*bleep* holder – First Anaesthetic on-Call

So I have just come back from my first call as an anaesthetic doctor (or more specifically, an emergency medicine trainee rotating in anaesthetics who is holding the dreaded anaesthetic bleep very much reminiscent of a hand held grenade with the pin taken out. It may go off any second, heralding news which may be good or bad, usually bad).

So, I started the day taking a handover from my colleague who was the previous bleep holder. Or, I should rephrase that and tell you what actually happened. I waited for them to turn up to the operating theater for emergencies, and when they didn’t turn up after 20 minutes, I bleeped them. I found out they were in the middle of trying to help out a consultant with a dodgy arterial line for an elderly patient (who apparently at 92 had everything under the sun going wrong with her, and having managed to break her femur, was getting it surgically corrected), they rushed to meet me, handed me the bleep and a quick handover of the patients on the list (none!) and 2 patients that might require some analgesia maintenance sorting out later, and headed out the door. My first port of call was the consultant currently in the trauma theater dealing with the dodgy 92 year old. Old lady with CCF, AF on warfarin, small bilateral pleural effusions, past history of CVA (just last year) and a CABG 9 years back. She currently was using a frame to walk, and had tripped over an overturned edge of her carpet and ended up (long story short) on the operating table that evening. Anyway, the procedure went swimmingly, and she landed in recovery wihout any significant problems. My presence, though not directly helpful to the case, was atleast helpful in the sense that my consultant was able to grab a quick meal and some semblance of a hot beverage, and she mentioned she appreciated the chance to talk to someone. So far, so good, the call was going.

I was then bleeped about a potential appendix that was rumoured to have surfaced in A&E and the surgeons were contemplating taking it out. Young male, fit and well I was told. I took the opportunity to go round and see the patient myself, but as I was walking out of the recovery room, Cardiac arrest bleep goes off. In the heart centre (yes, ironic, isn’t it? I couldn’t make this up if I tried!) Apparently just a vasovagal syncopal episode though, as I ran down to the heart centre I saw the ITU registrar motioning me to relax as he seemed to have it under control.

Phew! On to the appendix…but first…ANOTHER CARDIAC ARREST BLEEP! Where is it? Second floor you say, oh the ward FURTHEST FROM WHERE I AM CURRENTLY STANDING? THANKS! I run to said ward, find CPR in full action on a what I understand is a 70 something year old gentleman found unresponsive on the ward (it is an orthopedic ward) and the rest of the history is a little late in coming, so CPR is in full progress, the ITU Reg enters almost at the same time as I do, he asks me if I have control of the airway, I reply in the negative as I am finding it difficult to bag mask ventilate. He chucks an I-gel towards me, which I insert successfully and ventilation is now adequate, as evidenced by the now rising saturations. CPR still ongoing, and there is now return of spontaneous circulation. He is intubated in the interim and post-resuscitative conversations/management are taking place (all this happens within the first 90 seconds of our arrival!) and someone then pipes up with the history (finally) that this patient is a known epileptic, admitted with multiple c-spine and other fractures, s/p corrective surgery for the spinal fractures 5 days back, was last seen alright 3-4 hours prior to being discovered unresponsive/in cardiopulmonary arrest. Based on the absence of pupillary reflexes, absence of any respiratory effort on the patient’s part, and cardiac function likely in response to the drugs given by us during the CPR, as well as the pre-morbid situation of the patient, it was the collective decision of the whole team involved to withdraw treatment. This was also agreed upon by the ITU consultant who we telephoned to ask for advice. The ITU reg offered to write up the notes as I took the tube out, and I went to see the appendix.

Very straightforward appendix – never had any anaesthetic, no family history of anaesthetic complications, last eaten/drunk something 11 hours back and that too vomitted up. Allergic to penicillin, otherwise fit and well young male with a slight language barrier, through which I discerned straightaway that he wasn’t happy about the surgery. He did not wish to proceed with the surgery for now. I stepped out of the room and let the surgical resident handle the situation. They would let me know if he still wanted the surgery. For now I would keep him on our list with an almost question mark. The staff in theaters would know what that code meant!

Bleeped again, this time from A&E RE an elderly female, Hmeatemesis with massive hemorrhage protocol in place, could we rush them into theaters for an urgent endoscopy +/- surgery? Her HB had dropped from a last known reading of 125 a few months prior to 49 on today’s blood gas. She already had a couple of IV lines secure, and the ED team had been excellent in pushing fluids, arranging blood and 2 units PRBC had already been given to her as well as 4 units of FFPs. I quickly pre-op assessed her, gave my consultant a quick phone call: he was happy to drive in (20 mins away) and assured me he would be ready and waiting by the time we got to the theaters. We did, and he was there, and it was an RSI, 4 more units of blood went into her, her last Hb was 98 and they found the bleeding point and treated it endoscopically, there was no need to open. Out into recovery where the ITU consultant also eyeballed her quickly, deemed to have no need for ITU support at that time and then moved to the ward after stable. He did ask me to give her the rest of the blood/FFPs booked for her, and afterwards send off clotting and FBC profile whenever transfusions over. Crisis averted (this took 2.5 minutes to write and around 2.5 hours to manage from start to finish, in which time I was bleeped 4 more times!)

One of those bleeps was from the surgical reg – appendix guy was agreeable and we would proceed for the surgery next. The consultant offered to do the RSI for this next one as well, I drew up the drugs for the case, and left to deal with the 2 pain patients from the handover (which seemed such a long time ago now!) and also deal with the 4 other bleeps that I had while we were dealing with PR bleed lady. 2 were urology cases apparently cystoscopies needed to be done for 2 elderly males, both with long term urinary catheters in place but unable to be taken out as the ballons werent deflating – eerily similar weird cases that were as much of an embarassment for the urology registrar as they were a hassle for the rest of the theater staff. Also while dealing with the bleeding lady, another consultant who was running the trauma list and who is now going home after his procedure has ended hands over 2 of his patients who are in recovery “shouldn’t be a problem but if there is just so you know about them” and walked out. I quickly scribble down their details so they don’t fall out of the back of my mind.

During my assessments of those 2 cystoscopies I got bleeped to remind me to do the bloods for the previous lady. I added it to my growing list of things to do.

I get called back to the theater because one of the other post-op patients in recovery (that the trauma consultant handed over) was being a bit…ummm…difficult. I quickly go see them. One of the other consultants prescribes some haloperidol. He is an elderly gentleman who has had a hip DHS, no prior known comorbids but slight cognitive impairment previously. But nothing as dramatic as how aggressive he was being right now. he was trying to get out of bed, he accused me of stealing his clothes and he accused the blushing nurse of having an affair with his wife, and he had quite a few choice words for how we were treating him. The halloperidol seemed to not do anything at all. It took all of our combined efforts (and a little bit of his analgesia) to calm him down and he went off into a deeply snoring snooze. Sigh. Phew.

9th bleep (or is it the 11th?) Urology registrar (sounding to be at the end of her thether, bless her) calling to tell me the first urology case cancelled as they were able to remove the catheter successfully, but the second case (similar) added to list, yet the consultant urologist was coming in to try to deal with it – should he fail, this was to be done cystoscopically so could we please keep the patient on our emergency list.

Another bleep – another story. A new bleeding patient, this time an esophagael variceal rupture potentially? Has not been booked on to the list but this is the theater staff calling to tell me there is a potential case – and to await further instructions. I swear I stared at the reciever of the phone to register my incredulity. At the end of the conversation I still wasn’t sure if there was or wasn’t a patient with a bleeding/hematemesis situation that needed to be urgently anaesthetized for their procedure. *DEEP BREATHS*

Another lap. appendix. Another x2 bleeps from pain relief point of view: something about a rectus sheath catheter that had dislodged, and another about someone who’s pain wasn’t being controlled despite adequate analgesia (problem was solved by a simple look at the drug chart which informed me that they WEREN’T in fact adequately analgesed!). 3 bleeps from various wards about cannulation difficulties. And finally, the last bleep of the day:

“Oh Hi there, it’s XYZ, coming to take handover – whereabouts are you?” I could have screamed in relief, but I managed to restrain myself till she got to the office where I handed over my bits and pieces. She was more senior than me, and asked how my first on call went, and then looked a more thorough look at me and said, “you know what? I know exactly how it must have gone – go home and get some rest. See you tomorrow!” Uncanny how she could discern from my expression and my hair and the overall dishevelled look and the stains on my OR shoes exactly how my first on call shift as an anaesthetic SHO went.

Just as I was stepping out of the office, I heard the bleep go off. And I was reminded of my own favourite pearl of wisdom: There is nothing worse than the sound of a bleep going off. And there is nothing better than realizing that it is someone else’s bleep that has gone off. I was smiling as I exited the office, and the hospital.

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