MWOP – Day 3, Catheterisation Lab

On my third day at MWOP I observed what went on in the Catheterisation lab (Cath lab). I found this day very interesting because I’d never fully realised what Cath lab actually included or, in all honesty, what it was. However after observing this area on the third day, it made me understand a lot more about the work done here, and the variety of things that they see.

For anyone who isn’t sure what the Cath Lab is (which included myself before I went on this work experience), it is a clinic in a hospital where diagnostic imaging equipment is used to visualise and look at the arteries and chambers of the heart, and then they work to treat any abnormalities that they find.

In the Cath lab, there were two radiology rooms where all the procedures would take place, and then in the middle was a room where the consultants, doctors and nurses would look at all the images. In the procedure rooms, a catheter, which is essentially a long thin tube with a camera on the end, is fed into the patients heart through a vein, and then those images appear on a screen that the doctors will then look at. They will then look for any abnormalities and see if the problem is significant enough to warrant a procedure. For example, they may look for where the artery walls are too thin, pinched or blocked, and whether it is serious enough for a stent to be inserted to widen the artery.

I saw one patient being rushed in because they were extremely unwell on their ward. They found that one of his arteries was extremely thin which was affecting the oxygen delivery to his heart. They therefore needed a balloon pump to help the heart pump the blood. A balloon pump is a catheter with a balloon on the end of it, and it was inserted into the patient’s aorta. It is just a temporary solution and patients who have it are waned off it over time. So for example, it may inflate for every beat of the heart to start, but then it’ll do it every other heart beat, every three etc, and it is just to aid them until they are ready for surgery.

Something else that is involved in the Cath Lab is deciding when patents need stents in their arteries, to widen them to help oxygen delivery. I was actually able to see quite a few stents being inserted into a number of patients, and it was extremely interesting seeing how they did it, and understanding the different times when one may be required or not.

Overall I found my time observing at the Cath Lab extremely interesting and I learned a lot, as it was a specialty I had not fully recognised before, or understood to its full extent. Therefore I found it really insightful seeing what was involved there. One thing however that I did feel on my morning there was that there wasn’t as much patient contact involved in this specialty, as a lot of it is procedures and looking at the images of the heart. However there was still a lot of variety within the area, as there were a number of different specialities all working together in the same room including radiologists and cardiac surgeons, which shows how that overlap and cross over really does occur across all areas of medicine.

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