A Catheterisation Conundrum

Hmm…I gave much thought to how I wanted to go about posting about this experience I had the other day, and I decided to just lay into it. So here it is: I have probably done dozens of urinary catheterizations in my almost decade of being a doctor – male, female and ranging in difficulty level from easy to ‘I-give-up-lets-call-urology – but what I learnt this time was a truly unique experience, atleast it was for me. It really reiterates my motto of ‘learn something new everyday’.

My patient was in his 70s, had just recently been discharged from hospital after suffering from a myocardial infarction x 4 weeks back. He had come in with abdominal pain, so everyone at triage was understandably freaked out because they thought it may be related to a cardiac situation. I went in to see him and he was writhing in agony, it was clear this pain was not cardiac in origin, and it was localised to the lower part of his abdomen, which was very distended. One hand on the suprapubic area confirmed the firm mass which was quite tender and dull to percussion was in fact his bladder – he had not been able to pass urine for the past 15 hours! Currently under treatment for a UTI x 2 days, which was diagnosed when he began to have first pinkish and then dark red, painless hematuria. It was very likely that a clot had obstructed the bladder outflow tract, and caused him to go into retention. Simple solution, pass a 14 or 16 French catheter into the urethra, and relieve the obstruction.

And I began prepping for it: catheterization trolley, catheter set, catheter itself, instillagel, water for injection, cleanie wipes, some saline solution and gauze. I took consent, which he almost yelled out in agreement. I walked him through the steps of the procedure, and he declined my offer of a chaperone. I requested him to expose himself from the waist down. I cleaned the genitalia with some saline soaked gauze, and cleaned around the foreskin. As I tried to retract the foreskin back to bring the glans out to put the catheter tip in, I realised I had run into a problem that I had never encountered before. The foreskin had shrivelled up and had a minuscule opening at its tip, but there was no way the head of the penis was going to protrude itself from under it – it just would not retract. I asked him when was the last time his foreskin had retracted and he replied that that had not happened for atleast 5 years! I could not see how I was going to insert a catheter into the tip of the penis if I could not see where the tip was. I ungloved myself and went to seek counsel of my elders – which in this case was my consultant who was very busy almost elbow deep in resus – I briefly described my situation. He very nonchalantly informed me that I should attempt going in blind, and should it by unsuccessful, to inform Urology. I had serious doubts and considerable reservations of blindly pushing a catheter in where I could not be sure was an orifice – but he reassured me saying that the hole was there ‘somewhere’ I just had to…look around for it a bit. Well, maybe feel would be a better word.

Anyway, so I went back in, regloved myself, and took a deep breath, before explaining to the patient what had transpired and what I was going to now attempt. I then took another deep breath and tried poking the catheter in through the opening in the foreskin, and it almost atonce met with resistance – the head of the penis presumably. I tried coaxing the catheter in further, but it wouldn’t budge. I pulled out and tried a different direction slightly angled differently. No luck. I tried a seventh time. Still nothing. I was literally feeling beads of sweat form on my brow. I was very aware of how uncomfortable the patient was feeling, and of how traumatic a catheterization can be, even when you can see the penile head. Added to that the fact that this patient had recently had a heart attack and was on oodles of blood thinners, I did not want him to bleed out through a urethral injury of my doing. I decided to try one last time, a deep breath and it went in, the patient yelled and then bit his lip and this very VERY murky, dark brown coloured urine tarted pouring out through the tip of the catheter into the kidney dish I had in front of it – at first I thought I had injured him and it was blood coming out, but I was reassured when it started collecting in the bag – though very dark, brownish, it was very old blood, definitely not fresh and definitely, reassuringly, not my doing. I cleaned up and went off to bleep the urology team. The patient kept thanking me, with look of content on his face as he lay back and let the catheter relieve him of his obstruction of 15+ hours. I left the room feeling very good about myself (catheterisation is one of those procedures that can make a sudden distinct difference in your patient’s situation, for the better) not only because the patient was very happy and comfortable and no longer writhing around in pain, but also because I had learnt something new today, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that even after doing a procedure hundreds of times (OK I may have exaggerated a little bit) you could still be surprised and be presented with something that may require a bit of out-of-the-box thinking.

Excuse me while I go pee.

Anesthetics introduction – teaching day

(very rough edit of the knowledge gained from this teaching day – will edit by tonight.)

Introduction given by first speaker – (I missed out the first 10-15 minutes of it, maybe longer, was searching for parking) Gave a few pearls of wisdom, in particular, the Royal College of Anesthetics e-learning website link

2nd speaker – Difficult Airway
objective is to oxygenate – help with ventilation
can be by mask, tube through nose or through mouth, or through trachea
airway assessment — HISTORY -check for pathology – burns etc, identify previous anaesthetic history, charts etc, visualisation of laryngoscope views – grades
clear is grade 1, partial block is grade 2 (take home message was that 1+2 easier) EXAMINATION – multiple airway assessment tests – none accurate enough – 5 things most important to be done – 1)-how likely to face mask ventilate, tight seal etc, facial trauma, elderly, dentures, sunken face, high BMI, snorers/sleep apnea – /2)-mouth opening – 3 cm magic number, estimation usually, LMA/laryngoscope fit, foreign objects, tumors, masses – 3) – neck movement ‘sniffing morning air position ‘ flex neck, extend head trying to align the axes for optimum visualisation, 4)-malampatti score (4 classes – first gen reassuring. upright,mouth maximum open and tongue protrusion max, visualise tongue, posterior, uvula, tonsillar pillars
DAS difficult intubation guidelines – 4 plans need to be aware of
(5)-cricothyroidotomy explained theoretical but not practically ever used – worth knowing in case ever required – explained cartilages etc and neck surface anatomy – I noticed everyone palpated their neck involuntarily, including me!)
priority is ventilation not intubation – whichever way that may be achieved

3rd speaker – PRE-ASSESSMENT
HISTORY (what surgery, elective/emergency, major/minor, PMH, systemic review, medications, allergies, anticoagulants, any prior problems with anetshetics/personal or familial – any surgery to same site, starvation time, risk of reflux, dentition, how they have been in last few weeks, assessment of fitness (climb upstairs) , less than 4 mins exercise tolerance is not good for anaesthesia/ EXAMINATION (gpe, murmurs, chest, vascular access, airway, the back, high BMI, positioning)/INVESTIGATIONS (confirm, assess or alter risk – depends on patient)/MAKE A PLAN (think about conditions cvs -heart failure,aortic, mitral stenosis, ACS/MI within 3 months; fracture NOF)
Preassessment is your own personal way to do things, no perfect way: “there are many ways to skin a cat” (!!!)
patients risk of undergoing surgery/undergoing anaesthesia (?high risk patient, ?high risk surgery, ? high risk anaesthetic) for each problem identified, has it been optimised as much as possible, or how can the risk be reduced/optimized, and do you need to change your plan.
PLANNING
– pre-operative – optimisation any more investigations, treatments, fluids/inhalers etc, ask for help if needed.
intra-operative – technique, induction, maintenance, wakeup
post op

CONSENTING THE PATIENT – Royal college website (anesthetics rcoa pils) details consent information for any medical condition/procedure
complications – sore throat, dental damage, cuts to lips etc, pain, nausea, anaphylaxis, death, loss of airway, awareness and regional complications – low bp, particularly with obstetrics, itching, urinary retention, headache, failure of procedure, infection, bleeding, nerve damage (1/50000 spinal, 1/13000 epidural)

4th speaker(s) – scenario enacted by actual anaesthetic consultants and fellows from the department – to give an idea about how things go in theaters. walking though an actual scenario – from introduction, consent, explanation of steps to patient, end tidal co2, patient under, putting tube in under vision – grade 1 view – inflating cough, good chest rise – end tidal trace, fix tube. looking at the monitor —–smooth induction

5th speaker – anaesthetic drugs
induction agents – 1)propofol -lipophillic, stings a bit, onset 20-30 seconds, 2-3mg/kg generally 300mg given, bradycardia, propofol infusion syndrome 2)thiopental -4-5mg/kg onset 10-20 seconds, tachycardia
muscle relaxants – neuromuscuar blocking agents – depolarising (suxamethonium, succinylcholine) and non depolarising (atracurium, rocuronium, pancuronium, vecuronium)
inhalation – no2 (not very common), sevoflurane, isoflurane, desflurane
reversal – anticholinesterases (neostigmine usually, sugamamadex – newer drug)
other drugs
MAC – minimum alveolar concentration of anaesthetic agent which is required to prevent movement in 50 percent of patients.

6th speaker – anaesthetic equipment

LMA – must have absent airway reflexes, cuff deflated, muscle relaxant not required – but is not a definite airway (vomit, aspirate)
i-gel – preferable
ETT – SIZE – 8 FOR MEN, 7 FOR WOMEN, AGE/4 +4 PAEDS – definitive airway
uncuffed for smaller children; RAE tube – out of the way of head neck surgeries.
bougies – angle tipped rubber tube, aid intubation
laryngoscopes (under direct visualisation)- mac (size 3 adult, size 4 for large adults), mccoy (lever to lift epiglottis), miller (paeds)
indirect laryngoscopy -in cases where visualisation is not optimum. e.g. airtraq, mcgrath (video laryngoscope)

breathing circuits –
APL VALVE
Bain circuit – most commonly used
BMV – AMBU BAG
WATERS CIRCUIT

Anesthetic machines
PENLON NUFFIELD 200
draeger primus – main anaesthetic machine
explained the charts etc – lots f abbreviations lots of number, lost of values and waveforms and colours – confusing but will become second nature to us! reassuring? not really!

7th speaker – chat with an ODP who tells us about his experience and his duties and what is required of them and of us – they check the instruments, the machines prepare trolleys, the tubes, the drugs etc for each interaction – make sure everything is clean or new or usable, batteries etc, lights of the laryngoscopes etc, and going through the checklist, who’s checklist – (something that he asks the whole room if they know about and they all say yes, but I have never heard of. yikes.) they also offer suggestions, ideas, but the final responsibility of what is happening is the anaesthetists. they won’t draw the medication, they won’t give meds (unless emergency situation) here to help you, work with you and make sure your training opportunities are met and are fulfilling – someone asked what pisses you off – lots of laughter – nervous, me thinks?

8th speaker was just the first speaker again – qualified the previous talk with “know your ODP, they will be your best friend”

BREAK FOR LUNCH (not provided *frown*)

Coming back in from lunch to another scenario that started off as a smooth induction but then went on to become a critical incident (penicillin administered to a patient with no known allergies – while undergoing surgery) – some hilariousness ensued as the “surgeon” put her hands up when the patient became critical and watched as the “anesthetist” dealt with it all, even exclaiming “oh is that what is done?” when the anesthetist administered epinephrine as part of the anaphylaxis treatment. *titters of laughter*

9th speaker – vasopressors/pharmacology
background – vasoconstriction, inotropic effect, sympathomimetic – alpha 1 blood vessels, beta 1 in lungs, beta 2 are in lungs, blood vessels
indications – hypotension due to whatever reason – treat if >30mm hg drop from baseline systolic BP or MAP <60, or any evidence of hypo perfusion/end organ damage – always fluid resuscitate before chronotropy.
most commonly used agents – ephedrine (synthetic sympathomimetic), metaraminol (mainly alpha effect, can be given peripherally, reflex bradycardia) and noradrenaline (usually for very sick patients in profound circulatory failure, both alpha/beta actions, needs to be given via central lines)
others – adrenaline (all adrenergic receptors, asystole, anaphylaxis), dobutamine (beta 1 agonist – cardiac effect, should be given through central line), dopamine (central neurotransmitter)
Points to consider -access : peripheral vs central ? arterial line if needed, boluses, side effects, tachyphylaxis (with long term treatment, receptors become desensitised), arrhythmias

another qualification from speaker 1 who I feel might be the head of the department or atleast leading this day. “These drugs are your best friend!”

10th speaker – one of our peers from an ACCS program currently rotating in aesthetics/itu somewhere : hemodynamic monitoring
NIBP, HR, pulses, mental status, etc do the basics
Invasive – ARTERIAL LINES (continuous BP monitoring, trends etc with drug administration, ABGs, posy-major surgery) commonly put in the radial artery (always do the allens test) discussion of types of art lines followed by a discussion of how to put up and put in an art line (OFF TO PATIENT OPEN TO AIR), complications (air emboli), can stay in for a week; CENTRAL LINES (cvp measurements, medications that can’t be given in peripheral lines), goes in a big vessel, should all be usg guided, patient positioning important, aseptic non touch technique, explanation of the technique (excellent explanation and demonstration, including usg) followed by blood gas, transduction image and a car – also discussed complications, how to measure cvp (normal cvp 0-8) – web links provided – frca
session in the middle about us being able to handle the instruments and ask questions

11th speaker – introduced himself as the last speaker of the day (thankfully!) with 9 slides to his presentation and the first slide was his name and he reported the last slide is thank you and any questions.
analgesia – definition – unpleasant sensation associated with emotional connotation related to tissue damage
types/managements/etc etc This part was particularly vague for me as I was just checking the clock by this time, looking forward to the long drive home.

Sometimes it is the smallest things that make you the saddest

Ever notice how you can go on being an automaton, robotically engaging in work stuff, moving from one patient to the other, each one a statistic on your ever growing list of patients to see or having had seen – no interaction long enough to actually create a connection other than that of patient/doctor and you professionally enter and exit the cubicle and move on to the next job, next patient, or indeed next shift. And yet sometimes it does happen that something hits the mark, and there is a chink in the armour, the professionalism slips (not outwardly, but it surprises you that you feel something other than empathy towards the patient in front of you – you really look at the patient, not as just a patient but an actual human being with feelings, and thoughts start milling around your head – or your heart? – and you think of the patient’s feelings, their desires and weaknesses, the consequences of their actions – and you realise with a jolt that you are not an automaton, that you are, indeed, human.

I am usually a happy presence at work (if I may say so myself) but I was having a particularly ‘smiling-from-ear-to-ear’ day a few days back. A recent couple of professional achievements, along with being well rested from a full night’s sleep meant I was walking around with a bit more bounce in my step. I was working a late shift, but from the broad smile on my face you would have thought I was about to go home on a 2 week holiday! (I was not, but yes, I am a bit weird – I actually have fun at work!) – I was assigned to see paeds patients in ED, all the minors, majors, ENP ones etc – and I was going about my day when the consultant asked me to come out of Paeds for a bit and see the next adult patient, who was already at 3 hours (that much time had elapsed since she had come in to the hospital) – the brief note from triage nurse said that this was a young female between 25-35 years of age, who had come in with a self harm injury or injuries – she was categorised as a ‘yellow’ which meant there was no imminent threat to her life but she did warrant a thorough assessment.

Treatment/management of such cases is usually 2-pronged: one, manage the obvious injury or insult and treat the current presentation, and two (and more importantly) try to deal with and manage the longterm/shortterm psychological aspects of the presentation (not an ED thing but there are certainly specialist who are better equipped to deal with this and who very kindly assess and evaluate patients from that perspective after they have been treated from a physical ailment point of view. So anyway – I went in to see the patient – it had been mentioned in the notes that she was accompanied by her support worker – but the woman who stood up when I announced the name in the waiting area was alone. And she stood up at once and followed me into the cubicle to be assessed, along the way I introduced myself, and thanked her for her patience in waiting. She was extremely polite, and even offered me a smile, but she kept looking anywhere but at me directly. I asked her what had brought her to the ED that evening and she matter of factly stated that she was here because she had self-harmed. Again. She did not seem to be in any sort of pain, so I assumed (wrongly) that she had a superficial sort of wound that wouldn’t really require too much medical attention. I smiled at her and said something along the lines of ‘well, let’s see what we are dealing with here, and I will try to help you any way I can.” She exposed her left arm unto her shoulder, and I took off her temporary dressings from her upper arm (above her elbow) – while I was doing so, I kept making small talk, and registered the many, many scars from previous self harm attempts there before me were 4 very large, very long, and VERY gaping full thickness lacerations to her upper arm. In places where normally the skin/muscle sags a bit, it was really using the lacerated margins to gape quite widely. The patient had something like an hour left before they breached? NO WAY was I going to be able to administer local anaesthetic AND suture all 4 of these wounds in under an hour. Alone.

This patient completely threw me off my game. I have closed wounds in numerous ways, and in all sorts of weird and wonderful places – I have once years ago even raced my mentor consultant orthopaedic surgeon in bilateral knee replacements to see who closed up their respective knee first! – But this time was different. This patient was different. And the reason will become apparent up ahead.

I called my consultant because he may have been under the impression this was a quick ‘tape-wound-shut-refer-to-psych-move-on’ kind of situation – he stepped into the cubicle and hemmed and hawwed. I was silent throughout. This felt like an operating table scenario with a patient’s body cavity open up in front of me – The smell was exactly the same. Flesh. Blood. Sadness.

Right then, the consultant asked me to stitch the wounds up – I gave the wounds a good thorough clean with some saline and the patient did not flinch. She did however, apologise quite sincerely for wasting my time. I will not go into the details of why she thought she needed to do this today – absolutely no judgements to be passed here on that account. But I did assure her she was well within her rights to be there. I said I would go calculate the amount of local anaesthetic require and get it and get it all ready – and her polite demeanor stiffened up. She absolutely refused any local anesthetic. She said, and I quote: ‘ I am not here to waste any of your valuable resources. Please use them for someone who really deserves it – and anyway, I am not in pain and the stitching can’t hurt me more than I have done myself – also (and I was surprised that she knew this) the amount of local anaesthetic required would be a bit too much and wouldn’t be safe for me – and it would wear off by the time it was done being administered!” She was right on all counts – but I requested my consultant to give me an opinion, since she had me absolutely flummoxed. He agreed, no need for the anaesthesia – and that I would achieve better results with a skin stapler rather than suturing the wounds. I had never used skin staplers outside of an OR before, and never on a patient who was conscious and sitting up and talking to me and FEELING THE STAPLES GOING IN! I took a few deep breaths. Got the stuff ready. Took a few more deep breaths. And a few more. And dove in. I put in upwards of 45 or so staples (yes metallic pins sharp enough to stab through the superficial tissues of skin etc and pull them close to optimise wound healing) – did I mention the wounds were exceptionally gaping? Each staple gun comes with 30 or so staples – and I had to use a second one about halfway as well. Wow. My mind was already blown after the first 2-3 staples. But I went on putting more in. I did my best – and to her credit she did not flinch. There was silence. And that smell. And sometimes she would talk to me.

She kept thanking me, and apologising to me, and kept pushing her other hand through her hair as if berating herself mentally. She told me she had a masters degree in something (I forget what – my ears still start ringing everytime I think back to that cubicle) and we chatted about how I wanted to pursue another degree, maybe a masters of some sort and hadn’t quite decided what. She guided me about which staple to remove because it had been bent at an awkward angle due to how gaping the wound was initially, and so when I had ‘scaffolded’ it with staples next to it either side, I removed the offending staple and put another one in. Like I said, she didn’t flinch. At all. She kept that small polite smile in place, was very respectful and I learnt something new about myself that day. That this had gotten to me beyond what I can express here or anywhere. I had seen dead and dying people almost on a daily basis. People in pain, people vomiting with pain, people trying to process bad news or loss or a shock. I have been the villain in so many stories in peoples lives – the bringer or the news that someone they loved had passed away, or what the reports had shown or why we feel that further aggressive measures would be futile – But I had not been affected by those things as much as this calm young woman had affected me. What about her affected me? Nothing about her situation. It was sad, no doubt. But what really affected me was what I realised about myself: I judge people, I am cynical about them, about their diagnoses, about their mental health problems – I never fully appreciated that when someone comes in to hospital following an overdose or some deliberate attempt at self harm, I focus solely on the physical aspect of the case, and let someone else deal with the mental/psychological/psychiatric aspect of it. But this time, I was metaphorically chained to the situation I usually avoid and judge as a spectator – and I could not escape how normal this young woman appeared. She was well read, had a grace and calm in her manner that belied a good upbringing – yet she was obviously in this mental pain and it got so severe sometimes that like this day, the thought of cutting herself and so brutally was her only way to cope with it, and possibly caused her less pain that she was already in. And to be able to get sutures or staples without any anaesthesia on board – how remarkably strong a pain threshold would you have to bear that? Or that you were so used to it that this was all just commonplace occurrence to her. And this wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was that this was neither the first time, nor (we both knew) the last time that she went down this route. I could help her physically, suture/staple everything – but did I actually do anything at all to really, truly help her?

So like I said – we are usually automatons, going about our daily drudgery – and then one day a patient really opens our eyes and makes us sit back – and question …absolutely everything we know and believe in and understand. Or don’t understand.

(Edit: The rest of the shift went by in a blur or a haze, I don’t know if it was all too fast or all too slow for me. I am I think back to my usual self now – albeit with one difference. I am maybe not so quick to judge – and maybe not so quick to dismiss mental anguish based upon my perception of the physical consequences of that mental anguish. I admit to not knowing enough – and hope I can change my practise in a way makes all of this worthwhile.)

Exams – what to do, what not to do – and when to do?!

Having recently passed the FRCEM (Primary) – I have yet to decide what my next step is going to be. I start my second year of training in 4 weeks. I had initially planned on a practical approach to training requirements, such as trying to get atleast 1 exam (check!) and 1 course (ALS/ATLS/APLS) per year of training, and though I have not yet done another course (I did my ALS in 2015!) this year and ideally would like to do another course this year – I am getting more and more inclined towards taking the next part of the FRCEM, known as the intermediate part. I am wondering whether that would be a good idea. Everyone I encounter seems to think that is a good way to go. One of my consultants even feels the intermediate might be an easier exam to take than the primary, since it is clinical oriented and has to do with what you deal with on a day to day basis rather than the facts and figures of physiologyanatomymicrobiology and the other basic sciences. So it tends to be easier for someone who is working in an environment that gives them good amount of clinical exposure to day to day EM cases. Thoughts, anyone?

The whole examination schedule is a bit of a confusion at the moment – well, let’s face it, examinations are very confusing anyways, atleast for someone like me. So let me break it down for you, if you were as confused as i was – if you weren’t, good on you and you can move on!

WHAT IT USED TO BE
It used to be a membership exam, which entailed 3 parts and got you a ‘Membership by examination’ of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, UK (which used to be just the College of Emergency Medicine until about 2014 when it was given the status of a Royal college, in essence converting the MCEM into the MRCEM) – the first part was the written, true or false patterned exam. It dealt with all the basic sciences (physiologyanatomymicrobiology), and the format was 50 questions with 4 parts each (so in essence 200 questions) each with a true/false answer. This was followed by a 2nd part, the MCEM B which was a clinical knowledge exam, also written. And then came the MCEM C, the practical or “multiple stations of interaction, examination, history taking, counselling etc” exam. Pass all three and you gained the membership of the RCEM. This was the prerequisite for someone training, or interested in training, in emergency medicine needed to pass before being considered for a higher training post (the ST4 onwards stint in a ST1-6 training program). After entering ST4, and before the end of ST6 you were required to sit for the FRCEM (used to by the FCEM) exams which were the Fellowship of the RCEM exams – pass the 5 parts of that (yes FIVE! hideous, I know!) and you can move on to a consultant post – a specialist in the field of emergency medicine.

WHAT IT IS NOW:
They are now in somewhat of a transition period. They are starting to phase out the MCEM/MRCEM exams as a requirement for trainees in the UK at least – after 2018 I believe it won’t be a requirement at all. They have now coalesced the MRCEM and the FRCEM exams into one single entity, called the FRCEM exams, which entails three parts. The first part is the basic sciences bit, the equivalent of the MRCEM A, and is called the FRCEM (primary) – *please click here to get to the post about my experience with this exam*   followed by the FRCEM (intermediate), which as I understand consists currently of 1 part, the written clinical oriented short answer questions exam but as of a few months later (autumn 2017) there will be a ‘part 2 of the part 2’ a second component of the Intermediate exam. This bit, called the Situational Judgement Paper or the SJP for short (and for convenience!) is more of a management type exam that is once again a written exam like the SAQ. But I have no idea what else it entails; more on that in a later post! But as it stands right now, the FRCEM intermediate is just the clinical written exam.

I am yet to figure out what is the counterpart of the MRCEM C, the practical bit of the previous set of exams, in this new-fangled exam scenario. I have been told however that you can take the part C exam of the MRCEM and if you are able to do that before August 2018, then you have 2 pluses: you are exempt the SJP (which means its the counterpart of the MRCEM C?) and you get an official membership degree, the MRCEM, in addition to the FRCEM degree when you complete it.

The third and final part of the FRCEM exams is the FRCEM (final) which is basically what the original FCEM exam used to be – with a slightly different format/ and 1 or 2 parts either exchanged to something else or dropped completely from the list.

As I understand, you need the FRCEM  primary and intermediate before you can be considered eligible to progress from ST3 to ST4 as an EM trainee. The rest you can complete thereafter. You have 6 attempts at each part, previous attempts at their counterparts do not count – so if you have attempted and failed the MCEM A, those failed attempts won’t count when you attempt the FRCEM primary, it will be a clean slate that you start off with. If you fail a 6th time, and can explain away the reason for failing as a genuine distraction/trigger for failing – the college does consider and may allow you to take the exam a 7th time but that is to their discretion and is dealt with on a case by case basis. You are also allowed an extension of 6 months of your rotation, from ST3 – to allow you to pass the exam and move to the 4th year of training.

Non-trainees or doctors not working in the UK can still choose to obtain the MRCEM by examination, and take parts A, B and C of the MRCEM; it carries weightage in India, Pakistan, Sri lanka (not sure) and UAE/Dubai/Middle East. If you are in a UK based training program in emergency medicine you automatically become a member of the RCEM by association – so the MRCEM is now technically obsolete. It is still a good exam to have on board, a great feather in the cap.

I am just beginning my journey in the EM training field so my experience with the rest of these exams is minimal. I will update this post as and when I prepare/take the other exams, and/or find out more knowledge/updates about the various parts/schedules/content. Or it may be in a later post, the link of which I would put up here. Till then, I sincerely hope I have not confused you further!

Rant (I have a feeling this is going to be a series!)

OK – here is something I have been meaning to get off my chest for a while now. Always remain true to your oath. Never forget, you are here – as part of a team – to help people at their most vulnerable. Do NOT become arrogant, or cocky. Do not think you know more, or enough even. It is always going to be a learning curve. You will always find something new, a different perspective, a different set of circumstances, a different allergy spectrum, a different way to treat and a different response. Always be open to suggestion, and NEVER assume the tone of ‘Me, Myself and I” – You are part of a team. Say it after me. T-E-A-M. TEAM. You can not and will not be able to see, treat, investigate, counsel, manage and completely sort out ANY patient thoroughly on your own. You will need to be part of a team, whether it is the nurses, the junior (or senior) doctors around you – in your specialty or in another specialty who you call upon to ask for advice, or whether its the janitor or the lovely lady who makes the tea and sandwiches for the patients. You can not do without any of them. We are all cogs in an intricate system, and should you feel the urge to think you are the most important cog or the biggest or the brightest – just remember, even the smallest nut can cause a whole plane to come down.

*OK. Deep breaths. You got this. Keep it together*

Where is this coming from? This is coming from an increasing number of experiences I have had interacting with colleagues from different specialties, whereby as soon as they answer the bleep or pick up the phone for a potential referral or even an opinion, you can almost hear the wheels turning in their heads in trying to pick out any reason to refuse the referral or bounce it on to someone else. But wait – I did not bring this patient from my home. I have assessed and tried to sort him out – and based on my assessment with the tools I have, I am obliged (in the interest of patient care and safety) to refer to your expertise in the matter. Not your expertise in how to NOT accept a patient into your services, but the actual expertise of your specialty, which you have signed a contract for and willingly and knowingly have signed up to provide!

Case in point: 80-something year old female, with some medical history which I now forget, admitted with non specific symptoms of progressively worsening mobility issues over the past few weeks, acutely deteriorating over the past week to become completely bed bound and unable to get out of bed – associated with a very poor oral intake of food as well as water. Husband called the paramedics that day because she was literally unable to lift up her head to have a drink of water. There were no other symptoms – no pain anywhere according to the patient, no recent fevers, no vomiting and normal bowels. Paramedics found her to be very tachypneic (higher than normal respiratory rate – hers was about 55) but the rest of her observations were all within normal parameters. She arrived into ED where I was the first one on scene along with the resus nurse. We quickly connected her to a monitor, and established an IV line, taking some baseline blood tests including a very quick blood gas, which gives us a very quick assessment of anything acutely going on. We found her lactate levels to be 11 (yes, ELEVEN – classified as sky-high in my dictionary!). I thought on examination her abdomen was slightly protuberant (?distended?) but not tender – thought she did appear slightly uncomfortable when I examined her. She was conscious, but drowsy – yet was able to answer all my questions. I got my registrar to come in and review her (sky-high lactate!) even though I basically knew my plan of action. He felt that the patient’s tummy was actually distended, with diffuse tenderness instead of discomfort. He advised I urgently get x-rays of the abdomen and an erect chest film, to rule out bowel obstruction/perforated bowel loops. As I was requesting said scans, the consultant was sat beside me on the next computer, she overheard the words ‘high lactate’ and ‘abdominal pain’ and immediately wanted me to drop everything, call the surgeons and get a ct scan of the abdomen to rule out bowel ischema. I requested the CT scan first, spoke to the radiology consultant, who (surprise surprise!) wanted the patient to first be seen by the surgical team and then be considered for the scan. I then bleeped the surgical team, this was a registrar, and our very pleasant conversation went thus:
Hello there, sorry to bother you – I am one of the ED SHOs, I would like to refer a patient to you please.
*give him the patient’s details*
after being interrupted 4 times during the whole history etc he asked me 3 things: Have you requested a CT scan? (yes) Have you discussed it with the medical team? (no, why would I do that? abdominal pain/tender abdomen with a high lactate, medics won’t touch her with a barge pole) and have you at least rung up ITU? (No, once again, why would I – patient is unwell I agree, but she is stable aside from a high resp rate, she may progress to needing ITU care but currently would really benefit from an opinion/referral to surgeons, and should you see fit to inform ITU you can let them know as part of a pre-op thing) No this patient does not sound surgical (excuse me? what part of abdominal-pain-high-lactate did you not understand? I hate using the ‘because my consultant wants you to see the patient’ card – and I rarely, if ever, use it. But I had to this time. He was not happy, but he came down to review the patient)

And still did not think they had a significant surgical problem. So my consultant had a word with him, and he still insisted the patient needed to go to medics. To which he was reminded that we have referred tot he specialty we think is appropriate for patient care in this patient’s current condition, so if he felt that the patient required to come in under a different specialty, he would have to convince that specialty himself. There was a bit of an argument – and he conceded. He saw the patient in detail, and informed us he had referred to the medical specialty who had accepted the patient, and that he had booked a contrast scan for the patient to rule out bowel ischemia – but unless something horrible showed up on CT, this patient was not to come under surgery. It seemed like the case was sorted, I made sure the patient had adequate analgesia on board, antibiotics and fluids ongoing and then went for my break.
I came back after half an hour, and picked up the next card – but my consultant reminded me that the medical team still hadn’t come down to see the patient, could I give them a call and find out what the situation was. THE MEDICAL REGISTRAR WAS NOT AWARE OF THE PATIENT! I could have almost cried. I had worked with her, though, so she very kindly listened to the story, but understandably (well, maybe not) asked that I get that CT done before she gets moved from ED on to the medical ward. I felt like banging my head against the wall. My shift was about to end in 45 minutes, but we got a CT scan requested, vetted by the radiology consultant who finally agreed because the surgeons had touched the patient and given me their blessing (so to speak) – and the last thing I did before my shift ended was confirm that the patient had had the scan, she had come back from it, I said good bye to her and told her and her husband that the results were still awaited, but since my shift was ending, it was over to the surgical team then.

Questions –
-Was the event survivable from the beginning when she first came in? Unlikely, based on how acidotic she was, and her lactate and kidney functions were through the roof.
-Could I have done anything more? There is always something that can be done to improve outcome – but I was hitting roadblocks left right and centre. In the event of each one, I escalated to the appropriate seniors, but all that did was save my back. It did nothing for the patient, and that is something that I had (and am still having) a hard time accepting.
-Was this case mis-managed? Not at all. The patient was treated adequately as and when we were finding things, thoroughly investigated, and seen/reviewed by 2 different specialties aside from ED – ITU and surgeons. She was at the ceiling of care when she passed away. The reason I am ranting here is that sometimes, or more often than not, it is a multistep process to achieving optimum care for each patient, and at every step of the way there are potential hurdles, things that are the rate-limiting factors that if the pieces do not fall into place in a timely manner, everything gets delayed. And the reason I am ranting is also – please be humble. If someone asks for your opinion or an assessment of a patient based on a skill set you have, then you should be honoured, and also honour the ethics behind the title. It is a huge responsibility, and you need to make sure that every step of the way, every day, you are discharging that obligation with humility and respect. Your patients, unaware of your moral standards and ethical beliefs, rely on you bringing your A-game. They are usually already fighting a battle, and they need you to fight for them, because they won’t be aware of the minutiae of the battle. That is where your responsibility comes in. And your A-game. Bring it. Or don’t come at all.

(Edit: I came in to work the next day, and due to force of habit I check up on the online patient database of admitted patients what had come of the case. The patient’s CT Abdomen/pelvis with contrast had been reported: “Intra-abdominal air, likely due to perforation in the sigmoid colon, secondary to probable diverticular disease. ”

My patient had passed away about 45 minutes after my shift ended.)