Deadliest Catch has reached its halfway point for this year. The last episode of the king crab season aired tonight and we learn -- through his own words -- the fate of F/V Wizard deckhand Chris Scambler. In a phone call to Captain Keith Colburn, Chris relays that doctors don't know what's wrong with him. He is to be airlifted to a bigger hospital in order to diagnose him.
I suggest before they send him anywhere that the docs take a few minutes to review the footage. I believe once they do they'll come to the same conclusion I did: Chris was having a panic attack.
The problem stems from a doctor trying to diagnose a patient whose condition improves before the doctor gets a chance to see the signs. Chris started to get better as soon as he realized he was getting off the boat. One indicator of his improvement was his sudden urge to urinate before being hoisted into the helicopter. Folks in truly life threatening condition don't usually feel an urge to pee -- even if they need to.
In a case like this, the doctor will only know what is relayed by the caregivers who care for the patient before the doc. It's pretty simple if they recognize the signs and symptoms of hyperventilation syndrome:
- numbness and tingling to fingers, lips, fingers and toes
- muscle cramping in the hands and feet (carpal/pedal spasms)
- rapid breathing
- rapid pulse
- relatively normal blood pressure or slightly elevated
- normal levels of oxygen in the bloodstream as measured via pulse oximetry
By watching the show, it's clear that Chris was experiencing the first four signs and symptoms on the list. They don't show a blood pressure or a pulse oximeter reading, but I'd bet a crab pot that the rest of his vital signs fit the pattern.
My take on Chris's condition comes as a paramedic who's learned to recognize carpal pedal spasms -- an important point to make here. Not every medic has seen these and even when you run into it for the first time you often have to be educated on what it is you're seeing in order to understand. Plus, I recognize this pattern as indicating hyperventilation syndrome, so I would describe it that way to whomever was to receive the patient from me. Describing it correctly is of paramount importance when it comes to the doctor making the right diagnosis in the end.
In this case it's likely the Coast Guard helicopter had to rendezvous with a ground ambulance, which means the rescue swimmer handed the patient to another paramedic. Even if the rescue swimmer recognized the panic attack, the next paramedic might not.
Finally as Chris arrived at the emergency department with whichever paramedic brought him in, he most likely was doing much better. During the show Chris made multiple comments about how badly he wanted off the boat and off the Bering Sea. It's conceivable he would respond favorably as the cause of his condition got further behind him. There's a good chance what the doctor saw in the hospital looked a fair bit different than what we saw on TV a couple weeks ago.
I wish the crew could have recognized Chris's condition as an emotional response rather than a medical condition. They could have avoided putting so many lives at unnecessary risk to evacuate him. He needed to come off the deck or risk making a serious mistake, but I'm sure he could have survived just fine doing dishes in the galley until they made it back to port.
What's your take? I'd like to hear from other experienced caregivers. I'd especially like to hear from a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. Do you see hyperventilation syndrome very often?
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