There’s a saying in paramedicine: trauma is trauma. Basically that just means that it is what it is. Unlike a complex medical emergency with co-morbid factors on a patient with chronic conditions who takes ten medications, treatment for trauma is actually pretty simple. If it bleeds, plug it. If it’s floppy, splint it. Then go find a trauma surgeon quickly. Yet the real nuance to effective trauma care is staying ahead of injuries by anticipating problems before they happen and caring for the injuries that you can’t see.
All of Maria’s vitals are recovering nicely and she’s answering my questions well enough, although she’s understandably in a lot of distress and on the verge of freaking out on me. I made sure to apply the occlusive Asherman dressing to the chest wound. In a perfect world that will reduce the risk of a collapsed lung. In the imperfect world that I live in I’m not certain I could do a needle decompression to re-inflate a lung on Maria because she’s just too fat. But for now she’s breathing effectively in all lung fields.
I call my vitals up to Kevin as all of my assessments and treatments are pretty much done. I just need to start a couple IVs before we get to the ED. I take the oxygen mask off of Maria, as her saturation is at 100%, and put on a nasal cannula that tracks her expelled CO2 and gives me a visual waveform of each breath. I’ll be able to see a change in respiratory effort if she develops any complications.
She’s still a little scared and crying now and then. I cover her up with a blanket and tuck it around her shoulders. On one hand I want to stay ahead of the impending shock symptoms by keeping her warm yet on the other hand the simple act of tucking a blanket around someone tends to calm them. Despite the constant bouncing of the rig and melodic whine of the siren Maria seems a little more relaxed.
“Maria, you’re doing really well. I’m just going to start a couple IVs in your arm. You can help me out by talking to this nice officer over here. She has a few questions for you.”
The officer has been waiting patiently for me to finish my initial assessment and treatment. Hearing my prompt she stands up so Maria can see her and begins the question process.
“Maria, who stabbed you?”
With tears rolling down her cheeks she answers. “My boyfriend…”
I’m in my own little world as I preform the rote task of starting IVs and reassessing vitals. It’s strangely calming to have a single task in front of me as I’m a fly on the wall listening to the back and forth between the officer and Maria, as she tearfully describes the melodrama of an argument that escalated to attempted murder.
As Kevin and I push the gurney into the brightly lit trauma room we’re met by a room full of hospital staff. Fresh baby docs are pacing nervously wondering who gets to do the chest tube today, seasoned nurses are leaning against the wall, thinking about the twenty other things they should be doing while they are interrupted by this trauma, and the stoic teaching docs are standing in the background to observe everything and be ready to jump in the second before someone makes a mistake.
“Good morning, this is Maria…”
The officer was able to get suspect information before we even reached the ED. His name, vehicle description, address, and associates were relayed to police dispatch during the trip. By the time we rolled into the ED police were already on the man hunt. I heard the police dispatch tell them that he has prior warrants for violent crime and to consider him armed and dangerous. I stood in the corner of the trauma room with the officer who rode with me and explained what the doctors were finding as they did their assessment.
A quick sonogram showed that Maria had plural effusion – excessive fluid pouring into the lungs. And then a second pass showed that the knife tore open the pericardium – the sac that surrounds the heart. The fact that Maria was a large girl actually saved her life. Had she been any smaller the knife would have punctured the heart. She was up in the operating room before I even finished my paperwork. By the end of my shift she was recovering in the ICU and the (now ex) boyfriend was in custody. Had the officer not come with me the suspect information would have been delayed until after the anesthesia wore off and that would have given him a 6 hour head start.