Book review

Love, Learning Disabilities and Pockets of Brilliance by Sara Ryan

Cite this article as:
Liz Herrieven. Love, Learning Disabilities and Pockets of Brilliance by Sara Ryan, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2021. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.33746

I’d been looking forward to reading this book and it absolutely did not disappoint. Professor Ryan is a social scientist whose son, Connor, had autism, learning disabilities and epilepsy. He died in 2013 whilst an inpatient at a specialist NHS assessment and treatment centre. Her campaign for justice, #JusticeforLB (Connor was known as Laughing Boy), raised awareness and eyebrows around the inequalities and injustices faced by people with learning disability or autism.

Cover of book

“…It is back to parenting without a map and with some of the (few) signposts kicked over in the ditch or pointing the wrong way.”

This book describes some of the issues faced by people with a learning disability (LD) or autism and their families, from birth to end-of-life. It describes the horrendous moments in history that are still all too familiar to us as lived experience today. Yet, it also describes some of the very meaningful and wonderful acts that can make such a positive difference. Some magnificent quotes from people with LD and their families remind the reader that this is not an abstract text, but an account of real lives. The good, the bad, the heartbreaking and the brilliant are shown, along with some great myth-busting.

Some of the pockets of brilliance may surprise readers. They are fairly mundane or, at least, expected as a good standard of care. The fact that parent-carers describe them as brilliant speaks volumes about the inequalities we face on a daily basis. One example is particularly moving – a speech and language therapist writres a letter to parents with a comment detailing what a pleasure it was to work with their son.

“Out-of-hours home visits, alternatives to the main waiting room, positioning on the consultation list, additional time, talking carefully through what was going to happen, all contributed to positive encounters.”

Ryan challenges readers to consider a viewpoint a little different to the one commonly taken – disability as a social construct, with services set up to mould individuals to fit societal expectations, rather than communities adjusting to accommodate all individuals whatever their needs. A focus on deficit fails to highlight people’s abilities. Society suffers from ‘inclusion phobia‘ and is disablist, often due to ignorance. The first step to overcoming this, she suggests, is recognising that we are all human.

“Parents are constantly trying to prevent the downgrading of children to bundles of burden and toil rather than fully fledged little people.”

She writes with authority, vulnerability and humour. This book made me smile, nod in recognition and, at times, cry. As Mum to a young lady with Down syndrome and autism there was much that resonated – both good experiences and bad. As a clinician, there was also much for me to learn and build into my practice. I particularly liked the “What can you do?” sections, and would have liked more of these although, to be fair, the whole book acts as a guide to professionals in health and social care, whether they regularly work with people with LD or autism, or not. There are many stark truths in this book, which professionals would do well to acknowledge. We need to do better and Ryan not only explains why, but also gives us tools to start on the “how”.

Bystander awareness header

Bystander Awareness

Cite this article as:
Emily Fowler. Bystander Awareness, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2021. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.33482
Elie Wiesel on bystander awareness - "What hurts the victim the most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander

You look too young to be a doctor,’ would be a flattering phrase now (and one I haven’t heard in a while!). But when I qualified back in 2011 I’d hear it every week.

I didn’t translate this as a compliment, but as, You look too young to be competent to look after me/this patient/my relative’. It was never a welcome comment. I had never identified it as anything more than a throwaway line until I learnt about bystander awareness and micro-aggressions.

Bystander awareness- What is it?

As a GP registrar, I recently attended a session on bystander awareness. I will admit, I’d never heard the phrase before and had no idea what to expect from the session. It’s a concept much more commonplace in schools, universities and the military, but one I now think we should be very aware of in healthcare.

During the teaching session I realised I knew exactly what bystander awareness was. Here’s my explanation:

It’s that uncomfortable feeling of being a witness to a conversation you feel is discriminatory on some level.

Sometimes we witness obvious discrimination and bullying in the workplace. This session was more focused on being aware of subtle acts of discrimination, or micro-aggressions, as I now know to call them. These may relate to age, race, sex, gender identity, sexuality, disability… the list goes on.

Ashamedly, I now have to admit that I have been a passive bystander and I have witnessed these micro-aggressions without choosing to act. The incidents I remember have nearly all been at work. Following discussion with peers at this teaching session I realise I’m not alone.

I think the example I’ve most witnessed and the one which came up repeatedly in our teaching session is this one…

Person 1: Where are you from?

Person 2: *UK place name inserted*

Person 1: No, I mean originally?

…and so on.

This could be rephrased as you don’t belong here particularly if it’s asked often and out of context. People don’t like to be asked this. It is uncomfortable and this was reflected in our session. In fact, why would people ask that question? How is it relevant to the situation in the workplace? It’s (almost always) not. This is a micro-aggression.

Other examples of these micro-aggressions mentioned by colleagues included subtle discriminatory remarks/questions about size or height, as well as sex and sexual orientation. It was hard to imagine how most of these topics would ever be part of a relevant discussion at work. Once we got started it was really quite easy to identify that these were examples of micro-aggressions.

Solutions

Micro-aggressions can lead to a toxic culture in the workplace, and these behaviours become normalised over time. They can build up and really affect an individual’s confidence and enjoyment of their job and workplace. Some colleagues expressed how challenging and upsetting they found this sort of dialogue.

Some of the skills needed to tackle these micro-aggressions are very simple, and might just slowly start to shift the boundaries of what behaviour is considered to be acceptable.

So what can we, as individuals, do about it?

Bystander awareness infographic

1. Call it out

This is the obvious one, but it’s often incredibly tricky. For example; you’re in a group on a ward round where there is a clear hierarchy, and a patient says something inappropriate to a colleague which your seniors don’t react to.

It can be really hard to be the one to say I don’t think you should say/ask that when no one else is acknowledging it. In fact, this bystander effect is well recognised by psychologists as one reason people in a group don’t act. You could just make a simple statement such as I don’t see the relevance of that’ or ‘That is not appropriate’.

2. Provide a distraction

Change the topic of conversation, interrupt the conversation, ask an unrelated question.

3. Use body language

If you don’t feel able to speak up or it doesn’t feel appropriate, then try some disapproving body language. This can be highly effective. It can be as simple as not laughing at the racist joke, if that was the expected reaction, or providing a silent stare, followed by the statement “Can you explain how that was funny?” Nothing makes people more uncomfortable than having to explain their behaviour. Other options include moving next to the person being targeted as a silent show of support or simply changing your position by sitting/standing unexpectedly.

4. Discuss after the event

If you feel unable to react at the time, all is not lost. Approach the perpetrator directly afterwards to discuss your feelings. Or try a discussion with the targeted person afterwards to confirm if they see the situation as you did and ask how you could help. A discussion with other bystanders could help to work out a group strategy for further episodes.

To Conclude

In healthcare, we can only benefit from being aware of micro-aggressions towards others. Unfortunately, most of us (with a new understanding of what a micro-aggression is) will recognise situations where we were passive bystanders and did not act.

Having better awareness of what micro-aggressions are, and how detrimental they can be to an individual will help us to make the transition from passive to active bystander with the aim, in time, to have a positive impact on our workplace environment.

Selected references on bystander awareness

The Art of Saying No

Cite this article as:
Andrew Tagg. The Art of Saying No, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2021. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.33214

I have been a consultant for almost six years now. I love putting on my black DFTB scrubs, waving hello to the comms clerks as I walk past triage, and doing what I think is a good job. I am no longer a new FACEM, despite what I think, and I’ve reached that point when advanced trainees are starting to ask me for career advice. I think back to what I had been told.

Join lots of committees,” they said.

Say yes to everything.”

Looking back, I am not so sure that this is the best advice. Has it done me any good? It has certainly helped my career. But there is much more to life than your job. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is better to learn to say no?

The first no

You may not remember your first time, but I’m pretty sure your parents do. Were you snuggly strapped into your highchair trying to figure out why you needed to open your mouth for that limp, overboiled, spear of broccoli? No, here doesn’t come the aeroplane. Were you dragging your heels around Woolworths, clad in an embarrassing mismatch of brown corduroy and mustard yellow polyester when it was time to leave the plastic heaven of the toy aisle? No, you scream as you fall to the floor in the perfect imitation of premier league midfielder. Or were you just lying there, minding your own business, enjoying the warmth of freshly laid poo in your nappy, when some do-gooder decided you needed to be naked and cold (and clean)*?


Those two letters hold such power. They are often our first show of defiance so why don’t we want to use them more as we get older? Maybe, it is the sense of embarrassment? We feel for the harassed parent as they leave their wailing child to their tantrum on the filthy linoleum. Do we then display negativity bias, our brains recalling in exquisite detail, these confronting turns? As we grow older, programmed to please, rather than upset, we choose to say yes instead.

Why? – E – S spells YES

We crave approval. Our sense of self-worth is inherently tied in with our need for acceptance by the tribe. By pleasing people, and saying yes, we then avoid conflict. It is easier to answer in the affirmative than feel the social tension of a request denied so there is this innate sense that we should conform to the norm of saying yes. If we say no they might turn their burning gaze of approval away from us and we will no longer belong. Making the active decision to say no means you are turning away from the tribe and deliberately turning down the emotional reward offered.

But, we are not responsible for other peoples feelings. If we can learn to say no, graciously, then our lives might be a little easier.

Perhaps, we say yes because it is easier than thinking through all of the options? Paralyzed by choice we answer a request on autopilot. At that exact moment in time, with your director standing in front of you, you don’t want to hesitate and so you blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.

But by saying yes, what are you saying no to? Are you saying no to playing in the park with your children? Are you saying no to catching up with a friend that you haven’t seen for ages because they have been self-isolating? How comfortable are you with saying no to your own self-care? In the same way that we rehearse hard conversations, in our head or with friends, we can practice our new script until it becomes a new auto-response.

Let me get back to you later about that. I need to check my other commitments.

You may, indeed, want to take up the opportunity offered. But only do so after carefully weighing up the costs and benefits.

There may be a deeper, darker reason for saying yes, too. Being busy can be a way to avoid being. Living a distracted life makes it easy not to think about the hard things. I know I have been guilty of this. It is much easier to get on and write another blog post, or join that committee, or pick up that extra shift than think about where your life is heading. It is not sustainable. It is also not good self-care.

The myth of the perfect life and FOMO

In this never-off world, we are exposed to a heavily curated alternate reality – one where all of our friends are writing papers, presenting at conferences and transporting critically ill patients around the country in helicopters, all the while maintaining elegantly coiffed hair. With greasy thumbs swiping up and down our timelines, we compare ourselves to that Finsta-life and wonder why we have less. We wonder why don’t have what they are having and we feel a sense of sadness.

Patrick McGinnis called this FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out. This is a form of loss aversion and so we say yes to things because we worry that we are going to miss out on some remarkable opportunity that will catapult us into that perfect life. We worry that the opportunity will never again present itself, in part, because we find it hard to see our own merits. We think that good things only ever happen to us on account of luck or serendipity. Because we cannot always see our own goodness we rely on the validation of others. And how do we gain that validation? We say yes.

The problem with saying yes (to everything)

It is easy to say yes. It is far easier to say yes, than no. But what does it lead to? If you say yes to everything, then nothing is important.

Tsundoku

We all have them – on the bedside cabinet, in the office, on our electronic devices – that pile of unread books, spines unbroken, stories unread. They sit there, tempting us with their bright and colourful covers. “Read me,” whisper untouched pages, knowing that once you have picked them up, you will become lost in the strange flow of time that only books can create. There is a Japanese term for this memorial of words and lost worlds – tsundoku. And, like your boss asking you to do that one extra shift, you might find it is time to say no too. Instead of saying yes to all of the books, it might be time to create what Umberto Eco would call a library of the unread. When you can find out the answer to almost any question with a click of a button, isn’t it better to know where to find things rather than to have them lodged in your own private memory palace?

While I am not denying the value of a perfect piece of fiction, it is easy to say yes to every colourful cover in the bookshop. We need to place more value on our time and learn to say no. We need to set boundaries and focus on what actually is important. What projects are sitting on your bedside table of ideas? What requests have you said yes to that are left unfinished, or perhaps not even yet started? Every time we add a new book to our tsundoku we are reminded of our failure to complete that thing we started. By saying no, you are actually committing to being able to say yes to something else.

On boundaries

When the COVID pandemic began and work shifted, from office to home, boundaries became blurred. It was easier to ‘just send a quick email‘ before closing the laptop for the night. Before you knew it, you were ensnared in a reply-all thread regarding which dressing you should stock for paediatric cannulation (Editor’s note – Tegaderm teddies, obviously) and your children were scratching at the door like extras from a George A. Romero movie. It has been hard to switch off when working from home but until someone pays me to look after my own children they cannot dictate what I do when I am not at work. Firm boundaries need to be set.

Have you ever checked your e-mail at 8pm on a school night and been tempted to respond? It’s easy, especially if you only need to dash out a couple of lines. What you are doing is eroding the boundary between work and not-work. You are setting an expectation that you will respond, even if you are not at work. I used to be that person – the one that would respond to enquiries at 10 o’clock at night. Achieving Inbox Zero would give me a teenty tiny dopamine hit. But I never considered the cost. I never considered what I could have been doing instead. I’m a huge fan of Greg McKeown’s Essentialism and responding to an e-mail late at night is just not essential. It does not need to be done.

And the funny thing is if you leave a problem for a day or two it often seems to sort itself out. Someone else volunteers for the job. The lost vein-finder shows up. Management changes their mind on PPE requirements (again). It has been a long time coming but now I say no to checking my email obsessively and just wait.

So, having considered the importance of saying NO, here is some guidance on the how.

1. Focus on the request not the feelings

You are saying no to the ask not the asker. Don’t worry that you will hurt your bosses feelings because you are saying no to something. This is a refusal, not a rejection. All you are doing is setting boundaries. If you already have a lot on your plate ask what task they want you to de-prioritize in order to take on a new project. That way you are asking them to make the choice, not you.

Thanks for thinking of me. I’ve already got a lot a other projects on the go at the moment for you. Which one would you like me to drop?

2. What’s the alternative?

Perhaps you have been asked to give a talk and your digital diary is full? This is an opportunity to practice allyship and show your support for a colleague that might be better placed to take on the task. We know that, despite women being in the majority in paediatrics, they are much less likely to be invited to speak at an event, or be listed as first author. This is the perfect opportunity to suggest that a colleague who is much more qualified than you take the (virtual) stage.

I’m sorry but I have a lot on next month so the answer will have to be NO. But let me give you the name fo three amazing women that would do a far better job than I ever could.

3. NO is a complete sentence

You don’t have to say why. You do not have to over-explain. “I cannot do the extra shift because I am spending time with my family.” That is enough. You don’t need to over-explain and go into details about what you are going to do. You are setting the boundary between work and home. You just need to say no with confidence. It’s too easy to bargain with someone that over-explains.

If you do feel the need so say something after the no then make sure you use the word because. In one of those classic social psychology studies that could only be performed before the dawn of the internet a group of experimenters would approach people lining up to use a rigged photocopier. An actor, weighed down with a pile of textbooks (pre-internet, remember) would struggle to the front of the queue and ask to skip the line. Langer et al. (1978) found that just by adding the word because, the actor was much more likely to be allowed in, even if the excuse made no sense. It was the word because that seemed to work wonders.

No, because I would like to spend some time with my children.

4. Sorry is NOT the hardest word

I’m sorry, I can’t” seems like the polite way of turning someone down but you do not need to express regret. You are not sorry. Reframe it. You are saying yes to other important commitments, to the things you want to do. Just because you ran the medical student teaching program last year, it does not mean that you have to say yes again this year.

No.

5. Just say NO

Those of you who grew up in mid-80’s Thatcher-ite Britain will recognise the song. There are some requests where the answer is obvious. Channel your inner Zammo and just say no.

NO.

What are your real priorities? Is this important? Will it actually matter in a years time? Five years? If you had to give the talk that you have asked to give tomorrow would you say yes? Perhaps, if it is not a ‘Hell Yeah‘, then it should be a no?

*No was definitely the first word out of my middle daughters mouth in exactly the circumstances described. The other two managed shoe and more.

Selected references

Guadagno, R.E., Asher, T., Demaine, L.J. and Cialdini, R.B., 2001. When saying yes leads to saying no: Preference for consistency and the reverse foot-in-the-door effect. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin27(7), pp.859-867.

Kline, S.L. and Floyd, C.H., 1990. On the art of saying no: The influence of social cognitive development on messages of refusal. Western Journal of Speech Communication54(4), pp.454-472.

Izraeli, D.M. and Jick, T.D., 1986. The art of saying no: Linking power to culture. Organization studies7(2), pp.171-192.

Langer, E., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of “Placebic” Information in Interpersonal Interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(6), 635-642.

Patrick, V.M. and Hagtvedt, H., 2012. “I don’t” versus “I can’t”: When empowered refusal motivates goal-directed behavior. Journal of Consumer Research39(2), pp.371-381.

All paediatricians are complicit in delivering a racist healthcare service

Cite this article as:
Zeshan Qureshi and Anna Rose. All paediatricians are complicit in delivering a racist healthcare service, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2021. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.33938

We’re supposed to be the nice ones. The friendly, fun, caring and supportive speciality – right? We’re the ones who have teddies on our stethoscopes and know all the words to Disney songs. In the hospital, we’d like to think we’re the Good Guys – but maybe we’re not when it comes to race. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a monumental challenge to the NHS and has, undoubtedly, showcased the everyday heroism of our staff. It has also thrown a sharp light onto the ongoing racial inequalities in our society and healthcare systems. Racial disparities in the pandemic have been widely documented – and make for sobering reading. Analysis of national hospital data suggests that people of black and other minority backgrounds are up to twice as likely to die from the virus, as compared to white Britons – with some groups, such as black African-born men living in Britain, having an even higher risk [1]. Despite this, we have little doubt that the major impetus for the unprecedented emergency measures, national lockdowns, and political obsession was not the deaths of the poor, the ethnic minorities, or those in low and middle-income countries – but the perceived threat to wealthy, predominantly white, Westerners.

In an eerie parallel to the racial inequalities highlighted by the pandemic, the past year has also seen racial tensions in the USA reach boiling point. Following several high-profile incidents of police brutality, there was an eruption of social unrest and protest in America and around the world. The systemic disregard of black lives is not just written in blood on American pavements. It is written into the systems that surround us in our everyday working lives. As a speciality, and in the NHS as a whole, we must confront these engrained systemic inequalities, if we are to provide truly equitable care to all of our patients. 

In this blog series, we will examine how clinical outcomes for common paediatric conditions are worse for children from minority ethnic backgrounds. Stillbirth, low birth weight and preterm birth are all more common in minority groups as compared to white northern European populations [2,3,4 ]. Outcomes for common chronic conditions, such as asthma and type 2 diabetes, are also worse for children within minority groups [5,6]. This could be because care received by children with chronic conditions is worse. Non-white children with renal failure are less likely to pre-emptively receive a renal transplant, for example [7]. There are also complex social and environmental roots to these adverse health outcomes – such as increased poverty in non-White groups [8] — and we will try to investigate these issues in more detail. 

We will also explore how paediatrics has normalized white Northern European genetics, physiology and behaviour, leading to biased clinical decision making. Normalization of one ethnic group has lead to the classification of other normal values (in both the laboratory and social sense) as pathological or inappropriate. In other words – you are only normal if you are white and normal. Neutrophil counts are often lower in black babies [9]. Rather than reporting ethnically normal ranges babies often end up having multiple blood tests due to a lack of awareness of the variation. Parents get told that their neutrophil count is low, but it’s acceptable for a black baby (rather than categorically stating that their count is normal). Worst still, it might be classified as a disease – benign ethnic neutropenia – despite not being associated with increased morbidity or mortality.

Within medical education, we are guilty of peddling irrelevant and outdated racial and religious stereotypes. These hold little educational value, but risk enforcing dangerous bias within our future doctors. Any paediatrician would be able to tell you about the association between Tay-Sachs disease and Ashkenazi heritage, or sickle cell disease and sub-Saharan Black Africans. Such associations are often over-simplified and over-emphasized, to the point of creating a disease-ridden caricature, particularly in exam questions. Most of these stereotyped conditions are very rare, and over-emphasis during medical school risks blinkering us to more common diagnoses. We’ll explore how racial bias is ingrained in medical education in the UK, and try to come up with some ideas on how we can improve MedEd to be more diverse and inclusive in the future. 

There also seems to be a disproportionate concern that those from Muslim backgrounds might be consanguineous, and that we need to ask about this even when it is not relevant to the presenting complaint. Conversely, when genetic testing is being sent off, a detailed family tree needs to be drawn. It should include details of any consanguinity – yet it seems that a white family is less likely to be asked. As first or second cousin marriages are no longer a social norm in the UK, they have become defined by pathological associations with genetic conditions, such as inborn errors of metabolism. And whilst there are, of course, differences in the prevalence of disease alleles in different populations, and an increased risk of recessive disorders in families with intergenerational consanguinity, it does not automatically follow that a child from a Muslim background has a recessive disorder, or that a white British child does not. The same considerations need to be given to other cultural practices that might be different to the social norms of Northern and Western Europe. Putting children on a vegetarian diet is often classed as a ‘restrictive diet’ – despite the fact that it is only restrictive based on traditional Western standards – and might, in fact, hold health benefits [10]. 

Finally, in our series, we will examine how systemic racism within the health service tolerates – and sometimes even facilitates –  the unacceptable behaviours demonstrated by some parents. One thing that sets paediatrics apart from adult medicine is that patients are almost never seen alone, and a parent is often required to deliver care. This can present a dilemma to staff when confronted with a racist parent. Any punishment directed towards the parents might directly harm their child. We will explore how guidelines should be developed to help clinicians handle racist parents, whilst minimizing the effect on the clinical care of our patients. 

It can be painful for us – as individuals and as a speciality – to consider that we might be complicit in a racist system that ultimately leads to poorer health outcomes for some children. Just because something is painful, does not mean we shouldn’t do it. We hope that you’ll join us for this series of short articles, as we try to explore how we can begin to move from a white-centric healthcare system to a child-centred one.

James Baldwin quote on racism

Selected references

1) The IFS Deaton Review. Are some ethnic groups more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others? 

2) Gardosi J, et al. (2013). Maternal and fetal risk factors for stillbirth: population-based study. BMJ 346:f108.

3) Kelly Y, et al. (2008). Why does birthweight vary among ethnic groups in the UK? Findings from the Millenium Cohort Study. Journal of Public Health, 31:131–137.

4) Aveyard P, et al (2002). The risk of preterm delivery in women of different ethnic groups. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 109:894-899.

5) Asthma UK (2018) On the Edge: How inequality affects people with asthma. Available at www.asthma.org.uk

6) RCPCH (2020) State of Child Health: Diabetes. Available at www.rcpch.ac.uk

7) Plumb LA et al. (2021) Associations between Deprivation, Geographic Location, and Access to Pediatric Kidney Care in the United Kingdom. CJASN. 16:194-203.

8) Office for National Statistics (2020) Child poverty and education outcomes by ethnicity. Available at www.ons.gov.uk.

9) Haddy TB, Rana SR, Castro O. (1999) Benign ethnic neutropenia: what is a normal absolute neutrophil count? J Lab Clin Med. 133:15-22.

10) Kalhoff H. et al (2021) Vegetarian Diets in Children—Some Thoughts on Restricted Diets and Allergy. International Journal of Clinical Medicine. 12:43-60.

Emergency ambulance transport in those with Autistic Spectrum Condition

Cite this article as:
Vicki Marchant. Emergency ambulance transport in those with Autistic Spectrum Condition, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2021. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.33246

A small bit of knowledge about Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC) can make a huge difference in how an emergency situation evolves. ASC is also referred to as ASD – Autistic Spectrum Disorder – but there is a move away from using the term “disorder”, driven by autistic people themselves. Many see their autism as part of their character and identity, hence “autistic people” rather than “people with autism”, and prefer to think in terms of a condition rather than a disorder due to the negative connotations this carries.

Unlike the UK, Ireland does not have official clinical guidance for transporting those with ASC or communication difficulties to the ED. There are two ambulance services in Ireland: the Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB), who run 12 ambulances in the greater Dublin area, and the National Ambulance Service (NAS) who run the remainder of the ambulances in Dublin and the rest of the country. Neither has any formal training in the management of those with ASC. Although some personnel have knowledge of the intricacies of the condition this is mostly due to personal experience with friends or family members.

A call to a situation where the patient has ASC is usually a last resort. Family members don’t want to make the situation worse by calling in strangers and will have tried their best to de-escalate the situation themselves. If the call has been made, the situation has gone past their control and they are admitting they need help. The parents may feel they have failed their child and the attitude of the staff coming into the house can make a huge difference to all involved.

Sam is 15, he’s 5ft 10 and 20 stone. He trips going out the front door and twists his ankle. He starts screaming and tries to get up. He puts weight on his foot and it goes from under him, further aggravating the injury. Due to his size and his injury, he is unable to get up. His dad tries to help him but is unable to lift him. He is screaming very loudly and a crowd is gathering. His family call an ambulance which arrives after 15 minutes. You can hear his screams as you pull up. There is a large crowd gathered, watching and offering ‘helpful’ suggestions to his father who is sitting behind Sam gripping him very tightly. Sam is trying to headbutt his dad and writhing around in apparent agony. You can see his ankle is injured but you can’t get near enough to assess him without getting kicked. You have to shout loudly to make yourself heard and the crowd are enjoying the entertainment.

You feel you need a few more bodies here to help and escalate the call to a behavioural emergency scenario which warrants the police being called. Within a few minutes you have two police officers with you shouting at the dad, trying to get him to stop assaulting the boy. The dad tries to explain but can’t be heard over the noise Sam is making, which has somehow gotten louder. You, your colleague and the two police are standing over Sam trying to hold him down with the dad telling you to get away. The crowd are filming everything. Every time Sam kicks out, he injures his ankle more. The situation is completely out of control.

From a Different Perspective…..

Sam is 15, he’s 5ft 10 and 20 stone. He is autistic and non-verbal. He trips going out the front door and twists his ankle. He starts screaming and tries to get up. He puts weight on his foot and it goes from under him, further aggravating the injury. Due to his size and his injury, he is unable to get up. His dad tries to help him but is unable to lift him. He is screaming very loudly due to pain and frustration and a crowd is gathering. His family call an ambulance which arrives after 15 minutes. You can hear his screams as you pull up. There is a large crowd gathered, watching and offering ‘helpful’ suggestions to his father who is sitting behind Sam bear-hugging him very tightly. One of Sam’s coping mechanisms to deal with unusual situations is to headbutt whatever is around him, in this case the ground, so his dad is sitting behind him to try and stop this but also giving deep pressure to Sam which helps comfort him. You can see Sam’s ankle is injured and a quick survey of the situation shows you that Sam is aggravated by the noise in the crowd also.

You ask your partner to quietly move the crowd on and you slowly approach Sam and his dad but stay out of kicking distance. You introduce yourself to Sam and his dad in a calm, quiet voice and ask what you can do to help.  By asking this way you are acknowledging that the parent knows this child the best. You may be asked to go into the house and get an object to help calm the child: a blanket, a tablet or a favourite toy. In this case Sam’s dad asks you to go in and get his sleeping bag which he immediately puts over Sam’s head. Sam continues to sob but immediately stops kicking out. You are able to chat with Sam’s visibly shaken dad about what happened, and you can look at Sam’s injured ankle. You say what you are going to do and Sam’s dad says it in words Sam may understand. Although he protests a bit, you are able to assess his ankle and determine he needs ED assessment as it may be broken.

You are able to splint his ankle and, between the 3 of you, help Sam onto the chair and get him into the ambulance. His father asks if you can dim the lights and he runs back into the house and grabs a few bits including a tablet which he gives to Sam who is now trying to undo the seat belts. Sam calms immediately and even lets you do some obs when he’s distracted although he thoroughly dislikes the BP monitor and rips the cuff off. You pre-alert the hospital to ask if they can find a quiet space for Sam to wait to be seen and give them chance to review Sam’s care pathway, if he has one.

If you have no knowledge of ASC you will approach this scenario as an ordinary call and walk into chaos. You will see the father essentially holding this child down for no reason and you will act accordingly and put the safety of the child first.

The Autistic Spectrum

People with ASC vary from having very mild symptoms and being able to manage very well to someone like Sam who is completely non-verbal and also has an intellectual disability. The autistic spectrum isn’t a linear thing, with “high functioning” at one end and “low functioning” at the other. Think of it as a pie, made up of variable-sized slices – the social communication difficulties slice may be quite big, whilst the slices for inflexible thinking and anxiety may be fairly small. The whole pie is different for every autistic person. “Slices” vary, depending on the source used, but commonly also include sensory issues, routine, repetitive movements and intense focus or interests.

Autistic Symptoms and Coping Mechanisms

One of the most common symptoms of ASC is a dislike of change in routine, leading to use of personal coping mechanisms which can be seen as self-harm: head-butting walls, picking at skin etc. In this case, Sam was trying to headbutt the ground which would have caused him more injuries than just his ankle. As with some with ASC, Sam does not understand the consequences of doing this so could hurt himself badly before stopping.

Some autistic people have sensory processing difficulties. This can mean that the body misinterprets certain sensations – light touch may be uncomfortable, deep pressure may be comforting, loud or sudden noise may be very distressing. This is why Sam’s dad had a very tight hold on his upper arms. Other coping mechanisms in those with ASC may include talking about one subject, loudly and constantly, perhaps to distract themselves from something distressing, or sometimes if they feel they are not being engaged with. Some may not understand you may be talking to someone else about something more important, the situation is scary to them and this is their way to cope. Further symptoms may include a dislike of loud noises, bright lights, strangers or crowds.

You will be seeing these patients on an already bad day. Something unexpected has happened which has put them out of their comfort zone already, but it has happened to the extent that someone else has been called to their side. This can often be in a noisy environment with lots of people trying to help. Their senses are overloaded and they will need to employ all their coping mechanisms to try and manage.

You will not always know immediately that a person has ASC. They may tell you if they are able, or a family member/carer may say. If you feel the person’s reactions are out of proportion given the situation, consider whether they may be autistic.

Tips to Remember

Unfortunately, parents are used to getting unsolicited advice about how to best manage their children and a large number of people feel the symptoms of ASC are just a child being naughty with poor parenting. Parents may appear defensive at first but asking how you can help may calm them as they realise you are there to help rather than criticise.

Speak quietly and don’t crowd the patient. Don’t touch them without asking. Ask what you can do to help: do they have a toy/blanket/comforter with them that you can get? Is there anything that usually helps to make them feel more comfortable? If they are in the ambulance, can you turn the lights down and travel without the siren?

First and foremost, go into every situation with an open mind and ask what you can do to help. Not everything is as it looks and by being aware of this you can turn chaos into, well, less chaos.

Defining Learning Disability

Cite this article as:
Liz Herrieven. Defining Learning Disability, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2021. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.33287

In all areas of paediatric practice (and beyond), we come into contact with children with a learning disability, learning difficulties or autism. Terminology is important, not only for making sure we understand a child’s diagnosis properly, but also for providing the best possible care. Getting it right can also help gain the trust of parents and carers who will often know far more about appropriate language use than we clinicians. This guide aims to describe the key points to remember – some of them easier to grasp than others.

Learning Disability

Let’s start with learning disability or LD. 2.5% of the children in the UK have a learning disability, yet it’s one of the most commonly confused terms. Probably the most pragmatic and descriptive definition is that used by Mencap, a UK charity supporting people with LD: “A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities – for example household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life.” The World Health Organisation keeps it short, although open to discussion and interpretation. For them it’s “a state of arrested or incomplete development of mind.”

Having a learning disability means an individual will not only find learning difficult but also face challenges with retaining, processing, reasoning and deducing information. Some people will find different areas of learning more challenging than others. Children with Down syndrome have a relative strength in visual learning and find learning or remembering auditory information more difficult. Building on strengths can help to balance out some of the more challenging areas. Some people with LD may be able to communicate very well, even if they struggle to understand all of what is communicated to them but many will have an associated speech and language problem.

The term intellectual disability, or ID, is used rather than LD, to signify that the condition affects intellect and is lifelong. This fact is important – the individual will need support, depending on their level of disability, for the whole of their life. There are many causes of LD, all involve the developing brain – genetic or chromosomal conditions, intrauterine infections, perinatal hypoxic brain injury to name but a few. After the brain has developed, such an insult is described as an acquired brain injury.

The level of disability may be mild, moderate or severe, depending on IQ, although this is rarely formally calculated and actually doesn’t really add much. Support and care should be tailored to an individual’s needs rather than their IQ.

The term PMLD is used to describe individuals with Profound and Multiple Learning Disability. These patients may have fairly complex comorbidities alongside severe learning disabilities. They can affect not only their ability to learn and process information, but also their ability to communicate and to be independent.

Learning Difficulty

A learning difficulty is very different to a learning disability, and is far more common. Things like ADHD, dyspraxia or dyslexia are all examples of a learning difficulty. They all make learning more difficult, but don’t affect overall intellect or IQ.

Autism

Autism, or an autistic spectrum condition (ASC), is not itself a learning disability, although about one-third of people with ASC will also have LD. The National Autistic Society (UK) describes autism as “a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world”. There are lots of different elements, each of which may be present to a greater or lesser extent within one individual, so each autistic person is different from the next. The autistic spectrum is not a linear thing, with someone being more or less autistic. “High functioning” or “low functioning” are not particularly appropriate terms either. It’s more helpful to think about how someone’s autistic features affect them. The most common features include social communication difficulties, sensory processing disorder and restrictive or repetitive movements.

Social communication difficulties include challenges in interpreting body language or facial expression, and reading hidden meaning into words or phrases, particularly when metaphors are used. Sensory processing difficulties involve the body misinterpreting sensations. A light touch may be perceived as very painful whilst a deeper touch may be more comforting. Bright lights or certain noises could be very distressing. Restrictive or repetitive movements are often comforting, or theymay distract from upsetting or uncomfortable situations.

ASC was more commonly known as ASD, or autistic spectrum disorder. The move to calling it a condition, instead, is an attempt to remove unnecessary negativity. ASC encompasses many other conditions such as that previously known as Asperger syndrome. This name is no longer preferred – Hans Asperger has a troubling history. It was used to describe people with normal or even high intelligence, coupled with autistic features. Other conditions included under the ASC umbrella include PDD (pervasive developmental disorder) and PDA (pathological demand avoidance).

Person First vs Identity First Language

We use person-first language for many conditions. Someone with asthma is not defined by their asthma but has a whole identity of their own, so they are described as someone with asthma. Someone with Down syndrome may share certain physical features with someone else with Down syndrome, but they have their own identity and character which is very different from that of others with Down syndrome, so they are described as a person with Down syndrome, not a Down’s person or, even worse, a Downs.

Child with learning disability

Many autistic people feel that their autistic features form part of their identity – that they would be a very different person if they did not have autism, so they describe themselves as autistic, rather than a person with autism. You can read more about person first vs identity first language here.

And if you can’t remember what to say when?

Ask! It’s always better to ask someone how they would prefer to be described than to guess. All people. whether they have LD, a learning difficulty or ASC are individuals and will have their own preferences, likes and dislikes. Getting the language right can be a great start, but being honest and open when you’re not sure is a very close second.

Mother Ship by Francesca Segal

Cite this article as:
Mahima Chandrasekhar and Tara George. Mother Ship by Francesca Segal, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2021. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.32838

A mother’s experience of the Neonatal Unit

Mother Ship by Francesca Segal chronicles the first 56 days, from birth to discharge, that the author’s twin, 30 week, premature babies spent in the NICU. She describes a journey that is far from smooth sailing; rocky and filled with turbulence from the start. At the same time, it is one filled with hope, longing and joy, which ultimately steers this ship to its destination: home. 

Book cover for Mother Ship

Segal describes how she expected her pregnancy to progress, and how divergent from reality it became. At times, her words are soaked in guilt and come through to the reader in waves: “we are encouraged to believe that a mother’s body is mad and clever… though mine was not quite mad and clever enough to sustain a pregnancy.” It is soothed, in part, by her well-timed jabs of humour, expressed through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. She celebrates bonds forged through shared experiences between the mothers of the ‘milking shed’, makes us appreciate the enduring presence of her husband and prioritises hygiene in a way that would make every Infection Control team proud. 

Importantly, Segal highlights many areas for improvement in the way care is provided. Her observations of the NICU bring attention to the lightning-fast and disorientating ward rounds, the constant use of medical jargon, frighteningly alien words second only to the name of that town in Wales (you all know where I am speaking about), and reluctance in having to involve yet another ‘Mum’ in decision making. Despite this, she showers gratitude upon the healthcare professionals with whom she shares a complicated but respectful relationship.

The book evokes a cocktail of emotions, prompts you to give your mother a call, and makes you ever so fond of little ‘A-lette’ and ‘B-lette’. Mother or not, clinician or not, a treat for all who read.

Why I am recommending this book

Tara George (GP)

Mother Ship provides a window into a world that may be familiar to many of us in a work context but seen here through the eyes of a mother. Disorientating, frightening, a liminal place where babies born too small, too soon may live or may die. What really struck me was the camaraderie of “the milking shed”, the irreverent humour, the ability ultimately to be human when that was all she had left. It left me expanding the horizons of what the word “mother” really is.  There are important lessons for those of us who look after whole families as well as for paediatricians – leaving your newborn (safely?) in the hospital and being at home, a mother with no mothering to do. As a GP with some interest in perinatal mental health, it is clear how much mothers in the scenario need support but it is also made strikingly obvious how little time she has for anything other than sleep, travel, endless expressing of milk and being in the hospital.  The moment of absolute compassion and wisdom when the nurses send her and her husband out for dinner one night reaffirms for me how truly amazing NHS staff are at both the high tech bits of medicine and at the human side.  

Mahima Chandrasekhar (FY2)

Medical school has always highlighted the merits of clear communication, empathy and a multidisciplinary approach to decision making. We practiced a lot of these skills in simulated environments and attempted to apply our learning into the clinical environment, to varying degrees of success. Reading Mothership has provided me with the perspective of the mother. Apart from being an enjoyable and moving story, it has provided some constructive feedback on our communication as a health profession. This book has given me several points to reflect on:

‘Mum’ has a name!

It is often hard to remember all the names of all the children and parents. However, making that effort to ask for her name in the ward round will improve the quality of your rapport. It will also make the mother of your patient feel more like she is part of the team making decisions about the child: which she is.

The mother of your patient might be a patient too

Sometimes, the child is born via emergency C-Section, and the mother standing opposite you, less than a day after the operation, is on a cocktail of drugs to allow her to achieve basic functionality through the haze of pain. The information you are giving may not be absorbed in the way you intend, and something as small as offering her a chair to sit on, can make the world of a difference.

Avoid jargon

I often have to Google certain terms and abbreviations, especially when moving on to a new job. If it is confusing for a medical junior, I can imagine it being downright disorientating for a non-medical parent. Explaining the plan and developments in detail without jargon can help avoid unnecessary anxiety and misunderstandings.  

Involve parents in the decision making

Inevitably, parents will need to care for their children when discharged from hospital. Ensuring they are aware of the ongoing medical issues, red flags, NG tube training, basic life support, emergency numbers to call, is paramount for a safe discharge. Involve parents early, to avoid information dump at the end.

Being at the start of my medical career, everything is a learning point, and I could go on. You will make your own reflections, both personal and professional, when you pick up this book.

Mother Ship is an enjoyable learning experience on communication. A case-based discussion that is riveting and heart-warming, right in the comfort of your own home, with a warm cup of tea in hand and a rich environment for reflection. 

If you want to go deeper then please watch this heartfelt talk from neonatologist, Jasmine Antoine, about being the parent, not the practitioner in NICU.

Communicating clearly

Cite this article as:
Liz Herrieven. Communicating clearly, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2021. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.32916

The Joint Royal Colleges Ambulance Liaison Committee (JRCALC) produces guidance for ambulance services across the UK. I was thrilled to be asked to contribute to this in the form of a new chapter on patients with communication difficulties. This post expands on that guidance, which was written to support pre-hospital clinicians in providing the best possible care to their patients who face challenges with communication. This may be due to a wide variety of underlying conditions, including learning disability, autism, hearing loss, dementia and dysphasia.

Communication is vital to all that we do – from the first contact with a patient, through history taking and examination, to initiating treatment and explaining procedures. We have to do our very best to get it right. This is perhaps even more important, and more difficult, in the pre-hospital field, where stress levels are high, the environment can be unpredictable and time is short. Clinicians meeting patients for the first time need to quickly assess the situation and also win trust and gain understanding.

Communication is a two-way thing. It sounds obvious, but it becomes even more important when patients find communication difficult. Not only do we have to try our best to make ourselves understood, but we also have to try our best to understand our patient.

It’s also important to remember that communication and understanding are two very different things. Someone may be able to communicate quite well but understand very little. Conversely, someone may not be able to communicate but may have a very good understanding, including things being said about or around them. Dysphasic or dysarthric patients may appear to be unable to understand when actually their difficulty is in expressing themselves.

So, how can we improve our communication?

Minimise fear and anxiety

Communicating and understanding become more challenging when there is fear and anxiety. The first step is to keep calm and reassure the patient. The specific nature of any communication difficulty needs to be recognised quickly then addressed. Patients with a learning disability may not understand what is happening so careful explanations may help. Some autistic patients may have difficulty interpreting information verbally or non-verbally, or they may have significant sensory processing difficulties which means that loud noises, bright lights and physical touch can be distressing or even painful. Deaf patients may be able to better understand if they can see the clinician’s mouth – difficult with PPE.

Make simple adjustments

Communication might be made easier with simple changes such as speaking slowly and clearly and avoiding jargon. And give time – time for your patient to respond. For some patients, including those with Down syndrome, it can take several seconds to respond – time to receive the auditory information, decode it, understand it, formulate an answer and produce that answer as the right set of noises. We’re all busy so that seven or eight seconds can feel like an age. It’s absolutely worth the wait, though.

Adapt the environment

Can we do anything to make the environment less distracting, quieter, less stimulating? Would it be better to assess the patient in familiar surroundings rather than in the ambulance? Can noisy, scary or flashing equipment be switched off, removed or covered? If the patient has to be moved can they bring something, or someone, familiar with them?

Pay attention to non-verbal communication

Would eye contact help? It often does, but for some autistic patients it can be distressing. Some people respond well to a reassuring touch (I’m a toucher and a hugger) but others find it really uncomfortable – check before extending that hand! Do we need to support our verbal communication with gesture or sign? Pictures or symbols might help to explain what we are saying, but if we don’t have any to hand then pointing to body parts or pieces of equipment can help. We absolutely need to pay attention to our non-verbal communication, body language, posture, facial expression and so on, and also watch for non-verbal cues from our patient. Those who know our patient best might be able to help with this – how would their loved one usually let someone know they were in pain, for example? Pain is often poorly assessed and managed in people with a learning disability (LeDeR – the Learning Disability Mortality Review Programme). We often hear about people having a “high pain threshold” and whilst it’s true that pain is perceived differently by different people, we can’t assume that someone does not feel pain just because they can’t verbalise it.

Play to your patient’s communication strengths

Some patients may have particular strengths and weaknesses when it comes to communication. People with Down syndrome often find it more difficult to understand and remember auditory information, due to a variety of issues including fluctuating hearing impairment and poor short term auditory memory. They may, however, find it much easier to remember and understand information presented in a visual format. Using gesture, sign language (such as Makaton), photos or symbols (such as PECS) may support the verbal information and make things much easier for both the patient and the clinician.

Family and carers can help to identify how best to communicate with the patient but consider other resources too – is there a hospital passport that can give you some clues? These are often used to list medications and past medical history, but their real beauty is in detailing likes, dislikes, behaviours associated with pain, interventions that might be difficult to tolerate, and so on. A care pathway can also give great clinical information and guide management.

Adapt your examination

Your standard examination might need to be altered a little. Give clear warnings before touching the patient, particularly if they have any visual impairment or a sensory processing disorder. Start with those parts of the examination that are less intrusive – watching and observing position, demeanour, breathing pattern, and movements can all give a huge amount of information before you even get your stethoscope out. Distraction might be useful for some patients but for others, including those who may have had previous bad experiences, it might not work. Family and carers may know how best to support your patient through the more distressing parts of the examination and any following interventions.

LeDeR has also found that early warning scores were less likely to be calculated in people with a learning disability, and they were less likely to be acted on if abnormal. There are many likely reasons behind this, including clinicians being reluctant to cause distress to their patients. Things like blood pressure or oxygen saturation measurement can be very uncomfortable, particularly for those who may not understand what is being done or who may have sensory processing difficulties. Those patients still need to be assessed and treated appropriately. If a BP or sats, or any other part of your assessment for that matter, is likely to give important information then it should be done. There may, however, need to be some thought about how best to carry it out. Explanation, communication, visual information, distraction – what will help your patient tolerate the examination?

There is a common misconception that patients with chronic health problems always have an abnormal early warning score, so what’s the point? Any score, normal or abnormal, in a previously healthy patient or not, should be taken in context with the rest of the examination. It can be helpful to know what the patient is like (behaviour, level of alertness, comfort, interaction, early warning score) when well, to help to identify how ill they may be now. Again, family and carers can give vital information about this.

Be attuned to “soft signs”

“Soft signs” can help, too. These are things that family might notice long before health professionals. They are not specific to any particular illness or disease process, but give an indication that the patient isn’t well. For example, someone might be a little paler than usual, not want to get out of bed, not want to finish their favourite meal and not want to watch their favourite TV programme. A family member would know that these things mean their loved one is not themselves, and likely to be unwell. Healthcare professionals can learn a lot by listening out for soft signs.

Beware diagnostic overshadowing

It’s really important to watch out for diagnostic overshadowing. This happens when a patient has a pre-existing diagnosis, and any new symptoms are assumed to be down to this diagnosis. For example, an autistic person might present as being quite agitated, carrying out repetitive, stereotypical movements and it might be tempting for us to assume that this is all because they have autism. However, if we do that, we may miss the fact that they are in pain or feeling unwell. Again, we have to find out more about what our patient is like when they are well, to know how ill they may be now.

All of this boils down to making reasonable adjustments, which are required by law (Equality Act 2010). We can sum it up with the TEACH mnemonic:

Time: assessing someone with communication difficulties may take more time, but that time is absolutely worth it.

Environment: pick the best environment to assess your patient in. Keep things quiet and calm, remove distractions. Keep things familiar to the patient if you can, or let them have something familiar with them.

Assume: don’t assume anything about understanding – communication aids understanding, but someone who has difficulties with communication may still have very good understanding.

Communication: how can you best communicate with your patient? How can you help them make themselves understood? Would symbols or signs help? Pictures or gesture? Writing things down?

Help: what help does your patient need? What help do you need??

None of the interventions suggested are particularly tricky or difficult, but all have the potential to make a huge difference to our patients. For those working in UK ambulance services, the JRCALC guideline chapter will hopefully help as a prompt. For others, whether pre-hospital or not, I hope this blog helps a little.

https://www.jrcalc.org.uk

https://www.bristol.ac.uk/sps/leder/

Fracture hide and seek

Cite this article as:
Carl van Heyningen and Katie Keaney. Fracture hide and seek, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2021. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.32819

Another winters morning. You are freshly vaccinated, caffeinated and ready for another ED shift. Your first patient is a return visit. A 7 year-old who fell onto his shoulder at school a week ago. You read your colleague’s previous assessment. On examination there was no bony tenderness and the x-ray report of the right clavicle was normal. Yet today there’s a lump over the collar bone and he’s no longer using his arm normally. Has something been missed?

X-ray interpretation is a complex human enterprise vulnerable to a wide variety of errors. The extent of missed diagnoses has been estimated to be as high as 15-20% 1,2.

There are two principle types of error:

  • Perceptual errors – those where the abnormality is simply not seen
  • Cognitive errors – where the abnormality is seen but its significance is not appreciated

You might think that such errors can simply be avoided through education, better imaging techniques and training. Yet since the 1960’s, despite doubtless advances in technology and improvements in medical practice, the rate of radiological errors has remained almost unchanged.

So what do we do? Admit defeat? Never!

Instead, let’s journey inwards and analyse these errors, why we make them and how we can improve ourselves and our approach to avoid missing fractures in children with injuries.

Causes of error

Perceptual errors are the most common and are due to many factors including:

  • Clinician fatigue
  • Distractions from colleagues and the working environment – the extrinsic cognitive load
  • High workload
  • Satisfaction of search (spotting one abnormality then failing to look for any more)

There is a reason your friendly radiologist is sat quietly in a dark room with a cup of coffee – a world away from a noisy, busy accident and emergency department. Consider yourself and your environment when reviewing an x-ray. Just as with prescribing, respect reviewing x-rays.

Even with the best conditions, what the eye sees the brain doesn’t always spot. Consider the now infamous Invisible Gorilla experiment that earned Christopher Chabris and Dan Simons an Ig-Nobel Prize in 2004. Participants were asked to watch a video and count the number of times the ball was passed between players. What they failed to notice was the large hairy simian playing the game. The brain failed to recognise what the eyes clearly saw.

The selective attention test

Cognitive errors occur for a whole host of reasons. Some of these include:

  • Lack of knowledge (e.g. how to interpret x-ray findings, ossification centres, etc.).
  • Lack of clinical information (e.g. history or examination)
  • Faulty reasoning (e.g. fracture identified but not cause of pain)
    • True positive, misclassified
  • Complacency (e.g. fracture identified but from separate injury)
    • False positive finding
  • Satisfaction of report (e.g. reliance on radiology report discourages further analysis).
  • Satisfaction of search (e.g. finding one fracture discourages search for another).  

Then there are our own cognitive biases which may also influence our interpretation…

Anchoring bias– early focusing on one feature of the image so neglecting or misinterpreting the rest of the information

I’ve found the distal radius fracture so that is the diagnosis”. The scaphoid fracture is then missed).

Availability bias– recent experience of a diagnosis/presentation makes you more likely to diagnose the same condition

I saw a pulled elbow the other day, it looks the same”. May miss ulnar dislocation.

Confirmation bias– looking for evidence to support your hypothesis and ignoring evidence against

It looks like a simple ankle sprain, I think that X-ray must be fine”. Can miss fractured fibula.

Outcome bias– opting for the diagnosis associated with the best patient outcome/prognosis

If there is a vertebral fracture, we will have to immobilise this child. It probably isn’t that”.

Zebra retreat– history and findings are in keeping with a rare diagnosis but the diagnostician is afraid to confirm this

As Dr Cox says, if you hear hoofbeats look for horses not zebras” …sometimes it’s a zebra!

Finally, no article on medical error would be complete without reference to the good old Swiss Cheese Model. We are but one step in a sequence of events that can either prevent or lead to error. For our example case, consider the following…

Graphic showing swiss cheese model of errors
Errors were made

Can I have some examples please?

Most fractures in children are easy to spot however some may present with subtle findings, especially when they involve the epiphyseal growth plate.

Examples of where most missed fractures occur are shown below:

Common but low risk as well as rare but high risk missed fractures

Many fracture patterns are unique to children. The paediatric skeleton is more elastic, more porous, and has a relatively stronger periosteum. That makes it uniquely vulnerable to torus fractures, buckle fractures, plastic bowing and greenstick fractures. Knowing to look for such subtleties sets paediatric fracture diagnosis apart. That coupled with odd growth plates and ossification centres explains, in part, why fractures are more easily missed in children5.

There is a subtle angled fracture of the distal radius. Compare this with the normal (middle) and healing (right) – taken from Hernandez, J.A., Swischuk, L.E., Yngve, D.A. et al. The angled buckle fracture in pediatrics: a frequently missed fracture. Emergency Radiology 10, 71–75 (2003). 

A subtle angulated fracture of the proximal radius taken from Hernandez, J.A., Swischuk, L.E., Yngve, D.A. et al. The angled buckle fracture in pediatrics: a frequently missed fracture. Emergency Radiology 10, 71–75 (2003). 

Plastic bowing deformity of the left radius and ulna taken from George MP, Bixby S. Frequently Missed Fractures in Pediatric Trauma A Pictorial Review of Plain Film Radiography Radiol Clin North Am 2019 Jul57(4)843-855

Plastic deformity of the radius with upward bowing (arrows) taken from Swischuk, L.E., Hernandez, J.A. Frequently missed fractures in children (value of comparative views). Emerg Radiol 11, 22–28 (2004). 

A subtle greenstick fracture of the distal ulna taken from George MP, Bixby S. Frequently Missed Fractures in Pediatric Trauma A Pictorial Review of Plain Film Radiography Radiol Clin North Am 2019 Jul57(4)843-855

Note the upward plastic deformity of the right clavicle with the left for comparison taken from Swischuk, L.E., Hernandez, J.A. Frequently missed fractures in children (value of comparative views). Emerg Radiol 11, 22–28 (2004). 

The leftmost image shows an obvious spiral fracture. The Toddler’s fracture in the middle image is not apparent until the line of sclerosis appears with healing taken from Swischuk, L.E., Hernandez, J.A. Frequently missed fractures in children (value of comparative views). Emerg Radiol 11, 22–28 (2004). 

A Salter-Harris 1 fracture of the distal radius. Look at the widened growth plate compared with the ulna taken from Jadhav, S.P., Swischuk, L.E. Commonly missed subtle skeletal injuries in children: a pictorial review. Emerg Radiol 15, 391–398 (2008). 

We have seen how even with the benefit of the patient in front of us and the luxury of radiology reports that we are vulnerable to making mistakes. Yes, we need to first know our ischial spine from our olecranon (our arse from our elbow), but we also need to train ourselves in techniques to avoid perceptual and cognitive traps.

So how do we prevent them?

Reducing missed fractures in children

Sadly the evidence is lacking and largely focuses on the performance of radiologists. Approaches centred solely on education and training are insufficient. Slowing down strategies, group decision-making and feedback systems are, as yet, an unproven step in the right direction. Checklists, however, have a growing evidence base in improving performance despite their poor popularity.

Whether or not you are a fan of the ‘Checklist Manifesto’, less controversial are principles around workplace culture and communication. Facing up to errors, avoiding blame and frequently just talking with colleagues (the clinician, the radiographer, the radiologist, the patient) remains incredibly important.

What else?

Systems-level thinking

A growing number of healthcare trusts now implement peer learning systems. Rather than being punitive, such groups create collective opportunities to teach using diagnostic catches as well as misses. At Leicester Royal Infirmary, Education Fellow Sarah Edwards set up one such weekly group teaching session for A&E staff. It gave them the opportunity to review images with the support of a Consultant Radiologist.

Evidence also supports “double-reading” to reduce the misses. At the Royal London Hospital, we are supported by our Radiology colleagues who review all images from our paediatric emergency department within 24 hours. Furthermore, within our ED we foster a culture of learning from each other through openly sharing learning points without risk of embarrassment and most (if not all) x-rays are reviewed by two or more clinicians to share knowledge and experience.

Such principles underpin the Irish National Radiology Quality Improvement (QI) programme. Through standard setting and measuring performance they pursue a cycle of continued quality improvement.

Individual level thinking

Michael Bruno, Vice Chair for Quality and Chief of Emergency Radiology at Penn State University says “there’s a very simple fix for errors of thinking- cognitive biases.… you must force yourself to ask really open-ended questions…. what else, how else, where else could a finding be… force your mind back open again.

To be more technical, lets consider the “dual process theory of reasoning.” In radiology, automatic system 1 processes typically enable immediate pattern recognition. In contrast deliberate system 2 reasoning enables less obvious abnormalities to be detected. Normally there is a dynamic oscillation between these to forms of thinking. The lesson is not to eliminate type 1 processing, which is prone to mental shortcuts and mistakes, but instead to be aware of our own thinking with the ability to deliberately “turn on” our type 2 brain when needed.

This discipline is termed metacognition or meta-awareness. 

For those who find such talk nebulous, there a number of practical steps that come recommended from Andrew J. Degnan (Department of Radiology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia).

Maintain a healthy skepticism

Reflect on your diagnostic process, challenge your interpretation forensically and question yourself objectively.

Use a structure or checklist

Structured reports help radiologists. Find your own repeatable techniques and approach each x-ray systematically, including “review areas” that are often overlooked. 

Consider the clinical findings

What is your pre-test (pre-x-ray) probability? How confident were you in your clinical assessment? Is the x-ray a rule-in or rule-out? Marrying up a thorough history and examination with a careful focus on the relevant radiographic area often bears reward.

Injuries that are missed because of failure to image are typically because the injury was poorly localized or because of the presence of other injuries distracted attention from the injured part.”

Mind your environment

Are you fatigued? Have you had a break? Clearing your mind for even a moment can actually improve overall efficiency. A quiet work space. A few minutes away from distraction. These will all empower your type 2 thinking.

Mitigate, mitigate, mitigate

Mistakes happen. Telling parents about uncertainty is critical to them re-presenting if their child’s soft tissue injury or sprain is not improving. Importantly, this is not the same as forgoing responsibility. Yet if your routine practice includes quality safety netting, discussing cases with your friendly radiologist and chasing up on cases you may not prevent mistakes but you might minimize the harm that comes from them.

What happened with our case?

A repeat x-ray was done but again no fracture was evident. Yet to examine there was an un-deniable lump mid-clavicle. In view of persistent pain and continued non-use of the limb (right arm) the child was discussed with the radiologist who agreed upon ultrasound. Ultrasound confirmed early callus formation and a break in the cortex that was not visible on X-ray. The child went home in a sling for outpatient follow up.

Take home messages  

  • Missed fractures are more common in children and not necessarily subtle
  • Know what to look for and how to look for it
  • Process is important, don’t forget history and examination
  • Communicate clearly, speak frequently with your radiographer and radiologist

Selected references

1. Berner ES, Graber ML. Overconfidence as a cause of diagnostic error in medicine. Am J Med 2008;121(5 suppl):S2–S23.

George MP, Bixby S. Frequently Missed Fractures in Pediatric Trauma A Pictorial Review of Plain Film Radiography Radiol Clin North Am 2019 Jul57(4)843-855. – Images 3,5 in carousel

Hernandez, J.A., Swischuk, L.E., Yngve, D.A. et al. The angled buckle fracture in pediatrics: a frequently missed fracture. Emergency Radiology 10, 71–75 (2003) – Images 1,2 in carousel

Jadhav, S.P., Swischuk, L.E. Commonly missed subtle skeletal injuries in children: a pictorial review. Emerg Radiol 15, 391–398 (2008). – Image 8 in carousel

2. Wachter RM. Why diagnostic errors don’t get any respect: and what can be done about them. Health Aff (Millwood) 2010;29(9):1605–1610.

5. Smith J, Tse S, Barrowman N, Bilbao A, (2016). P123: Missed fractures on radiographs in a paediatric emergency department, CJEM, 18 (S1), S119-S119

Swischuk, L.E., Hernandez, J.A. Frequently missed fractures in children (value of comparative views). Emerg Radiol 11, 22–28 (2004). Images 4,6,7 in carousel

Further reading

Brady AP. Error and discrepancy in radiology: inevitable or avoidable?. Insights Imaging. 2017;8(1):171-182. 

Kim YW, Mansfield LT. Fool me twice: delayed diagnoses in radiology with emphasis on perpetuated errors. AJR Am J Roentgenol 2014;202(3):465–470.

Michael A. Bruno, Eric A. Walker, and Hani H. Abujudeh, Understanding and Confronting Our Mistakes: The Epidemiology of Error in Radiology and Strategies for Error Reduction, RadioGraphics 2015 35:6, 1668-1676 

Martino F., Barbuti D., Martino G., Cirillo M. (2012) Missed Fractures in Children. In: Romano L., Pinto A. (eds) Errors in Radiology. Springer, Milano.

Miele V., Galluzzo M., Trinci M. (2012) Missed Fractures in the Emergency Department. In: Romano L., Pinto A. (eds) Errors in Radiology. Springer, Milano.

Wang CC, Linden KL, Otero HJ. Sonographic Evaluation of Fractures in Children. Journal of Diagnostic Medical Sonography. 2017;33(3):200-207.

Uterine (decidual) Casts

Cite this article as:
Tara George. Uterine (decidual) Casts, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2021. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.32416

Lucy, 15, arrives in the ED sobbing hysterically clutching a wad of toilet paper. “I thought it was my period… only I had the worst period pains ever. I went to bed with a hot water bottle and it got worse and then… this came out”. She sobs, opening the tissue to show you a fleshy, pale triangular thing. approximately 5cm long.  “What is it? It’s disgusting. Have I got cancer? I’m not pregnant am I?”

Bodily secretions in tissues are rarely a source of delight but are common opening gambits. Vomit, faeces, sputum, vaginal discharge, worms, lice, blood clots and products of conception may be saved up and brought to the doctor to add colour to the history.    They present a challenge as often we don’t want to look. We don’t trust ourselves not to recoil or be disturbed and being presented with a “sample” early on can catch us off guard. It plays havoc with the “history, examination, management plan” structure we like to impose on our consultations.  In presentation terms, though, this is a gem of a presentation. We have an “Idea”, a “Concern” and it won’t be long before we elicit an “Expectation”.  Avoiding the enormous cue as it is thrust into your orbit, whilst tempting, risks dismissing the concerns. This can destroy any fledgling rapport and make the whole encounter even harder.  It is going to be necessary to take a history, but right now we have a distressed teenager, an unidentified object in a tissue and a lot of emotion. It may well be easiest to address this gift up front and just take a look. This is the time address the upset and the fear head on.

The “thing” looks like this:

Photo of uterine or decidual cast

A uterine or decidual cast occurs when the entire endometrial lining is shed in one piece. They are uncommon but frequently cause distress to the patient and can be extremely painful to pass.  A cast looks almost triangular in shape and if shed whole you can see the contours of the uterine cavity in a sort of fleshy model if you look closely.

Lucy tells you she had a Nexplanon contraceptive implant fitted about 6 weeks ago. She is not currently sexually active.  Her last period started the day before she had her implant fitted. She’s well otherwise with no past medical history. She had some light PV spotting yesterday and this morning but it has been light.  Since she passed the mass her pain has settled completely. Her observations are normal. She is happy to do a pregnancy test which is negative.  She just wants to know what it was, why it happened and if she can go home now.

The vast majority of uterine casts have no identifiable precipitating causes though there are case reports in association with Ectopic Pregnancy and they may be slightly more common in users of Hormonal Contraception though having had a cast is not a contraindication for continued use, nor are recurrent casts likely with continued use. The pain associated with passage of the cast is often severe – remember they are passing a 5cm mass through their cervix.

You reassure Lucy that this is not cancer, that she wasn’t pregnant and that this was a cast.  You explain what a cast is and that it is unlikely to recur.  She goes home much reassured and relieved.

You decide to send the cast to the lab for histology and a few days later a report lands in your in-tray which reads “extensively decidualized endometrial tissue with minimal glandular structures lined by low cuboidal epithelium, consistent with a uterine or decidual cast. No chorionic villi were identified.

References

Nunes, R.D. and Pissetti, V.C., 2015. Membranous Dysmenorrhea–Case Report. Obstet Gynecol Cases Rev2, p.042.

Strauss, L., 2018. Fleshy Mass Passed Vaginally by a Young Woman. American family physician98(7), pp.449-450.

Forget the Bubbles? Never

Cite this article as:
Neelakshi Ghosh. Forget the Bubbles? Never, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2021. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.32252

How did we feel when we were told to ‘Forget the bubbles’ and infection control policies binned those slippery soapy solutions and golden rings of plastic? COVID-19 led to innovations in the workplace and we changed practice almost overnight to ensure the safest care was being delivered to our patients. Perhaps the team that demonstrated this to the fullest are the play specialists.

A chat with Maxine Ovens, Play Service Manager at the Royal Brompton Hospital showcased stories of innovation coupled with cycles of constant evolution as the team adjusted to a different way of life. Before COVID-19, Maxine had been the playroom boss for 16 years. She startied with a team of just 2 and is now running a 7-day service with 9 team members.

They have been working on the ward, and in children’s outpatients, supporting not just children and young people, but also their families, ‘to make their hospital experience positive and productive. During the initial surge of the pandemic, PICU beds at the Royal Brompton were allotted to adult ITU services. The playroom on the children’s ward became the storeroom for paediatric equipment as the original storeroom now fell in the ‘red zone’. Play had to be put back on the shelf and staff redeployed. Maxine’s aim was to ‘stay as a team and not be broken up during these difficult times’. The play specialists volunteered at the donning and doffing station at the PICU and actively engaged in boosting staff morale.

Behind the scenes, Maxine continued to push for restoring the playroom services. Working closely with the Infection Control team, she drafted new ‘playroom guidelines’ keeping with national policies and social distancing norms. With relatively fewer admissions, Maxine could arrange for one-to-one play sessions for everyone. These were time-tabled on a daily basis by the play team. The main focus was on the daily cleaning schedule with particular members allotted to be in-charge. All surfaces and toys were cleaned with Chloro-clean solution at the beginning of the day and in between play sessions. All members maintained the daily cleaning logs strictly, signing out for toys used in each session and putting them back after a thorough clean. ‘This was not just to demonstrate to Infection Control that the playroom is hazard-free, but also to reassure parents and carers that it is safe for the children.’ The staff were commended by parents for the clean environment of the playroom. One parent mentioned that ‘such varied activities were not possible even at home with all the recommended hygiene measures’.  And Maxine would quietly remind us of the marathon clean up the team had to do when a young patient decided to start a bit of ‘slime fight’ during a slime time session. Children on respiratory support had their playroom time towards the end of the day. Aerosol generating procedures required the playroom to be closed for an hour after.

Toys and playthings have to be compliant with the new cleaning regime. Staff members laminated books for bed-time stories before cleaning and returning them every day. The Brompton Fountain Charity donated single-use activity packs and colouring sets. Cardboard boxes for the board games were discarded, and playing cards were laminated and stored in plastic containers. All effort was made to ensure traditional play tools were not missed in this ‘new normal’. And, of course, plastic bubble machines appeared on the shelves to replace the old stand by.

Play is about innovation. Just as children grow and learn to explore their environment through play, Maxine and her team invented Covid-safe ‘things to do’. Group play was put on hold. The team used this opportunity to engage more children in one-to-one sessions, exploring their unique ideas. When admission rates started picking up, ‘bay bubbles’ were created so that two children from the same bay could be in the playroom together, using time and space more effectively. Children were engaged in activities like biscuit icing so that they could keep their creations for themselves rather than handing over the products of their labour for cleaning. Over the Christmas period, children made decorations which were then laminated by the team and hung on the ward.

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But to Maxine, the biggest challenge was the PPE. During bedside sessions, the team had to adhere to guidelines which made play a little more clinical than they would like. Visors were donned with cut-out tiaras and Mickey Mouse ears. Badges were pinned to uniforms bearing the photo of team members. The smile behind the mask had to be seen. There were picture books of health care staff in PPE explaining to children the new ‘superhero costumes’. The play team helped prepare the young patients for a procedure before junior doctors walked in donned.

So, what does hospital play look like now? Her team has always been creative with new and innovative ideas catering to the varied interests and abilities of her young patients. They have been constantly evolving as a team and will continue to do so.

Take every opportunity to be creative and be flexible. Play doesn’t need to stop. Fight for your service and work closely with the teams that can support you. After all, we all need a little play in our lives.’

Maxine Ovens

A journey to remember

Cite this article as:
Viv Forde and Owen Keane. A journey to remember, Don't Forget the Bubbles, 2021. Available at:
https://doi.org/10.31440/DFTB.32101

Imagine yourself on a stretcher rolling away from your home, out of your driveway. BUMP onto a ramp, then pushed from the ramp into the back of an ambulance. Hear the sound of the stretcher being locked in place, and all you can see is the white ceiling and bright lights. BANG! The door slams after you. You look around and see machines you do not recognise with no understanding as to what they do. They look scary, some of them BEEP, and you are sick and in pain. For any adult, this is daunting.

Now imagine that you are a 5-year-old child. What would be going through your mind?

The back of an ambulance must be one of the scariest environments a child could encounter. As prehospital practitioners, assessing and treating children in this environment is a huge challenge. Seeing a distressed child, sick and in pain, is daunting. Trying to treat their ailments and instil some calm, even more so. How do we do this? How can we do it well…. or better? What is available to us to make this easier and how can we improvise to improve the patient experience for the ones we want to mind the most?

The Bumbleance

In Ireland, we have an amazing dedicated paediatric transfer ambulance service, designed inside and out with nothing but kids in mind. The Bumbleance Children’s National Ambulance Service operates vehicles equipped with social media streaming, wi-fi, PlayStation, DVDs, games, books, colouring, sensory lighting, Netflix, iPad Air, Beats headphones, Apple TV and Apple Music…providing endless entertainment for the kids that require transfer and minimising the potential impact of clinical care on their journey. While these phenomenal assets are used for scheduled trips and appointments, these features are not in the frontline Emergency Ambulances.

Without reliable access to fun electronic gadgets and gizmos, Emergency pre-hospital practitioners rely more on the fundamentals of paediatric care to maximise their comfort during the call and transfer – getting down to their level to communicate, utilising effective distraction techniques, optimising pain management and using appropriate positioning (with the help of Mum and Dad) are always good places to start.

How about…

Glove Puppets

Straight from the “International Paramedic Practice of Improvisation”! Some creative practitioners have been known to use ECG dots as eyes. Simple and easy and the kids seem to love them. Plenty of evidence out there to support it too.

Bubbles

Don’t forget” these! We are excellent at ensuring we have our clinical stock checked for each and every shift, but should we have paediatric play / distraction gear checked too? Some astute crews keep bottles of bubbles in their kit bags for the distressed paediatric patients they encounter. Deescalating an upset child, while gaining trust and instilling a fun memory, can add in no small way to positive case outcomes. Importantly, play stimulates and assesses the patient’s level of interaction – what is their level of alertness and are their reacting normally? Now they want to play – excellent, they are obeying commands and blow bubbles just like you do too!

Smartphones

Many practitioners use their devices to pacify patients during the initial assessment, treatments, and transferring onwards to the ED. Having a spare charger for your shift is a good idea. Be up to speed on the latest hit shows, know some characters by name and description, and expect serious brownie points for being able to mimic the voice of their favourite character!

A Bear called Teddy

Another paediatric kit bag essential? An excellent source of comfort and reward for bravery. Where possible and appropriate, be sure to show them how to check Teddy’s oxygen saturations, auscultate his chest, and check his blood sugar level… desensitisation to the experience of clinical assessment, while reducing anticipatory anxiety, can allow you to examine your paediatric patient more thoroughly and pick up subtle objective signs.

Blood Sugars

It might be an idea that whoever is driving on the day are the one to carry out the fingerprick glucose test. This way the child doesn’t have to be in their company immediately afterwards and so it is usually forgotten about by the time they arrive in the ED. Novelty cartoon or superhero plasters will be the most welcome addition to any paediatric kit bag.

Openness and honesty are key in assessing and managing a child. Communication breakdowns lead to loss of trust and a worsening of pain and distress during the prehospital phase of care. Be clear about what you would like to do and what this will involve. This will make them feel better once it’s over. Expect trust to evaporate if you tell them a painful procedure won’t hurt. Use any teddy or toy props available to demonstrate if you can and demystify the process by involving the patient.  Lever off parents as and guide them, when needed, to improve your chances of completing a vital clinical task.

Of course, parental anxiety will increase a child’s anxiety. While having them accompany their child in the ambulance is a legal requirement, treating the parent is just as important as treating the paediatric patient themselves. This might be their first time dialling 999/000, their first sick or injured child, or their first time encountering prehospital services. Be conscious that separation may cause great anxiety, keep them in the eyesight of the patient as much as possible. Encourage the carer to keep talking, telling stories, or singing songs. Providing the best possible care is depends on providing adequate emotional support for an unwell child. These core principles are particularly important to remember in cases involving serious paediatric traumatic injury. Minimising distress can have a huge impact on post-event emotional recovery.

While we are very lucky in Ireland to have an impressive number of medications available to both paramedics and advanced paramedics, non-pharmacological means of providing analgesia to patients should not be underestimated. Managing the prehospital phase of care in a safe, fun, and efficient manner will undoubtedly improve the chances of the journey to the ED, and beyond, going much more smoothly.

Pre-hospital paediatric challenges during COVID-19

Managing unwell or injured children in the prehospital environment was plenty challenging before the COVID-19 pandemic.  Adding PPE into the mix has represented a significant challenge to all healthcare providers and prompted reflection on communication and distraction techniques alike.  The introduction of a facemask, goggles, gown and gloves as contact precautions, has made many adult patients feel uncomfortable. This new work outfit doesn’t lend itself to creating less distress amongst kids either. PPE greatly restricts our ability to communicate with children, removing our core non-verbal expressions, that friendly smile or silly excited face, that we relied on so much before.

How can we tackle this as prehospital practitioners to ease the anxiety that our PPE may cause? Maybe the following points could help in mitigating this problem:

Say it like you mean it

We need to rely and focus more on how we speak to the child by keeping our voice friendly and using our tone, pitch and intonation more to convey excitement. How your message is heard might be different when wearing goggles vs visor so do test this out on a colleague and get feedback when trying out different PPE.

Smile with your eyes

Again, practice makes perfect! This can be difficult if your eye protection keeps fogging but being aware of it will help you anticipate and adjust your strategy as needed.

Show yourself at your best

Perhaps having a printout of a picture pinned to your PPE might help. At least the child will know what you really look like. A mini collection of silly faces would be ideal of course.

It is still Halloween, right?!

Costume wear is now a year-round thing, apparently. This has gotten a few laughs and a few eyerolls too for good measure. Any form of icebreaker that works is a good one!

Cartoon Visors

Creating memories while providing care. Some paediatric departments have sourced visors with cartoon characters and animals on them. Others have taken to showing off their creative side! It has shown to comfort the children and promoted good interactions whilst the healthcare workers go about their job assessing and treating their patient. Prizes should be encouraged for champion efforts!

Creating magical memories while providing excellent prehospital care is achievable with good preparation and acknowledgement of the unique elements involved in transporting the distressed, sick, or injured child.

The journey really does make the destination!

References

Oulasvirta J, Pirneskoski J, Harve-Rytsala H, Laaperi M, Kuitunen M, Kuisma M, et al. Paediatric prehospital emergencies and restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic: a population-based study. BMJ Paediatrics Open. 2020;4:1-8.

Cowley A, Durge N. The impact of parental accompaniment in paediatric trauma: a helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) perspective. Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med. 2014;22:32.

Samuel MD N, Steiner IP, Shavit MD I. Prehospital pain management of injured children: a systemic review of current evidence. American Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2014.

Jones J. Analgesia for Acute Care. Children’s Hospital Ireland; 2019. p. 5.

StatPearls. 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32119430

Cartoon visors cheer young patients hse.ie2020 [Available from: https://www.hse.ie/eng/about/our-health-service/making-it-better/cartoon-visors-cheer-young-patients.html.

Bumbleance – The Children’s National Ambulance Service 2020 [Available from: https://www.bumbleance.com/?doing_wp_cron=1611411187.1207330226898193359375.

Fogarty E, Dunning E, Koe S, et al. The ‘Jedward’ versus the ‘Mohawk’: a prospective study on a paediatric distraction technique. Emergency Medicine Journal 2014;31:327-328.