Friday, January 25, 2013

The Lift Team

Hospitals can be dangerous places to work. According to government statistics, thousands of people are injured in hospital settings every year. We've had doctors and nurses who had to temporarily stop working because of workplace injuries. One nurse I know was out for weeks when an O.R. patient almost fell off the operating table. He saved the patient just in time but wrenched his back in the process.

It doesn't help that patients in general are getting bigger. Much bigger. It's not unusual for our patients to have BMI's into the 40's. These behemoths can be quite a challenge to move without injuring the patient or ourselves. Because of that danger, the hospital hired a bunch of strapping young men to form a Lift Team to help transfer patients safely. It doesn't take much cognitive skills to be a member of the Lift Team. You just need to be big and strong. A few years of high school football experience is a definite plus.

One day, I was transferring a postop patient to the ICU. The patient was BIG. He was also intubated with multiple lines coming off him. Luckily we now have motorized gurneys that drive themselves so we don't have to push too hard. Just avoid steering into a door frame along the way. Once we got to his room, we called for the Lift Team to transfer the patient from the gurney to the ICU bed.

"Sorry," the charge nurse said, "The Lift Team is out."

"What do you mean they're out?" I asked.

"They're all on leave because they got injured," she replied.

"All of them?" I asked incredulously. She nodded in reply.

Sigh. The big young guys are at home relaxing their backs and getting paid for it while we have to move the patient ourselves. They're a lot smarter than I give them credit for. So now we have to move this nearly 300 pound patient into the bed without injuring the patient, ourselves, or pull out any of his lines and tubes.

Looking around, I knew we needed more people. A lot more. As the anesthesiologist, it is my job to make sure the endotracheal tube or lines don't get dislodged during the transfer. Therefore my role is to hold the head during the transfer; the rest of the patient has to be moved by other people.  Anyway, my weak little anesthesiologist arms can't handle more than ten pounds. So I stand at the head of the bed as they rounded up six nurses to help. Holding the head steady with both hands while stabilizing the ET tube and making sure all the lines and Foley catheter were ready, we gave a count of three and heaved the patient into the bed. No arterial line got pulled out. No Foley catheter got removed. And nobody collapsed on the floor writhing in pain. A successful move in my playbook.

Who needs the freaking Lift Team? Somebody has to move the patients in the hospital. If the Team can't do it then the rest of us will have to. I just wish I had thought of signing up for that job when I was younger. I could have used a few bucks while sitting at home taking a bunch of Advils. I guess those kids are pretty bright after all.

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