All posts by TheTraumaPro

What The Heck? The Answer!

Yesterday I posted an image of an unusual chest CT. The patient had been involved in a motorcycle crash weeks ago, and presented with new onset chest pain and weakness.

Exam of the chest showed a hint of diffuse swelling on the left side and moderate tenderness. Chest x-ray suggested a mild effusion on the left. I showed one slide of the CT yesterday, which showed a large amount of complex material in the chest wall. This is most likely a mixture of blood and clot. 

Here is another slice of the CT that is more revealing:

Now you can see that there are multiple rib fractures present. While comparing the original and the recent scan, it is apparent that the fractures are more displaced on the recent one. Upon closer questioning the patient admits that he did fall down the day before the new pain and swelling occurred.

And by the way, he forgot to mention the fact that he had developed deep venous thrombosis and was taking warfarin! And also by the way, his blood pressures were becoming a bit soft.

I would consider this life-threatening bleeding! Crystalloid and blood resuscitate immediately. Reverse the anticoaguation quickly, using prothrombin complex concentrate (PCC, preferably 4-factor). Then send him to interventional radiology to see if there are any active bleeders that can be embolized. Finally, it’s off to the ICU to finish up the resuscitation and restore him to normal!

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What The Heck? Chest CT

Here’s another one for you to figure out. Of course, I’ll give you minimal information and see what you can do with it. 

A middle-aged male presents to your ED from home with left chest pain and weakness. There is a history of a motorcycle crash 6 weeks ago. Ultimately, a chest CT was obtained and here is a representative section:

Here are my questions:

  • What’s going on?
  • Why?
  • What should you do about it?

Leave a comment below or tweet your guesses. Answers tomorrow!

Is That Trauma Activation X-ray Ruined?

You are in the middle of a fast-paced trauma activation. The patient is awake, and mostly cooperative. The x-ray plate is under the patient and everyone stands back as the tech gets ready to fire the x-ray machine. At that very moment, your patient reaches up and places his hand on his chest. Or one of the nurses reaches over to check an IV site.

The x-ray tech swears, and offers to re-shoot the image. What do you do? Is it really ruined? They have an extra plate in hand and are ready to slide it under the patient bed.

The decision tree on this one is very simple. There are two factors in play: what do you need to see, and how hard is it to see? The natural reaction is to discard the original image and immediately get a new one. It’s so easy! But take a look at this example of a “ruined” chest xray.

Bottom line: You are looking for 2 main things on the chest x-ray: big air and big blood. Only those will change your management in the trauma bay. And they are very easy to see, even if the image is cut off and off center. Couple that with the fact that an arm overlying the image does not add a lot of “noise” to the image. So look at the processed image first. 99% of the time, you can see what you need, and will almost never have to repeat. [Hint: the same holds true for the pelvic x-ray, too. You are mainly looking for significant bony displacements, which are also easy to see.]

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The Soft Cervical Collar: A Piece of Junk?

They are the cliches of the courtroom. The defendant appears before the jury with a cane, a cast, and a soft cervical collar. Looks good, but are they of any use? There are really two questions to answer: does a soft collar limit mobility and does it reduce pain? Amazingly, there’s very little literature on this ubiquitous neck appliance. 

First, the mobility question. It’s a soft collar. It’s made of sponge. So it should be no surprise that it doesn’t reduce motion by much, about 17%. But it is better than no collar at all.

What about pain control? One small retrospective review looked at the effect of a soft collar vs no collar at all on pain after whiplash injury. Keep in mind that the definition of “whiplash” is all over the place, so you have to take it with a big grain of salt. But the authors found that there was no difference in subjective pain scoring with or without the collar. 

Another much older study (1986) compared a soft collar with active motion after whiplash. Subjects who actively moved their neck around had less subjective pain after 8 weeks.

image

Bottom line: The soft cervical collar keeps your neck warm. Not much else. And in my experience, prolonged use (more than a few days) tends to increase uncomfortable neck spasms. So use them as an article of clothing in Minnesota winters, but not as a medical appliance.

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References:

  • A comparison of neck movement in the soft cervical collar and rigid cervical brace in healthy subjects. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 34(2):119-22, 2011.
  • The effect of soft cervical collars on persistent neck pain in patients with whiplash injury. Acad Emerg Med. 3(6):568-73, 1996.
  • Early mobilization of acute whiplash injuries. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 292(6521):656-7, Mar 8 1986.