Abdominal Stroke Alert!

It is a rare day that passes without the announcement of a stroke alert at CCAD. A reflex arc of activity is initiated, as time becomes the critical metric of success. Patients with strokes have a limited window of time to reverse the effects of the arterial occlusion, and the whole hospital is organized around getting the patient into the angiographic suite to open up blood vessels. If you watch it happen, it is the pinnacle of modern medicine, to achieve what only a decade ago was deemed unachievable. It was built around a foundation laid by cardiologists for heart attacks -the STEMI alert. The teams practice like racing pit crews with a stopwatch to get a patient from the emergency room, to CT scan, to angio suite. A long time ago, as a young surgeon, I had to work hard to get institutional support of ruptured AAA and cold legs. Vascular surgery has traditionally struggled to get recognition for its patients, their diseases, and its work, which is nothing less than the most important safety net for any large general multi-specialty hospital, critical infrastructure like oxygen plumbing and backup generators. As I transition to that weird designation of mid-career surgeon (please don’t call me a senior surgeon), I have also appreciated that Steve Jobs aphorism about good artists copying, great artists stealing. It’s only stealing if you don’t give credit. Here is what I borrowed from the neurologists.

Acute mesenteric ischemia is an abdominal stroke. Use it in your conversations with other people as you speed your patients way into the angio suite. The reflex arc is in there. For the emergency department, the operating room, and all the physicians, acute mesenteric ischemia sounds like tummy trouble, but abdominal stroke brings sudden clarity to conversations like:

“Well, you’re in line behind a gallbladder and a cystoscopy. Is the patient NPO?”

Me: “It’s an abdominal stroke. We literally only have a few hours before the patient dies…”

“I’ll bring the backup team in!”

The patient is a middle aged man with risk factors of NIDDM and prior history of DVT who developed severe mid-abdominal pain at 5pm. He came to the ED at around 11pm and had a general surgery consultation who ordered a CT Angiogram showing SMA occlusion (pictured below).

Acute Mesenteric Ischemia case presentation

Acute Mesenteric Ischemia case presentation (1)
Heparin was started, and at 11:30, vascular surgery was consulted. The patient had a soft, doughy texture to his abdomen, but great pain with palpation -classic pain out of proportion to the exam. Determining the patient to have acute mesenteric ischemia from a thromboembolism, I took the patient to our hybrid angiographic OR suite with the plan for arteriography, possible open thrombectomy, and exploratory laparotomy.
Arteriography from femoral access showed an occlusion of the SMA beyond the middle colic artery, a typical pattern for an embolism that occurs when embolism lodges distally and propogates proximally (image below).

Acute Mesenteric Ischemia case presentation (2)
I got Glidewire access into the ileocolic terminus of the SMA, exchanged for a Rosen wire, over which I placed an 8F sheath into the proximal SMA. This was a rather large sheath meant to catch thrombus as I suctioned it out with a 6F Penumbra catheter. This is another technique I borrowed from the neurointerventionalists. Whenever a stroke alert is going on, curiosity drives me to peak in and see what marvelous gadget or gewgaw they are using, and I was impressed by how efficiently the neurointerventionalists were able to get to the smallest thrombus in the furthest branch vessels. I was prepped for open thrombectomy, consented for bypass if necessary, but having experience in suctioning clot through single catheters and sheaths, I thought the simple design of the Penumbra and its efficacy in the cerebral system could easily translate into the mesenteric.The problem with open thrombectomy is the inability to see if you have cleared thrombus from all the branches unless you do an arteriogram after you’ve completed your procedure. This may be a significant contributor to the 20-30% bowel resection rate that occurs on second look laparotomy in my old paper and in the literature since its publication.

The Penumbra was effective in removing much of the fresh thrombus, but I was also cognizant of the fact that pulling out the catheter will draw clot into the 8F sheath that did not make it into the catheter. I placed a wire, and removed the sheath to expel much of the bulky thrombus (picture below).

Acute Mesenteric Ischemia case presentation (3)

The completion angiogram (below) doesn’t show the intermediate angiograms showing thrombus that embolized to other arteries as I manipulated the catheters and thrombectomized -I was able to successfully retrieve these with selective catheterization, another neurointerventional series of maneuvers that I have successfully borrowed.

Acute Mesenteric Ischemia case presentation (4)
After being satisfied with the completion, I removed the sheaths and explored the abdomen finding this segment of infarcted small bowel (next image).

Acute Mesenteric Ischemia case presentation (6)
There was no question in my mind that there would be some dead bowel based on the time course described by the patient. Despite my excitement about calling for GIA staplers -I am general surgery boarded- I called in the general surgeons for their help in resecting and anastomosing this segment of bowel. They would be the ones taking the patient back for any second look laparotomy, although in this patient, I determined that there would likely be no need. After the anastomosis was completed, I did a Wood’s Lamp examination (pictured), which is accomplished with a black light after giving the patient an ampule or two of Fluorescein.

Acute Mesenteric Ischemia case presentation (7)
The bowel had a splotchy fluorescence pattern which is typical of ischemia-reperfusion. This is where you have to ask the anesthesiologist and any critical care specialist who follows -no pressors please! Edema won’t kill an anastomosis as badly as ischemia will, and the gut is as sensitive to norepinephrine as are the toes. Workup in the hospital including echocardiography and CTA of the entire aorta failed to reveal a proximal source or cardiac shunts or thrombus. The patient recovered and has recently followed up, eating well, and tolerating his anticoagulation which he will be on for life.
I sent out the pictures to my neurointerventional friends with some glee, but also with the purpose of informing them that in the case that the vascular surgeons become incapacitated or quarantined due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their skills would be recruited in the care of an abdominal stroke -a blood vessel is a blood vessel.
Acute mesenteric ischemia should be the first thing on everyone’s differential of sudden onset abdominal pain because of its time dependence, yet it does not have the same resonance to the unfamiliar as abdominal stroke. Survival is dismal when too much time and intestinal death has occurred. When associated with the stroke alert concept, it translates into processes already in place throughout the hospital and it becomes natural for everyone to appreciate the urgency of treating abdominal stroke. This is the system adopted by Roussel et al. in France, where they have regionalized care of intestinal stroke. They report mortality rate of 6.9%, which is in a selected population, but significantly lower than the traditionally reported 30-60% mortality.

I am still an advocate of an open approach, especially when angiographic resources are unavailable, and every trainee needs to be able to describe the exposure of the SMA, and management of acute mesenteric ischemia. Hopefully, everyone will appreciate the urgency of all the various ischemic conditions manifest in the peripheral circulation, but rebranding them as a stroke (leg stroke, hand stroke, intestinal stroke…) is helpful. Finally, there is no survival with dead bowel -it must be found through exploration and resected.

Reference:

Roussel A, Castel Y, et al. Revascularization of acute mesenteric ischemia after creation of a dedicated multidisciplinary center. 2015 Nov;62(5):1251-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jvs.2015.06.204.

Amazon Set Your Kindles Free

My Lenovo Yogabook C930 recently got a firmware update where the main screen image gets cloned to the e-ink display. By putting the device into tent mode, the LCD screen turns off and you now have a PC on an e-ink screen. Linked to a Bluetooth keyboard, it is a low power focused writing station, albeit with lag. Like other e-Ink screens, there is lag -kind of like a typewriter, but you can see it in full sunlight and theoretically there should be a benefit to battery life although I am holding my horses given the Intel chip burning in this device. I have been advocating for this feature for my e-ink Kindle readers. Imagine if you can write a book on a Kindle! It would be a simple OS update. Come on Amazon! Turn on a simple text editor and sync to the Amazon cloud and call it “Author.”

Kudos to Lenovo for the firmware update. I feel like I am part of a giant beta as the Yogabook C930 is gloriously half-baked. The fingerprint reader is still dreck. Freewrite should take note and hurry up with Traveler!

Distraction free writing used to be the norm with technology

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Distraction Free Writing: Portable, Disconnected, AA Battery Powered

Distraction free writing has been a buzzword. It used to be the norm with computers by their limitations and design to focus you on writing. Today, technology is increasingly put in front of you to entertain and distract. The problem for students and writers is that your computer and phone are gateways to music, video, and communication in ways that were only dreams twenty years ago. The key elements of distraction free writing are a decent keyboard, extended battery life, simple interfaces, lack of connectivity, and   absence of party line operators. Each of these elements formed the core of our computers back in the 1980’s, when computers were rarely networked, they were all monochrome, and your words were all that you saw. This desire is driving the market for distraction free writing software and hardware, but you can find ways to create your own portable distraction free writing tools without dropping a fortune. And distraction-free writing is also intrusion-free -something to consider in today’s shifting privacy boundaries. At the end, the best distraction free options may be in reconsidering decades old devices that may be picked up cheaply used or at greatly reduced prices for new. Most current devices are made to last about a thousand recharges, and struggle with purposeful obsolescence. You may find that there are many fine older options that will suit your writing needs while greatly increasing your productivity while avoiding costs.

Consider the keyboards we had back in 1985. They were all mechanical spring keyboards which made a nice click sound. Writing was a tactile pleasure. This was in contrast to the membrane based keys seen on games and toys, and mistakes like the PCjr. You see them today as controls for microwave ovens. The moving keys send a message of accomplishment to your brain. Despite this, flat keyboards with no physical component  are still being thrown up to see if they would stick. The smartphone keyboard on the first iPhone killed the physical ones on Blackberry and the Treo’s after all. Manufacturers are still experimenting with flat keyboards such as on the latest Yoga Book’s e-ink keyboard, and the upcoming Microsoft Surface Duo devices.

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flat screen based keys like on the latest Yoga Book takes some getting used to

These software and touch display based keyboards rely on spelling correction and ultimately constant connectivity to minimize error. The push for ultra-portability means dispensing with the original mechanical keyboard which was descended from electric typewriters like the IBM Selectric. This resulted in the terribly mushy, mass produced keyboards introduced in the 1990’s, getting ever worse. The high point of this design viewpoint was introduced in the 2015 MacBook and recently retired in the 2019 Macbook Pro when Apple realized everyone hated typing on superflat keys meant to accommodate flatness over functionality. There is a welcome movement back to reasonable keyboards. I would even claim that the persistent life and value of the Thinkpad line is the focus on the keyboard that remains preserved after IBM sold it to Lenovo. The new-old keyboard on the 2019 MacBook Pro 16’s are a concession to the realization that typing is a core function of these machines.

There is a push back as writers, office workers, and gamers have created a market for mechanical keyboards. These are usually Bluetooth connected devices, and typically paired to tablets for writing. Unfortunately, separate keyboards connected to tablets are not as portable as a laptop.

QWERKYwriter is a retro mechanical keyboard for tablets but try taking that onto an airplane

I would argue that laptops are not as portable as they could be. The Freewrite (link) was designed with writers in mind as an update to electric typewriters with cloudbased file management and an e-ink display with days of battery life on a single charge. I almost bought one but the small display and the relatively bulky size kept me from springing. I have ordered a Freewrite Traveler (link) which is their mini-laptop version, but since I ordered one last spring, it has remained vaporware with its delivery date pushed back from summer 2019 to spring 2020.

Battery life is a sore point for me. Laptops are now expected to be wonderful if they exceed 8 hours of battery life, but I remember that the original portable computers like the Radio Shack 100 series could go days on AA batteries. Writing appliances were introduced in the 80’s including electric typewriters with single line LCD displays and single file memory which would allow you to compose and edit. I had such a device from Japan in high school that had a four line LCD display, built in thermoelectric (fax paper) printer, and battery life that went several days on 4 AA batteries.

By using computers and smartphones, which function as portable televisions and multi-function, shopping kiosks which use Watts of power, the trade off is battery life and constantly worrying about plugging in for a recharge. We forgot the days of battery life and are happy with 8 hours. The battery power bar is terribly distracting for me and I tend to stop working to find an outlet to recharge when it inevitably drops and when my productivity is nearly always highest. If I’m traveling, this means carrying the power brick, another injury to this one who remembers AA battery powered writing tools.

In 2017, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was famously recalled after spontaneously combusting and were banned from airplanes. All Lithium batteries must now be hand carried. Just recently, I was told while checking in that Apple Macbooks could not be turned on during flight because of heating issues. This is a consequence of the greatly increased energy densities of Lithium cells and their chemical volatility. AA batteries and their nickel metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable variants suffer from no such problem.

Even with great battery life, you have to remember most of that power, and therefore bulk and weight of the Lithium batteries is devoted to painting vivid colors on the screen, communicating via radio signal to the world, and keeping dozens of apps updated on your activities, and not to writing.

The Lithium battery which can power a car because of its energy density is overkill if all you want is to write. The modern computer operating systems, Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android, are all over-powered for the simple act of preserving words. Consider the lowly text file to a modern Word file. The text file for a novel might take kilobytes of memory, but the same Office Word file is measured in megabytes -thousands of times bigger. Try emailing a fully formatted Word file through your corporate firewalls if it exceeds your company’s limits on attachment file sizes. The size and complexity of information that is exchanged burns power. Compare that to the notes you might write onto paper. The few microcalories used to power your neurons and move pencil on paper, the motor and optics circuitry processing the information at a speed suitable for your ape brain.

My friend and early mentor, Professor David Tilson, refused to relinquish his DOS based word processor even well into the Windows era. And I understood. The monochrome and monotype letters forced you to look at the words and not the style of the words. While I admire Steve Jobs, and his introduction of fonts to our everyday lives, the ability to shape the look of your writing intrudes on its composition. Monochrome does not mean monotonous, and modern distraction-free software efforts like IA Writer embrace simplicity. The emergence of dark mode is another effort at rolling back the clock. When you enable it for your iPhone, it reaffirms the utility and critical need for focus and simplicity. Do you need millions of colors or just letters on a simple background? While you can change the color setting of your laptop screen or your writing software, the ultimate in monochrome experience is an e-ink display.

The e-ink display is what you see on Amazon Kindles. Originally meant for low power usage, high contrast functions like in store signs, e-Ink is currently used for e-Readers, although there is a niche market for e-ink based displays and tablets which do offer the low power hi contrast display perfect for a focused writing work station – you can find them on Amazon and eBay. Unfortunately, because these e-Ink tablets are run typically on Android, there is no escaping the internet on these, and because they do so, their battery lives are not that much different from standard tablets. What the we need is for Amazon to gift the writers of the world with Bluetooth or wired keyboard functionality to their Kindles and offer a text writer that can be synced to their cloud..

What the we need is for Amazon to gift the writers of the world with bluetooth or wired keyboard functionality to their Kindles and offer a text writer that can be synced to their cloud.

The constant need for connectivity drives software and hardware inefficiency. Writing requires intimacy and privacy. Just as you cannot write while engaged in a shouting match with someone, you cannot write with notifications of arriving messages, pictures, and videos. I cannot write while watching a movie or listening to certain music, but all of these distractions are baked into the function of modern computers and smartphones. This uses up battery life. The devices are in a race to maximize the battery and screen size at the cost of purpose and meaning aside from commerce.

Party line operators were a feature of the early telephone systems. Your locality was serviced by an operator that routed your calls and inevitably your conversations were open to intrusion both intentional and unintentional. When all your work is kept on a cloud server, it really is no different. And it isn’t that hackers that may take all your work. My generation grew up with the Cold War, and its dark tales of thought crimes and writers imprisoned for samizdat -ideas forbidden by a state entity. In a time when your social media is a subject for governmental and not just consumer interest, returning to off line options is something to consider seriously. The meaning of party line operators is in this context wholly changed.

The one feature of cloud based options is the convenience of accessing it across all of your devices. But are you really going to be writing on your iPhone, then on your desktop, then on your laptop, then from an airport kiosk? Your file can be lost during the sync process or changed to a competing version from another computer you were working on. And goodbye work if you get hacked or if your cloud service shuts you down or out. While you write, you have to keep a local version and back up to a nonvolatile storage option.

Not connecting to the internet saves you battery life. It also frees you from taking deep YouTube dives into funny cat videos or answering emails or Facebook posts. The stillness you need to just write is difficult to achieve with a modern laptop, tablet or smartphone. It can be attained with these older devices which people in the know still value decades after they left their boxes. I suggest these options if you are thinking of trying a focused writing appliance (a typewriter!).

Option 1: King Jim Pomera DM100  (link) is best described as a writing appliance designed in Japan adapted for the English speaking market. It is a sleek thin portable that allows one to type words unencumbered by internet. The files on it can be transferred to another computer by Bluetooth, and to smart phones by QR code which is cool. It runs for days on AA batteries, and has a backlit monochrome LCD screen. It is priced on th high end at 392.61, but receives the best rating on Amazon which to me is a 4.5. I never come across 5 star reviews that aren’t fake. One reviewers comment that the keyboard is cramped and takes getting used to. It can be used as a Bluetooth keyboard and stand for iOS devices.

Option 2: Neo 2 Alphasmart Word Processor with Full Size Keyboard,, Calculator

The Alphasmart Neo2 (link) was the last of a line of writing appliances put out by a pair of former Apple engineers who wanted to provide affordable word processing options on a full mechanical keyboard. The Neo2 is the most available and apparently the most usable, allowing one to type out hundreds of pages and transfer to a computer via USB connection. The screen is an LCD screen like on a calculator. The killer feature on this device is nearly forever battery life on AA cells. It has a rabid following of professional writers who appreciate the pared down experience for productive writing. It achieves that perfect 4.5 star rating. This is for a device discontinued in 2007 and sells for about 40-50USD in used condition. Reviewers rave about turning it on and instantly being able to type without bootup, and avoiding distraction by email, notifications, social media etc.

Option 3: Psion Series 5MX

The Psion Series 5MX represented the apex of portable computer design in the late 1990s. It was a computer made from the ground up from circuits, hardware, operating system, and apps by British engineers and it was a thing of beauty. Made in the late 1990’s, this device’s killer features, long battery life via AA cells, ultraportabiity, and lack of easy internet access puts it in a separate class. Not everyone like the keyboard, but I have long been able to type on it without difficulty with average to large sized hands. I had one during residency in the 1990’s and it followed me into fellowship. Before EHR, I composed full consultation notes and H&Ps on it and filed them on my password protected CF drive for later retrieval and update for frequent flyer patients. I picked up a pair of these for about 90USD from the Netherlands, but the going priced varies from about 70 to 200USD for a used one in good condition. New ones pop up but they go for nearly their original price -they are that good. I suspect I got a deal because they were Ericsson MC218, a Swedish licensed clone.

It has a compact flash drive, and with the save as text file function in the built-in word processor which works fast and reliably, it is possible to back up to a nonvolatile memory (the CF drive) and transfer to a regular computer. The one caveat is that the maximum size of CF drive it will see seems to be 128mB -that is megabytes which is hard to find. In certain older industrial machinery, instructions are uploaded via CF cards of these size, and so these cards are available on Amazon. Or look in a drawer for an old unused CF card.

I wrote this post on the Psion, and never once looked at emails, social media, or Youtube.

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I wrote this post on the Psion, and never once looked at emails, social media, or Youtube.