Recently, a Chinese man was in the news after having a four inch knife blade removed from his head after four years. What is the best way to deal with a problem like this?
First, get in the habit of imaging any body part with a penetrating injury. Retained objects can be as simple as gravel or as complicated as the knife blade above. And remember, some patients who have been stabbed present with a simple laceration but don’t want to tell you how they got it. Image before you close it!
Next, don’t remove it. This is common knowledge, but innocent looking objects (pencils, nails) can penetrate arteries and keep them from bleeding while embedded. Unpleasant and sometimes fatal bleeding can ensue if pulled out.
If you do not have specialists versed in the body regions involved in the injury, transfer immediately with the object secured in place. For objects penetrating minimally complex areas like the extremities, surgeons may opt to carefully remove it in the emergency department, or may elect to do so in the operating room.
Injuries to complex areas should undergo high resolution CT scanning so that 3D reconstruction can be performed if needed. The surgical specialists can then plan the operative approach. This is dictated by the anatomy of the area(s) involved and the architecture of the object (think about hooks and barbs). For objects located near critical areas, an operative exposure must be selected that provides access to all portions of it, and allows for rapid vascular control if needed.
This patient had a knife blade break off after he had been stabbed under the chin. It remained partly within the nasopharynx and the tip came to rest behind his left eye. His symptoms included headaches, stuffy nose and bad breath. The picture below shows the badly corroded blade in front of some of his radiographic images.
Finding pneumomediastinum on a chest xray or CT scan always gets one’s attention. However, seeing this condition after a simple fall from standing is very simple to evaluate and manage.
There are 3 potential sources of gas in the mediastinum after trauma:
Smaller airways / lung parenchyma
Blunt injury to the esophagus is extremely rare, and probably nonexistent after just falling down. Likewise, a tracheal injury from falling over is unheard of. Both of these injuries are far more common with penetrating trauma.
This leaves the lung and smaller airways within it to consider. They are, by far, the most common sources of pneumomediastinum. The most common pattern is that this injury causes a small pneumothorax, which dissects into the mediastinum over time. On occasion, the leak tracks along the visceral pleura and moves directly to the mediastinum.
Management is simple: a repeat chest xray after 6 hours is needed to show non-progression of any pneumothorax, occult or obvious. This image will usually show that the mediastinal air is diminishing as well. There is no need for the patient to be kept NPO or in bed. Monitor any subjective complaints and if all progresses as expected, they can be discharged after a very brief stay.
This injury is likely to occur in patients who have a full bladder and sustain anterior pelvic trauma that typically leads to fractures. They generally present with gross hematuria upon placement of the bladder catheter. This should prompt an abdominal CT scan with cystogram technique.
CT cystogram involves pressurizing the bladder with contrast prior to the study. This differs from the usual method of clamping the catheter and allowing the bladder to passively fill. The literature here is clear: failure to use cysto technique will miss 50% of these injuries.
The majority of extraperitoneal bladder injuries can be treated nonoperatively, and probably do not need Urology involvement. The bladder catheter is left in place 10-14 days (we do 10 days), and a repeat cystogram is obtained. If there is no leak, the catheter can be removed. If there is still some leakage, Urology consultation should then be obtained.
There are a few cases where operative management is required:
There is some intraperitoneal component of bladder injury
Fixation of the pubic rami is required (bathing the orthopedic hardware with urine is frowned upon)
Failure of conservative management
Arrows in the photo show extraperitoneal extravasation of cystogram contrast.
A few days ago, I wrote about using a therapy tank for immersion to rapidly rewarm patients (click here to read it). Since this type of management usually means moving out of the ED to a separate patient care are, it is important to have a policy that spells out responsibilities for all personnel involved.
Click here or click the image above to download a copy of the Regions Hospital Trauma Program policy.