Along with all their years of advanced education, specialized training and intensive experience, there’s something else that many surgeons have learned to trust. Some people call it “intuition.”
“Something just didn’t seem right,” Dr. Tyson Blatchford explains about a patient who came in at the end of his emergency room shift back in January. “You develop this sort of ‘sixth sense’ after a while and something didn’t fit.”
The patient, who had a history of respiratory problems, was complaining about shortness of breath and so the South Central Kansas Medical Center physician ordered lung X-rays and a small battery of lab tests. “When the X-rays came back, I checked for pneumonia but the lungs were clear.” Experience and intuition pushed the physician to continue examining the X-ray.
“I saw the telltale indication of ‘free air’ in the abdomen, right below the diaphragm and knew we had a significant problem.” While “free air” might sound good at a convenience store when you’ve got a slow leak in a tire, it’s a very bad sign in medicine. In this case, it indicated a perforation in the digestive tract. Confirming factors included elevated lactic acid levels and white cell count. The patient’s condition was actually much worse than the person realized.
“We were looking at symptoms of early sepsis and shock, partially masked by medications being taken,” Dr. Blatchford recalls. “This patient didn’t have time for a one-hour ambulance trip and weather conditions had grounded life flight operations. We had to do something and do it right away.”
That something was emergency surgery to close the hole and remove the contaminating leakage.
Later that day, road conditions improved and allowed transfer to a Wichita facility with the resources and expertise needed for continued treatment and follow-up. Dr. Blatchford’s timely diagnosis and surgery is credited with saving the patient’s life.
In recognition, Integrity Healthcare Professionals designated Dr. Blatchford as their "Integrity Lifesaver of the Month" at SCKMC. Integrity has sponsored this award since taking over management of ER services at the hospital back in January of 2016.
Dr. Joe Odonnell, one of two founding partners of Integrity, commented, "Dr. Blatchford is an absolute blessing to our facility on many levels. From the operating room to the bedside, you will find no rival to his intense focus and passionate care on behalf of his patients. Tyson helps lead the way in providing a truly patient-centered experience which is what makes the care at SCKMC so special."
The Arkansas City native’s interest in medicine manifested at a very early age. “My mom says that when I was a little kid, I was fascinated by this medical magazine published by Better Homes & Gardens. Even though I couldn’t read, I would sit and turn the pages and look at the anatomy pictures.” However, it was a very personal experience during Blatchford’s first year at Cowley College that really crystallized his career choice.
“My mom was hospitalized, and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was causing her problems. She was experiencing organ failure and in very serious condition, but they couldn’t explain why. I started researching her symptoms to see what I could find out.” His mother’s physicians continued their diagnostic search as well. “Fortunately, they didn’t give up. Eventually they were able to figure out that she had systemic lupus.”
His mother survived, albeit with repercussions that still affect her today. Blatchford completed his degree at Cowley, graduated from Southwestern College and completed a medical degree at KU Med School. He later completed additional training at Carilion Clinic/Virginia Tech School of Medicine. His interest in trauma medicine led him to serve as a trainer/educator for medics serving the Southern Kansas SWAT Team. The physician explains, “I helped train them in CPR and trauma treatment such as gunshot wounds, blast injury, chemical exposure and so on.”
There is at least one aspect of trauma and emergency treatment that the doctor finds especially rewarding. “You make an immediate difference for someone and sometimes that difference is that the patient continues living.” Here the surgeon reflects for a bit. “We spend a lot of time treating chronic conditions, things that you’re never going to cure. This is very different; this is life or death.”
In such intense situations with such high stakes, all the training, the experience, the skill—and the intuition—come together. And, there’s one more element that comes to play, at least for this native son and professional surgeon.
“I feel like God is always with me during surgery, guiding me in my judgment, guiding my hands. He’s given me this ability and I believe he helps me use it.” He notes with some humor the stereotypical view that “some doctors think they’re God.”
Then he confesses, “I feel close to God during surgery. Even closer than I feel in church.”
Without this particular intervention, one patient would have been a lot closer.