Have you ever broken a stethoscope on the job? I have. Rode a wheel of the loaded stretcher right over the connection from the tubing to the bell. It was a clean break. Very neatly decapitated my old friend from EMT school. It was one of those clear and obvious signs of death such as decomposition or rigor mortis. I didn’t want to show it, but my heart was crushed too. But it wasn’t like I was without a scope to do my job. There was always the one that hung on the crash webbing at the end of the bench seat. You know the one, it hangs right above the trash can for anyone too poor to have their own equipment to use. I’ll admit that the idea of inserting other folks ear wax into my own canals grosses me out, but the point was that I didn’t have MY stethoscope. So, before I even finished the PCR, I was on the web buying myself a brand new set of ears. While my new and improved (and yet to arrive) stethoscope would have my name engraved in gold letters right on the tubing, I still wanted my old one repaired. To their credit, Littmann offered me an identical replacement scope for less than the cost of the repairs I required. I won’t tell you what happened to the old broken pieces of “my first stethoscope,” but suffice it to say that I am sentimental.
My new stethoscope, a Burgundy Cardiology IV, was an definite upgrade from my previous faithful Royal Blue Littmann Select. Although the price difference made me a little short of breath, I decided my career was worth it. But from now on I would have to be even more cautious. And my new scope had two diaphragms instead of just the one to protect. In the meantime, I began to examine some of those listening devices hanging back in the patient compartment of trucks I’ve driven. I have noticed cracked or bent diaphragms and even some that appeared to be trying to escape their captivity. Knowing that the quality of our assessments can be impacted by the quality of our equipment, I wanted to ensure I was always prepared. But how much can we really do though? Any equipment we use in the field and routinely stuff into bags is subject to damage and there is little we can do to protect our equipment, right? Wrong.
A couple months ago I heard about a nifty invention from Paramedic Greg Sumner†called the StethoSafe. While it is not designed to prevent the type of ‘beheading’ I executed, it is made to protect the sensitive diaphragms on your head. As it states on his website, “Itís like a helmet for your stethoscope.”
At $9.95 (plus $3.00 first class postage) for just one, I could have some piece of mind. While I don’t consider myself a ‘whacker,’ I do like innovative stuff. I bought one in blaze orange, stuck it on my head and stuffed it in my go bag. After carrying it around a while, I began to wonder exactly how much protection it afforded my equipment. A friend of mine, who knew Greg, asked me to give it a good test. I wanted to, but didn’t want to break mine, so he contacted Greg to send me another to put through some paces. That left me free to really test it out.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been intentionally abusing my original StethoSafe. This video review†on YouTube is only my latest attempts to ‘crack this case.’ There were many, many more before what you see. Even after all of that, I am still using the same case on my shifts. It does have some obvious scratches now and some discoloration near the joints (you can see circled in the photo) that I assume are the precursors to cracking, but no actual cracks yet. Since this is a 3D printed part (correction: only the prototype was printed, my production review item was injection molded), I wondered about chemical abuse, so I poured isopropyl alcohol on the plastic and it eventually all evaporated with no sign of damage.
I have been very impressed by the ability it has to keep my sensitive parts safe. I did notice, however, after constantly clicking my stethoscope into the case that it was beginning to leave some residue on my bell. But this powdery residue came right off with a simple wipe. It was not actually scratching my bell, just wearing the plastic down every so slightly. My scope fits snuggly in the case (even after plenty of testing.) In fact, it fits so tightly that I worried about pulling on my tube to get it to release. I found myself in the habit of grabbing the metal tube connection very near the bell to pull it out. But with a little faith, I have found that the case will release with a tug from further down the rubber tubing without any damage to the equipment. The lanyard would be very convenient if I had a D ring inside my equipment bag so I could just pull it out when needed. My habit, however, is to leave my stethoscope in the cab (often on the dash) or hanging around my neck. My StethoSafe is never any problem regardless of where that I keep it and I can feel confident that it will prevent me from losing another friend any time soon.