Tag Archives: what the heck?

What The Heck? Final Answer

This one was a bit tricky. I chose it because it looks like there is an extra tube in the neck. You can see two stripes traveling from the mouth down the neck. The one closest to the cervical spine is in the esophagus, an orogastric tube. The other one passes anterior to it, in the trachea, so it is the orotracheal tube. But what about the tube shaped density that is located in the posterior pharynx that looks like it is angled forward toward the trachea? Did someone lose something?

If you think about it though, you should conclude it’s something weird. There is no radiopaque stripe on it, which rules out most common tubes. The only thing of that size and shape that comes to mind is a nasopharyngeal airway tube. However, these have a flange on the nasal end, so it couldn’t just pass inwards through the nose. And who in their right mind would put it in the mouth to be swallowed? Plus, the orientation of it is unusual, heading forward toward the trachea.

You have to look at the rest of the clues on the radiograph. It’s easy to get suckered if you just focus on the obvious. What are those objects located between the two tube stripes in front of C6? Surgical clips. What are those O-shaped objects at the angle of the mandible that disappear behind the XTABLE LAT marker? Surgical skin closure staples.

So this is a postoperative patient. If you follow the object, it actually moves toward the skin, and beyond! This patient was stabbed in the neck and underwent a surgical exploration with control of bleeding. A surgical drain was placed due to concern for leakage from the pharynx or salivary glands. The drain actually leaves the side of the neck, just anterior to the sternocleidomastoid muscle.

Remember to look at everything on a radiograph, especially if you don’t have the clinical story behind it. The eye normally focuses on the obvious, leading the viewer to make assumptions based on their expectations. This can easily get you in trouble, so beware! And don’t forget that you are looking at a 2-D image, so there is no way to tell where any object is in the third dimension. It may be in the front, the back, or under the patient in their clothing!

What The Heck Is It? Final Answer!

Yesterday, I posted the physical exam findings on this mystery object. A tiny puncture wound was present just to the right of the xiphoid on the lower chest wall, and a small sharp point was palpable.

Here’s how to deal with it:

Step 1. (Image 1) Don’t let it move or try to pull it out immediately! I didn’t want this thing to go in any further, or work it’s way out in case it was in the heart. I snapped a hemostat on the end of it for stabilization.

Step 2. (Images 2 and 3) Find out where it is exactly. You need to know what if any vital structures it may have pierced so you can plan for removal. In this stable patient, CT was the best option. If he had been unstable, it would have meant an immediate trip to the OR. Note how the object is within the chest wall, BUT it had penetrated at least as deep as the lung since a pneumothorax was present.

Step 3. (Image 4) Get it out! Off to the operating room for removal, just in case some unexpected bleeding or hemodynamic changes were to occur. After the patient was asleep, a chest tube was inserted. The object was a fine nail from a commercial nail gun mishap and pulled out easily with the hemostat. He was discharged two days later after the tube was pulled. 

Photo source: personal archive. Patient not treated at Regions Hospital

What The Heck Is It: Part 2

Last Friday I posted an xray that showed a long, thin metallic foreign body projecting from the right chest area toward the right side of the heart. What is it?

The patient declined to tell us what he had been doing. And looking at the xray, which is a 2D representation of a 3D object, it’s impossible to tell where the object is in the z axis. It could be in his back, in his clothes, or in his heart.

A complete physical exam showed a pinhole just to the right of the xiphoid process. By gently running a (gloved) finger across the hole, something thin and sharp was palpable. 

What should we do next? More images and the final answer tomorrow!