All posts by TheTraumaPro

The Ultimate Distracting Injury?

By now, we are all very familiar with the concept of the distracting injury. Some of our patients sustain injuries that are so painful that they mask the presence of others. The patient is so distracted by the big one that others just slip their notice.

This concept has been notoriously difficult to test, but there is a reasonable amount of data that suggests it is true. One of the more common and disturbing injury patterns occurs when there is a significant amount of chest wall trauma. When there are fractures focused around the upper chest, cervical spine injuries may be masked, then missed during the exam by trauma professionals.

I’d like to introduce a new concept: the ultimate distracting injury. This goes beyond an injury distracting the patient from another painful problem.

The ultimate distracting injury is one that is so gruesome that it distracts the entire trauma team! It could actually be so distracting that the team might miss multiple injuries!

It’s just human nature. We are drawn to extremes, and that goes for trauma care as well. And it doesn’t matter what your level of training or expertise, we are all susceptible to it. The problem is that we get so engrossed (!) in the disfiguring injury that we ignore the fact that the patient is turning blue. Or bleeding to death from a small puncture wound somewhere else. We forget to focus on the other life threatening things that may be going on.

What are some common ultimate distracting injuries?

  • Mangled extremity
  • Traumatic amputation
  • Impalement
  • Severe soft tissue injury

How do we avoid this common pitfall? It takes a little forethought and mental preparation. Here’s what to do:

  • If you know in advance that one of these injuries is present, prepare your crew or team. Tell them what to expect so they can guard against this phenomenon.
  • Quickly assess to see if it is life threatening. If it bleeds or sucks, it needs immediate attention. Take care of it immediately.
  • If it’s not life threatening, cover it up and focus on the usual priorities (a la ATLS, for example).
  • When it’s time to address the injury in the usual order of things, uncover, assess and treat.

Don’t get caught off guard! Just being aware of this common pitfall can save you and your patient!

When To Call Your Ophthalmology Consultant

And yes, another consultant reference card. As I wrote previously. we sometimes overuse our consultants and call then at inappropriate times. So what if we diagnose an injury in their area of expertise at 2 am? Does it need attention or an operation before morning? If not, why call at that ungodly hour?

Let’s use our consultants wisely! I’ve listed most of the common eye diagnoses that trauma professionals will encounter. There is also an indication of what you need to do, and exactly when to call your consultant.

Unfortunately, this one won’t fit on a 3×5 index card that you can keep in your pocket. I’ve included a printable pdf file, as well as the original Microsoft Word file in case you want to make a few modifications to suit your own hospital.

Enjoy!

When to call Ophthalmology reference card (pdf)

When to call Ophthalmology MS Wordfile (docx)

When To Stop The Massive Transfusion Protocol

Initiating the massive transfusion protocol (MTP) is generally easy. Some centers use the Assessment of Blood Consumption score (ABC). This consists of four easy parameters:

  • Heart rate > 120
  • Systolic blood pressure < 90
  • FAST positive
  • Penetrating mechanism

The presence of two or more indicators reliably predicts a 50% chance of needing lots of blood.

The shock index (SI) is also used. It’s more quantitative, just divide the heart rate by the systolic blood pressure. The normal value is < 0.7. As it approaches 0.9, the risk for massive transfusion doubles. This technique requires a little calculation, but is easily doable.

Or you can just let your trauma surgeons decide when to order it. Unfortunately, this sometimes gets forgotten in the mayhem.

However it got started, your MTP is now humming right along. How do you know when to stop? This is much trickier, and unfortunately can’t be as easily quantified. Here are the general principles:

  • All surgical bleeding must be controlled. Hopefully your patient didn’t get too cold or acidotic during the case, resulting in lots of difficult to control nonsurgical bleeding (oozing).
  • Hemodynamics are stabilizing. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are quite normal yet, just trying to approach it.
  • Vasopressors are off, or at least being weaned.
  • Volume status is normalizing. You may need an echo to help with this assessment.

If you have TEG, it probably wasn’t very useful. Until now. This is the ideal time to run a sample so you can top off any specific products your patient might need.

If you don’t have TEG, get a full coag panel including CBC, INR, PTT, lytes with ionized calcium.

Once the patient is in your ICU, continue monitoring and tweaking their overall hemodynamic and coagulation status until they are approaching normal. Then watch out for additional insults or any new and/or unsuspected bleeding. If this does occur, the threshold for return to the OR should be low. Unfortunately it is common for arteries in spasm to resume bleeding after warming and vasodilation.

When you are finally satisfied that there is no more need for the MTP, let your blood bank know so they can start restocking products and getting ready for the next go around!

When To Call Your Urology Consultant

Trauma professionals don’t always know everything. Sometimes we have to engage a specialist in the care of our patient. And unfortunately, we don’t always know which conditions demand immediate attention and which can wait.

This can lead to overuse of our consultant colleagues and calls  at inappropriate times. So what if we diagnose an injury in their area of expertise at 2 am? Does it need attention or an operation before morning? If not, why call at that ungodly hour? Give them a break!

Let’s use our consultants wisely! I’ve listed most of the common urologic diagnoses that trauma professionals will encounter. There is also an indication of what you need to do, and exactly when to call your consultant.

Here’s a reference sheet formatted at a 3×5 index card that you can keep in your pocket. I’ve included a printable pdf file, as well as the original Microsoft Publisher file in case you want to make a few modifications to suit your own hospital.

Enjoy!

When to call Urology reference card (pdf)

When to call Urology MS Publisher file (pub)

Surveillance For Splenic Pseudoaneurysm After Injury

When it comes to repeat CT scanning after splenic injury, there are believers and there are non-believers. In my experience, the majority of centers in the US are non-believers. However, there is a new paper in press that attempts to convince us that more should become believers.

I think the biggest lesson to be learned from this paper is that WE SHOULD READ THE ENTIRE PAPER before drawing conclusions. I have said this in the past and I will say it again. In this case, not only did I read the entire paper, but I had to dig deep into the references it cited as well.

Nonoperative management of splenic injuries has a very high success rate if done properly. Some papers claim this can be up to 93%, which parallels my experience. This success rate involves excluding unstable patients (they need to be in the operating room) and planned use of angioembolization in select patients. Over the years we have found that we need to do less and less in the management of solid organ injury patients:

  • No bedrest
  • No starvation (NPO status)
  • No serial blood draws
  • No repeat CT scan
  • Few limitations on activity after discharge

For an example of a practice guideline that demonstrates that less is more, use the download link at the end of this post.

But back to the question about repeat CT scanning before discharge. Why do we need to do this? The usual reason is that “we want to find delayed pseudoaneurysms.” And why is that important? “It might bleed!”

Really? Let’s look into that through the lens of this new paper by the group at the University of Cincinnati. They performed a retrospective study of their experience with patients who had sustained blunt splenic injury during a recent three-year period. They were interested in how many underwent splenectomy or splenorrhaphy, who had repeat CT imaging, who went to interventional radiology (IR) and when, and which ones were found to have pseudoaneurysms and what was done about it.

Here are the factoids:

  • There were 539 patients who met inclusion criteria, with an average ISS of 24
  • Of these, 46 died during their hospital stay (none from their splenic injury)
  • Focusing on the 248 patients with higher grade injuries (III-V), 125 (50%) underwent emergent or delayed splenectomy. Early vs late operation was not broken out, but this is a startlingly high number!
  • Of the higher grade injured patients who kept their spleens, 97% underwent repeat CT around day 5
  • Delayed pseudoaneurysms were detected in the following patients:
    • Grade III: 10 of 88 patients (11%). Then 8 of those 10 went to IR, and 5  of 10 had splenectomy!
    • Grade IV: 7 of 24 (29%).  Then 8 of the 7 (error in the paper?) went to IR and 3 of 7 had splenectomy!
    • Grade V: 2 of 5 (40%). Both of these patients went to IR and somehow kept their spleens.

The authors conclude that routine followup CT imaging identifies splenic pseudoaneurysms allowing for interventions to minimize delayed complications.

Bottom line: Whoa! There’s a lot going on here. My first observation is that this center does a lot of splenectomies! Of the 539 patients (all comers) who were included in the study, 129 (24%)  lost their spleens. If grade I-II injuries are excluded that percent rises to 50%!

Only eight splenectomies were performed after the repeat CT. This would imply that there were either a lot of unstable patients with splenic injury, the institutional indications for this procedure arbitrarily include grade, or there is a lot of variability in the decision to perform it.

I think there are really two questions to answer here. 

  1. Does delayed splenic pseudoaneurysm occur? The answer is yes. There are a few studies (performed by believers) that demonstrate new pseudoaneurysms after repeat CT. I’m convinced.
  2. Do we care? The real question is, do these pseudoaneurysms cause harm? The fear is that they might explode at some point after patient discharge and cause a major problem.

Papers written by the believers cite a number of old studies and give numbers between 2% and 27% for incidence of delayed hemorrhage. Well, I tracked down all of these papers, including the ones they cited. And it doesn’t add up.

  • One paper from a believer institution found no delayed bleeds.
  • Several papers were for pediatric patients, whose spleens don’t behave like adult ones. They found one case after discharge in one out of 276 patients across three studies.
  • Of 76 adolescents, none encountered delayed bleeds

Many of the papers cited regarding bleeding complications are very old. CT scanners had less resolution, and in many papers, IR was not even a consideration. 

So here’s my take. Yes, delayed pseudoaneurysms occur. In children we don’t care. They almost never cause a problem. But in adults, they can and do cause issues and should be embolized shortly after the initial scan. 

Once embolized, the ones seen on that initial scan are effectively neutralized and do not need a repeat scan. The small ones that might pop up later may very well be part of the healing process. And they may not even occur if angioembolization is done early. It seems unlikely that anything further is needed.

But remember, clinical judgement trumps all. If your patient starts complaining of new abdominal symptoms while in the hospital or after discharge, get a prompt CT scan to rule out any developing complications.

Sample solid organ injury protocol: click here

Reference: Delayed splenic pseudoaneurysm identification with surveillance imaging. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2022 Mar 22. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000003615. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35319540.