how doctors think, a dual pathway

A friend calls today and says that another person is bleeding and yet they have been set up to be seen Monday. Why isn’t this an emergency?

Based on the limited information the friend tells me, I agree with the doctors. It is NOT an emergency and I explain why. It is uncomfortable for the person because it may be cancer. Why is that not an emergency?

Let’s use chest pain in the emergency room as an example. Doctors have two brain tracks that are triggered simultaneously by every patient. The first one is “What could kill this person in the next five minutes?” The second is “What is common?” Common things are common and more likely. In medical school the really rare things are nicknamed zebras. You know there are a lot of horses but you can’t miss the zebra. I suppose that in Africa the common things are zebras and the rare ones are orcas or something like that.

Anyhow, the killers for chest pain are heart attacks, sudden death. But there could also be a dissecting aortic aneurysm, where the largest artery in the body is tearing. That person can bleed to death really really fast and that is a surgical emergency. No doctor wants to miss it. There could be a pulmonary embolism, a clot blocking the lung. Chest pain could be from a cancer. A very rare chest pain is from the valve leaflets in the heart tearing so that the person goes in to flash pulmonary edema. And there is Takayasu’s Arteritis, “broken heart syndrome”, where the heart suddenly balloons in size and again, heart failure ensues. Heart failure is actually pump failure, so fluid backs up in the lungs or the legs or both. It is usually slow but rarely very fast and dramatic. A collapsed lung can also cause a lot of pain. And my list is still not complete, I haven’t mentioned pericarditis or myocarditis or a compression fracture.

The common things do include heart attacks, but also anxiety, musculoskeletal problems, inflamed cartilage of the chest wall, fibromyalgia flares, broken ribs, trauma and other things. I was very puzzled in clinic by a woman with pain on both sides of her lower chest wall. In front but cutting through her chest. I ruled out many things. I thought that it was her diaphragm. I sent her to a rehab doctor for help. The rehab doctor sent her to radiology. She had a compression fracture of her spine and the nerves were sending pain messages on both sides. That was not even on my “differential diagnosis” list, because she had no back pain at all. My list changed that day.

Physicians and nurse practitioners and physicians assistants and registered nurses and licensed practical nurses and medical assistants are all trained to think of this differential diagnosis. We are alerted by the history and have to think down both pathways. Last year working as a temporary doctor, the medical assistant came to me saying, “This patient’s blood pressure is 80/60.” “Is he conscious?” I asked, as I went straight for the room. “Yes, he’s talking.” He WAS talking, which means that he’s gotten to 80/60 slowly or is used to it. His heart rate was fast, up near 120. I immediately had him drink water and keep drinking, as soon as he denied chest pain. The problem was dehydration: he was developmentally delayed and had only had one cup of fluid that day and it was now midafternoon. I spent time explaining that he needed 8 cups each day. Not more than that, because if he had too much fluid, it would lower his sodium and make his muscles weak. Most days he drank 3-4 cups. His chart graphed the problem: some days he had normal blood pressure and a normal heart rate. Other days his blood pressure was below normal and his heart rate was fast, his heart trying to make up for the low level of fluid. Cars don’t do so well when there is almost no oil, do they? His kidneys were affected as well. I asked him to drink the 8 cups a day, discussed the size of the cup (not 8 gallons, please) and then recheck labs in 2 weeks. If his kidneys did not improve, he would need a kidney specialist. It turned out that he had nearly fainted that morning in the waiting room. His group home person admitted that no one had noticed that he really was not drinking fluid. I thought that the patient understood and would try to drink a better amount of fluid.

So back to the person I was called about. Infection has been ruled out. This is blood in the urine. A kidney stone has been ruled out, but there is something in the kidney. This is urgent, but if the person is not bleeding hard, it is not emergent. When there is blood in the urine it does not take very much to turn it red. If there is a lot of blood, that can be an emergency, but from the story I got third person, it’s not very much. The emergency things are ruled out but there is still not a clear diagnosis. Yes, cancer is one of the possibilities but it could also be benign. Now a specialist is needed to figure out the next step and the differential diagnosis, the list of things it could be. They will order tests in the same dual order: what could kill this person quickly and what do we need to rule out as common? People often can be very anxious during this period, which is normal. The person says, “I don’t care what it ISN’T, I want to know what it IS.” But sometimes it is a zebra and it takes a while to get to that specific test.

Another example is a woman that I sent to the eye doctor. The optometrist thought it was something rare and bad. He sent her to the opthamologist, who ruled out the first thing, but thought it was something else rare and bad. He sent her to a retinal specialist. The retinal specialist ruled out the second rare and bad thing and said, “No, you have something very rare that is benign.” My patient said, “I have three diagnoses. Who do I believe?” I replied, “No, you have one. The optometrist knew it was unusual and sent you to an eye doctor. The eye doctor know it was unusual and sent you to an even more specialized eye doctor (a “sub specialist”. We keep them in basements.) Now you have a diagnosis. It was a scary process, but I think you should focus on the third opinion because hey, she said it’s benign and it won’t hurt you! That is the best outcome!” She thought about it and agreed. The process was frightening but the conclusion could not have been better.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: disquieting.

Update on whatever it is I have

I had the heart echocardiogram bubble study. Normal. I really really did not like having the mix of blood, saline and AIR injected and I COULD FEEL IT. My logical brain knew it was going into a vein, but my emotional brain kept yelling “Air embolisms kill people!” Yes, but that is arterial. My emotional brain did not care. Anyhow, it was fine.

Saw the cardiologist who said he can understand why I feel PTSD going into my local hospital. He says I should not need oxygen at age 60 with no smoking. He says “Not your heart.” Yeah, duuuude, I know. He suggests I go to the Mayo Clinic. I agree.

Meanwhile, my primary sent a referral to rheumatology to have me seen at Swedish to confirm chronic fatigue. This is to keep the stupid disability off my back. Swedish rheum doesn’t call me. I ask my primary’s office. Swedish STILL doesn’t call me. I call them, as follows.

“Hi, I was referred to Swedish rheum and I have not been called.”

“Name, serial number, date of birth, length of little toe. Ah, we just received the referral yesterday.”

“Um, I don’t think so. I was referred over a month ago.”

“Uh, oh,” scrabble noises, “Oh, uh, we got a referral in December. We were not taking new patients in December.”

“When did you start taking new patients?”

“Oh, um.”

“When did you start taking new patients?”

“Oh, uh, January. But we only took the ones that called us, because after they call, we then review the notes.”

“So you ignored the referral until I call? How am I supposed to know that?”

“Oh, uh, we will expedite your referral. Maybe even today.”

So THEN I get a message from my primary that they have REFUSED the referral. Great.

Meanwhile I read the cardiologist’s note, which pisses me off. “We will refer you to Mayo Clinic since you have unexplained hypoxia and you think you have PANS.”

I send my primary a very pissed off note saying, could we please phrase this as “a psychiatrist suggested PANS in 2012 and while no one likes this diagnosis, no one else has suggested an overarching diagnosis since that time in spite of her seeing four pulmonologists, neurology, cardiology, infectious disease, four psychiatrists, allergy/asthma, and immunology”. Saying “the patient thinks she has PANS” automatically labels me as crazy and obsessed.

So, it seems I should write a book, about how the medical communities treat patients, including a fellow physician, horribly. Of those doctors, three have treated me with respect and were grown up enough to say, “We don’t know.” The neurologist, the infectious disease doc and the present pulmonologist. All the rest are dismissive and disrespectful. Oh, and the one psychiatrist, but the next one says, “I don’t believe in PANDAS.” I stare at him in disbelief, thinking “they are animals related to raccoons that live in China, you moron”. I did not even know it was controversial until that moment. Holy PANDAS, Batman.

My primary has suggested I write to the Mayo Clinic myself, and I am going to. Because the present people aren’t listening, except my pulmonologist and she is short staffed and looks like death warmed over post call every time I see her.

So it’s all annoying as hell. The cardiologist seemed pretty nice, but damn, he put the same damn rumor down about me self diagnosing. Most of the doctors apparently think I might be a tolerable person if they could just drug me with psych drugs. And from what I have seen, there are many patients who are in this situation.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: WAR.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30724577/

Thoughts on the update from ICD 9 to ICD 10

I would be very interested in a tune for this poem. 

This poem was rejected by JAMA, the Journal of the 
American Medical Association. Of course, the American 
Medical Association writes the codes. I do not look 
forward to going from the present 14,000 diagnosis 
codes to 42,000. I think it's just another way for 
insurance to delay and refuse to pay physicians. I 
think our country now has a business ethic of "screw 
anyone you can" and I don't like it. 

Thoughts on the update from ICD 9 to ICD 10


They say ICD 9
Just isn't so fine
Not enough codes to choose
To keep us fungking confused

They say ICD 9
Just isn't so fine
The rest of the world
Uses ICD 10, word

But they are liar liar liars
Pants on fire fire
Noses as long as telephone wires

They are liar liar liars
Fungk ICD 10
And let me tell you fungk them
Fungk starting over again

ICD 9 is now 34
Oh what a bore
They say it's too old
I'm older and gold

They say engage a team
Establish a plan
Get focused training
Learn that sh-t from the man

They say what does your practice
See and learn just those codes
Fungk ya'll but wise
I see everything that goes

I do family practice
I'm a rural doctor
The point of the codes
Is insurance don't pay, suckers

They say ICD 9
Just isn't so fine
The rest of the world
Uses ICD 10, word

But they are liars liars liars
Pants on fire fire
Noses as long as telephone wires

I know my ICD 9
Forwards and backwards, up and down
I can code pregnant
by four circus clowns

I can code pulmonary
embolus past
I can code gerbil inserted in the a--

ICD 10
is starting again
Code left or right or other
Those sh-ts would fungk your mother

ICD 10 is starting again
Code where it happened
Or insurance won't pay
Fungkers make my day

They say champion the change
I say channel the rage
Take a book from my page
Incinerate the fungking change

Fungk ICD 10
Fungk ICD 10
Fungk ICD 10
Fungk it again.