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You are working the first aid tent at the finish line for a 5K road race on a Saturday morning. As the runners are finishing the race they are provided bottled water. The tent is full of runners and volunteers. You notice one runner because her skin is pale. You recognize that is unique because the runner just completed 5K and most other runner’s skin is pink if not slightly flush. You go on about your work handing out water bottles. It is sunny and the temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) and about 80% humidity.
About 10 minutes later you notice this same runner sitting on a bench in the sun, bent over and supporting her head with her hands. You are concerned, so you walk over to the runner. You identify yourself by saying your name, that you are certified in first aid and asking if you can help her. She says yes and you ask her for her name. She hesitates and you soon realize that she does not know her name. You also notice that the skin color on her arms, legs and face is red.
You ask the runner SAMPLE History questions and she is acting confused.
You ask the patient if you may take her pulse. She agrees.
None required at this time. The patient did not fall and is not complaining of abdominal pain or nausea.
What is possibly wrong with this patient?
Let’s evaluate the clues we discovered during our interaction with the patient.
Skin. The weather is 80 degrees F, 80% humidity and sunny. The patient has just completed a 5K road race. Her skin should be pink – maybe slightly flushed, warm and moist. When she first entered the tent after the race her skin was pale, cool and moist. She is vasoconstricted. She is hypovolemic. Since she is dehydrated, her blood volume is down and the body has to compensate for lowered blood pressure by constricting the blood vessels in the patient’s extremities and skin. She is dehydrated and probably suffering from heat exhaustion.
Ten minutes later you notice the patient sitting on the bench in the sun. This is not a good place for someone to be when they are presenting with the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion. The patient should be in the shade or an air-conditioned area, sipping water and actively cooled by being sprayed with water and fanning. This is not the case for this patient. She continued to become hotter sitting in the sun. The body recognizes that the only way to rid itself of excess heat is to vasodilate the blood vessels to hopefully radiate all the heat in the body out into the atmosphere. By the time you walk up her skin is now presenting red, hot and dry. She is vasodilated and transitioning into heatstroke. With the blood vessels in the body vasodilated, her blood pressure is dropping.
SAMPLE History. The patient is confused and not able to answer questions. She does not know the answers to the questions you are asking her.
Diagnosis. Let’s walk through the steps we could follow to identify the patient’s illness using the flow diagrams in Wilderness First Aid Made Easy and Urban and Disaster Emergency First Aid Made Easy. This is a scenario that is well covered in both the online Wilderness First Aid Course and the online Urban and Disaster First Aid Course.
The patient is presenting with an altered level of consciousness, so let’s start on page 19.
We see the signs and symptoms the patient is presenting in this flow diagram – disoriented, thirsty, altered level of consciousness and not acting like themselves. We look through the list of possible causes of these signs and symptoms and the one that makes the most sense in this situation is Temperature – the patient is too hot. That leads us to page 22 – Heat Illnesses.
On page 22 we very quickly identify what is wrong with the patient. She is presenting with the signs and symptoms of Heat Stroke. She requires immediate medical care. Call 911 or since this is a road race, EMS should already be at the race so notify them. While you wait on EMS to arrive, remove the patient from the sun and place her in a shaded or cooled area. Remove any excess clothing, spray the patient with water and fan her vigorously. Back off of fanning if she begins to shiver. Provide the patient with water and or electrolyte drink, encouraging her to drink small, frequent sips. Continue providing care until you are relieved by EMS.
A tornado cut a five-mile-long path of destruction through a city of 50,000. You and your neighbors are working together to help each other find and collect personal possessions. A non-profit, disaster response organization brought box lunches and bottled water to the neighborhood about two hours ago. It’s approximately 2:00 PM, 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 C), 90% humidity and sunny.
You have been working with your next door neighbor, Sean, since 9 am. He is 42 years old, 5 foot 9 inches tall and weighs approximately 250 lbs. Your neighbor complains that he feels nauseous and his upper back is starting to hurt. You suggest that you both sit down in the shade, take a break and drink some water.
You notice that Sean’s skin is pale and moist.
While you both rest and drink water, you explain to Sean that you graduated from an Urban and Disaster First Emergency First Aid Course and a big part of the course is deciphering illness signs and symptoms, You tell Sean that you may be able to help if you can ask him some questions. Sean agrees.
You ask Sean SAMPLE History questions.
You ask Sean if you may take his pulse. You explain that just like when we visit the doctor, this is part of understanding why a person is not feeling well. Sean agrees. He tells you the pain in his upper right back shoulder is increasing. Remember, we never tell the patient that we are measuring their respiratory rate
You explain to Sean that you learned in the first aid class you attended that nausea is sometimes caused by an abdominal organ not functioning properly. You explain the technique you learned in class about dividing the abdominal area into four quadrants, gently pushing in and quickly releasing pressure in each quadrant. If there is something wrong Sean may feel pain. You explain that this could help understand if Sean has a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. You did a great job in explaining your training because Sean agrees to lay on his back and allow you to examine him.
You start with the Left Lower Quadrant, slowly pushing in and quickly releasing pressure. Sean reports no pain. Left Upper Quadrant – no pain. Right Lower Quadrant – no pain. Right Upper Quadrant – Sean complains of pain when you push in. You push in again on the Right Upper Quadrant and Sean asks you not to push again. It hurts.
What is possibly wrong with Sean?
Let’s evaluate the clues we discovered during our exam.
Skin. The weather is 80 degrees F (27 C), 90% humidity and sunny. Sean has been working since 9 AM. His skin should be Pink, Warm and Moist. His skin is presenting Pale, Cool and Moist. Sean is vasoconstricted. This is your first clue that something is wrong.
Last In/Last Out. Sean has been drinking all day, so he is probably not dehydrated. However, he reports that he began to feel nauseous and began feeling a sharp pain in his upper right back near the shoulder. That is your second clue that Sean may have a serious illness.
Physical Exam. In Wilderness First Aid and Urban and Disaster First Aid we teach that anytime a patient complains of nausea and/or abdominal tenderness, perform a physical exam of the abdominal area. Divide the abdominal area into four quadrants that are created by drawing a vertical and horizontal line that intersects at the patient’s belly button. Then gently push into each quadrant and quickly release pressure. If the patient complains of any pain then the patient needs to seek definitive medical care.
Diagnosis. Using the flow diagrams in Wilderness First Aid Made Easy and Urban and Disaster Emergency First Aid Made Easy, you are led to Page 11,
Abdominal Pain Considerations where you learn that Sean possibly has gallstones and needs to see a medical professional.