All posts by TheTraumaPro

Prehospital Attitudes About Analgesia

Pain relief is important for two reasons: it’s the humane thing to do for someone who is suffering, and just as importantly, it assists in the physiologic response to trauma. There are several papers that have shown that prehospital providers may not use pain medications as much as they should. Why would this be?

Researchers at Yale released a paper describing a number of interviews with prehospital providers to get the answers to this question. They did individual and group interviews with five EMS agencies in the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Eight individual and 2 group interviews were conducted, with a total of 15 paramedics in the study.

The results were very interesting and several themes emerged:

  • There was a reluctance to give opioids unless objective signs were present (deformity, hypertension)
  • There was a preoccupation that patients might be malingering
  • Paramedics were not clear on what the pain control target should be (complete relief vs “taking the edge off”)
  • Fear of masking symptoms with pain medicine
  • Reluctance to use large doses (e.g. using no more than 5mg morphine)

Bottom line: This study is very small, which is a problem. But it also used face to face interviews, so a lot of information was obtained. It’s hard to say if this work is representative of other agencies or countries, but it is thought provoking. My take is this: trauma hurts like hell. Patients really do need the medication. And they are not going to get addicted from a few doses while enroute to the hospital. Whether the cause of their injury was truly accidental or the result of poor choices, it’s not our place to judge because we don’t know the full story. Give pain medication and be generous. You’re not going to make the symptoms go away. But do use judgment to make sure they keep breathing all the way to the emergency department.

I’m very interested in EMS comments about this study. Please comment or tweet!

Reference: Paramedic attitudes regarding prehospital analgesia. Prehospital emergency care; Online ahead of print, Sep 2012.

The EMS Second IV In Trauma

One of the critical maneuvers that EMS providers perform is establishing initial vascular access. This IV is important for administering medications and for initiating volume resuscitation in trauma patients. Prehospital Trauma Life Support guidelines state that every trauma patient should receive two large bore IV lines. But is this really necessary?

The upside of having two IVs in the field is that the EMS provider can give lots of volume. However, a growing body of literature tells us that pushing systolic blood pressure up to “normal” levels in people (or animals) with an uncontrolled source of bleeding can increase mortality and hasten coagulopathy.

The downside of placing two lines is that it is challenging in a moving rig, sterility is difficult to maintain, and the chance of a needlestick exposure is doubled. So is it worth it?

A group at UMDNJ New Brunswick did a retrospective review of 320 trauma patients they received over a one year period who had IV lines established in the field. They found that, as expected, patients with two IVs received more fluid (average 348ml) before arriving at the hospital. There was no increase in systolic blood pressure, but there was a significant increase in diastolic pressure with two lines. The reason for this odd finding is not clear. There was no difference in the ultimate ISS calculated, or in mortality or readmission.

Bottom line: This study is limited by its design. However, it implies that the second field IV is not very useful. The amount of extra fluid infused was relatively small, not nearly enough to trigger additional bleeding or coagulopathy. So if another IV does not deliver significant additional fluid and could be harmful even if it did, it’s probably not useful. Prehospital standards organizations should critically look at this old dogma to see if it should be modified.


  • Study of placing a second intravenous line in trauma. Prehospital Emerg Care 15:208-213, 2011.

Wounds: When Are They Too Old To Close?

At some point in their training, every trauma professional is taught that there is a certain period time during which a wound can be safely closed. The exact number varies, but is usually somewhere between 6 and 24 hours. After that, we are told, “bad things happen.”

Always question dogma, I say. Is this true, or is it another one of those “facts” that have been propagated through the ages? Two emergency medicine groups recently performed a meta-analysis to try to answer my question. As usual, they found that much of the published literature is not very good. Out of 418 papers in their original search, only 4 fully met their criteria (laceration repaired primarily, in the ED, with clear early vs delayed criteria.

With the exception of one study with a very limited focus, there was no correlation between wound age and infection or dehiscence after primary closure. None of the studies could reliably provide a specific time beyond which closure was destined to fail. And the use of antibiotics in some of the studies also confounded the results.

Bottom line: It is more likely that infection-prone wounds get infected, not old ones. Although leaving a wound open to heal by secondary intention usually avoids the problem, it’s a big patient dissatisfier, especially with large wounds. Since many patients don’t present to the ED until their wound is “old”, it may be reasonable to try primary closure in all but infection-prone wounds. (The meaning of that phrase is not exactly clear, but most of us know it when we see it.) 

Reference: The impact of wound age on the infection rate of simple lacerations repaired in the emergency department. Injury 43(11):1793-1798, 2012.

Best Of: IV Contrast

We use CT scanning in trauma care so much that we tend to take it (and its safety) for granted. I’ve written quite a bit about thoughtful use of radiographic studies to achieve a reasonable patient exposure to xrays. But another thing to think about is the use of IV contrast.

IV contrast is a hyperosmolar solution that contains some substance (usually an iodine compound) that is radiopaque to some degree. It has been shown to have a significant impact on short-term kidney function and in some cases can cause renal failure.

Here are some facts you need to know:

  • Contrast nephrotoxicity is defined as a 25% increase in serum creatinine, usually within the first 3 days after administration
  • There is usually normal urine output and minimal to no proteinuria
  • In most cases, renal function returns to normal after 3-4 days
  • Nephrotoxicity almost never occurs in people with normal baseline kidney function
  • Large or repeated doses given within 72 hours greatly increase risk for toxicity
  • Old age and pre-existing diabetic renal impairment also greatly increase risk

If you must give contrast to a patient who is at risk, make sure they are volume expanded (tough in trauma patients), or consider giving acetylcysteine or using isosmolar contrast (controversial, may still cause toxicity).

Bottom line: If you are considering contrast CT, try to get a history to see if the patient is at risk for nephrotoxicity. Also consider all of the studies that will be needed and try to consolidate your contrast dosing. For example, you can get CT chest/abdomen/pelvis and CT angio of the neck with one contrast bolus. Consider low dose contrast injection if the patient needs formal angiographic studies in the IR suite. Always think about the global needs of your patient and plan accordingly (and safely).

Related posts:

Reference: Contrast media and the kidney. British J Radiol 76:513-518, 2003.

Trauma Mythbusters: Bathing/Showering And Wound Care

I love to hate dogma. And there’s probably nothing in surgery more sacred and more ingrained than how to take care of a wound. Everybody knows that you have to keep surgical or traumatic wounds dry, and that once you can get them wet, showers are good at baths are bad. Right?


And for something as common as wound management, there must be some kind of research, right? Not so! I did quite a bit of digging through the literature since 1966 and managed to find only five papers. Here are the highlights:

  • A prospective study of 100 patients were randomized to shower or bathe postoperatively. Of note, the wounds were sprayed with a clear plastic dressing before getting in the water. The was no difference in infection rates.
  • Another prospective study of 100 patients with stapled incisions after spine surgery were allowed to bathe after 2 to 5 days. Compared to historical controls, there were no differences in infection rates even though the study patients had more complex operations than controls.
  • A prospective randomized study of 121 patients after hernia surgery found no difference in infection between shower and dry groups
  • A large randomized study of 817 patients similarly showed no difference between shower and dry groups
  • Another randomized trial of 170 patients showed no difference in infections between shower after 24 hours and control groups

Get the picture? And interestingly, the few wound infections documented in any of the studies tended to occur in the dry groups, although this was not statistically significant.

Bottom line: In general, it is not harmful to get a wound wet after 24 hours. We don’t know exactly why because of the paucity of the literature, but think about it. The water that we shower or bathe in is the same water that we drink. It’s very close to sterile. When we do shower or bathe, the bacteria that come in contact with the wound are our normal skin flora, which are already in and on the wound. Plus, most incisions that have been closed are water-tight within about 24 hours. It’s more likely that using soap and water is good for you because it washes away tons of bacteria, including the pathogens!

  • Prospective randomised trial of the early postoperative bathing. BMJ 19 in June 1976: 1506-1507, 1976.
  • Wound care after posterior spinal surgery. Does early grading affect the rate of wound complications? Spine (Phila PA 1976) 21(18):2160-2162, 1996.
  • Does a shower with postoperative wound healing at risk? Chirurg 68(7): 715-717, 1997.
  • Modification of postoperative wound healing by showering. Chirurg 71(2):234-236, 2000.
  • Postoperative wound healing in wound-water contact. Zentralbl Chir 125(2):157-160, 2000.