All’s Calm on the Night Watch

After the day we had, I’ve come back to sit with Rudy for a few hours.  Just as we left this afternoon, they backed off most of the medications, so when I came in he had his eyes wide open and was looking around–I only wonder if he realizes what kind of day he had.  Within a minute of my coming up to him, all the alarms started to go off as his heart rate, blood pressure and breathing all went up.  Excited to see you too, champ!

In the hours since, he’s calmed down and now the numbers look beautiful.  About an hour ago, Dr. Lee came in and was considering some medication to lower the blood pressure, but before they could get it in the drip it dropped on it’s own.  I think he fell asleep.  So now, the room is tranquil and I think he might be lulled into deep sleep by the bubbling of the chest drains–that’s right, the polar (I mean “generic”) bears are back, but now he’s got a twin set and they rigged them with some kind of bubbling water effect so it sounds like a babbling brook in here.

In case your curiosity is piqued, here’s what generic bears look like:



Not sure what this is about?  Click here and then here for the background on this important issue.

The Definitive Word on the Polar Bears

Given the attentiveness of the UCLA team to all of our questions and concerns, it shouldn’t surprise me that nurse Joyce took action upon reading my ruminations on the polar bears.  The following e-mail from our friends at the Atrium Corporation can stand as the definitive verdict on said bears:


Thanks for your email and hopefully you can forward this to the parent and families who asked the question.  The bears in question are generic (not necessarily polar bears, just white because of color constraints in manufacturing).  They hail from some original bears from a long time ago (approximately 20 years) that were cute, cuddly, fuzzy and white used in one of our nursing trade shows and drawn as give-a-ways or door prizes.  They were also part of a campaign of “give a patient and/or nurse a hug” with a picture of the same bears on buttons.  So, you see, bears have been around for a long time on our products and promotion and education materials.  We did have pencils and alphabet blocks for a period of time on the pediatric drains instead of bears. 


We’ve never considered bunny rabbits or balloons, but the point was to make the complex technology that is part of this “simple chest drain” less “scary”  not only for the kids as patients but also for their parents as they see their children vulnerable and sick in the hospital setting.  We have had people debate whether the graphics have a place in the highly technical world of medicine and the importance of the chest drain and its function.  In essence, such non treatment or care “marketing images” don’t belong.  We strongly disagree and have demonstrated our commitment and devoted 25 years to this life saving device and pulmonary science keeping it the highest quality at best price.  When was the last time you had a performance or functional issue with an Atrium Chest Drain?


Equally important from that marketing point of view- is that the decision makers, buyers and procurement system of the hospital could care less about our bear graphics in influencing their technical and cost decision.  So the end receiver of the technology- the patient may or may not appreciate the graphics design but they were not involved in the decision to use or buy the device.  In almost 25 years, I can count on one hand the number of people who have expressed any negative feedback on the graphics; on the positive feedback side we’ve had overwhelming response of the human connection and comfort the bears bring to the family and nurses using or viewing the chest drain.


Most importantly, it’s not what’s on the outside that matters, it’s what goes inside and how that simple plastic box from Atrium Medical does its job day in and day out, without compromise, without problems, 60 parts that work flawlessly over a Million times each year for you and your patients.  That’s not marketing or sales, that’s engineering and quality.  When you combine that with the window dressing it’s a pretty impressive package, don’t you think?


Thanks again for your question, keep doing what you do for your patients, we all know it’s not getting any easier and thanks for letting us play a role in their recovery and health.  We love it!


Ted Karwoski


Senior Vice President of Research and Operations


Atrium Medical Corporation

5 Wentworth Drive

Hudson, New Hampshire  03051



I’ve thanked Mr. Karwoski for his input and stand firm in my opinion that Atrium is by far my preferred brand of chest pump.  However, it does seem a bit denigrating to reduce these remarkable creatures to “generic bears”—they’ve taught themselves to fish with poles—at least dignify them with a species!  That said, I’m glad the company focuses more on the internal workings of their product than the graphics outside, though if they ever reconsider it, I’ve come to think that an elephant or perhaps an octopus would be a more friendly representation for this suction-based device.  If they’re receptive to my free input, I’ve also been kicking around ideas for a slogan (“Baby, do we ever suck!”), but perhaps it’s best to stick to my current line of work.  All fun aside, thanks Atrium for a great product that allowed Rudy’s chest to drain so quickly that it could be closed up ahead of schedule and the threat of infection greatly minimized.  I have to imagine there are countless little gizmos attached to Rudy right now quietly doing what very intelligent people have designed them to do so that he can live.  So many people to be thankful for.


The words of Jimmy Buffet ring true: “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”  In the midst of the seriousness of Rudy’s situation, we are grateful for things that lighten the burden.  This morning, we received encouragement that the creatinine count dropped from 2.4 to 2.2, so his kidney function seems to have reversed its trend.  Nurse Christine washed him all up and after moving the blood pressure cuff to his leg was able to put him in a shirt for the first time after routing all of the lines and tubes appropriately.  He’s more and more expressive each day but it’s bittersweet to watch his face scrunch up and his legs kick in a crying fit but have him unable to make a sound.  I can’t imagine we’ll complain about any noise he makes once they take the chest tube out.

A Quiet Day

I’ve been enjoying a quiet morning here sitting with Rudy.  Actually it’s now already afternoon—time kind of mashes together during this process.  Yesterday evening I crashed.  I think the unique patterns of sleep and stress caught up with me a bit.  So, I stretched out on the chair bed at the back of Rudy’s room and checked out.  Even with all the lights on and people coming regularly and having discussions about his condition, there’s a rhythmic hum from all the equipment that fades it all together and makes for a bit of sensory deprivation.


Rudy progressed well in the wake of his chest closure yesterday morning and the team has continued the ongoing balancing process making sure that blood is getting evenly distributed throughout the body, that the blood gases stay in check, that heart and breath rates are where they should be, that liquids are draining properly…so many details monitored by so many gauges and switches.  I think I count ten different lines going into his body and two coming out.  Throw in the harness of breathing tubes and the various wires to monitor heart rate, temperatures and oxygen saturation and it’s a very involved rigging.  I’ve noticed the nurses regularly give attention to this, rerouting lines here and there and relabeling all the lines at both ends to make sure there’s no question what’s what.


This morning when we came in they had removed the headband that was monitoring fluid levels in his brain so I’m looking at a nice broad expanse of forehead.  It’s got a nice warm color, but I hope there’s a chance he’ll get a bit of a wash today as I can see some tape residue from the band and he looks a bit like a middle-aged man whose comb-over is beyond help at the end of a humid day.  The team has said a few times that “he’s negative” which is actually positive (we’ve learned to not get immediately panicked by anything we hear).  They track all of the fluid going into his body through all these tubes and then subtract how much is coming out.  If the number is negative, that’s good as it means the kidneys and other functions are performing and he isn’t retaining liquid anywhere, though looking at his little body with his long skinny arms and legs don’t give much evidence of places he would store it.


He needed a transfusion this morning as there was concern about where his blood levels were headed.  His oxygen saturation was getting down into the low 70s so among other measures they increased his blood volume.  The green number reads in the upper 80s now so that’s a good thing.  This falls again among the many things the team does proactively to make sure balance is maintained and we continue to be grateful that his condition hasn’t taken a turn such that they need to chase after something. 


Rudy’s opening his eyes wide and is looking around quite a bit today when he isn’t sleeping and every now and again starts to gnaw and try to suck on the breathing tube.  They’ve got the ventilator turned down to 16 breaths per minute, but he’s getting around 45 which means that he’s breathing on his own over the ventilator.  They may try to remove the ventilator as early as tomorrow, but I have to keep reminding myself that, as encouraging as progress is, this isn’t a race of any kind.  Just now they rolled Rudy’s head right up and now his eyes are wide open and he’s really putting those eyes through their paces—we’ll post the picture shortly.


We just took a quick lunch break and while we were gone the number of tubes was decreased by one as they took out the chest tube that was draining fluid from his incision.  Nurse Cheryl gave him some happy medicine and he’s sleeping comfortably now.  So now there’s one less piece of equipment at the foot of the bed.  Over the last several days, I’ve had good time to contemplate the Oasis Dry Suction Infant/Pediatric Chest Drain manufactured by the Atrium Corporation.  The team would regularly come in to check the tube and how much fluid was going into the reservoir over time.  Eventually the flow lessened to the point where it’s not necessary anymore, so that’s the milestone for the day.  In my time of contemplation, it did strike me as odd that in addition to all the medical language and the measurement gauge on the chest drain was a prominent cartoon of two polar bears fishing on a small tropical islet complete with coconut palm.  Not sure what they have to do with the device’s purpose or if some marketing team testing graphics decided that this would be a more saleable design than bunny rabbits or balloons.  I was intrigued enough to ask Dr. Harrison (the attending) when he came by yesterday.  He admitted that in all his years here he has never noticed the fishing bears on the chest pump, but felt that they looked more like regular brown bears.  Totally unhelpful.  Why are they white then?  Why would they be in tropical latitudes?  Why would they be fishing with bamboo poles and bobbers instead of their paws?  For the first time I saw a member of the crack UCLA team stumped and I suspect he’ll think twice before offering his usual “Do you have any questions?” at the conclusion of his visits.


So, we’re grateful for the peace of this day.  The kids check in regularly by phone and we are so grateful for Oma and Opa as well as the La Patera school community embracing them.  We’re making plans for them to come visit this weekend and stay the night.  Trish is on the other side of Rudy’s bed addressing birth announcements and I would suspect will have them in the mail by the weekend.  After arriving in the room this morning, she divulged to me that she wished she brought along her Swiffer as the smudges on the floor are really bugging her.  I’m wondering if a stop on the Psychiatric Unit downstairs might be in order…