ABG’s, what do they mean?

Arterial blood gases… Chances are if you work in a progressive care or intensive care unit you have seen ABG results or you will.

If you’re like me in the beginning, you have no idea how to interpret the results. For the longest time I had no idea what I was looking at. I knew the pH was indicative of acidosis or alkalosis, and that was the end of it. Once I started working in an ICU I wanted to really understand what the results meant. I made one of our respiratory therapist teach me how to understand the results (he was awesome and was happy to help). It turns out ABG results are not too terribly difficult to interpret. You are trying to obtain three key pieces of information:

  • Is the patient acidotic or alkalotic?
  • Is this a respiratory or a metabolic issue?
  • Is the body fully compensating, partially compensating?

While there is plenty of information on the ABG slip (or in the chart if your unit doesn’t have an ABG machine available) you can come up with the answer by looking at three key results: pH, paCO2, HCO3.

One of the ECCO learning modules I did had this handy little chart that made it easier to interpret the results. I thought I would share it with you all in case there is someone out there confused like I was, but may not have a quick resource available.

That’s it. This little handy chart has helped me a lot. It took what was, for me, a larger amount of overwhelming information and broke it down into something I could use. Here’s how to use it:

Look at the pH, is it <7.35 (you’re acidotic) or >7.45 (you’re alkalotic) or is it normal? Circle which side of the chart your value falls in. Then look at the PaCO2. We are looking at carbon dioxide in the blood here. Repeat the previous steps and circle where your value falls. Then look at your bicarb, HCO3. Circle where that value falls.

Remember pH tells you if they are acidotic or alkalotic. Now that you’ve figured that part out, it’s time to figure out if this is respiratory or metabolic. Look at your chart, is the CO2 circled on the same side as the pH? If yes, it’s respiratory. Is the bicarb circled on the same side as the pH? If yes, then it’s metabolic. Now, are we compensating? If you are partially compensating then you will have one value on the other side of the grid. If you are fully compensating then your pH will actually be normal.

I’m a person that needs to see something in action so let’s do a couple of examples:

Note let’s break out the chart:

pH is low so we know the patient is acidotic. The CO2 is on the same side as the pH. The bicarb is on the opposite side of the grid so the body is trying to compensate. We have respiratory acidosis, partially compensated.

Let’s do one more:

Bust out the handy dandy chart!

The pH is high so we know it’s alkalosis. The bicarb is on the same side of the chart as the pH but the CO2 is on the opposite side. Here we have metabolic alkalosis, the respiratory system is partially compensating, that’s why the CO2 is high.

I would like to mention one thing, if all your values are on the same side of the chart then it most likely means the one of the systems of the body aren’t compensating.

Hopefully this post is able to help someone out. If you have any other hints, tips, tricks let me know!

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Teach back

Get your patients to “teach back” what you have taught them. Get them to repeat what you have taught them. You may be surprised at how little information your patient has absorbed from the education you have given. Using the “teach back” or “repeat back” method can help you gauge just how much information your patient is retaining.

With the “teach back” method, it’s exactly as it sounds. You get your patient to teach you what you taught them. This method is really effective for education that involves hands on training. Things like changing a colostomy bag at home, changing a wound dressing, giving tube feeds, doing peritoneal dialysis, etc all require a lot of teaching. These are thing you want to make sure your patient understands before they return home. When you get them to teach it back to you then you know that they have an understanding of the information they have received. As they are teaching it back, you can correct them if necessary and give them little hints to help them with the process.

“Repeat back” works well with information that may not require as much hands-on work. I found that it works well with my patients that are being sent home with multiple prescriptions, especially different inhalers. I had a patient with COPD and asthma (and yes, she still smoked, how did you know?) that had both Symbicort and an albuterol inhaler. She ended up on our unit from a bad asthma attack. When she started to get wheezy I took her the albuterol inhaler to help open her up and she refused. I couldn’t understand why. She said “that’s not the one I need for my asthma, I need the other one”. Confused, I asked her if she was referring to her Symbicort. She said yes, that’s the one she takes when her asthma flares up. She took her Symbicort whenever she felt tight or wheezy and took her albuterol twice a day. OH, nooooooow I know why you’re in here. I tried explaining to her that the Symbicort is for her COPD, not asthma. She argued with me for a good 10 minutes that I was wrong. I had to not only print out information on Symbicort but also have the doctor talk to her before she accepted that she has been using her meds wrong this whole time and that is why she was in the hospital. Upon discharge I made her repeat the education I had given her and show me which inhaler was her twice daily inhaler for COPD and which inhaler was for her asthma. I felt comfortable that she understood her meds upon discharge.

I think this teaching our patients about their health is where the medical system is lacking. Often, we are in such a rush to get people out so we can get people in that we just assume the patient understands because they didn’t ask any questions. Often, it’s the opposite. Some are embarrassed to say they don’t understand. Some can tell we are in a rush and don’t want to bother us by asking us to repeat what we have told them. It is up to us to make sure our patients are leaving with a full understanding of their health and their medications.

TJC

So The Joint Commission is here this week…

Yay.

If you don’t know, TJC is an accrediting body for hospitals that makes sure we are doing things according to acceptable standards. In all honesty, it’s a good thing. It makes sure we are on our sh!t. I am okay with that.

However…

When TJC visits it turns every unit into chaos! What do I mean? Well, each hospital gets a “heads up” that TJC may be visiting within a date range. This sends every manager and compliance officer into a panic. Typically it goes a little something like this:

“Is this dated?”

“When does that expire?”

“Move this stuff out of the hallway and even though we have no true place to store it, FIND SOMEWHERE!”

“Do you know where the evacuation plans are for this unit?”

“Where are the fire extinguishers located?”

“How long does it take the purple wipes to disinfect?”

“What about the gray wipes?”

“And the red ones?”

“What is the temp on the fridge?”

“Where is the temperature log?”

“Where is the check sheet for the code cart?”

“Is there an expiration date on the Accucheck controls?” 

“All cups must have a lid on them or I am throwing them away!”

This continues for the entire week that TJC is in the hospital. All those things that we should have *technically* already been doing, we are going to do them all RIGHT NOW. I have been lucky. For eight years I worked 1900-0700. TJC is not in the hospital at night and neither is management so I avoided most of the shenanigans. Now I work days and evenings. I am now in the line of fire. I have been on my toes all this week just waiting to see the group of them come around the corner. So far I have avoided them. Let’s hope my luck continues!

Vitamin C and sepsis

You may or may not have heard about some new studies coming out that show some positive results adding vitamin C to sepsis treatment.

If you haven’t heard anything about it, don’t worry, you will.

This is what really kind of started it all. It was a retrospective study, not one you could really take back to your ICU and make evidence based changes on, but it provides some interesting factors to think about. This study gives some information about some of the preliminary findings. So far, (cautiously) it looks positive.

However, don’t think doctors around the world are ready to jump on the vitamin C boat just yet. There hasn’t really been a what I would call a “large scale” scientifically sound study completed just yet. It’s safe to say the idea remains controversial. Here is a really good article addressing the controversy surrounding the treatment. I did notice one thing when I read this article: while doctors may not be ready to jump on board do to a lack of evidence, most of them really hope vitamin C treatment does turn out to be beneficial. The health care field as a whole really wants a better treatment for sepsis, especially since what we are doing now is only partially successful.

I am hoping someone decides to do a large scale study and really put vitamin C to the test. I would love to know if this could potentially be an adjunct sepsis treatment or if it is time for medicine to go back to the drawing board. Trying new things is what helped the medical field advance this far, let’s not stop now!

Motivated?

I’m strangely motivated to do a lot of nursing related things that I had no desire to do before. All of a sudden I want to go back to school to get my Master’s. I want to join our shared governance committee. I want to advance on the clinical ladder up to a Clin III. I want to cross train in other parts of our department.

What the hell is happening?

Where did I get all of this motivation from?!

Is… Is this what happens when you’re happy at your job?

I mean, honestly, these are all things I know I can do if I put forth the energy to do it. I’m still (relatively) young, unmarried, no children… I have the time so why not?

I need to sit down and prioritize all of these new goals. Time for me to become Super Nurse!

Wish me luck!

Constantly learning

A little while back, while I was still a STICU nurse, I decided to start a little notebook where I would right down new diseases/diagnoses/medications I came across during my shifts so I could look them up and learn about them. I was afraid when I transitioned into an imaging nurse I was not going to really be “learning” anything new. I’m just going to start IV’s and monitor for contrast reactions.

I was wrong.

People get MRI’s for all kinds of reasons. I have probably come across more diseases that I have never heard of in this position than I had the whole time I was in the ICU.

It’s been a constant learning experience. I start looking up the disease the patient is diagnosed with (which is the reason they are coming to MRI in the first place), and that leads me to another related disease, which leads to a new study, which leads to a med I have never heard of, and so on.

I’d never heard of MGUS, plastic bronchitis, or a syrinx. Came across all of those in MRI. I assumed that I need to be bedside to learn anything new in nursing. That’s not the case at all. As long as you are providing patient care you never really stop learning…

Real nurse?

In a conversation I had someone ask me if I was a “real nurse”.

Yeah, let that sink in for a moment.

Here’s what happened:

I was having a conversation with an individual and they asked me what I do, I told them I’m a nurse. Their response: “so are you a real nurse?”

This was my exact face:

I had to ask what they meant by “real nurse”. Their answer? “You know, a real nurse like ones that work in a hospital and not in a nursing home or doc in the box.”

Of course you know this means war…

I ask why those nurses aren’t real nurses. Apparently (according to this person) those nurses don’t really do anything but take vitals and give meds.

Oh really?

OH REALLY?

To people who think like this I have a question, CAN YOU DO IT? Can you be responsible for the safety and welfare of multiple patients, often at the same damn time? It was a real nurse that took care of you at Patient First when you caught the flu. It was a real nurse that got punched in the face by your demented Nana. It was a real nurse that handled your kid’s GI bug that you brought him to the doc in the box for. It was a real nurse that has been the only person some of these elderly assisted living patients get to talk to since you haven’t visited Grandpa in 3 years.

WE ARE ALL REAL NURSES.

Needless to say, I am an advocate for my nurses.

Broken hearted

I see the stories of school shooting after school shooting and I am so broken hearted. My heart hurts for the students that lose their lives. I hurt for the teachers that lose their lives. I hurt for all of the families and friends left to try and make sense of the violence.

I also hurt for the medical personnel that have to see the victims. The medics and EMT’s that are some of the first on scene. I hurt for the ER docs and nurses that do everything they can but still aren’t able to save all their patients. I hurt for the ICU, step down, and floor nurses that care for the ones that do survive.

You all were a part of the school shooting too. Yet, you have to put away your thoughts and feelings, your hurt and pain because there are other patients to take care of.

I thank you for your strength. I thank you for being able to endure through Hell. I thank you for going through it and still coming back to work the next day.

You are amazing.

I just wish you didn’t have to be.

On my own

This was my last week of orientation in MRI nursing. Starting Monday I’ll be on my own.

I’m nervous.

It’s not that I don’t think I can do the job. Compared to getting my ass handed to me in the STICU, this is going to be somewhat less stressful. It’s the fact that procedural nursing is new for me. I’ve been bedside for 8 years now. I’ve always been in charge of the patient because they were “mine”. Now I’m dealing mostly with outpatients. I also deal with kids. As you all know, I don’t do kids, they make me uncomfortable. I will still have inpatient contact but while I am responsible for their safety while in MRI, they aren’t mine. I have to remember that my contact with them is as a MRI nurse and not as their primary nurse.

That’s a little weird for me.

It’s also kind of nice. Patient being a douche? I can send them on their way. Patient too confused to hold still for the MRI? Back to the unit for you buddy.

Not going to lie, it’s fabulous not going home with back pain everyday.

I think I’m going to like finally being on my own, you know, once I get over the initial shock of it.

97 victims

Most of us entered nursing to heal, to help, to try and save lives whenever we can. There are some people in our field that have joined for all the wrong reasons. One such person is Niel Högel.

I came across an NPR article (click to link to the story) about a German nurse that was serving a life sentence for two murders… They believe he may be responsible 97 more. NINETY SEVEN.

He said he did it for the thrill. He enjoyed the feeling of being the hero after resuscitating the patient. Unfortunately he wasn’t always successful. Patients lost their lives for a thrill.

As a nurse and former EMT, I will say providing care in the most critical time does give you an adrenaline rush. You get to a point of functioning on sheer instinct. That sense of accomplishment can really make your day. However, I have never craved that feeling so much that I thought of harming a patient to achieve it. I don’t know what brings someone to that point. When reading his story I wondered, did he become a nurse to pseudo-save lives or did this need develop as his career progressed? Were there warning signs in his outside life? Were there warning signs at the bedside? How many lives could have been saved? I just can’t wrap my head around it.