I recently spent the day inside the catheterisation laboratory, specifically in the pacing lab. After a few relatively straightforward implants, we reached the final case of the day; a pacemaker change. The patient in question had 4 months of reported battery life left on his pulse generator, so on paper, it was merely a case of opening the pocket in which his old device was housed, and switching it out for a new one that would stimulate his heart for the years to come.
Textbooks are great, in that they detail a procedure from start to finish, usually from everyone’s perspective, covering all bases regarding technique, equipment, potential emergencies, and possible troubleshooting options should the need arise.
These emergencies range from device malfunction to cardiac complications, and cover most things in between. I haven’t read a textbook that outlines what should be done if the patient suffers from dementia, however…
The procedure began late due to the difficulty in cannulating the individual, given they didn’t really understand where they were, and began thrashing around wildly in confusion as soon as the needle was introduced, but eventually they were brought into the lab and set up on the table. Local anaesthetic was administered whilst myself and other members of staff present tried to ensure that the patient was as calm as possible.
This proved rather difficult, as the patient was understandably scared; bright lights and masked strangers staring down at you aren’t a pleasant experience for anyone, so add a severe perception deficiency into the mix, and it’s only going to be worse.
Once the procedure proper had begun, it got so much worse.
If you’ve ever been in a lab or theatre when an electrocautery is being used, you’ll know how loud it is. Trying to keep a confused patient calm, and focussed on your voice alone, is incredibly difficult when you’re being drowned out by a deafening beeping noise. The consultant performing the change was having to work 3 times harder than normal whilst completing his task, because of the patient’s inability to understand what was happening, and more importantly, why it was happening.
There were 6 staff in the operating lab, and of those six, the only one able to fully focus on their job was the consultant. The rest of us tried to hold a limb each, to stop them from flailing and causing potential injury.
The chief priority was the patient’s overall well being, so when the radiographer received a rather nasty set of deep scratches, she endured the pain and tried to reassure the patient.
When the registrar’s fingers were being held so tightly together that they almost broke, she quietly asked if I could free them using one of my available hands, and continued talking to the patient.
When I was struck in the face as a result of removing a hand from the patient’s leg in order to do the above, I didn’t make a sound, as I didn’t want to frighten the patient anymore.
In this patient’s mind, we were causing discomfort for no reason, and as a result, this patient was fighting as though his life depended on it, but nobody said anything that might give cause to further agitate him no matter how much was thrown at them in that situation, because the fact is, we were there to help the patient and their safety came before our own.
No amount of reading could have prepared me for that situation, but even a small amount of warning, or advice, would have been a boon. To that end, I’ll say this;
Scenarios such as the above WILL happen. It’s inevitable. Just stay calm, communicate with everyone around you and never forget why you’re there. Of course it’s not right that you sustain an injury on the job, but the bigger picture comes first and then you can set about producing system changes.