The Tenth Law Of Trauma

Several years ago, I ran a series of posts on my Laws of Trauma. I assembled them into  newsletter that contained all nine that existed at the time. If you’d like to download it, just click this link.

I’ve  been struck by another pattern, and I think it’s about time to add the tenth law. Weirdly enough, it was inspired by Dancing With The Stars. You’ll see what I mean.

Here is the Tenth Law of Trauma:

In trauma, it generally takes two to tango

So what does this mean? When dealing with injury, there are a few broad quantitative categories.

  • Single person mechanism. This is one extreme. Common examples would be the elderly fall, a single vehicle car crash, or a self-inflicted stab or gunshot. There is a single “point of failure” that only the individual involved can manage, but for various reasons they do not or cannot. This law does not apply.
  • Multiple person mechanism. This is the other extreme, and thankfully is not seen very often at all. Examples are a tour bus crash, house explosion, or mass casualty event. Once again, those involved usually have little ability to recognize or avoid the imminent event, and the tenth law is null and void.
  • Two person mechanism. This one is very common, and is exemplified by the two car crash, pedestrian struck, or the various flavors of assault. And this is the one that the tenth law applies to.

When two people are involved in an event that leads to traumatic injury, there is usually (but certainly not always) a set of checks and balances that is present. And frequently there is at least one opportunity to avoid the event.

In the case of a two vehicle crash, one driver may have “gone off the deep end” and ignored the usual traffic laws for whatever reason. But the second driver usually has an opportunity to recognize this and change their behavior in order to avoid the situation. However, if they are distracted, impaired, or making assumptions about how other driver behave they can still get into trouble. Thus, it takes two.

What about the pedestrian struck? Likewise, the driver or the pedestrian may have done something nonstandard. Wear dark clothes at night. Glance at their phone while driving. Look at their passenger a bit too long while having a conversation. Once again, the other participant may have an opportunity to see the result of this unexpected behavior and jump or swerve out of the way.

Interpersonal violence it a bit more tricky. Sure, one of the potential participants may get wind that something is up and try to avoid or defuse the situation. But not always. And this situation is heavily charged with emotion and social pressures and is much more difficult to change or avoid.

Bottom line: Many, but certainly not all,  “two-person” mechanisms of injury are avoidable if both of the individuals involved are mentally present and attentive to their surroundings. Look at your own patient population and see how often this applies. You may be surprised!

Ninth Law Of Trauma

Okay, here’s another one! But it’s a doozy. It’s the most important one I live by. It ensures that you don’t get bogged down by habit, custom, dogma, ignorance, or just plain laziness.

Question everything!

If someone ever says, “but that’s the way I/we always do it,” or “that’s what the policy says,” or even “I read a good paper/chapter on this,” take it with a really big grain of salt. Or a salt lick (if you know what that is; otherwise look it up).

And here’s a corollary:

Don’t believe everything you think!

Consider that one for a minute.

Bottom line: It’s up to you to decide what is right for your patients. Others may not have done the leg-work and may not be as knowledgeable as you think. Always check the facts!

The Eighth Law Of Trauma

All trauma professionals need to keep up with the current thinking in their field. There are a variety of ways to do this, including lectures, courses, online curricula, meetings, and reading journal articles.

The last method requires a bit of skill and patience. Many research papers are dry, long, and hard to read. Quite a few people do not have the patience to wade through them, and get lost in all the details. The natural tendency is to just read the abstract. It’s quick, easy, and the conclusion is right there, right?

Read the entire paper!

Unfortunately, there is a lot of opportunity for mayhem when reading scientific papers. The title might not match up with the conclusions. The conclusions may not fully agree with the data. And the abstract generally does not give enough information to draw a conclusion. You must read the entire thing and think critically about it!

Bottom line: Yes, it takes practice. But you will find that it gets easier over time. And you will be surprised at how many times the abstract actually says the opposite of what was outlined in the body of the paper.

The Seventh Law of Trauma

Healthcare is a complex affair, and sometimes things don’t go entirely as planned. Occasionally, an elective OR may not be available the next day. This is especially true now in the COVID age with hospitals decreasing their OR capabilities. Or it may take longer  than usual to medically clear a frail patient for surgery. But here is something to keep at top of mind:

Your patient is at their healthiest as they roll in through the emergency department door

Yes, major trauma patients are sick, but they are going to get sicker over the next few hours to days. No matter how bad they look now, they will tolerate more at the time you first see them than they will tomorrow.

Too often, we look at them and delay because “they are too sick to operate.” This is usually not the case.

Bottom line: Move quickly, get surgical clearances done promptly, and perform all interventions (especially major surgery) early before your trauma patient gets really sick!