All posts by TheTraumaPro

Pop Quiz! DPL Hint

So the catheter is in, the aspirate was negative (nothing came out), and a liter of crystalloid infused easily. But toward the end of draining the fluid back out, some faint sediment became visible in the tubing.

A lot of you guessed bladder, but most people don’t have sediment there. Plus, if I dumped a liter of fluid into your bladder, you’d really get the urge to go. This awake patient noted no new symptoms. 

I had a bad feeling about this, so I elected to take her to the OR to see what the story really was. Here are some questions for any budding surgeons out there:

  • Leave the catheter in place or pull it out before OR?
  • What incision to make?
  • How big?
  • And what the heck is it, really?

Answers later today! See if you can get it before I give you the punch line!

Pop Quiz! DPL

Ahh, remember the good old days of DPL? Probably not! But here’s an interesting case that presents a real diagnostic dilemma. Hint: this case occurred B.F. (before FAST) and B.G.C.T. (before good CT). That’s why we used DPL!

The patient was a middle aged woman who was involved in a car crash. She had mild, diffuse abdominal pain and a faint seat belt sign. She was prepared for DPL in the ED. It was performed using percutaneous (Seldinger) technique with a fenestrated catheter. Placement was in the usual position, 2cm below the umbilicus in the midline.

The aspirate was negative. A liter of LR was infused  and the bag was then lowered to drain. About 600 cc of clear amber fluid returned easily.

However, on closer inspection, a small amount of sediment could be seen in the tubing.

What the heck!? What’s going on and what, if anything, do we need to do?

Post your guesses and comments below, or Tweet them. I’ll provide hints over the weekend, and the answer on Monday.

Source: Personal archive. Not treated at Regions Hospital

Fracture Blisters Demystified

Fracture blisters pop up (!) in trauma patients now and then, and nobody seems to know what to do with them. Here’s a primer on dealing with them.

A fracture blister typically occurs near fractures where the skin has little subcutaneous tissue between it and bone. These include elbows, knees, ankles and wrists. They tend to complicate fracture management because they interfere with splinting, casting, and incision planning for open reduction procedures. They can appear anytime within a few hours of injury to 2-3 weeks later.

These blisters are thought to be caused by shearing forces applied at the time of injury. There are two types described, based on their color: clear fluid and hemorrhagic. The difference lies in the level of the shear. Clear fluid blisters have separated within the epidermis, and hemorrhagic blisters separate at the dermal-epidermal junction. The clinical difference is healing time; clear blisters take about 12 days and hemorrhagic blisters heal in about 16 days. 

So should we pop the blisters and operate/splint, or wait for them to heal and then go to surgery? Unfortunately, there’s no great data on this and it usually hinges on the preferences of the orthopaedic surgeon. Waiting delays care an average of 7 days, and longer for tibial plateau and calcaneal fractures. Operating immediately anecdotally increases wound infection rates.

Bottom line: Anticipate fracture blisters by looking at location and severity of mechanism. Try to schedule operative reduction as soon as is practical. And monitor the wound closely to make sure that delayed blisters don’t cause complications due to splinting or casting.

The Soft Cervical Collar

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.

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.

Related posts:

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.

Communicating With Our Patients

Although you may not agree with this at first, communicating with our patients is one of the most important things we do as trauma professionals. You can be the “best” doctor, nurse or paramedic in the world, but if you can’t communicate well your patients will have nothing good to say about your care of them.

The most important skill needed for good communication is empathy. You need to be able to put yourself in their position. Imagine what you would want if you were on the receiving end of the information you are about to deliver. What would you say if you were talking to your spouse, your mother, or your child?

Next, think about what kinds of things they would want to know. In trauma, they obviously want to know information about the injuries. Patients and families also need to hear about the short term and long term plans. What’s going to happen in the next few hours? Will surgery be needed? When? How long will I be in the hospital? How long will I be out of work?

Many of these questions are difficult to answer at the time of admission after trauma. If you don’t know or it’s impossible to determine, say so. Experienced clinicians can make some pretty good guesses, but should always qualify their answers. You should make it clear that you are giving an estimate, and that things may very well change. Also explain that as these changes occur and time passes, you will give better estimates. And no BS! They can smell that right away.

One of the most important things to remember is the “keep it simple” mandate. Our patients and their families are smart. Although they may not know the lingo that we are familiar with, they can grasp the concepts of what is happening. Be careful to keep your explanations understandable, and don’t make the mistake of using any complicated medical terms. Imagine the surprise of the patient when they find out what “we’re going to insert a Foley catheter now, sir” really means. Also keep in mind that the patients and their families are stressed, and may not be able to concentrate on or remember everything you say. Repetition is good in these situations.

Bottom line: Communication after major trauma is challenging. Remember, if the families don’t get what you’re saying, it’s your fault, not theirs.