All posts by TheTraumaPro

The Final X-Ray In Damage Control Surgery

Damage control surgery for trauma is over 20 years old, yet we continue to find ways to refine it and make it better. Many lives have been saved over the years, but we’ve also discovered new questions. How soon should the patient go back for definitive closure? What is the optimal closure technique? What if it still won’t close?

One other troublesome issue surfaced as well. We discovered that it is entirely possible to leave things behind. Retained foreign bodies are the bane of any surgeon, and many, many systems are in place to avoid them. However, many of these processes are not possible in emergent trauma surgery. Preop instrument counts cannot be done. Handfuls of uncounted sponges may be packed into the wound.

I was only able to find one paper describing how often things are left behind in damage control surgery (see reference below), and it was uncommon in this single center study (3 cases out of about 2500 patients). However, it can be catastrophic, causing sepsis, physical damage to adjacent organs, and the risk of performing an additional operation in a sick trauma patient.

So what can we do to reduce the risk, hopefully to zero? Here are my  recommendations:

  • For busy centers that do frequent laparotomy or thoracotomy for trauma and have packs open and ready, pre-count all instruments and document it
  • Pre-count a set number of laparotomy pads into the packs
  • Use only items that are radiopaque or have a marker embedded in them. This includes surgical towels, too!
  • Implement a damage control closure x-ray policy. When the patient returns to OR and the surgeons are ready to begin the final closure, obtain an x-ray of the entire area that was operated upon. This must be performed and read before the closure is complete so that any identified retained objects can be removed.

Tomorrow, a sample damage control closure x-ray.

Related post:

Reference: Retained foreign bodies after emergent trauma surgery: incidence after 2526 cavitary explorations. Am Surg 73(10):1031-1034, 2007.

Tips For Surgeons: Abdominal Packing

One of the tenets of trauma surgery, handed down for generations, is that we should pack the abdomen to help manage major abdominal hemorrhage. “All four quadrants were packed” reads the typical operative note. But how exactly do you do that? Sounds easy, right?

sponges

Well, there are nuances not found in the surgery textbooks. Here are some practical tips for the trauma surgeon:

  • Prepare. Have your scrub nurse fluff up about 20 laparotomy pads in advance. The point of packing is two-fold: soak up blood, and stop bleeding. Fluffed up pads work better than the flat, rolled up pads shown above. And you will need them fast, so have a supply ready.
  • Do you really need to pack? Your patient is hypotensive, and you are convinced the abdomen is the source. You run to the OR, open it and… no blood. So don’t pack. It won’t slow down the (lack of) bleeding, but it is possible to cause serosal tears or worse. Just figure out where the bleeding is really coming from.
  • Be careful. Don’t just jam them in there. Carefully place pads over and under the liver. Carefully place a hand on the spleen and push toward the hilum so you can place pads between spleen and body wall. Try not to cause more damage than is already there.
  • Penetrating trauma: Pack where you know (or think) the penetrations are first. Basically, if it’s not bleeding there, don’t pack there.
  • Blunt trauma: Pack the upper quadrants first. This is where the money is, because the liver and spleen are the top culprits. Then pack the lower quadrants to soak up shed blood.
  • Once packed, check for successful control. If bleeding has stopped (or at least decreased significantly) stop and wait for anesthesia to catch up and continue your massive transfusion protocol. If bleeding continues, remove packs from the offending area and try to obtain definitive control. This is now the patient’s only chance, since you have now determined that you can’t stop the bleeding with packing.
  • Remove packs in the proper order. In blunt trauma, remove the lower quadrant packs first. They’re not doing anything and just take up valuable space. In penetrating trauma remove the packs in the area of the injury first.
  • Get an xray to confirm that all packs are out at the end of the case. Self explanatory. It’s easy to lose a few in the heat of the moment. I’ve seen two bundles (10 pads) left over the liver in one case decades ago!

On Monday, I’ll write about the importance of the final x-ray when the abdomen is closed.

Related post:

The Post-Crunch Debriefing

Trauma centers generally design their trauma teams around the type and volume of injured patients they receive. There must be sufficient depth of coverage to handle multiple “hits” at once. But even the best planning can be overwhelmed by the occasional confluence of the planets where multiple, multiple patients arrive during a relatively short period of time (the “crunch”).

As the reserve of available trauma professionals to see new, incoming patients dwindles, it sometimes even becomes necessary to close the center to new patients. Once those who have already arrived have been processed, the trauma center can open again.

This scenario, while hopefully rare, unfortunately introduces a huge opportunity for errors and omissions in care. There is much more clinical activity, lots of patient information to be gathered and processed, and many decisions to be made. How can you reduce the opportunity for these potential problems?

Consider a “post-crunch” debriefing! Once things have quieted down, assemble all team members in one room. Systematically review each patient involved in the “crunch”, going through physical exam, imaging, lab results, and the final plan. It’s helpful to have access to the electronic medical record during this process so everything that is known can be reviewed. Make sure that all clinical questions are answered, and that solid plans are in place and specific people are assigned to implement them.

Once you’ve reviewed all of the incoming, don’t forget your patients already in the hospital. Significant issues may have occurred while you were busy, so quickly review their status as well. Chat with their nurses for updates. Make sure they are doing okay.

Then prepare yourself for the next “crunch”!

Related post:

Next Trauma MedEd Newsletter – Trauma in Pregnancy

Injuries to pregnant women causes a lot of anxiety among trauma professionals. Not only is there one obvious seriously injured patient, but there’s a baby involved that is relatively invisible using the tools available in the trauma resuscitation room.

To help demystify and de-anxiefy (just made it up), the next newsletter will cover trauma in pregnancy in detail. Topics will include:

  • Tips and tricks
  • Predicting outcome
  • Monitoring
  • Safe imaging
  • Perimortem C-section
  • And more!

If you haven’t already, subscribe to my Trauma MedEd newsletter so you can get this edition as soon as it’s released. Otherwise, it will be released here on the blog about 2 weeks later.

Click here to subscribe and download back issues!

The Seventh Law of Trauma

Your patient is at their healthiest as they roll in through the emergency department door

Yes, major trauma patients are sick, but they are going to get sicker over the next few hours to days. No matter how bad they look now, they will tolerate more at the time you first see them than they will tomorrow.

Too often, we look at them and delay because “they are too sick to operate.” This is usually not the case.

Bottom line: Move quickly, get surgical clearances done promptly, and perform all interventions (especially major surgery) early before your trauma patient gets really sick!

Other Laws of Trauma: