All posts by TheTraumaPro

Bullet In The Disk Space: Big Deal Or Not?

In an earlier post, I reviewed the problems with lead poisoning that can occur if a bullet remains in contact with a joint space / synovial fluid, or ends up in the GI tract. But what about if it comes to rest in an intervertebral joint space? They’re dry, right?

The first case report I could find dates back to 1981. A male presented to Parkland Memorial Hospital 12 years after a gunshot to the abdomen in which the bullet lodged in a disk space. He was treated for a GI bleed, but was also noted to have many signs and symptoms of high lead levels. These included irritability, anemia, headache, lethargy, muscle weakness and confusion. A blue line was noted on the gums. X-ray of the lumbar spine showed the bullet fragment in the center of the disk space, and a cystic mass in the prevertebral area that appeared radiodense as well. Blood lead levels were elevated. The patient underwent diskectomy, resection of the mass, chelation therapy, and recovered.

Another case report from 2010 was similar in many ways. The patient was young, had a gunshot 5 years previously, and presented with symptoms of lead poisoning. The appearance of the bullet in the disk space was similar to the last case, in that the bullet could be seen within it, and there appeared to be additional radiopaque material surrounding it. It almost looked like lead was flowing out of the bullet into the disk. This case was also treated with surgical removal and chelation with a successful result.

A literature review was conducted 15 years ago that examined other case reports of bullets in the spine. Over a 25-year period 238 patients were identified with this injury. Only 12 had bullets or fragments in the disk space. All were tested for plumbism, and only one was positive. He underwent diskectomy and resection with resolution of the high lead levels.

Bottom line: We know that a bullet in contact with synovial fluid is bad, with rapid leaching of lead into the circulation. There are also suggestions that lead in contact with CSF can cause a similar problem. However, the intervertebral disk space is usually considered to be “dry” and doesn’t usually cause a problem.

However, patients with a bullet in this location should be cautioned that they do have a small risk of developing lead poisoning. They should be tested about six months post-injury to see if lead levels are on the rise. They should also be cautioned to report the development of new back pain. Structural disruption by the bullet may slowly lead to anatomic changes that result in chronic pain. And be very suspicious if there is radiopaque material in the disk space in addition to the bullet itself!

References:

  1. Acute lead intoxication from a bullet in the intervertebral disk space. JBJS 63A(7):1180-1182, 1981.
  2. Lead Poisoning by Intradiscal Firearm Bullet. Spine 35(4):E140-E143, 2010.
  3. Long-Term Clinical Manifestations of Retained Bullet
    Fragments Within the Intervertebral Disk Space. J Spinal Disord Tech 17(2):108-111, 2004.

 

Pan Scanning for Elderly Falls?

The last abstract for the Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons that I will review deals with doing a so-called “pan-scan” for ground level falls. Apparently, patients at this center have been pan-scanned for years, and they wanted to determine if it was appropriate.

This was a retrospective trauma registry review of 9 years worth of ground level falls. Patients were divided into young (18-54 years) and old (55+ years) groups. They were included in the study if they received a pan-scan.

Here are the factoids:

  • Hospital admission rates (95%) and ICU admission rates (48%) were the same for young and old
  • ISS was a little higher in the older group (9 vs 12)
  • Here are the incidence and type of injuries detected:
Young (n=328) Old (n=257)
TBI 35% 40%
C-spine 2% 2%
Blunt Cereb-vasc inj * 20% 31%
Pneumothorax 14% 15%
Abdominal injury 4% 2%
Mortality * 3% 11%

 * = statistically significant

Bottom line: There is an ongoing argument, still, regarding pan-scan vs selective scanning. The pan-scanners argue that the increased risk (much of which is delayed or intangible) is worth the extra information. This study shows that the authors did not find much difference in injury diagnosis in young vs elderly patients, with the exception of blunt cerebrovascular injury.

Most elderly patients who fall sustain injuries to the head, spine (all of it), extremities and hips. The torso is largely spared, with the exception of ribs. In my opinion, chest CT is only for identification of aortic injury, which just can’t happen from falling over. Or even down stairs. And solid organ injury is also rare in this group.

Although the future risk from radiation in an elderly patient is probably low, the risk from the IV contrast needed to see the aorta or solid organs is significant in this group. And keep in mind the dangers of screening for a low probability diagnosis. You may find something that prompts invasive and potentially more dangerous investigations of something that may never have caused a problem!

I recommend selective scanning of the head and cervical spine (if not clinically clearable), and selective conventional imaging of any other suspicious areas. If additional detail of the thoracic and/or lumbar spine are needed, specific spine CT imaging should be used without contrast.

Related posts:

Reference: Pan-scanning for ground level falls in the elderly: really? ACS Surgical Forum, trauma abstracts, 2016.

Can Lead Poisoning Occur After A Gunshot?

This is a fairly common question from victims of gunshots and their families. As you know, bullets are routinely left in place unless they are superficial. It may cause more damage to try to extract one, especially if it has come to rest in a deep location. But is there danger in leaving the bullet alone?

One of the classic papers on this topic was published in 1982 by Erwin Thal at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. The paper recounted a series of 16 patients who had developed signs and symptoms of lead poisoning (plumbism) after a gunshot or shotgun injury. The common thread in these cases was that the injury involved a joint or bursa near a joint. In some cases the missile passed through the joint/bursa but came to rest nearby, and a synovial pseudocyst formed which included the piece of lead. The joint fluid bathing the projectile caused lead to leach into the circulation.

The patients in the Parkland paper developed symptoms anywhere from 3 days to 40 years after injury. As is the case with plumbism, symptoms were variable and nonspecific. Patients presented with abdominal pain, anemia, cognitive problems, renal dysfunction and seizures to name a few.

Bottom line: Any patient with a bullet or lead shot that is located in or near a joint or bursa should have the missile(s) promptly and surgically removed. Any lead that has come to rest within the GI tract (particularly the stomach) must be removed as well. If a patient presents with odd symptoms and has a history of a retained bullet, obtain a toxicology consult and begin a workup for lead poisoning. If levels are elevated, the missile must be extracted. Chelation therapy should be started preop because manipulation of the site may further increase lead levels. The missile and any stained tissues or pseudocyst must be removed in their entirety.

Reference: Lead poisoning from retained bullets. Ann Surg 195(3):305-313, 1982.

DOA vs DIE: What Does It Mean?

When a trauma patient is delivered to the emergency department but ends up in the morgue, two acronyms are typically thrown around. The first is DOA, which many people (think they) know about. This stands for “dead on arrival.” The other is DIE, which many are less familiar with. It stands for “died in ED,” and is less familiar to some.

What do they really mean, and why is the difference important?  It can be quite confusing. All US trauma centers report data to the National Trauma Data Bank (NTDB). This database actually recognizes three types of ED death:

  • DOA. This is defined as declared dead on arrival with no or minimal resuscitative attempts. This is usually construed to mean no invasive procedures.
  • Died after failed resuscitation. This is a death within 15 minutes of arrival and does include invasive procedures.
  • DIE. These deaths occur in the ED but outside the 15 minutes in the previous category. Obviously, invasive procedures will have been performed.

The ACS Trauma Quality Improvement Program (TQIP) lumps the last two together when constructing reports for subscribing trauma centers. The objective is to exclude truly nonsalvageable patients from analysis to allow us to learn from patients who actually may have some chance of survival. Incorrectly classifying a DOA patient as DIE can significantly and adversely impact the mortality numbers for a center within TQIP.

Unfortunately, DOA is frequently misunderstood by those collecting data for their hospital’s trauma registry. What is an invasive procedure? Inserting an IV? Mechanical CPR? Intubation? REBOA?

The confusion typically occurs because the trauma team has a certain sequence of life-saving maneuver that they carry out based on ATLS principles. They must do this at the same time patient salvageability is being assessed. What denotes that transition from DOA to DIE?

Unfortunately, there is no literature that really dissects this. Here are my thoughts:

  • Mechanical CPR. This is commonplace to offload some of the work prehospital providers are doing during transport of the critical patient. DOA
  • IV insertion. This is a routine procedure and is something that could have been done in the prehospital setting. DOA
  • IO insertion. Same as IV insertion. DOA
  • Fluid administration. Again, this is a continuation of prehospital care. DOA
  • IV drug administration. This one is tricky. If one cycle of ACLS drugs are given while quickly assessing signs of life, DOA. Otherwise, DIE.
  • Intubation. This is pretty invasive, right? But again, EMS may have done this in the field. So if it is done while assessing signs of life and then the patient is quickly pronounced, DOA. Otherwise, DIE
  • Pelvic splint. Wrapping the pelvis should be routine in initial management of blunt traumatic arrest. DOA
  • Central line insertion. This is invasive and takes a little time. DIE
  • REBOA. Really? DIE

Bottom line: This is a difficult concept, and I’m sure some will disagree with my opinions above. I look at whether the cares provided are a continuation of prehospital support, are minimally invasive, AND ensure that they are only routinely applied while a rapid search for signs of life is in progress. Anything above and beyond this should be considered DIE.

Please share your opinions via comments here or by Twitter!

Adding A Hospitalist To The Trauma Service

Hospitals are increasingly relying on a hospitalist model to deliver care to inpatients on medical services. These medical generalists are usually trained in general internal medicine, family medicine, or pediatrics and provide general hospital-based care. Specialists, both medical and surgical, may be consulted when needed.

In most higher level trauma centers in the US (I and II), major trauma patients are admitted to a surgical service (Trauma), and other nonsurgical specialists are consulted based on the needs of the patients and the competencies of the surgeons managing the patients. As our population ages, more and more elderly patients are admitted for traumatic injury, with more and more complex medical comorbidities.

Is there a benefit to adding medical expertise to the trauma service? A few studies have now looked at this, and I will review them over the next few days. The Level I trauma center at Christiana Care in Wilmington, Delaware embedded a trauma hospitalist (THOSP) in the trauma service. They participated in the care of trauma patients with coronary artery disease, CHF, arrhythmias, chronic diseases of the lung or kidneys, stroke, diabetes, or those taking anticoagulants.

The THOSP was consulted on appropriate patients upon admission, or during admission if one of the conditions was discovered later. They attended morning and afternoon sign-outs, and weekly multidisciplinary rounds. A total of 566 patients with hospitalist involvement were matched to controls, and ultimately 469 patients were studied.

Here are the factoids:

  • Addition of the THOSP resulted in a 1 day increase in hospital length of stay
  • Trauma readmissions decreased significantly from 2.4% to 0.6%
  • The number of upgrades to ICU status doubled, but ICU LOS remained the same
  • Mortality decreased significantly from 2.9% to 0.4%
  • The incidence of renal failure decreased significantly
  • Non-significant decreases in cardiovascular events, DVT/PE and sepsis were also noted
  • There was no difference in the number of medical specialty consults placed (cardiology, endocrinology, neurology, nephrology)

Bottom line: This paper shows some positive impact, along with some puzzling mixed results. The decrease in mortality and many complications is very positive. Was the increase in ICU transfers due to a different care philosophy in medical vs surgical personnel? And the failure to decrease the number of specialty consults was very disappointing to me. I would expect that having additional medical expertise on the team should make a difference there.

Was the THOSP really “embedded” if they were not involved in the regular daily rounds? In this case, they were present only for handoffs and for weekly multidisciplinary rounds. I believe that having them on the rounding team daily would be of huge benefit, allowing the surgeons and hospitalists to learn from each other. Plus, there should be a benefit to the residents in a Level I center, helping them broaden their ability to care for these complicated patients.

Reference: Embedding a trauma hospitalist in the trauma service reduces mortality and 30-day trauma-related readmissions. J Trauma 81(1):178-183, 2016.