Caring for the Patient Who Is a Zombie

May 8, 2010

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The zombie is an undead, shambling, flesh-hungry monster with a particular appetite for human brains. Although an uncommon sight in the doctor’s office, it behooves the astute physician to gain some familiarity and expertise in the medical care of zombies should one appear for an impromptu “check up.”

Universal precautions are of utmost importance when evaluating zombies in the office. After a chaotic check-in at the front desk, and a hasty collection of co-pay, the zombie should be promptly escorted to a private, strictly isolated room. Health care workers should wear masks and gowns, as well as eye protection. The zombie’s arms and legs should be restrained in case of sudden hostility or aggression. Unfortunately this isolation and restraint may cause the zombie anxiety, loneliness, and a suspicion that he is somehow being punished. Reassurance and a welcoming smile may help to reduce unease. Perhaps the office could invest in a calming fish tank.

As part of a routine check up, the physician should include a thorough assessment of lifestyle and nutrition. Zombie sleeping patterns are at best erratic, and lead to mood disorders, chronic fatigue, and irritability. Personal hygiene is often atrocious, so reviewing such basics as bathing and brushing the teeth is generally not considered insulting.

The physician must be sensitive to what she may instinctively consider revolting – zombie dietary practices. Often the zombie will shout “Brains! Brains!” while describing a typical meal, and trust can be lost easily should the physician register disgust. Reminding the undead that plants are also living things and can be consumed may lead to the adoption of healthier eating behaviors (and a reduction of community risk).

On the other hand, zombies should be congratulated on their uniquely healthy behaviors. As general rules, zombies rarely drink alcohol, smoke, engage in sexual behaviors, have work stress, or lead sedentary lives. The sight of a zombie shuffling down the street should remind us of the many benefits of exercise and fresh air, and perhaps spur us on to attend a local zumba class.

Careful attention should be paid to the physical examination of the zombie, noting the degree of dental decay, ragged flesh, and odor. Mental status assessments are nearly impossible, but loudly groaning along with the zombie may simulate conversation, allowing for a bill to be generated for the visit.

The zombie, by eating human flesh, is at risk of all manner of contagion. The infectious disease burden is often tremendous. It should be assumed that the zombie “has everything,” and so routine screening is not advised. By feasting on brains they are particularly susceptible to transmissible spongiform encephalopathies like Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, similar to some cannibalistic communities in Papua New Guinea. Prion diseases do not respond to a “Zpack.”

The ethical questions around zombie health care are many. Should the physician withhold treatment for individuals unlikely to stop eating human flesh? Does the health care worker have the right to refuse seeing a zombie? Can zombie behavior ever be changed, and if not, should the production of skeletal muscle through tissue culture be allowed on an industrial scale, providing zombies with a safe and less horrifying source of nutrition?

While undeniably challenging, the competent care of the zombie in primary care can be a most rewarding experience, and can provide a foundation for the more complex tasks of caring for ninjas, pirates, and Vikings.

Rlbates May 8, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Very good reminders. :)

Sir Hubert Ignatius Thompson May 8, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Thank you for your insight
I admit that the management of Zombies can be challenging, and your review goes a long way towards outlining a simple yet effective primary care management plan. However more work needs to be done to understand the complex pharmacological interactions that critical care management of the Zombie entails.
To this end I hope to see further development of drug interaction guidelines building on the original works in the field by Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis
(Reference: “The Serpent and the Rainbow” and ‘The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie”)
I would like to see these potentially significant pharmacological ramifications included in future posts pertaining to Ninjas, Pirates and Vikings
Yours
Sir Hubert Ignatius Thompson

Greg P May 8, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Caution! Caution! Caution!

You may think that gowns, gloves, face guards and such are adequate protection, but regardless of these, you must never, NEVER, EVER turn your back on a zombie at any time, or the next thing you’ll know they will be gnawing away at your gluteus maximus.

Some prep before the visit: Make sure your ventilation system and its exhaust ports allow for the most efficient removal of the various offending odors you will encounter. Probably best to schedule your zombie as the last patient of the day, though that having been said, even if you don’t, it probably will be your last patient of the day for various reasons. Have some nose plugs handy, in the event that mouth-breathing becomes ineffectual. Some find that a suitable dose of an antiemetic before the visit may reducing retching, though to my knowledge there are no studies on this as prophylaxis.
Adequate cleaning and recleaning (and the occasional rerecleaning) of the exam room is of the utmost importance. I believe that there some tentative plans by GE Healthcare to market a so-called “self-cleaning” exam room, modeled after self-cleaning ovens, in which high temperatures incinerate any residue (and believe me, there will be residue) left behind. If you do get one of these, remember to remove the zombie prior to switching on the self-cleaning system, otherwise you will run afoul (sic) of various EPA (and maybe FAA) regulations.

Kendra May 9, 2010 at 9:10 am

I hate using the phrase “laughed out loud.” However, I did in fact do so. Thanks for my morning chuckle!

micah May 9, 2010 at 10:04 am

Care should be taken to avoid misdiagnosis! Depressed, withdrawn teens, the elderly after too much ambien, and post-call health workers can present similarly (head down, slow shuffle, grunting or moaning, with varying degrees of poor hygiene).

Wren May 9, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Wonderful! I can’t wait to learn about the clinical exam and care of your garden-variety ninja …
Thanks for the chuckles, Dr. Charles!

Danimal May 10, 2010 at 10:38 am

Excellent article, doc. However, I don’t see a single footnote or reference to a journal article. These are the days of evidence-based medicine: where are the studies showing that this advice is useful?

Michelle W May 10, 2010 at 11:26 am

Anecdotal evidence supports that reading this article while listening to Jonathan Coulton’s “Re: Your Brains ” may lead to health care benefits only for zombies, but health-field bloggers due to increased endorphin production and large smiling. Finding common ground is the first step toward reaching this largely misunderstood and grossly underrepresented member of the health system. Please join your nearest CAZS ( Coalation for the Advancement of Zombies in Society, pronounced “Kha-Ziz”) branch to help with this important mission.

Maria May 10, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Wow!

Val Erde May 10, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Hmmm… personally I’d think that the safest thing would be to wear a Hannibal Lector mask so that should your zombie patient try to bite off your head (to get to your brain, all assuming someone hasn’t already and you’ve just not noticed) all s/he will get is a mouthful of metal. Then it’s off to the dentist for the zombie and another buck passed!

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