Update on E-cigarette Vaping Associated Lung Disease.

States with Reported Cases of EVALI

Disclaimer: The information contained in this post is up to date as of this writing. For the latest information, visit the CDC website on outbreak of ecigarette related vaping associated lung injury.

In September of 2019, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Illinois Department of Public Health published the results of their investigation into a new clinical syndrome. This initial series involved a cluster of 53 cases of ecigarette vaping associated lung injury (EVALI). Since the initial study, the syndrome was found to be a national epidemic. Nearly 1900 people have been affected by vaping associated lung disease, there have been 37 deaths. Cases have been reported in all states except Alaska.

Case Definition: The first step in evaluating a new disease is determining the characteristics that make up that disease. In the case of EVALI, CDC has issued this publication to define cases of Confirmed or Probable EVALI for surveillance purposes. In general, this involves the presence of pulmonary infiltrates in the presence of vaping in the past 90 days and in the absence of infection or other plausible causes.

Presenting Symptoms: Interestingly, patients with EVALI appear to present in a number of ways. These include not only respiratory symptoms, but also with constitutional symptoms and gastrointestinal symptoms. In the initial series of patients in Wisconsin and Illinois, all patients had constitutional symptoms at presentation, most commonly subjective fever. Nearly all (98%) had respiratory symptoms at presentation, and 81% had gastrointestinal symptoms, of which nausea and vomiting were most common.

Exposures: While the particular vaping component that leads to EVALI is not yet known, there are a few common factors. 87% of patients with EVALI reported vaping THC, while only a small minority (<15%) reported vaping nicotine without any THC. However as many have pointed out, vaping THC in most states is illegal. In addition many of these patients are under the age of 18, thus it is reasonable to think that many who claimed not to have used THC use simply did not want to divulge that they had. So why would vaping THC lead to EVALI, when people have been smoking THC for decades? Vape liquids contain several chemicals including propylene glycol, terpenoids, cutting agents, and flavorings. These solvents are used to keep THC and other components, such as flavoring agents in solution. These solutions are prepared in different ways in back yards, garages, and back seats, often cut with unknown substances to reduce their cost. They are then sold as cartridges to people who use them in a variety of different vaping devices which themselves which may heat the fluid at different temperatures and for a different duration.

Radiologic Findings: Ct findings are often heterogenous in EVALI. They can include mild infiltrates to diffuse findings suggestive of ARDS/DAD.

Spectrum of radiological findings in EVALI. Presented by Dr. Kevin Davidson M.D. at CHEST2019.

What do Asthma and COPD inhalers have in common with Mexican food fast food?

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A 67 year old man came to see me recently, he had COPD, and found that it was getting harder to breathe. “I wanted to make sure that I’m on the right inhaler. My doctor switched me from Advair to Breo– is that better?

GSK would certainly say so, in fact their reps often do. Speaking with drug reps about their inhalers often makes me think of food. Actually I think of food quite often, but that’s more of a personal issue. Thinking of inhalers for COPD and asthma make me think of cheap Mexican food, specifically of the fast food variety. I think it has less to do with my poor dietary habits than the fact that I believe expensive inhalers have quite a lot in common with cheap Mexican food. 

Thinking about that patient’s question from the perspective of cheap Mexican fast food, switching from advair to Breo would be like ordering  one beefy rice burrito, only to be provided with two; but they would keep you full all day. Surely that’s an upgrade if there ever was one, and one which I endorsed. The problem though, and the real reason why he was asking, was not because he doubted the expertise of the prescribing physician but something else entirely. “It’s costing me $450 for 3 months. That’s more than triple what  the other one was. I guess I’ll pay for it if you think it’s worth it”

This was an especially unexpected twist, and not of the tasty cinnamon kind. No, that kind of dough busts straight out of the fast food genre into those fancy big-city restaurants, where it’s been said that they don’t even serve french fries. Like, you can’t even order them.  Continue reading “What do Asthma and COPD inhalers have in common with Mexican food fast food?”

The Advice That Every New Medical Grad Needs to Hear? Get Out Now (while you still can)!

 

Author’s Note:  This is a satirical tongue-in-cheek article  that tries to highlight physician burnout. More physicians are making the transition to physician executive as the practice of medicine has become increasingly frustrating. If you are a physician executive reading this, please note that I have neither owned, nor have ever slept on a yoga mat. 

Get out, get out while you can! It won’t be easy, it requires a lot of practice and preparation. Which is why I am talking to you now, this is something that you need to start planning soon, before it’s too late. . . like it is for me.  

The key to happiness in clinical medicine is to not practice it, but rather to tell other doctors how to practice it.

So I am imparting to you this wisdom of the hairless; the key to happiness in clinical medicine is to not practice it, but rather to tell other doctors how to practice it. To accomplish this you must get through your training and then begin the process of positioning yourself as “non-essential staff”, or as we call it in the parlance, Physician Executive Leadership. (The term “non-essential”  is a general term referring to those who don’t need to come in on a snow-day. As you will soon learn,  most of those people are actually more “essential” than  you are!). 

Earnings? Don’t be so short-sighted. What you give up in earnings will be repaid  in nights, weekends, and holidays of blissful nothingness. As “non-essential” staff you will not find yourself up at 4:30 am on a freezing and moonless night to dig your car out from the snowbank it got stuck in on your way home from work just a few hours earlier. (See figure 1).

FIGURE 1

Continue reading “The Advice That Every New Medical Grad Needs to Hear? Get Out Now (while you still can)!”

African Americans Are Less Accepting of Hospice and Palliative Care at End of Life; What Can ICU Doctors Do?

I grew up in a small town in the gently rolling hills of Connecticut. Previously unheard of, but now infamous, my hometown, Newtown, was a sleepy small New England town of mostly white people for whom my lone brown face served as diversity. I went to college at a mostly white college in said state, and went on to an Indian Medical School with predominantly other brown people. So you might imagine that July 1st, 2001 proved to be quite a shock. That was the day when I started my residency in Detroit, Michigan. Only I didn’t think there would be much culture shock, after all I was great guy who gets along with everybody. I was smart too, so naturally all patients would bow to my obvious mastery of medicine. It’s true that I had never really spent much time around African Americans, however I was an avid fan of both the Cosby show AND Fresh Prince of Bel Air. So really, what could go wrong?

Over the past 2 decades I’ve learned alot about how African Americans view health care and physicians. This is particularly important for anyone in the field of critical care where clinicians   often need to discuss end of life care decisions with patients and their families. Many of these conversations revolve around changing the goals of care from cure to comfort. These conversations are difficult, emotionally charged, and put tremendous strain on patients and their families. They also put a strain on medical teams–it becomes demoralizing to continue to care for someone who is obviously suffering and has no real chance of getting better. These conversations can be even more frustrating with African American patients and families.

As someone who provides care to the African American community I can certainly endorse what the literature shows; African Americans are more likely to choose life sustaining therapies over palliative or hospice approaches. The literature also suggests that African Americans have less awareness of hospice and advance care planning, and are less likely to enroll in hospice.  They are also more likely to withdraw from hospice to seek further life sustaining medical care. This is problematic as African Americans often have a greater illness burden at baseline, often have less access to medical care, and thus may have a greater need for palliative care services. Continue reading “African Americans Are Less Accepting of Hospice and Palliative Care at End of Life; What Can ICU Doctors Do?”

Not Dead but Not Alive; The terminally unhealed languish in America’s hospitals.

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May lay in a hospital bed, her wrinkled and mottled skin covered with leads, and sensors that monitored her every breath and heartbeat. A camera that was mounted on the wall allowed a doctor to zoom in closely enough to count her tattered eyelashes. Her husband  sat at her bedside, gently stroking her withering gray hair  as her chest moved slowly up and down accompanied by the soft whoosh-whoosh of the ventilator that breathed for her. He stared expectantly at her face as if at any moment she would rise and free herself from the myriad tubes that sustained her.  Her adult daughters sat and stared blankly at the floor, waiting for something, anything. The streams of data transmitted from her body were monitored closely both by a team in a remote electronic-ICU bunker 50 miles away and her ICU nurse 15 feet away. Yet what May could not have realized was that despite her family’s presence at her bedside and the twenty-four hour care she received, she had been abandoned. She was alone. 

Several weeks earlier, May came to the hospital from her nursing home, “yet another pneumonia”, the note in her chart said.  “She seems to get one of these every few months” said her husband “can’t we give her something for that?”. The Emergency Room physician explained that she had aspiration, essentially choking on her own food and spit. She would continue to get pneumonia, until she eventually passed away. This wasn’t the first time he had heard this. “They told me before to let her die, but I didn’t listen to them, I told them to treat her anyway, and she made it through. I didn’t give up on her then and I’m not going to now”, adding “she’s a fighter”. Her husband Daniels countenance was such that the Emergency physician admitting May to the hospital didn’t bother asking whether his wife should be resuscitated in the event her heart  or lungs stopped working and she needed to be put on life support. May was admitted to the general medical ward, and was started  on antibiotics, but she eventually got worse. Sometime in the middle of the night a nurse found her ashen and struggling to breathe, and called a “code blue”. May’s breathing had gotten so bad that she needed life support, she had a tube put down her trachea and was taken to the ICU where she was put on a ventilator.

Doctors worked on her for more than a week,  treating her pneumonia with powerful antibiotics. But even as her pneumonia cleared, her body withered. Her skin hung from her bones as her muscles wasted away, her eyes hollowed, and the skin of her arms filled with bruises as nurses struggled to find a place from which to draw blood. On the second Sunday of her ICU stay, the doctors tried a “trial extubation”. As the family understood it, her lungs had improved to the point that she might be able to be taken off the ventilator, but her body was now so weak, they did not know whether she would actually be able to breathe on her own. If she had to be put back on the ventilator, the doctors told them, she would require a tracheostomy that would allow her to live on the ventilator long term.  The social worker would then seek placement in a long term facility for patients on long term ventilators, essentially a hybrid hospital, rehab, and nursing home in one. Her breathing failed within minutes of being taken off the ventilator, and she was immediately put back on life support.

It was the following day, Monday morning, that I met with May’s family to discuss what had happened the day before, it was the beginning of my ICU week. For May and her family it was the beginning of their third week in the ICU, and it showed. Her husband, Daniel looked unkept, his thick shock of gray hair was whirled and tangled, his flannel shirt partly tucked into ripped and stained jeans. He gave the impression of someone who had not been taking care of himself, let alone someone who could take care of his chronically ill wife. His visage upon seeing me betrayed both surprise and regret as he recognized me from four months earlier.  I was the doctor who told him that May was going to die. Continue reading “Not Dead but Not Alive; The terminally unhealed languish in America’s hospitals.”

Devastation in Puerto Rico leads to hospital shortages in U.S.

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Hospitals run short of critical medications after loss of production in Puerto Rico facilities. 

“Doc, you mind switching that to an oral preparation?”, our clinical pharmacist inquired during multi-disciplinary rounds as intravenous infusion devices beeped annoyingly in the background.  Taking care of ICU patients can be extraordinarily complicated, so doing it as part of a team helps make sure that all bases are covered. ICU’s like ours have a BEEP BEEP BEEP. Excuse me, for a moment,  Staci, can you get that thing to stop, please? BEEP, BEEP, BEE– Thanks, Staci!. As I was saying, like many hospitals, ours uses a multidisciplinary model which makes rounds on all patients in the ICU.  An ICU nurse, clinical pharmacist, dietitian,  social worker, pastoral care, respiratory therapist, each provides important insight and perspective that guides patient care in the right direction.

As a pulmonary, critical care doc, I’m lucky to have a great team, so my ears perked up when I heard the suggestion. This was now the third patient he had made a suggestion to switch a medication to the oral route from the intravenous route. “What gives, Scott?” Over the past few years, we’ve been experiencing alot of spot medication shortages either because of inadequate supply, or because of precipitous price increases;  we can usually change to an alternative. But today was different. Today we were switching a number of different medications, all of which were intravenous to oral formulations of the same or similar medicines.

“It’s not the medicines,” he replied, “It’s the bags they’re in”. Continue reading “Devastation in Puerto Rico leads to hospital shortages in U.S.”

Top 5 Ways That Television is Ruining Your Sleep.

As a sleep physician, I spend a lot of time educating patients about what sleep is and how it works. Sleep, as I often explain, is not simply the lack of being awake; anymore than landing a plane is simply the lack of flying. It’s becoming increasingly understood that sleep is an actively generated state, created by a series of neuro-hormonal changes which work in concert to nudge the brain into the sleep state. To stretch the plane analogy further, if being asleep were like the plane being on the ground, then falling asleep is like the act of landing the plane. And just like when you land a plane, there are a lot of variables that are involved. There are numerous events that must happen in succession, each affecting and triggering other events which ultimately induce the brain to sleep. A recent study demonstrates just how watching too much television can wreak havoc in this delicate process. Here’s just a few of the ways that television can ruin your sleep.

     5. Watching television makes you go to bed later.

Television watching has steadily increased in our society, and its migration into our bedrooms marked a time when it began to disrupt our collective sleep and sleep habits. The most obvious effect that this might have is the most simple; we stay up later watching a program that has our attention. This few minutes a night may seem innocent enough. But our brains have a pre-determined amount of sleep they need to function well. When we miss that sleep we build up a “sleep debt” that can make us tired all of the time. Even if we catch up on a bit of sleep the next day, unless that sleep debt is paid back, the brain will still be fatigued.

     4. Watching television alters your brain’s bedtime habits. Continue reading “Top 5 Ways That Television is Ruining Your Sleep.”