Monday, July 16, 2007

Poor historian

I'm in clinic again... the bane of the non-pain anesthesiologist. A 60-some year old woman is here for surgery. She's had a history of heart failure. (Her heart is damaged so it doesn't pump very efficiently) She's a terrible historian.

Now for non-medical types, this doesn't mean she didn't know that Washington crossed the Delaware. It means that she's a terrible reporter of her own medical history. For different patients it means different things. To some it means that they can't remember what they've had done in the past or what medical conditions they have. To others it means that they ramble on so much it's hard to separate the medical information from random stories about their puppy. And my favorite group is the group where they're so vague about things that it takes 14 follow-up questions to get what you want from them.

"So how bad has your heart failure been" (Looking at the chart with 6 heart failure meds on.)
"Oh I don't really have heart failure"
"Hmm... really. Can you climb a flight of stairs?" (I don't care if she has stairs in her house, I just want to know if she can tolerate minor exercise)
"Oh I don't really climb stairs with my back and all" (Meaning she can't do it)
"How about walking, how far can you walk?" (Easier than stairs)
"Oh not far..."
"Do you ever get chest pain or shortness of breath?"
"Well not really.... well only if I walk too far." (Meaning yes all the time)
(inside) *sigh*

So I look again through the notes. There's a note from the Primary care provider (PCP) "Will stress before surgery." Now someone there has a good idea. Good to know if this lack of function is due to her heart or her back before we possibly kill her in the operating room.

I flip to the studies. I see a non-stress echocardiogram (essentially a heart ultrasound picture) from five months ago showing diastolic dysfunction. And a stress echocardiogram (same pictures, but while giving a chemical to stress the heart) from last month. "Indeterminate. Study cancelled due to hypertensive response." So they cancelled the stress in the middle because her blood pressure got too high. Fine. What did they do about that. I see another non-stress echocardiogram from two weeks ago. Hmm.... curious. So the stress was unable to be done, so they repeated a test that DIDN'T stress the heart, and had results we ALREADY knew about.

So it's six days til her surgery, I have a patient with known heart failure, maybe shortness of breath, maybe chest pain, two non-stress tests, and an indeterminate stress test. Someone also has decided before me that a stress would be a good idea, but never really followed through. So I have six days (including two weekend days) to get her stressed (a different type of stress test) or cancel the surgery. Luckily the ladies out front (the wonderful office staff) are able to get her scheduled for early next week. I cross my fingers and let her go.

The intern asks me what happens if the stress is positive next week. Good question. If it's negative, then I'm just a worry-wort and paranoid about nothing but she should get her back fixed. If not, then they need to evaluate her to see if anything can be done to optimize her heart before her elective surgery. This may mean changing her medications, or performing a heart catheterization, or more.

Did I tell you I love clinic?


jnkdg said...

It could be much worse - you could be seeing a drug-seeking 23-year-old man who is "disabled" because of a bad back and draws a disability check but owns more tattoos and a motorcycle you can only drool after.

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