Aided with adrenaline and substances yet unknown to us, the man flexed his substantial muscles and screamed against his bounds. He let out anguished yells, cursing at all of us as we worked to hold him down. He was a big man, and we were all sweating.
My partner and I found him semi-conscious in the grass of a local park about a half hour before. He was lethargic when we walked up to him, his eyes distant and glazed over in some kind of dreamy confusion. He lay about 10 feet away from a twisted-up bicycle from which witnesses said he fell while riding through the park. They said that they knew him personally, that he is a "great guy who is always here with his family." Someone said that he had a history of seizures.
My partner glanced in my direction, and we agreed without words. I put both of my hands up towards my neck and he nodded, heading towards the ambulance for c-spine equipment and the stretcher. I did a quick assessment while I waited for the rest of the gear. No visible traumatic injuries, lung sounds clear, strong radial pulse at about 100, PEARRL. Blood sugar is 200. When my partner came back with the equipment we worked together with firefighters to roll the large man onto the board, securing his head, torso, and legs with snug straps. My partner and I bent our legs and then straightened, grunting as we lifted the massive package up to the stretcher.
In the ambulance the man began to come around. He was confused still, asking repetitive questions and often making statements that made no sense. I did my best to get a history and some background information, but the man was a poor historian at best. I got a full set of vitals, plugged in the EKG, started an IV, and told my partner we could go. The man remained confused the whole way, and despite my reassessments and double checking, I found very little that swayed me from a routine clinical impression of postictal-related altered mental status.
The man began to get a little more agitated as we rolled down the ED hallways towards the triage desk. He lifted his hands up towards the c-collar, but I was able to gently guide his hands away and talk him down. He listened to my words, agreeing momentarily but again reaching towards his restrictions a minute later. I told the triage nurse that it was probably only a matter of time before the patient lost control and ripped himself off of the board. He had that look that we have all seen before: chaos about to happen.
It did happen. About 5 minutes after getting him over the hospital bed, the patient began to lose control. Quiet requests turned into agitated demands, and then into senseless screaming. He pulled his head out of the blocks, the tape snapping and velcro ripping, all the while pulling at the backboard straps and rolling from side to side. The nurses and techs tried to calm him down, offer comforting advice through smooth tones, but the patient would hear none of it. He was on a one-way path, and would not come back. My partner and I jumped in to help, and even with our numbers, we struggled.
The doc strolled in casually, his white jacket crisp and clean, separate from the mess that was rapidly overtaking the small ED room. He asked for the story, and I told him while holding the patient down: a few brief details and a couple questions answered. He tried a round of Haldol and Ativan but it was without effect, and after another 10 minutes of fighting, the doctor casually waved his hand towards the intubation tray. The nurses, anticipating this decision, already had everything ready.
Rocuronium was sent through my IV, and within seconds, the patient was flaccid and docile. It was as if someone had found the patient's OFF button and finally decided to throw the switch, ending almost instantaneously the aggression we had been fighting for the past 20 minutes. Easy as pie, the doctor slid a miller blade into the open mouth, lifted, and passed the tube. It was good, of course. Everything was good.
I met up with the doctor later. The toxicology reports had come back, which indicated that the patient had extremely high levels of PCP in his system. It looked like the patient had smoked some of the drug before his bike ride through the park, and collapsed when the effects hit their peak. The potential trauma was still an issue, but the patient was not. He lay across the hall, silent except for the sound of the mechanical respirator performing it's windy functions.
The doctor and I discussed the drug a little bit when I made a remark about RSI. I admitted that I was glad the patient was calm with me, because I wouldn't have been able to restrain him in the ambulance if he had lost control then. The doctor was shocked to hear that we didn't have the capability to RSI patients. He stared at me, as if I were joking.
"So basically," he said, "either the patient is dead, or you are not going to get the tube?"
I admitted that this was probably the case for much of the time.
The doc sat back in his seat, thinking for a second.
"Jeez. You're right. Good thing he didn't come 'round till you got him here."