Saving 4 Patients With Just 1 Ventilator

We all know that COVID-19 is stressing our health system to the limit. One of the most important machines in this battle is the ventilator. Vents are critical for patients experiencing the worst symptoms of respiratory distress from the virus. Most of the numbers predict that hospitals won’t have enough ventilators to keep up with the needs during the height of the pandemic.

Now anyone with a walkman or iPod can tell you what they do when there is one music device and two people who want to listen: Plug in a Y-connector. Wouldn’t it be great if you could do the same thing with a medical ventilator? It turns out you can – – with some important caveats.

Way back in 2006, [Greg Neyman, MD and Charlene Babcock, MD] connected four simulated patients to a single ventilator. Ventilators connect to a patient with two tubes – an inflow and an exhaust. Using common parts available in just about any hospital, the doctors installed “T-tube” splitters on the inflow and exhaust tubes. They tested this with lung simulators and found that the system worked.

There were some important considerations though. The patients must be medically paralyzed, and have similar lung capacity — you couldn’t mix an adult and a child. The tubing length for each patient needs to be the same as well. The suggestion is to place the patients in a star pattern with the ventilator at the center of the star.

[Dr. Charlene Babcock] explains the whole setup in the video after the break.

Interestingly enough, this technique went from feasibility study to reality during the Las Vegas shooting a few years ago. There were more patients than ventilators, so emergency room doctors employed the technique to keep patients alive while equipment was brought in from outside hospitals. It worked — saving lives on that dark day.

The video and technique remind us of Apollo 13 and the CO2 scrubber modifications. Whatever it takes to keep people alive. We’ve already started looking into open source ventilators, but it’s good to see that medical professionals have been working on this problem for years.

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Hackaday Links: March 8, 2020

A lot of annoying little hacks are needed to keep our integer-based calendar in sync with a floating-point universe, and the big one, leap day, passed us by this week. Aside from the ignominy of adding a day to what’s already the worst month of the year, leap day has a tendency to call out programmers who take shortcuts with their code. Matt Johnson-Pint has compiled a list of 2020 leap day bugs that cropped up, ranging from cell phones showing the wrong date on February 29 to an automated streetlight system in Denmark going wonky for the day. The highest-profile issue may have been system crashes of Robinhood, the online stock trading platform. Robinhood disagrees that the issues were caused by leap day code issues, saying that it was a simple case of too many users and not enough servers. That seems likely given last week’s coronavirus-fueled trading frenzy, but let’s see what happens in 2024.

Speaking of annoying time hacks, by the time US readers see this, we will have switched to Daylight Saving Time. Aside from costing everyone a precious hour of sleep, the semiannual clock switch always seems to set off debates about the need for Daylight Saving Time. Psychologists think it’s bad for us, and it has elicited a few bugs over the years. What will this year’s switch hold? Given the way 2020 has been going so far, you’d better buckle up.
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