Med Student Corner: Saving Sepsis, Early Recognition and Response

Author: Nisha Crouser, MS4 // Editor: Michael Barrie, OSU EM Attending

One of the first questions Emergency Medicine physicians have to ask themselves is “Do I think this patient is sick or not sick?” A simple question, that takes years of practice and experience to answer. Once a patient is deemed “sick” the questions to follow become more difficult, “How sick?” “What should we do next?” The following case presentation helps elucidate some of the difficulties faced in the ED when sick patients arrive and how to act on the dangerous diagnosis of septic shock.
A 58-year-old patient with several past medical problems including hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and heart disease; presents to the ED with a fever and back pain. Upon arrival the patient is a diaphoretic and ill-appearing obese female who is able to follow commands and answer a few questions. It is difficult to obtain a history from the patient and there is no family present to contribute any information. She is tachycardic and hypotensive when placed on the monitor. Given these vitals in combination with her fever, a Septic Shock alert is initiated. The ED is very busy and there is another severely ill patient that the physician is also covering. Several tests are ordered and fluids are started, there is no obvious source of infection. Over the course of the next half an hour, the internal medicine doctors lay eyes on the patient who has now become more unresponsive. As another half an hour goes by, the patient’s skin become extremely mottled and blue. Her oxygen saturation and blood pressure drop precipitously and she goes into asystole.

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