All posts by TheTraumaPro

Nail In The Neck: The Operation

We’ve made sure that our victim of the nail gun to the neck did not need an emergent operation. Vitals are stable, there’s no uncontrolled hemorrhage, and the patient is neurologically intact. We’ve imaged him using CT angiography, and the nail does not appear to have injured any vital structures.

How do we get it out of there? There are two things that need to be considered: where and how.

Rule of thumb: If a foreign body is located anywhere near vital structures, take it out in the OR, no matter how good you think the imaging is. It may be tempting to just pull it out in the ED, but resist! CT scans look so good, and they are so detailed, but they are not perfect. The ED does not have the equipment, personnel, or lighting necessary if something goes awry.

Rule of thumb: Use all information available to plan the removal procedure. In this case, the head of the nail is to the patient’s right. Therefore, it must be removed from the right side. The CT shows that the nail passes very close to the posterior pharynx, so it will need to be evaluated during the procedure.

This patient was taken to the operating room. During the intubation, direct laryngoscopy was carried out to carefully inspect the entire pharynx and larynx. No evidence of penetration was seen. The entire neck, face, and upper chest were prepped and draped (I like to go overboard in trauma cases; you never know what is going to happen). Fluoroscopy was available.

The classic operation would have been to make an incision along the sternocleidomastoid on the right side. The nail head would be approached directly. Since long, thin objects can be notoriously difficult to locate, fluoro can be very helpful. The exact position with respect to the carotid and jugular can be ascertained. Then the nail head is grasped with a clamp, and the nail gently pulled out along its axis. A nice, long wait for any evidence of bleeding should occur. The area can then be irrigated and the incision closed. Skin antibiotics can be given postop, but only one dose at most.

Having said that, I opted for a different approach based on an old blog post here. Tune in on Wednesday to see what I really did.

Nail In The Neck: Part 2

This case involves an accidental nail gun injury to the neck. The patient is hemodynamically stable, neurologically intact, the airway is patent and not threatened, and there is no apparent hematoma. There is a small puncture near the sternocleidomastoid muscle on the right, fairly high on the neck. The nail is not palpable on either side. And the patient only complains of a little discomfort when he swallows.

What to do? First, the patient has passed all the initial decision points that would send us straight to the OR (ABC problems in ATLS jargon). But, per physical exam and initial imaging, the nail must obviously come out. We just have to figure out what we need to know before we take it out, and determine the best way to retrieve it.

Given the patient’s stability, additional imaging will be helpful. Views in different planes, and details of what the nail might have passed through will be invaluable. The recommended study is a CT angio of the neck. This will give good information about nearby structures and the vasculature. And software reconstructions will provide good 2D/3D information for removal planning. Here’s a lateral view.


The nail is located in front of the body of C2. It appears to be high enough to be near the pharynx, but well above trachea and esophagus. You can also see that the nail entered a little posteriorly, and travels right to left and forward.

Here’s a representative CT slice.


The nail enters behind the carotids (just above the bifurcation) and IJ on the right, and ends anterior to them on the left. It passes very close to the posterior pharynx. So neurovascular structures are intact, and the aerodigestive tract is a maybe (back of the pharynx).

Obviously, this thing has to come out. The question is, how to do it? For you surgeons out there, tell me your choice of approach, incision, and instrumentation. Tweet or leave comments! Answers on Monday.

What Would You Do? Nail In The Neck

Here’s a very interesting case for you. A construction worker was carrying an object inside a building WHILE HOLDING HIS NAIL GUN! As he passed through the door, his elbow hit the frame and he brushed his neck with the business end of the gun. Guess what happened?

He experienced sharp pain, then noted pain every time he swallowed. He checked himself out in the mirror, and there was a small puncture wound in the right side of his neck. He presented to his local ED, with the complaints just noted. He was hemodynamically stable and neurologically intact. His airway was patent, and he had minimal pain. The following image was obtained. The nail measures about 6cm in length.

Let me know (by Twitter or comments) what additional information you think you need. I’ll discuss that in my next post. Then we’ll figure out what to do about this problem.

The Robert Jones Dressing

The Robert Jones dressing is a thick, padded bandage classically applied to the thigh and leg. It is thought to reduce swelling by applying even pressure to the extremity, which in turn should promote healing. And since it is a soft dressing, as opposed to a cast, there is less chance of developing skin breakdown from direct pressure. Here’s a compression-type dressing described in 1937 using stockinette, cotton wool, and elastic cloth, although it was not attributed to Jones at that point.

Charnley provided a detailed description of the bandage in 1950, and was the first to refer to Jones.

Interestingly, Robert Jones never really referred to the dressing by name. There were references to a “pressure crepe bandage over copious wool dressing” in his operative logs, but it wasn’t until much later that his name became associated with it. Because of this, the composition of the bandage has varied greatly over time.

But who was Robert Jones? We in the States are fairly ignorant, but my UK readers are very familiar. Jones was a British surgeon who practiced through the late 1800s and past the end of World War I. He learned about fractures from his uncle, and became one of the few surgeons of the time to be interested in fracture care. Until then, orthopaedics was focused primarily on correcting deformities in children. He received his FRCS in 1889. After being appointed Surgeon-Superintendent of the Manchester Ship Canal, he established the first comprehensive accident service in the world to take care of injured workers. He founded the British Orthopaedic Society in 1894, and introduced the concept of military orthopaedic hospitals during World War I. His innovations led to significant decreases in morbidity and mortality from fractures in the war, particularly of the femur.

And does his eponymous dressing actually work? There has been little research in this area. There is one study that I have found that actually measured compartment pressures to see if the loss of edema from compression caused a noticeable pressure decrease. Here are the factoids:

  • This was a very small prospective study from 1986 of 9 patients (!) who had just undergone knee arthroplasty
  • Slit catheters were placed into the compartment 10 cm below the knee joint (but they didn’t say which compartment)
  • Thick cotton-wool from a roll was applied over the surgical dressings twice, each with a thickness of two inches. An elastic bandage was then applied snugly.
  • Much to the researchers’ surprise, compartment pressures did not fall as expected over time. They were basically constant until the dressing was removed. Then the pressures fell significantly.

Bottom line: Robert Jones’ fame is well deserved. However, his dressing (which he did not name, and may not even be what he used), did not have the pressure-reducing effect on an injured limb that surgeons thought. No studies on edema and healing have been done. It’s basically a fluffy dressing. However, that is a good thing. It keeps the leg padded, protecting the skin, and immobilized. It’s like a very well padded cast, without the risk of skin breakdown. And because of its simplicity, it will probably be used for quite some time to come.


  • The Robert Jones bandage. JBJS 68B(5):776-779, 1986.
  • The treatment of fracture without plaster of Paris. Closed Treatment of Common Fractures, E&S Livingstone 1950, pg 28-29.
  • Handbook of Orthopaedic Surgery. CV Mosby 1937, pg 418.

How Long Does It Take EMS To Get To A Scene?

How long does it take for EMS to get to the scene of an emergency? That’s a loaded question, because there are many, many factors that can impact this timing. If you look at the existing literature, there are few, if any, articles that have actually looked at this successfully.

A group from Aurora, IL and Wake Forest reviewed EMS records from across the country, spanning 485 agencies over a one year period. Only 911 responses were reviewed, and outliers with arrival times of more than 2 hours and transport times of 3 hours were excluded. Over 1.7 million records were analyzed, and 625 were excluded for this reason.

Here are the factoids:

  • In 71% of cases, the patient was transported to a hospital. In one quarter of cases, they were evaluated but not transported. 1% were dead on arrival, and in 2% no patient was found at the scene (!)
  • 4% of patients were transported in rural zip codes, 88% in suburban ones, and 8% from urban locations
  • Overall response time averaged 7 minutes
  • Median response times were 13 minutes for rural locations, and 6 minutes for both suburban and urban locations
  • Nearly 1 in 10 patients waited 30 minutes for EMS response in rural locations

Bottom line: There is an obvious difference in EMS response times between rural and urban/suburban locations. And there are many potential reasons for this, including a larger geographic area to be covered, volunteer vs paid squads, etc. Many of these factors are difficult, if not impossible to change. The simple fact that it takes longer to reach these patients increases their potential morbidity and mortality. Remember, time is of the essence in trauma. The patient is bleeding to death until proven otherwise. It is far easier and cost-effective to equip bystanders with the skills to assist those in need (basic first aid, CPR, Stop the Bleed, etc) while waiting for EMS to arrive.

Reference: Emergency Medical Services Response Times in Rural, Suburban, and Urban Areas.  JAMA Surg 152(10): 983–984, 2017.