Here is a job from early this morning: My partner was driving and I was in the “jockey seat” which meant I was going to be assessing and attending to the patient when we got inside. As we were going to a child who was short of breath, we discussed the normal values for a child of this age on the way (repiratory rate, heart rate, weight etc.). Its only a rough guide and every child is different, but at that time of the morning it also helps to keep you awake.
The grass in the front yard was knee high and there were two cars in the drive, one of which had no engine and some cardboard for a back window. I could see my partner’s breath on the cold air as we waited for the door to be answered. In this area, the fences are all chainmesh and the houses are old Government Issue, made from cement sheeting and originally built for the 1956 Olympic Games. Many are now pretty sorry looking examples of public housing.
The guy who answered the door was talking on a mobile phone and waved us into the lounge room before walking out into another room to continue his conversation. It was hot inside and the cigarette smoke was thick making it seriously hard to breathe after the chill of the air outside.
The girl was maybe 5 years old and we’d been sent to assess her for an exacerbation of her asthma. She was sitting on the couch with her mother and another smaller child. She was coughing and sniffling and looking miserable. I asked her if I could have a listen to her breathing and she nodded. She flinched when I put it on her back and I realised how cold the stethoscope must have seemed after being chilled outside. I inwardly kicked myself. Sorry sweetie that must have been freezing. She was moving good amounts of air and did not seem to be putting a huge effort into her breathing, but she did have a clear wheeze when she breathed out. She was running a temperature and looked quite pale. Every few moments she let out a hacking cough that belonged in an old person’s body.
Her mother appeared to be nodding off to sleep while I assessed the little girl and woke with a start when I repeated my question a little louder; Have you given her anything for her asthma? She had apparently been given “heaps” of puffs on her Ventolin but was not getting any better. She had been coughing on and off ‘for weeks’ and tonight she would not stop. My partner made a comment about how smoky it was in the house and that was certainly not helping the girl get better. She sat up, looked at my partner and said defensively; “we never smoke in the house”. I looked at the full ashtrays on the coffee table, the bong (pipe) on top of the TV and the cigarette packets on every surface and made a poor attempt to hide my disapproval. I asked had she seen a doctor about the cough – and she hadn’t, so I said well she really needs to be seen by a doctor.
She probably had a chest infection and an exacerbation of her ‘asthma’ from the environment she was in. It was not going to get any better where she was. I treated the girl with some Oxygen, Ventolin and warm blankets as we went to hospital.
I took the nurse aside at the Children’s Hospital and explained about the smoke – she told me she could smell it on us all when we walked in. I sniffed my jacket, she was right. Rancid. She promised they would try and educate the parents about smoking in the house. I doubt it will make any difference. Yeah maybe the girl could have waited to see a doctor in the morning and she was inevitably going to be back in that environment in a few hours. But we left knowing we had given her and her little brother a few hours of smoke free air.