Rapid Response Teams: Excuse or Tool?

I know this has been discussed ad nauseam already, but I had to weigh in.

Thanks to an article out on Medpage Today, Rapid Response Teams Sign of Poor Bed Management, the whole idea of Rapid Response Teams has been brought into the spotlight.  The article’s premise is that poor bed management is the cause for Rapid Responses to be called.  Bullshit. 

Code Blog sums it up nicely by saying,

I don’t believe RRTs are called because the patient was already in bad shape and assigned to a low level of care.  I think they are called because stable patients just stop being stable sometimes.

Are there times where over-crowding and poor bed management are the cause?  Yeah, if it is crazy busy, the nurse might miss subtle signs or the patient is sent to a floor of lesser acuity, but these are the exception rather than the rule.  I can count on my hand the number of times I’ve called an RRT, of course now I’ve now jinxed myself, but each time it was from a rapid change in patient condition.  There have been times where I could have called an RRT, but managed it with judicious use of critical thinking and calls to the doc.  I think that some nurses use them as a crutch instead of critically thinking a situation through, but not because a patient was wrongly placed.  Like I noted above, there are times when the patient is placed wrong.  When our observation unit opened we had several times where they went from Obs to the Unit in a very short amount of time.  But again, these we patients who rapidly de-compensated – and a couple that never should have gone there, but those are the exception.

Have the authors forgotten that a hospital is an acute setting?  It’s not like these folks are healthy!  And thanks to the rise of observation (outpatient in the hospital) those who are admitted in-patient are the sick of the sick.  Having a resource to get help quickly is a godsend.  Sometimes all you need is some stat meds, or imaging and labs , or just someone to look and say, “Yeah, they’re sick!”  And sometimes you just need to have the ability to transfer to a higher level of care without jumping through hoops.

Even if we have the best patient flow possible, appropriate bed placement each and every time and proper resource management, there still would be a need to the Team.  Patients crump.  The article never addresses that simple fact.  It’s far easier to point out structural issues than the reality – of course structural issues are somewhat easier to fix.  Schedule better to make better use of the nurses you’re already overworking.  Staffing plays an important role in this as well.  A nurse that is stretched too thin can’t take the needed time to adequately assess their patients.  When you 5, 6, 7 or more patients at a time, you’re running and even the most perceptive, mind-reading nurse can catch a patient decline if they’re stuck cleaning and doing a massive dressing change because the wound is saturated in stool of a 400lb quad with the 3 other nurses on the floor because it takes at least 4 to move the patient safely.  That’s when the easy things to fix fall through the cracks, hence why we need a team to “rescue” the nurses.

It’s a complex multi-layered issue to which there are no simple and easy answers.  It impacts staffing, scheduling, patient flow and the vagaries of the human condition.  But would I choose to work somewhere without the back up of a RRT?  Not easily.

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Record Setting Month

I’m glad August is OVER!  What is normally a shit month in my life was a shit month at work too.  Low census, poor staffing, sick-ass train-wrecks and all the goodies of a urban tele floor.

But truly I’ve had some records shattered.  We see far out and funky lab values all the time, but these were some doozies this month.

And the Winners are:

HbgA1C:  14.6!  Also had a 13.9 as a runner-up.  Both patients with Type I diabetes, both young, one with OK support, one with none.  We worked the diabetic educator to the bone trying  to teach these young’uns to not end up destroying themselves.  For those playing along with the home game, <6 is good control for diabetics.  And when you translate that to eAG (estimated Average Glucose) you get 372mg/dl and 352mg/dl.  Bad mojo.

Worst Case of Thrush EVER:  Candidal Esophagitis, from the oropharynx to just above the lower esophageal sphincter.  And in a twist, the patient was not immuno-compromised.

Highest WBC in a non-cancer patient:  68.8.  Yes, 68,800!  And it had jumped from 48,000 less than 12 hours earlier.

Lactate:  10.8.  Of course what do I say?  “Last time I saw a lactate that high we were coding the patient.”  Sure enough the patient did expire (they had the nasty white count).  They were sick with a capital “F”.

Dumbest idea of the month:  dude comes in drunk and complaining of nausea and vomiting.  After being triaged he goes to the bathroom and pops a couple of poppers, promptly turns grayish-blue with  a pressure of 50 and a raging onset of methemoglobinemia.  At least he was in the ED when he did it.

Oh, and for two Fridays in a row, had rapid responses at shift change…a helluva’ way to start the shift!

I hope September is better…

How to Scare a Tele Nurse

Or, “oh shit!  That VT isn’t stopping!”

I’m walking into the nurses station the other night when I hear the “oh shit!” alarm ringing in the tele cave.  Y’know the one, that incessant, high-pitched dinging that is saying “Pay attention!”  Reflexes trained by my years on a tele floor I look up expecting to see someone bradying down, or maybe some nasty artifact, but instead I see this starting – and it’s not stopping!

Do I…
A.) Start screaming like a little teeny-bopper freaking out and run in circles?
B.) Shit my pants?
C.) Drop what I’m doing and high-tail it to the room in question?

Believe it or not, C is the correct answer.  Sphincter slams shut as I haul ass down the hall.  I bust in the room expecting to find a dude laying there, unresponsive, not breathing or generally not doing well.  Instead I see dude and his nurse clamly chatting.  I breathlessly ask, “Were you shaking the leads?”

“No” she replies, “What’s up?

Dude looks up and says, “Is my heart racing again?”

“Uh, yeah, he’s in VT.”  I say, amazed that he’s sitting there calmly chatting.  “Do you feel funny or anything?”

“Yeah, my heart feels like it’s going pretty fast.  But I’m used to it, it’s happened many times before, no big thing.” he replies nonchalantly, basically amused with the gaping look on my face.

So we hook him up to the bedside monitor, and sure enough, there it is VT, rate in the 150’s, BP is 100/53, he’s pink (ok, kind of yellow), warm and dry.  No light-headedness, no dizziness, he does admit to a little bit of chest pain, but in reality he’s in better shape that half the floor, except that he’s in this particular rhythm.

Prehospital 12-Lead ECG has a great quote on their wide complex tachycardia page, “If it’s a wide complex rhythm (fast or slow) it’s ventricular until proven otherwise!”  And that’s how we were treating it.  So we grab some labs, call the ICU team to come assess him and a 12-lead EKG.  Should we have called a Rapid Response?  Maybe, but we felt we didn’t have to.  He was stable.  He has had this many times before.  And he was sitting there cracking jokes with us.

So here’s the 12-lead:

So what to do now?  The ACLS algorithm for tachycardia with pulses starts with determining if the patient is stable.  Check.  He’s cool.  Establish IV access.  PICC line left upper arm.  Check.  Wide or Narrow complex?  Duh.  Obtain 12-Lead EKG.  Check.  Expert consultation advised.  Check, ICU team is here now.  Amiodarone if ventricular tachycardia or unknown, adenosine if SVT with abberancy.  Oh, wait…he has a history of WPW and 3 failed ablations.  Now what?

This is where expert consultation is really a good idea.  In our case, he’s now cracking jokes with the ICU team as well.  He’s still rolling along between 145-160 BPM.  We grab some labs.  Turns out his potassium sucked, magnesium sucked and his calcium critically sucked.  The Team decides that amiodarone would be a good idea and getting his electrolytes sorted out might help as well.  So we’re hanging amio, mag and they’re calling cardiology.  Mind you this is 2130 on a Friday night.  Do you think a cardiologist is going to come in at that hour?  Nope.  She says, “Oh, just have one of the ED docs cardiovert him and call it good.”

He gets packaged and ready to roll to the ICU, ’cause by this time he was pretty much a 1:1 and the nurse had 3 other patients she was already neglecting.  Grab the defib off the code cart, because with our combined luck (this nurse and I have a history of codes/RRTs) dude will decide to stop having a pulse once we’re between floors in the elevator.

The rest is rather boring.  A little bolus of propofol (yeah, we MJ’d him good!) and the judicious application of 100 joules of DC electricity fixed him right good.  One shock and back into sinus.  But it was a good thing he was in the Unit as they spent all night getting his ‘lytes repleted.

What could have been a very bad thing ended up being a very, well, fun thing.  Too often on our floor a busy night consists of incontinence, wrangling demented patients back into bed 30 times an hour or chasing naked psych patients down the hall, so dealing with a true cardiac issue was a rather refreshing change of pace.

Observation Lovin’

Our observation unit is lovingly called the Hooper Annex (Hooper is our local detox unit) as not a day goes by that we don’t have at least 1 in with ETOH-related issues.  But we get dumped on, a lot.  Usually it’s because the docs can’t or won’t make up their mind and end up passing the buck.

Can’t figure out what to do with grandma, but there’s really nothing medically wrong with her?  Admit to obs.

Oh, you’re drunk and it’s cold outside?  Admit to obs.

Gastropareisis needing dilaudid?  Obs.

I know that an observation unit is a place to send the patient if they just a little too unsafe to send home, but not sick enough to be admitted.  And it can be a great thing.  Take for example uncomplicated chest pain.  No family history, no pain at rest, pain resolved PTA, but you’re male, age >50 and smoke.  OK, perfect obs admit.  Grab some serial enzymes, an EKG in the morning, maybe a stress test and off you go.  Or when your troponin I jumps to 5.0, we can start beta blockers, integrillin and call the cath lab.  Either way, we’ve done the right thing.

On the other hand you get a patient that needs a little IV antibiotics for an upper arm abscess.  The labs from their PCP are borderline icky, not enough to say definitively one way or the other if in-patient admission is warranted.  What to do?  Based on old labs, because why would we pull new ones, just plan to admit them to obs.  Then maybe grab a few new labs to direct therapy.

But if things had gone the right way, y’know like accurately triaging the patient, doing a complete workup before sending the patient out of the ED, like with labs and stuff, we wouldn’t be looking at this trainwreck patient rolling by the desk looking at each other going, “Uh, oh.”

If you had drawn labs first you would have been floored by the lactate of 2.2, the WBC >18, a H/H in the shitter, mult. 4+ accumulations of gram-positive baccili and cocci and gran-negative baccilli growing from the wound culture you just did the in ED or the raging case of rhabdomyolysis with a CPK of 96,000!  Yes, 96,000.

Luckily for you,we queried this lack of workup where you found all of these values.   We had a funny feeling, y’know that gut-level, spidey-sense feeling that this patient is not going to turn out well without a higher level of care.  Thankfully you ended up placing the patient in the ICU so they could run pressors and hang lots of lots of fluid on his septic self, instead of on observation where we would have had to rapid response them to get them to the unit as they crashed before our eyes.  Yeah, good call.

Keepin’ the Beat

It looks like I’ve broken my streak.  I actually had almost 3 months without a Rapid Response or Code Blue on my shift.  It’s no more.  At least we didn’t have to do CPR on this little 40kg bag of skin and bones, just some airway support and off to the ICU.

But it got me thinking.  Thinking led to rooting around in my “book o’ fame” (my morbid collection of EKG strips of “bad things”) which led to me finding a couple of strips related to CPR.  Strange how a mind works.

Evidently, per the post-it note, these had been grabbed during a code last year where I did a TON of CPR.  Remember kids, a bad thing about being a big strong dude is that you get to do a lot of chest compressions.  I’m not dissing the ladies, I’ve seen many a round done by y’all, and you’re fierce, but for some reason whenever there is a code on my floor, yours truly gets roped in to do compressions.  Needless to say I had no need to go to the gym after that code.

My tele tech knows my predilection for interesting tele strips so he printed a couple for me.

First, near the beginning of the code:

CPR is in progress with a rate around 100bpm, stop to check for a rhythm, find VT, resume CPR, then shock.  This is why you resume CPR right after the shock.  That heart ain’t doing nothing.

Second near the end:

We’re still going fairly strong, figure the rate is around 80bpm, then nothing.  We called it about a minute after this strip was run.

In all fairness, they were dead from the get go.  Never once did we get a rhythm stable enough for transport, never a pulse, pupils were fixed pretty much from the beginning.  Morbid?  Probably.

But on to the beat.  They say 100bpm is the speed we need to keep when doing CPR.  It allows for adequate refilling of the ventricles with blood before the next compression.  In the midst of the controlled chaos of a code, keeping that speed can be tough when adrenaline gets the better of us.  So what do you do?  Keep the beat with a song.

We’ve all heard of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees as the “perfect” CPR song.  Heck, I have it on my header.  My BLS instructor the last time around had a thing for “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain”.  There is the slightly more darker “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen that fills the 100bpm measure.  Thanks to the American Heart Association, there is a large list of songs that fit the bill of 100bpm.  Some notables include:  “Kickstart my Heart” by Motely Crue (they would know), “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses. “Heart Attack Man” by the Beastie Boys and of all things, “Back to Life” by Soul II Soul.  The entire list can be found at Be the Beat, which is a website dedicated to educating kids about CPR, but here’s the playlist.

Will this help me set a new streak?  I doubt it.  As the rule of three shows, I have 2 to go before a new streak can start…

Hypotension Causing Nursing Hypertension

Hypotension Causes: Three Cases Of Severe Hypotension and Their Dramatic Response To Treatment.

I’m almost going to print this up and drop it in a couple of hospitalist’s mail boxes as they completely buggered their management of the hypotensive patient.
So here’s the story…
50-odd year old dude comes in with bilateral foot wounds, both medicine and podiatry are seeing him.  They start antibiotics and aggressive debridement of the said foot wounds.  To complicate matters, dude is “fluffy”.  Y’know, 400+ and we can’t tell if he is edematous or not.  It’s all fluff.  Instead of thinking sepsis, they’re thinking he needs to be diuresed.  Considering a history of CHF, not a bad idea.  But as he’s getting massive doses of IV Lasix, we’re talking drip rates in the 40mg/hour range here, his urine output starts to drop.  It dwindles, then nearly completely stops.  Bad sign, right?

As this is happening, his pressures are following the exact same path, dwindling down to nothing over nothing.  We’re talking 60/doppler and his pulse is dandy.   But here’s the thing:  he is completely alert and oriented, talking a mile a minute watching the Food Network.

This goes on for 4 days and 5 nights.  Yes, 5 fucking nights.  The nursing staff would call the the on-call staff, explain the situation and be rewarded with, “Oh, uh, turn off the Lasix.”  or “Uh, um…give him a 500ml bolus of NS.” The staff leave detailed notes in the progress notes about the situation so that they can be reviewed by the next day’s docs, but still nothing is done.  Maybe some more piddly-ass boluses that do a whole lot of nothing, but produce no net effect.

Finally on Day 5 (yes, Day 5) as his kidney function is truly in the shitter (creatinine is like 4.0), his ‘lytes are all wacky, his H/H is crap, he barely has any albumin, he hasn’t made urine in 4 days and has been getting goofy at night needing higher amounts of O2, someone decides to actually DO something.  2 units of packed cells, albumin q8, a couple of decent fluid boluses and dopamine.  Finally.

And as if by magic, he gets a blood pressure.  A real blood pressure, like 120’s/80’s.  He slowly starts to make urine.  His O2 need starts to go back to baseline and he’s no longer goofy.  Podiatry decides that now that he is stable it is time to do surgery to lop off the now gangrenous foot and get on with definitive care.

Here’s the thing:  we could have fixed him on night 1 had the on-call doc been willing to look and realize something was not right.  Could we have called a Rapid Response?  Yes, but he wasn’t truly in need of it.  He was relatively stable, with the exception of no blood pressure and no urine.  Besides, we figured that we could manage him on the floor without the ICU.

No one seemed to be cognizant of the fact he was in septic shock from those nasty feet of his.  That is until a prog note was written post-surgery that basically said, “acute on chronic renal failure and septic shock.”  Finally someone got it.

Can’t Put it Into Words

We had a code the other night.  It was by far the “best” code I’ve ever been privy to.  No yelling orders, no standing around waiting, no egos, just a concerted effort to save a dying (well, dead) patient.  The resident running the code was calm, cool and collected.  As we did our interventions he worked through the H’s & T’s trying to figure out if we could fix anything.  Outside of my ACLS megacode, I’ve never seen that.  But moreso, he asked the staff if there was anything that we thought he had missed.  And before he called it, he aksed if anyone else had any objections.  Truly it was a team effort.

But for some reason I can’t seem to shake it off.  I had no real connection to the patient, other than being the charge nurse.  They weren’t one of our frequent flyers.  But something reached ahold of me and won’t seem to let go.

Maybe it was the fact we found her already down in her room.  Or the fact I felt the ribs snap under my palms.  Or it was that we did CPR on her for 30 minutes, rotating between 2, then three of us.  Or that we threw everything in the code cart at her, and some things that weren’t,  but nothing seemed to help.  Our CPR was some of the best I’ve ever seen/felt.  We shocked her a total of 9 times.  She got tubed incredibly quick.  But it didn’t seem to matter.

For the last couple of nights, I’ve laid awake and thought about it.  Re-running it over in my head, which then sparks memories of other codes and then to the memory of running in to see them performing CPR on my little girl.  For some reason, this one cracked my shell.  Like the title says, I can’t put words to the feeling.

Maybe though, it re-affirms that I am human and that I do care, something that I’ve been feeling a great distance from.  Maybe I’ve grown cold over it all- something my wife mentioned in passing not too long ago.  Maybe this nagging sense of malaise over this event is me re-examining myself over this coldness and cynicism and the realization that I’ve moved that direction has left me a little out of sorts.  More than anything though, it serves as a reality check, a visceral reminder of what we do as nurses when things do go south.

I know with time this angst and malaise over it will fade.  I’ll make peace with the way I feel about it, but like all the others, I’ll never forget.