TV shows have ruined most medical care providers sense of time. All the way back to “ER” and “Emergency”, people asked for things and they magically and instantly got done. CBC’s, intubation, and IV’s took about 2 seconds to do. Unfortunately reality is different. Inertia (by my definition how long it take to get things done and move forward with care) can be a big problem in emergencies.

On the new podcast Battalion Chief Chip Walker talks about staying one step ahead of the patient and being “active” instead of “reactive”. It is a very very important strategy in emergency care. Next time you’re intubating, starting an IV, central line, chest tube, whatever; have someone time how long it takes from decision to do the when it’s done. You will be amazed at how long it actually takes. You dont realize it because you are focused on what you are doing and dont notice the passage of time. In addition, if you dont have the equipment ready to go, and have the mental mindset to get things done rapidly, it can be much worse.

In hyperurgent situations, where what you get done in 1-2 minutes could mean life or death to the patient, deciding to do something that you think takes one minute, but actually takes 10 could be a big problem. One situation I talk about in the podcast is transfering a patient from the prehospital stretcher to the ED bed. Even though you think this can go quickly (and it can if conducted properly) it often takes 2-3 minutes to get the patient ready to move, move them, deal with the lines and cable, get the stretcher out of the room, and then get your first set of ED vital signs. A lot of things can happen in a hyperurgent condition in 3 minutes.

Awareness of the problem is a big part of the solution. If you are cognizent of the fact that things take longer than you think you can make better decisions. For instance, when we have a hypotensive gunshot victim coming in, we will get the OR arranged and then the Chief resident or I will meet the ambulance at the front door. The reason is that I dont want to make a left turn into the trauma bay unless I absolutely have to, and the only reason I would stop in the ED is if the patient’s airway is unsecured and the patient is hypoxic, or they have no pulse, otherwise we go straight to the OR. The reason is that if someone’s BP is 60 systolic, and they are bleeding to death in their belly, realistically it will take 8-10 minutes for me to get into their abdomen and start to get control. Opening up the abodmen in most ED’s is not a good thing to do (my maxim is that you do procedures in the emergency department, and you do operations in the operating room). Operative actions(sewing things shut, clamping and tying vessels, etc.) should be done in the OR since most ED’s dont have the necessary sterility, equipment, lighting and personnel to do this safely, unless they are specifically set up to do it.