Submitted Former Lafayette resident Max Phillips is in his third of four years of residency at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Submitted

Former Lafayette resident Max Phillips is in his third of four years of residency at the Medical University of South Carolina.

July 20 didn't start off well for Max Phillips.

"I was driving to work, and there was a flash flood," Phillips said. "It flooded my Jeep. It's Charleston (S.C.). If it rains, there's water on the street. Charleston is somewhat below sea level.

"I was driving through a small amount of water. It was probably midway up my tires. I noticed the car in front of me kind of swung up on some higher ground. I happened to look, and there was water rushing down the street. High tide came on. I couldn't get away."

It was 5:30 in the morning, and Phillips was on campus near the Medical University of South Carolina.

"Me and some other people tried to push it up on an embankment out of the water," Phillips said. "We couldn't do it. There weren't enough of us."

Phillips owned the Jeep for approximately six years, since his first year of medical school.

"That Jeep got totaled," Phillips said. "I have a new Jeep (now), but that one was totaled."

He walked the remainder of the way in to work at the Medical University of South Carolina, arriving approximately 10 minutes late.

It's fortunate that Phillips made his way on in to work though. Even with the unfortunate beginning, the day would become even more interesting for a medical student in his third year of residency.

Phillips - an anesthesiologist - rotates between the operating room, the intensive care unit, and labor and delivery.

"Being a third-year (student), we're a lot more independent," Phillips said. "We still have someone to call if we need it, but we're by ourselves for 95 percent of the surgery. There's always someone there at the beginning and sometimes there at the end. Really, it's just better to have hands in the beginning. I've done a whole thing from beginning to end, but they like to actually be there and push the drugs."

Phillips -- a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine -- was working a 24-hour shift in labor and delivery that day. He was in the delivery room for a cesarean section.

"Occasionally, we get something called alarm fatigue," Phillips said. "We know the sounds of the normal alarms. We get used to those noises.

"It was kind of at the end of the day. The staff switches over around 3 or 4 (p.m.). I was staying late. I was kind of up there by myself. I heard a weird alarm that I had never heard before. I was looking around the room trying to figure out what it was. We always learn about these really odd things that can happen but that never happen."

Phillips felt compelled to look into the cause of the alarm.

"In general, obviously, it's natural to want to get things going," Phillips said. "The patient was on the bed, but we hadn't started yet. It was just a strange alarm. It didn't make sense. Starting my third year, I've heard most of the alarms in the hospital at least once. That one, I had just never heard it before, and being in there once or twice a week, it made me want to figure out what it was.

"It wasn't an emergency (surgery), so we had time to investigate where it was. That particular thing didn't make sense."

The source of the alarm was soon discovered.

"There's a grounding system that each room has," Phillips said. "Each room grounds. That way, if the ground goes out, all of the rooms don't go down. This specific alarm - it's called a LIM (Line Isolation Monitor) - it tells us when the electricity is not grounded, so someone is at risk for shock. That's everybody, not just patients. It's doctors, nurses, everybody in the room.

"Labor and delivery is hectic. People want to get things done, but it's a very loud alarm. People were trying to get it silenced and make it stop beeping. I was like 'hold on. I don't know what this alarm is.' Searching around, my boss came in and said, 'What is this noise?' We unplugged the bed, and it stopped. So, we isolated it to somewhere on the patient's bed, one of the worst places it can be. The side that was connected to the bed, I guess where it had been there for years, and people had bumped into it, one of the sides had started to char. It was burning. It had been used (considerably). We switched it out for another cord. It said safe, and we went on."

Phillips has some familiarity with electrical mechanisms.

"No one knows what's happening … let's just stop and look," Phillips said of his thinking. "It's basically like a huge fusebox in the room.

"My brother is an electrical engineer (Eric Phillips). He taught me a lot. At that point, I was just focusing on looking at electrical things. That's what eventually led me to find it."

Had the issue gone unaddressed, the impact could have been severe.

"Anybody who was near that electrical line could have been electrocuted," Phillips said. "It could have been all of us. It could have started a fire. Gross shock, a fire … anything could have happened.

"It's not something we can really prepare for. It's a weird thing that they prepare us for … but after it happened, people were saying, 'I don't even know where that is. Can you show me where that alarm is?' It's very rare that ever happens."

The impact of his actions didn't settle in until later on.

"We talked about it a little more afterward," Phillips said. "We said, 'That could have actually been really bad.' It was after the surgery that me and my boss sat down and talked about it.

"At first, I'm just doing my job, like everybody. I just went on with the rest of the day. They came up to me a little later, and they said, 'This is a big deal. You need to take a step back and realize … that was serious. You actually followed what you were supposed to do.' It's easier said than done sometimes. The obstetrician wanted to start operating, and so do the nurses. It's hard to say, 'We have to stop for a second.'"

That turned into a long day for Phillips, who was working a 24-hour shift.

"I didn't get to sit down that night," Phillips said. "I was up until 7 a.m. I was on call. From the time I wrecked my Jeep until I went to bed the next morning, it was 26 hours.

"Honestly, I didn't reflect on everything until the next night … when I woke up around 1 o'clock the next day."

The reaction from his peers has been significant.

"It's been surprising to me honestly," Phillips said. "It happened a week before I started vacation, so nobody found out about it until I was already gone. The article (in the hospital newsletter) came out when I was on vacation. Then, when I got back, everybody said, 'Hey, I heard what you did. That's awesome.' Today, somebody called me safety hero in the hall. It's going around."