It’s hit home

I have been following COVID-19 since December when I first heard about it, and it was still being called the “Wuhan Flu”. Reading what the CDC is saying, reading WHO recommendations, reading articles about it, and so on.

But it was over there and I am over here. I kept up with the information but it remained at a distance to me. I was curious as we nurses are, but I wasn’t yet concerned. It hadn’t hit home.

And then that started to change. First Washington state. Curiousity turned to slight concern because now it’s on home soil… but still it was over there on the west coast and I am over here safely on the east coast. Then it hit California. Now I’m following it far more closely because it’s spreading. However, somehow in my mind I was still safe. That’s when I started hearing about cases in Florida. Okay, now it’s over here but it’s states away.

I’m still safe.

And then it hit Washington DC.

It hit home.

It was only a 2 hour drive away. That’s when I began closely following everything. I’m watching the news, I’m reading all the WHO and CDC updates. I’m trying to learn all I can. It hadn’t yet hit my city though and there was still that little idea that I was somehow still safe.

That idea dissolved when I heard about the case in one of the hospitals in my area. More cases followed. Now my hospital is dealing with cases and it’s a nightmare. We are now rationing masks. We have to be mindful of how many antimicrobial wipes we use because there is a limit on how many containers of wipes we can get a day. The department I am in cares for inpatients and outpatients so our risk of exposure is high. The ER is at the front line. God bless those providers. Visitation has been suspended. People are being screened before walking into the hospital now. I’m no longer concerned, I’m officially rattled to my core. It feels like things are spiraling out of control and as a nurse that’s a big no-no! States are having to go into quarantine. We haven’t hit that yet but I don’t think it’s far away. It feels unreal, like a movie almost. People are panic buying everything. I can’t find a roll of toilet paper anywhere. I had to go to two stores to find garlic…GARLIC! Who panic buys garlic?

The panic and fear is real.

It’s serious and we need to make sure we are taking it seriously. My colleagues and I have been making sure to teach patients proper hand washing techniques. We are all trying to send each other health care memes to keep our spirits up.

It’s not been great for my anxiety.

I can only hope and pray that we start to get things back under control. I hope humanity can band together and get through this as one. I hope we see that the differences between us are nothing in the grand scheme of things. I hope we as a people come out of this better than we were before.

Addiction

Addiction is rough. I witness it with patients everyday.

I encountered a patient with necrosis in the arm and it’s not a small area of necrosis, it’s pretty much the whole forearm.

They still shoot up in that arm.

The addiction is so strong that they are willing to literally risk life and limb for a high.

It’s sad and disturbing.

It makes you realize just how strong addiction is. We in the medical field often blame the patient:

“Why won’t they quit?”

“They obviously don’t care!”

“They should know better!”

“They did this to themselves.”

I’ll admit, I’ve thought that about patients. I’ve been judgmental even when it’s my job not to be. I’ve generalized and stereotyped people.

I am calling myself out for it.

It’s not my place to judge, it’s my job to treat.

It’s not my job to wonder why a person is suffering from addiction, and they are suffering.

It’s not my job to scold and belittle a patient for being addicted.

It is my job to provide the best care I can. It is my job to connect them with substance abuse counseling if they want it. It is my job to provide as much education as possible. It is my job to be their nurse. I’ve got to remember that.

DiGeorge Syndrome

Have you ever heard of DiGeorge Syndrome?

I hadn’t until I had a pediatric patient with the diagnosis. So what is it?

According to the Mayo clinic, it’s a genetic disorder caused by the deletion of a section of chromosome 22. Patients tend to exhibit heart defects, cleft palate, weak immune systems, developmental delays, and behavioral problems.

I had the most adorable little 7 year old with DiGeorge. She didn’t have the cleft palates that is common with the disease but she did have cardiac issues. In fact, one of her ventricles was huge! She already had cardiac surgery before and it looked like she would need to have it again. Apparently she would be dealing with this for the rest of her life.

Working in radiology I come across at least one disease a day that I have never heard of. I like to look up the disease just for my own medical knowledge. Any diseases you’ve run across that you knew nothing about?

It’s that time of year again…

It’s flu season!

Yaaaaaayyyyyy!

That means it’s time for myths, inaccuracies, and “internet doctors” to try and convince everyone the flu vaccine is evil.

Let’s address some of the foolishness, shall we?

  1. The flu vaccine does not give people the flu. If they get the flu after the vaccine there is a good chance they were already exposed to the flu virus before vaccination or right after receiving the vaccine (it can take up to 2 weeks to develop immunity).
  2. The flu vaccine is not made with a live flu virus. The virus used in the vaccine is dead.
  3. People still need to get the vaccine every year.
  4. Vaccines DO NOT cause autism (let’s let this lie finally die, ok?)
  5. Yes, there are sometimes multiple strains of the flu virus. That does not mean there is no point in getting vaccinated.
  6. While it is recommended for the young and the elderly, even healthy young people can benefit from getting the vaccine for protection.
  7. For those people that think getting the flu will help build your immunity better than getting the vaccine, no. Just… no. The flu can be deadly. Don’t play with your health like that!
  8. It is considered safe to get the vaccine while pregnant.
  9. Yes, the vaccine contains some additives, however, they are in small amounts and considered safe (Here is a list of what’s in the typical flu vaccine and why).
  10. Those “essential oils” are not going to effectively protect against the flu.

Flu season occurs every year and every year the same misconceptions pop up. As health care providers, it is our duty to educate and provide as much accurate information as possible. There is a wealth of information (like this, or this, and this) that can help us provide evidence-based information to our patients whenever possible. Of course we won’t be able to convince every patient we talk to but hey, we can try!

CIDP

In nursing, we are always learning something new. Sometimes we learn about a new med. Sometimes we learn about a new use for a med. Sometimes it’s a new side effect. Sometimes it’s a disease you weren’t aware of.

As I’m writing this, I just came across a disease I never knew existed: chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy.

Say that five times fast!

I had a patient that had an MRI of the brain and complete spine ordered (that’s at least two hours) and the reason was “CIDP”. I have never come across this abbreviation before so I had to hit up good ol’ Google to find out what it is.

Turned out to be very interesting, at least to me.

What is it?

CIDP is rare. It’s a disorder where there is inflammation in the nerve roots and peripheral nerves. It also destroys the myelin sheath over the nerves. This inflammation and destruction interfere with signal transmission. Patients notice muscle weakness, impaired motor function, and it’s typically noticed on both sides of the body.

How is it diagnosed?

According to the rare disease database put together by NORD (National Organization for Rare Diseases), the symptoms of CIDP progress slowly. Patients notice “symmetric weakness of both muscles around the hip and shoulder as well as of the hands and feet”. These symptoms must continue for at least eight weeks without improvement to be considered CIDP. Patients may also undergo EMG’S, nerve conduction studies, lumbar punctures, and MRI’S to help lead physicians to the diagnosis.

Why do symptoms have to persist for so long, you ask? Great question.

Turns out, Guillain-Barré syndrome is kind of an acute form of inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. With GBS there’s typically a preceding virus or illness. GBS progresses over three or four weeks. The symptoms plateau, get better, and don’t re-occur.

The extended period of time is to differentiate CIDP from the acute forms. With CIDP, the symptoms don’t get better without treatment. GBS is usually related to an illness while CIDP doesn’t really have a known cause yet.

How is it treated?

Corticosteroids and immunosuppresants are the standard treatments. According to the NORD article I linked to, IVIG has also been proven effective. It seems that plasma exchange has also been an effective form of treatment. However, both forms of therapy only last a few weeks and the patient may need intermittent treatments.

I spent about an hour reading about this disease because it was so new to me. That’s something I’m trying to make sure I do, read up and learn about the new things I come in contact with here in the hospital. I know I can’t learn everything. That isn’t going to stop me from trying though!

A moment of prayer

How does it make you feel when the family of a patient starts to pray with you in the room? I used to feel uncomfortable because for a long time my relationship with religion has been iffy at best.

See, I am a bisexual woman that was raised Baptist. Yeah, “gay people are not of God and are going to burn in Hell” Baptist. My mom was a pretty liberal woman but our religion was not. I only came out two years ago but was well aware of my sexuality as early as high school. Religion and I didn’t sit well since I was pretty much condemned to Hell. This personal struggle affected how I reacted whenever my patient began to speak about religion or whenever anyone wanted to pray in the room. Typically it turned into “let me page the chaplain” as I awkwardly slid out of the room. I was allowing my own issues to affect my patient care. NOT OK! I really had to get it together. It took a lot of introspection and acceptance of what religion  means to me, and understanding that religion is different for everyone, before I became comfortable with religion in the hospital.

Standing and bowing my head while a family member is praying shows respect. I don’t have to pray like they pray or pray to who they are praying to. I can bow my head and pray for my patient in my own way. I can now listen to my patient talk about their faith and have an engaging conversation with them. Instead of religion making me feel like I was condemned and judged, I now look at it differently. I had to realize my patient was speaking from their point of view. They are sharing aspects of what religion means to them. At no point was my patient judging me. I know it sounds strange but when you are in the LGBTQ community, you tend to feel judged a lot simply for being who you are. I had to understand my patient had no idea about my sexuality and honestly, with what they are going through at the moment, they probably could care less! They are looking for hope. They are clinging to faith to get through a difficult time. They are coping with whatever is going on and for a lot of people, religion is the best way for them to cope.

This wasn’t about me. To bring my own insecurities into this was selfish! I was being so egocentric. I am not normally like that so why be like that now? I really had to make some adjustments to how I thought about religion. I had to learn that at that moment my patient needed someone to listen to them, to give them hope, to have empathy instead of just sympathy. At that moment, my patient needed Fred the nurse to be there for them.

I had to learn that it’s not all about me.

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!

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…

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.

PJP and HIV

Most of us are aware of HIV and how it affects the body. We have been taught how the virus attacks and destroys the immune system. It is not the attack on the immune system that directly kills a person.  It’s all those opportunistic infections that eventually weaken and often times finally kill HIV/AIDS patients.

PJP, “pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia”, is one of the most common opportunistic infections to befall an HIV positive patient. This particular type of pneumonia (or as one of my patients pronounced it “ammonia”) is caused by a fungus commonly found in the environment. For those of us with a normal immune system, it does us no harm. For the immunosuppressed patient, however, it can be dangerous and possibly deadly. For a patient with severe PJP, it can lead to ARDS which has a high mortality rate. Having HIV does not mean a patient will automatically become infected with PJP. The infection typically manifests when the CD4 count is low. This is a really good article describing PJP and its relationship to HIV/AIDS. Here is another good article by Medscape that talks about the fungal pneumonia and how it functions.

You are probably wondering what made me write a blog on a type of pneumonia that you may not have heard of before. Well, I am a nurse and also a state certified HIV tester. HIV is becoming a passion for me. However, that’s not the only reason. See, back when I was a med-surg nurse, we had a patient that I can’t forget. He was a 22-year-old young man that was in and out of the hospital with chest pain, complaints of difficulty breathing, fever, and other rather generic symptoms. His chest CT showed the opacities in the lung. The doctors were sure he had pneumonia but he didn’t respond to most therapies. Furthermore, he’s a young guy, he shouldn’t have a recurrent pneumonia presentation like this. Enter our infectious disease doctor. He decides this guy needs a bronch. We are done guessing, he wants to get a bronchial sample so we can figure out what is going on. They began testing the sample for what type of pneumonia it was and it came back as PJP. He immediately asked for the patient to be tested for HIV. The resident nor I really understood why. Of course, I had to ask. His response? “When I see PJP I think HIV.” I asked him what he meant by that. That’s when he began to tell me about the fungal infection and its relation to immunosuppressed patients. In his words, “you just don’t really see it in people with a healthy immune system. Our guy wasn’t a transplant patient. He wasn’t on chemotherapy. So, what other reason would a man his age possibly be immunosuppressed?”  Turns out, he was HIV positive and did not know. His CD4 count was terribly low. I witnessed this man’s life change in the blink of an eye. He didn’t take the news well, but I couldn’t blame him. That was not the last time I saw him. He was in and out of our unit with pneumonia or thrush. He wasn’t really compliant with his meds. No one in his family knew what was going on with him. He wouldn’t allow visitors while he was in the hospital and would sit in his room all alone. It was heartbreaking. Then he stopped coming into the hospital. I held out hope that he had finally started taking his meds and got better. Deep down, I knew that wasn’t the case. Turns out he did come back into the hospital, just not to our unit. This time he was intubated in the ICU. He didn’t make it. He was just too sick and had been sick for far too long. Because of him, because of his case, I will forever remember an obscure pneumonia that I haven’t treated since.

So, I thought I would share a little bit of obscure information because… well… why not?

Are there any cases that stand out to you? Leave a comment and let me know.