One of the most unusual requests I ever had happened at a hospital in Portland Maine. As I was getting ready to go home one winter evening I received a STAT page to go to the Emergency Room. I rushed there wondering what kind of crisis would have prompted a STAT page. As I entered, I met the ER Medical Director who took me into a cubicle where there was a family hovered around a young boy perhaps six or seven years old. He was sitting on a gurney with his arm outstretched and his finger stuck in the lug hole of a wheel containing one of his dad’s snow tires. Apparently while his dad was changing tires the youngster got a bit too curious and he discovered that Murphy’s Law also applies to youngsters.
The ER Director explained that he and the EMTs had tried all of the usual techniques to release the finger and they had run out of options. The finger was now badly swollen and it appeared that the only remaining option was to cut through the steel rim and release it. I suggested that the best method would be to cut away the steel using a reciprocating saw with carbide steel blades. Since neither my department nor Plant Operations had one of these, I called the local United Rental company and found that they had one. I explained our situation and asked if they would be willing remain open past their normal 6:00 pm closing time. They agreed.
The rental company was located on the opposite side of town and it was about 5:30 with road traffic at its peak. The youngster’s finger was beginning to swell badly and I was worried about the time it would take for us to get across town and back. The ER Director came up with a quick solution; he asked the EMT’s if they would use their ambulance to rush across town and get the saw. They sped off through traffic with their siren blaring and lights flashing.
Meanwhile, I was also concerned about the amount of heat the saw might generate as it cut through the steel. Since I could not risk burning the youngster’s finger I devised a way to cool the wheel rim while we sawed. I had the attendants get a large basin in which we would stand the tire. Then I rigged a small dual head peristaltic pump to simultaneously pump cold water on the rim and drain the basin. Just as I finished with the cooling setup the EMT’s arrived with the saw.
With everything in place, we were now ready to cut. The ER Director suggested that because I was more familiar with tools it would be better if I did the cutting. I explained to him that this was now a medical procedure and from a risk perspective the hospital’s interests would be better served if he did the cutting. He agreed and first tried a few practice cuts to familiarize himself with the feel of the saw. He then cut a “V” shaped wedge coming to less than 1/8 of and inch on either side of the finger. Once the wedge was cut, he grasped it with a pair of vise-grip pliers and twisted it until it popped out and the youngster’s finger was released.
One of the things I enjoyed most about that event was how this physician and I trusted each other and worked together as a team to help this youngster. I would be interested in hearing from any of our readers about unusual requests you may have had during your careers.
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