Handy device helps free a hand and save a life

Vancouver | November 17, 2017
Emergency situation calls for creativity, ingenuity

Ever get your hand stuck? It can be frightening and exhausting, as it was for John (not his real name).

One moment he was deftly working beneath his older model vehicle trying to change a coil spring, the next, the spring entangled his hand and…snap!

hand caught in spring

John’s hand was caught in the spring with his thumb and his fingers separated across different coil spaces. (For readers who don’t know car parts, a coil spring is made of thick heavy-duty metal. It's part of a vehicle’s shock absorption system.)

With his hand still stuck in the coil, John managed to drive to the nearest hospital — following “H” signs along the road — in hopes of rescue and relief.

John made it to the Emergency Department at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington, where the staff promptly activated a trauma response.

Fast action required

Trauma Surgeon Khaled Pharaon, MD, found his new patient in excruciating pain as the coil immobilized John’s fully flexed wrist and crushed his fingers.

Dr. Pharaon immediately assessed the gravity of the situation and feared serious problems could result while trying to free John’s entrapped hand and treat the resulting injuries. The doctor wondered:

  • Would the spring recoil even more, leading to further crushing of the patient’s hand?
  • Would medical professionals injure themselves while trying to free his hand?
  • What instrument could be used to stretch the spring, and how could everyone involved stay safe?
  • Could the coil be cut it off? If so, would the heat generated cause additional problems?
  • Would the patient lose the use of his hand, if not freed quickly enough?

A team effort

Dr. Pharaon called for the Clark County Fire Department to come immediately with the “Jaws of Life” to cut the coil from the patient’s hand. The doctor also asked the hospital’s maintenance crew to come with tools that might be of use.

operation to remove spring from handOnce the fire crew had arrived and started placing the Jaws of Life onto the coil ring, they found the machine was going to be much too powerful for the job.

The hospital maintenance crew then suggested using a Dremel®, a small high-speed power tool used for cutting and sanding. They set up the tool with a metal-cutting blade and an IV bag tubing trickling water onto the spinning blade to prevent overheating.

It did the job—most of the way. The blade was a little shorter than the thickness of the coil, so the doctor made the final few cuts with a hacksaw to finally free John’s hand.

Not out of the woods yet

Dr. Pharaon admitted his patient to PeaceHealth Southwest so doctors could check the health of John’s nerves and blood vessels as well as watch for other developments. It was the right call. Because the blood flow in his arm had been cut off for so long, John developed a serious condition that required an immediate surgical procedure by an orthopedist to relieve the pressure and save his hand.

coil removed from handThe unfortunate event arising from John’s everyday action of working on a car took an everyday moment of grace from an extraordinary team of caregivers in nursing, emergency, maintenance, trauma surgery and orthopedics, along with a local fire crew to free a hand and, ultimately, save a life.

The rest of the story…

Dr. Pharaon sent a letter to the Dremel tool manufacturer, thanking them and letting them know the role their tool played in saving a man’s arm and life. Dremel wrote back a very formal letter reminding the good doctor that, “While we are appreciative for you wanting to use our product, we do not endorse our product for medical applications nor is it intended to be used that close to tissue. Dremel products are not designed or manufactured for medical applications, as noted in the Rotary Tool Operator Manual.” Duly noted.