Monday, 14 March 2016

The Lighter Side of Traumatic Hæmopneumothorax

You didn’t know there was a lighter side? In fact, you’re not sure what…

Well, it’s when a chest injury causes blood and air to enter the pleural cavity around a lung on one side, so destroying the partial vacuum round it, whereupon that lung collapses and the downward movement of the diaphragm can’t pull air into it. If it happens on both sides at once it’s curtains within minutes by asphyxiation, unless someone does mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and keeps it up until someone comes along with a bottle of oxygen.

It happened to me just a week or two ago, fortunately on one side only. Off to hospital asap, where they cut a hole in my side and shoved in a pipe as fat as a garden hose to drain out the blood and general gunge. The horrendous operation (without anaesthetic beyond xylocaine round the hole) did have its lighter sides in a Quentin Tarantino / Sam Peckinpah sort of way, but the funniest moment came on the last day.

You see, my companion and I managed to convince them that staying in hospital one more day would make me just too miserable, so reluctantly they agreed to take out the pipe — drainage by now more or less complete — and sew up the hole. This was done by a young woman — a final year surgical student, I think — and I have no complaints; she was gentle and charming, and cobbled up the hole tightly. But then she was left holding the two free ends of the suture and looking puzzled; ‘What now?’ she said. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘You knot those two ends together and snip off the extra.’ ‘But…’ ‘You mean, you’ve studied surgery for several years, but don’t know how to tie a knot?’ ‘Well… Um…’

I couldn’t quite reach to tie it myself, but luckily someone else knew how to tie two half-hitches, though I should have preferred a reef knot.

In the unlikely event of the nice young lady’s reading this, I must emphasise that I’m not laughing at her, I’m laughing with her. As I said, she was gentle and charming, and if I ever need surgical help again I hope it will come from her, and I would be happy to show her the ropes. I mean, teach her a few basic knots.

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