developed signs of organ failure and had to be sedated, intubated and admitted to ICU.  From having a bit of a cough to fighting for their life with their family crying around their bedside in the space of hours.

I spent hours by this patient's bedside.  I read their notes cover to cover, I knew everything about them medically, and had constructed the rest of the picture of what I thought they would be like around the medical facts I knew and insinuations gleaned from the language used by the various doctors they had seen in consultations.  I helped care for them, wash them, change their bed sheets, but what I really missed was being able to talk to my patient.  I admit it, I'm nosey, I love chatting to my patients, finding all about them, what makes them tick, how they got to be where they are.  Mr will tell you when we go to public places I'm forever eavesdropping, looking around, wondering how these people got to be in the same place as me under different circumstances.  I love people.  I couldn't work in ICU forever, although they are a fabulous group of guardian angels.  And if you were wondering, the last I heard, my patient had turned a corner and was getting better.

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