Saturday, no calls. I slept like a cat. 8 hours of sleep, 1 hour for stretching, eating and using the litter box(eh hem). Then back to sleep. The family, bless them, left me alone.
Sunday, I'm back out to a hospital an hour away for a potential donor who "had nothing" ie they had no reflexes:no cough, no gag, no pupil response, no pain response and not breathing on their own. I get there and fortunately for me the respiratory therapist had put the patient on CPAP for a few minutes and she did indeed breathe on her own. Then I went into the room and noticed she was shivering. The nurse(who was very overworked, I admit) said, "her fever must be coming down too fast." Except, and here's the thing, dead people don't shiver. Not even brain dead as compared to your dead dead. Shivering, still alive. It's a fact. Look it up.
Just when I think my my weekend call is over, just when I said, "hey, this weekend wasn't so bad." What was I thinking? I get phoned at 1:30 in la manana to see another patient who's "got nothing, maybe a little breathing on her own, but not much". I head on out, luckily not terribly far away. I get there just as the patient is going up to the ICU from the ER. She's being bagged by respiratory. "Sure she's breathing on her own, see." and he stops bagging for a second. Deep inhale. They get her onto the bed and I take a look at her. Pupils equal, one sluggishly responsive, one brisk. I ask the doc to get a set of liver enzymes and call me in the morning. Well, later in the morning. And go back to bed.
So why do we go on site so early. Sometimes I feel like that scene from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life:
"I've come for your liver."
"But I'm still using it!"
I don't know about where you live, but in my neck of the woods the hospital staff(nurse or doc) are supposed to call when the patient meets certain criteria:
- Neurologically devestated-anoxic or an injury(bleed or trauma)
- GCS of 5 or less
- Loss of 2 or more cranial nerve reflexes
The idea being that the earlier we get on site, the better the outcome will be. Many times, like in the above scenarios, we just wait and see. If they get better, good for them(unlikely, though, as the prognosis for someone with a GCS >5 is pretty dismal. I mean, you get 3 points just for lying there). If they're not medically suitable ie multi-organ failure, HIV, cancer, then we say thank you for the referral and walk away. If they are medically suitable and brain death is imminent, we formulate a plan with the hospital staff about talking to the family, management and when, how and who is going to start the brain death protocol. So, yeah, I do feel like a vulture sometimes.
So nurses, (or docs) if you call us with a referral, here are some handy tips. Please give me about 5 minutes of your time. If you're too busy(and you frequently are) let me know when I can call you back. I need to know your assessment of the patient, their vital signs, their medical/social history, what drips they're on, their urine output and recent labs. If you don't know something, just say you don't know, you haven't gotten to it yet, whatever. I'll let you know when I'll be there and if there's anything that would help us, like maybe the doc will order LFT's or some other blood work to see if they're worth pursuing as a donor. It's a team effort.