Q&A with C.B. Brooks, MD

Q&A with C.B. Brooks, MD

By Jason Busch Nov 20, 2012

A physician and orthopedic surgeon for 30 years, specializing in hand and microsurgery, C.B. Brooks, MD, has also had a 19-year firefighting career, as well as 5 years as a police officer, 26 years as a scuba diver—the last 11 as divemaster—and 10 years as a parent. And that’s just getting started for the first-time author, who also notes his other “careers” as bagpipe band drummer, standup comedian, greenskeeper and golfer.

It’s through the lens of these varied experiences that Brooks wrote Trust Your Radar: Honest Advice for Teens and Young Adults from a Surgeon, Firefighter, Police Officer, Scuba Divemaster, Golfer, and Amateur Comedian.

In an exclusive interview with EMS World, Brooks talks about the importance of developing personal brain radars, and how we can use them avoid making the same mistakes over and over. Read more at www.TrustYourRadar.com.

How long have you been writing, and how did you come to publish Trust Your Radar?

This is my first book and it started in an unusual way. I was playing golf with another surgeon and we were talking about the problems people—including other doctors—manage to get themselves into. Since we were on a golf course, we called these problems “the sand traps of life.” I remember saying, “Someone should write a book showing people how to avoid them!”

That was before I added my EMS, fire and police careers. It was during these that I saw people continually making the same mistakes over and over, hitting into the same big sand traps of life. I never expected to be an author, but the perspective I gained from these careers put me in a position to write this book, and hopefully help upcoming generations.

You’ve had a unique career—surgeon, firefighter, police officer, scuba divemaster; what are some of the situations you’ve experienced or seen where people should have trusted their radar and didn’t that you describe in the book? What lessons can teens—and adults—take from those experiences?

Before you can trust your radar, you have to do a few things. First is to identify it—it’s your brain functioning optimally, not some vague intuition or sixth sense people like to babble about.

Second, train your radar in key areas. The book stocks your memory bank with information on health, personal finance, safety, getting organized, relationships and how to evaluate people—with clues on identifying toxic personality disorders.

And lastly, meet the Radar Jammers—they have the power to turn down or turn off our brain radars. Some are well known, like alcohol, drugs, peer pressure, infatuation, anger or multitasking. Others are surprising!

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Here’s an example where people haven’t learned our simple strategy for alcohol use.

SURGERY STORY—I’ve cared for many people who had a bad experience with a power tool. This usually happened during their work with drills, routers or circular saws. But I began to notice a second subset of patients who seemed to sustain these devastating injuries in the early evening. After some questioning, it became apparent that a common after dinner (and thus after drinking) activity, would be to go into the garage and fire up the table saw. The table saw is a ruthless predator that does not differentiate between wood and fingers. Operating one with your radar turned down is like announcing, “Pookie, I’ll be in the garage playing with the Tasmanian Devil.”

What kind of advice would you offer EMS professionals on how to reach out to teens in their community to help make a difference?

The EMS profession sees the tragic results of some major brain Radar Jammers—alcohol abuse, drugs, excessive speed and multitasking while driving. If EMS workers could tell young people about these before the tragedies occur, we’d be way ahead.

Instead of thinking about formal school presentations, just start talking to teens where you see them—while covering school football games, at the fast food places, at community events, etc.

Start with open-ended questions, then feel free to pass on any Trust Your Radar strategies you like. For example, there are sections on driving, motorcycles, responsible alcohol use, how multitasking is really switch-tasking. One of those tips might prevent a wreck and save lives.

Why will EMS providers and firefighters be interested in this book?

I think they’ll relate to the humor and various stories throughout the book. It’s not just me spouting advice at readers—I’ll make a point and recommendation, then illustrate it with stories from the worlds of medicine, scuba, fire, police or some other adventures. This makes reading much more enjoyable, and helps people remember the message. The human brain loves patterns and stories.

What kind of reactions has the book received so far from the EMS world?

The most universal comment has been, “I wish I knew these things earlier in life.” After finishing it, many older readers have given copies to all their teenage and adult children.

What advice would you give to people in EMS, or their relatives, who feel they have something to say or experiences worth sharing?

I’d suggest giving your stories a purpose. We all have tales of heroism, misadventures and gory disasters, but before trotting those out randomly, develop the underlying take-home message that can help your listeners in their own lives. Think “stories with a purpose.”

Excerpt from Trust Your Radar: Honest Advice for Teens and Young Adults from a Surgeon, Firefighter, Police Officer, Scuba Divemaster, Golfer, and Amateur Comedian

Chapter 26—The Need for Speed

Yeeeeee Haaaaaah! Humans love to go fast. Our cousins the chimps like it too, although their opportunities are limited.

When man invented the wheel, widely regarded as one of his greatest inventions (right up there with air conditioning), our ability to go fast made a quantum leap. Weeee! Cars, motorcycles, all-terrain-vehicles, bicycles, chariots, skateboards, motorized barstools, NASCAR, roller coasters, and nitro-fueled dragsters; blew past mere running or riding another animal for exhilarating speed.

Oh, you like water. No problem, we came up with the surfboard, speedboat, waverunner, water ski, inner tube, and almost anything else that can be propelled down rushing water or dragged behind a boat.

What? Your water is frozen. Again, no problem. Behold: the snow ski, ice skate, snowmobile, bobsled, dogsled, luge, cafeteria tray.

How about the sky? Step right up: cliff diving, parachuting, hang gliding, bungee jumping, the human cannonball, swing sets, airplanes, helicopter, jet, rocket, breaking the sound barrier, warp speed, escape velocity.

The need for speed. Face it, we’ve got this radar jamming brain circuit too. Let’s feed our radar some information so we can deal with it. Some of this we’ve already learned.

Information piece number one: Protect your head and neck.

Number two: Wear your seat belt whenever one is available.

Number three: Never, repeat never, dive headfirst into water you can’t see through.

And for all other situations, number four: Weigh the risk involved in the high velocity adventure, against the reward.

“Gee, I’m thinking of going over Niagara Falls wearing only a thong and water wings.” Chance of survival, low. Reward, negligible. Decision, abort mission.

“I’d like to see winter mountain scenery, so I’ve signed up for a ski trip with lessons.” Chance of injury, possible, but instruction will decrease risk. Reward, good chance of achieving your goal. Decision, OK try it.

“The sea is clear and calm. Let’s rent waverunners for two hours.” Chance of injury, possible, but at least you’ll hit liquid water if you fall off. Reward, good chance of fun if we don’t go berserk. Decision, green light.

This brings us to a special human activity I’ve seen from all my different career perspectives – motorcycles. These machines satisfy the need for speed for many humans; however, in my humble opinion, the risks of life altering trauma greatly outweigh any rewards. The problem with these devices is when (not if, when) you fall off, you’ll be hitting a solid unyielding surface.

So far the running score is: Human bodies – zero; solid unyielding surfaces – just about every contest.

As a doctor I’ve seen every bed in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) filled with closed head trauma victims. The open head traumas usually don’t make it to the ICU, they’re DRT (Dead Right There). As a firefighter, I’ve extricated mangled people from mangled wreckage. As a cop, I’ve searched terrain far from the accident site looking for the missing rider’s body. As a surgeon, I’ve lopped off more legs than I can remember. As a bagpipe band drummer, I’ve played at some sad funerals of young people.

The dream of cruising down the open road on your motorcycle, free as a bird, seduces many people. The reality is you are a human missile with no protection. The deck is strongly stacked against you. Sooner or later you will hit a slick oil spot, loose gravel, a rainstorm, a mule deer, or a patch of ice. You may be the toughest hombre or chick in the area, but the lowliest driver of a car, truck, or minivan can abruptly end your reign.

SURGERY STORY – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called to the emergency room for motorcycle injuries. Sometimes it’s a burn or road rash abrasions with dirt and pebbles hammered into the skin. Far more commonly, it’s one or both legs shattered with the skin and muscles ground up like a big pile of chopped meat sprinkled with denim.

If the tibial nerve that provides sensation to the sole of the foot is part of that ground beef; then forget it, even the best microsurgical miracle won’t work. I’ve been faced with so many of these injuries. Usually you see a foot and an upper leg, with a big interval of bloody mess in between. Sometimes the only thing still connecting the parts is a little skin bridge at the back of the leg. This can unceremoniously be cut through with your bandage scissors in the emergency room. Ta-dah.

If the motorcycle victim’s nerve is intact, then a series of operations to try to “save” the leg can be considered. These may include reconnecting blood vessels with interposition reversed vein grafts (microsurgical revascularization); trying to repair other damaged nerves; cleaning everything up and removing all the dead muscle, tissue, asphalt, and skin (debridement); trying to realign the shattered bones and holding them together with threaded pins and a big external fixator frame that looks like an erector set. That’s just for starters.

Future operations include repeat debridements, bone grafts to fill in gaps and try to get the broken bones to heal, skin grafts and flaps to cover all the damaged areas, removal of the external fixation hardware, possible bone internal fixation hardware, application of casts and braces, maybe a microsurgical free flap operation where muscle, subcutaneous tissue, overlying skin, and sometimes bone are taken on their own blood vessels from another part of the patient’s body and moved to the damaged area where the blood vessels are spliced (anastomosed) into any available local vessels. If the flap survives, it can provide coverage and missing elements to the injured area.

If everything goes well, these patients usually face about a year of recovery. But things don’t usually go well. Bone fracture healing is commonly slow or doesn’t occur (delayed union or nonunion); infections of the bone or soft tissue (osteomyelitis and cellulitis) occur because the damage zone is big and beaten up; deformity, stiffness, pain, and prolonged physical therapy are expected. Social consequences of bankruptcy, job loss, relationship strain, and lawsuits from the accident, are prevalent. Depression, addiction to pain medication, drug seeking behavior, and mental health troubles can occur. In other words, satisfying the need for speed on a motorcycle is a life altering bad idea.

As a teenager and young adult, you and your friends will be tempted to test the limits and see how fast you can go on various machines. Cars also produce devastating injuries and death. Teach your radars the physics of high velocity projectiles meeting solid objects, and how high speed rollovers can be caused by small curbs, bumps, or road shoulders that wouldn’t be a problem at a slower speed. Also ponder our human anatomy. Our protective skeleton is on the inside. If we were lobsters with our protective bone structures on the outside, an exoskeleton, we’d be far better equipped for high speed fun on things like motorcycles.

The need for speed can clearly jam our radars. Fortunately there are many ways to satisfy the need, some much less risky than others. Weigh the risks versus rewards and make choices with radar on full.

Read more at www.TrustYourRadar.com.

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