All posts by TheTraumaPro

What’s Wrong With My Patient?

Here’s an interesting case for you to pick apart!

A 25 year old man is involved in some sort of violent, non-productive interpersonal relationship. He sustains a stab to the left chest, and is brought to your trauma center as a trauma team activation. During the FAST exam, a moderate effusion with visible clot is seen in the pericardium.

Appropriately, you run to the OR and prepare for a left thoracotomy. You perform a pledgeted repair of the ventricle and close. The patient does well and is discharged home five days later. He returns to your clinic the following week and is doing well. You remove the staples.

One week later, he returns to your emergency department complaining of significant chest pain. He describes it as deep, behind his sternum, and it seems to be exacerbated by breathing.

Now what? What are you thinking about? What additional exam do you need. What labs?

Tweet or comment with your answers and suggestions. More on Monday!

Who’s Better At Invasive Procedures? Residents vs NP/PAs

With the implementation of resident work hour restrictions more than 10 years ago, resident participation in clinical care has declined. In order to make up for this loss of clinical manpower and expertise, many hospitals have added advanced clinical providers (ACPs, nurse practitioners and physician assistants). These ACPs are being given more and more advanced responsibilities, in all clinical settings. This includes performing invasive procedures on critically ill patients.

A recent study from Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte NC compared complication rates for invasive procedures performed by ACPs vs residents in a Level I trauma center setting.

A one year retrospective study was carried out. Here are the factoids:

  • Residents were either surgery or emergency medicine PGY2s
    ACPs and residents underwent an orientation and animal- or simulation-based training in procedures
  • All procedures were supervised by an attending physician
  • Arterial lines, central venous lines, chest tubes, percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy, tracheostomy, and broncho-alveolar lavage performances were studied
  • Residents performed 1020 procedures and had 21 complications (2%)
  • ACPs performed 555 procedures and had 11 complications (2%)
  • ICU and hospital length of stay, and mortality rates were no different between the groups

Bottom line: Resident and ACP performance of invasive procedures is comparable. As residents become less available for these procedures, ACPs can (and will) be hired to take their place. Although this is great news for hospitals that need manpower to assist their surgeons and emergency physicians, it should be another wakeup call for training programs and educators to show that resident education will continue to degrade.

Reference: Comparison of procedural complications between resident physicians and advanced clinical providers. J Trauma 77(1):143-147, 2014.

How To: Secure An Endotracheal Tube To… Nothing!

Several decades ago I took care of a patient who posed an interesting challenge. He had been involved in an industrial explosion and had sustained severe trauma to his face. Although he was able to speak and breathe, he had a moderate amount of bleeding and was having some trouble keeping his airway clear.

Everyone frets about getting an airway in patients who have severe facial trauma. However, I find it’s usually easier because the bones and soft tissue move out of your way. Or are already gone. As long as you can keep ahead of the bleeding to see your landmarks, things will go fine.

In this case, the intubation was easy. The epiglottis was visible while standing above the patient’s head, so a laryngoscope was practically unnecessary! But now, how do we secure the tube so it won’t fall out? Sure, there are tube-tamer type securing devices available, but what if they are not available to you? Or this happened in the field? Or their face was missing or falling off? Or it was in the 1980’s and it hadn’t been invented, like this case?

The answer is, create your own “skin” to secure the tube. Take a Kerlix-type stretchable gauze roll and wrap it tightly around their face, and their head if needed. Remember, they are sedated already and they can breathe through the tube. This also serves to further slow any bleeding from soft tissue. Once you have “mummified” the head with the gauze roll, tape the tube in place like you normally would, using the surface of the gauze as the “skin.”

Be generous with the tape, because the tube is your patient’s life-line. Now it’s time for the surgeons to surgically stabilize this airway, usually by converting to a tracheostomy.

Percutaneous Tracheostomy Without The Bronchoscope

It’s always nice to find an article that supports your biases. I’ve been doing percutaneous tracheostomy since the 1990’s, and have used a variety of kits and equipment over the years. Some of these turned out to be rather barbaric, but the technique is now quite refined.

A routine part of the procedure involved passing a bronchoscope during the procedure to ensure that the initial needle was placed at the proper level and in the tracheal midline. It was also rather frightening to watch the trachea collapse when the dilators were inserted.

I abandoned using the bronchoscope in this procedure about 15 years ago. It was an annoyance to get the bronchoscope cart and a respiratory therapist to help run it. And to find someone available to pass the scope while I did the trach. So I added a little extra dissection to the technique, directly visualizing the trachea at the desired location. From then on, I had no need to see the puncture from the inside because I could see it quite well from the outside!

An article in the Journal of Trauma demonstrated that this technique works just as well without the scope. The authors looked at their own series of 243 procedures; 32% were done with the bronchoscope, 68% without. There were 16 complications overall, and the distribution between the bronch and no-bronch groups was equal.

Bottom line: In general, the bronchoscope is not needed in most percutaneous tracheostomy procedures. It adds complexity and expense. However, there are select cases where it can be helpful. Consider using it in patients in a Halo cervical immobilizer, the obese, or in patients with known difficult airway anatomy. And always do the more difficult ones in the OR, not the ICU.

Reference: Percutaneous tracheostomy: to bronch or not to bronch – that is the question. J Trauma 71(6):1553-1556, 2011.

The Ultimate 3D Bioprinter?

3D printing is becoming a big deal when it comes to replacement parts for people. Substantial advances have been made over the past 5 years, and a new printer under development from a company called Aether looks more advanced than most others in the field.

Most printers have a relatively limited number of biomaterials (”inks”) that they can print at one time, and many of the actual materials are proprietary. They tend to be very expensive, sometimes $200,000 or more.

Aether has developed what I would call a great “pilot” printer to demonstrate that this can be done better and more cheaply. The printer in the 8 minute video is printing two pieces of bone connected with a tendon. In this case, the printer uses 6 “inks” including graphene for bones and stem cells to seed them as well as the tendon. The printer can actually print a mix of organic and organic “inks” with up to 10 syringes (”cartridges”). And in this case, it actually embeds two transistors and wires in the product. Printing bionic parts? And the final cost of this printer is projected to be under $10,000.

A number of other companies are out there competing in this market. They are providing tissue samples and skin for drug testing and research. So expect technology to advance and prices to fall as these printers become more sophisticated and more clinically useful.


I have no financial interest in Aether.