Category Archives: Abdomen

The Handoff In Damage Control Surgery

Damage control is over 25 years old already! We continue to refine the techniques and closure techniques/devices, and have developed novel ways to speed closure of the abdominal wall in order to avoid pesky hernias. But the process itself is time intensive, and typically several days pass with regular returns to OR until closure is achieved.  This is one of the prime areas in which human error can occur, especially with modern service-style coverage of trauma patients.

In the old days, trauma patients were admitted by their surgeon, and that person provided their care nearly continuously until discharge. He or she rounded on them daily, took them back to the OR when needed, and then discharged them.

This is less practical (and desirable) in this day and age. And even if it seems possible, it’s not. No one can be on call 24 hours a day, and provide comprehensive care to every patient, around the clock. Many trauma programs have adopted a “service model”, where patients are admitted to a defined care team and managed by them. The team is led by a surgeon, but that person may change on a weekly (or in some cases nearly daily) basis. I call this the “interchangeable head” model, and to make it work there must be excellent handoffs during any leadership change.

In some cases, a patient may undergo a damage control procedure by one surgeon, but another must do the takeback and possibly the definitive closure. In this case, the handoff is critical! It is paramount that the next surgeon know everything about the first case so that they can perform the correct procedure.

How can this be accomplished? Here are some tips:

  • Do not rely on the medical record and previous operative note. It may not be available, and there is usually some loss of information in recording it anyway. Don’t believe it.
  • Ideally, meet face to face with the previous surgeon(s). Get the blow by blow description of exactly everything that was done and how. Also discuss what still needs to be done, and when. Try to maintain a uniform philosophy of patient care across surgeons.
  • If face to face is not possible, a telephone call is acceptable. The discussion is exactly the same.
  • If the surgery occurred at an outside hospital and was then transferred, you must call the initial surgeon to have this discussion before going to the OR!
  • If something unexpected is encountered during the case, make sure you have contact information so you can call during the case.

Applying these concepts will decrease the possibility of error, as well as the likelihood of any iatrogenic harm to these complex patients.

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Best of: Blunt Duodenal Injury In Children

Blunt injury to hollow organs is rare in adults, but a little more common in children. This is due to their smaller muscle mass and the lack of protection by their more flexible skeleton. Duodenal injury is very rare, and most trauma professionals don’t see any during their career. As with many pediatric injuries, there has been a move toward nonoperative management in selected cases, and duodenal injury is no exception.

What we really need to know is, which child needs prompt operative treatment, and which ones can be treated without it? Children’s Hospital of Boston did a multicenter study of pediatric patients who underwent operation for their injury to try to tease out some answers about who needs surgery and what the consequences were.

A total of 16 children’s hospitals participated in this 4 ½ year study. Only 54 children had a duodenal injury, proven either by operation or autopsy. Some key points identified were:

  • The injury was very uncommon, with one child per hospital per year at best
  • 90% had tenderness or marks of some sort on their abdomen (seatbelt sign, handlebar mark, other contusions).
  • Free air was not universal. Plain abdominal xray showed free air in 36% of cases, while CT showed it only 50% of the time. Free fluid was seen on CT in 100% of cases.
  • Contrast extravasation was uncommon, seen in 18% of patients.
  • Solid organ injuries were relatively common
  • Amylase was frequently elevated

Although laparoscopic exploration was attempted in about 12% of patients, it was universally converted to an open procedure when the injury was confirmed. TPN was used commonly in the postop period. Postop ileus was very common, but serious complications were rare (wound infection <10%, abscess 3%, fistula 4%). There were 2 deaths: one child presented in extremis, the other deteriorated one day after delayed recognition of the injury.

Bottom line: Be alert for this rare injury in children. Marks on the abdomen, particularly the epigastrium, should raise suspicion of a duodenal injury. The best imaging technique is the abdominal CT scan. Contrast is generally not helpful and not tolerated well by children. Duodenal hematoma can be managed nonoperatively. But any evidence of perforation (free fluid, air bubbles in the retroperitoneum, duodenal wall thickening, elevated serum amylase) should send the child to the OR. And laparotomy, not laparoscopy, is the way to go.

Reference: Operative blunt duodenal injury in children: a multi-institutional review. J Ped Surg 47(10):1833-1836, 2012.

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Off-Label Foley Use In Trauma – Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about an unusual way to use the Foley urinary catheter to plug a heart wound. This allows you to buy time to get to the operating room to perform the definitive repair. But this cheap and effective tool is very versatile, and can be used in other body areas as well.

Consider a deep penetrating injury to the liver. It takes time to determine which method for slowing/stopping the bleeding is most appropriate. Sure, the doctor books say to occlude the inflow by gently clamping the hepatoduodenal ligament (Pringle maneuver). But this takes time, and can be difficult if there is lots of bleeding.

You may be able to gain some time by placing a properly sized Foley catheter directly into the wound and carefully inflating with saline. You must inflate the balloon to feel, not to its full volume. It should be snug, but not so full that it cracks the liver parenchyma and causes yet more bleeding.

Bottom line: Any time you find yourself facing bleeding from hard to expose places, think about using a balloon catheter like the Foley. Sizing is critical, and the balloon volume is more important than the catheter diameter. Estimate the size of the area that needs to be occluded, and then ask for a catheter with a 10cc or 30cc balloon. If you need smaller, more precise control, try a Fogarty arterial embolectomy catheter instead. 

As with the cardiac Foley, be sure to occlude the end so you don’t create a conduit for the blood to escape. If your patient does well, and you need to leave the catheter in place for a damage control closure, LEAVE THE CATHETER COMPLETELY WITHIN THE ABDOMEN. If you exteriorize the end, some well-meaning person may unclamp it, drop the balloon, or decide that it can be used for tube feedings.

TIP: If the distance between the balloon and the catheter tip is too long, DO NOT TRY TO SHORTEN THE TIP BY CUTTING IT! This will damage the balloon and it will not inflate.

Fogarty catheters

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Do Children With Low Grade Solid Organ Injury Need To Transfer To A Pediatric Trauma Center?

Pediatric trauma centers have an excellent reputation when it comes to caring for children when compared to their adult counterparts. Overall mortality for major trauma is lower. Splenectomy rates and the use of angiography are less in children with solid organ injury. And because of this expertise, it is common for surrounding trauma centers of all levels transfer these patients to the nearest pediatric trauma center.

But is this always necessary? Many of these children have relatively minor injury, and the pediatric trauma centers can be few and far between unless you are on one of the coasts. Researchers at the University of Washington, Harborview, and Seattle Children’s looked at their experience with pediatric transfers (or lack thereof) with spleen injury.

They retrospectively looked at 15 years of transfer data. The Seattle hospitals are the catchment area for a huge geographic area in the northwest, and the state trauma system maintains detailed records on all transfers to a higher level of care. Patients 16 years or younger with low grade (I-III) spleen injury were included. In an effort to narrow the focus to relatively isolated spleen injury, patients were excluded if they had moderate injuries in other AIS body regions.

Here are the factoids:

  • During the study, over 54,000 patients were admitted to hospitals, but only 1,177 had isolated, low grade spleen injury
  • About 20% presented directly to a Level I or II trauma center, 30% presented to a lower level center and were transferred, and 50% stayed put at the lower level center they to which they presented
  • 40 patients (3%) underwent an abdominal operation presumably for their spleen, but there was no difference based on which hospital they presented to or whether they were transferred
  • The incidence of total splenectomy was not different among the three groups
  • Likewise, there was no difference in ICU admission or ICU length of stay
  • The only significant difference was that patients who were not transferred to a pediatric center usually spent an extra day in the hospital

Bottom line: Injured children tend to do well, regardless of where they are treated. This study is huge and retrospective, which can cause analysis problems. And even given the size, the total number eligible for the study was relatively small. But it is the best study to date that shows that it is possible to treat select low grade injuries at non-pediatric, non-high level trauma centers. However, before going down this path, it is extremely important to define specific “safe” injuries to manage, and to have an escape valve available in case the patient takes an unexpected turn.

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The Lucas CPR Device And Pregnancy

Here’s an image of the Lucas automated CPR device. Here’s a question for you: can you use the Lucas chest compression device in a pregnant patient?

The official company answer is “no.” Obviously, this is one those areas that is tough to get research approval on, and the number of pregnant patients who might need it is very small. So basically, we have little experience to go on.

That being said, the reality is that prehospital agencies can and do use it for these patients on occasion. There is only one published case report that I could find (see reference below). The thing that makes using this device a little more challenging is that, to optimize blood pressure, late term pregnant patients need to have the uterus rolled off of the vena cava. This means tipping the patient to her left.

As you can see from the picture above, the design of the Lucas makes this a bit difficult. However, it can be done, either by tipping the board the patient is on or wedging something under the right side of the back plate.

And as always, make sure that you adhere to your local policies and procedures, or have permission from your medical director to use this device in this particular situation.

Reference: Cardiac arrest and resuscitation with an automatic mechanical chest compression device (LUCAS) due to anaphylaxis of a woman receiving caesarean section because of pre-eclampsia. Resuscitation 68(1):155-159, 2005.

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