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Captain Wood

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Captain Wood’s Story:

I am an officer with US Army Special Forces.  My mother had a reaction to Halothane in 1973 during a hysterectomy.  She was orphaned at two-years-old, so there was no family history to review.  She made a partial recovery, though she did receive some dantrolene at that time.  She was in the hospital over a week after her episode and her heart has never been the same since.  Because we knew there was Malignant Hyperthermia (MH) in the family I got a medical alert bracelet and ware it every day and night except when SCUBA diving, because it will attract sharks and I don't need to compound issues accidentally.

I returned from the First Persian Gulf War in Saudi Arabia in the summer of 1991.  My nasal turbinates grew mostly closed making breathing difficult.  I am a competitive runner and climber.  This became a challenge in the mountains of Colorado where there is already less air.  Tuboplasty surgery was advised in January 1996 at Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Denver, Colorado.  I was recently divorced and living alone.  The surgery was scheduled for first thing in the morning to have a "clean" room, understanding reactions can occur as low as 20 to 60 parts per million (PPM).  The preparation and recovery room was the same.   The first sign of a general problem was the oxygen handle on the supply line in the operating room (OR) broke during functional checking of the equipment before surgery and a mechanic was called in to repair it, delaying my surgery.  The second sign of a problem was that a quick procedure was done on a colonoscopy patient and within twenty-five minutes, he was back in the recovery room beside me. 

The nurse had started an IV on me and I was on the gurney waiting my turn.  I suddenly had an overwhelming impending sense of doom and very anxious feeling.  I am not an anxious person.  This was no more than four or five minutes after the other patient was brought back in.  I called to the nurse working near me and told her "I am going to die."  She turned to me and said you are fine, just relax and calm down.  I yelled at her, "You don't understand, I am going to die now!"  I was not getting enough air, CO2 levels were rapidly rising in my body, I was getting hot, and I started shaking mildly.  She touched my head, then put her hand on my chest and looked up at my face.  I was not on a vitals machine yet.  She then pushed the crash button on the wall and screamed down the hallway for help.  I could see the panic in her eyes when she returned to me and she said “I did not give you anything yet, I did not give you anesthesia, why is this happening?”  My body started convulsing violently.  People started running in, but the dantrolene that was specially ordered just for my surgery and was not readily available for everyone in the military hospital, just my OR had not arrived yet. Medical staff members had come from several locations, but not the OR.  They had to go back to the OR and get the MH cart and bring it into the prep room.  I was crashing in the full prep-recovery room and there was not much space to work so they pulled me out into the hallway.  I lost consciousness while everyone was responding. 

I woke up some four or five hours later, packed in ice with an IV hanging near my head and the sun shining directly in my eyes.   A nurse was still plugging dantrolene in my IV line.  Because it was freezing in Denver with snow on the ground, they had taken me outside with fresher air and cooler ambient temperatures.   I am rather pale complexioned and don't like the sun.  I was mad that the sun was shining on my face, not because I was unable to move anything, I was packed in ice, or that I had missed my surgery.   My hands were tied to the gurney with gauze, but I could not have moved them if I wanted to.  They got a towel and covered my head, propping it up so I could breathe well.  I lost consciousness again a few minutes later and don't remember much of the next few days.  Three days later, I awoke in my house not remembering how I got there.  I was alone and confused in bed, but healthier.   My body did ache, but I am very athletic and was out snowshoeing and running in just two days.  I am very sensitive to heat, in that I don't like to be hot at all and don't often wear a coat unless it is really cold.  I keep my shirts open on the top and wonder if this is a common theme among MH subjects.  As well, my normal body temperature is around 97.6 consistently.  Are there other common themes we are overlooking like blood type or blood anomalies? 

I went back to the hospital a few days later and asked what happened.  The surgeon told me they had aborted the procedure and it was rescheduled in March, months later.  He surmised that I inhaled the exhaust of the patient beside me and though in low dose, it was enough halothane for me to have a full-blown reaction to the anesthetic. I was advised to perform the muscle tests.  As an athlete, I declined.  I need all the muscle I have to perform.

As told by CPT Wood

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