Category Archives: General

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?

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 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!
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Enoxaparin And Pregnancy

Lovenox

Pregnant women get seriously injured, too. And pregnancy is an independent risk factor for deep venous thrombosis. We reflexively start at-risk patients on prophylactic agents for DVT, the most common being enoxaparin. But is it safe to give enoxaparin during pregnancy?

Studies have looked at drug levels in cord blood when the mother is receiving enoxaparin, and none has been found. No specific bleeding complications have been identified, either. So from the baby’s standpoint, administration is probably safe.

However, there are two other issues to consider. In a study looking at the use of enoxaparin for prophylaxis in women with a mechanical heart valve, 2 of 8 women (and their babies) died. Both suffered from clots that developed and blocked the valves. Most likely, the standard dose of enoxaparin was insufficient, so monitoring of anti-Factor Xa levels must be done.

The other problem lies in the multi-dose vial of Lovenox (Sanofi-Aventis). Each 100mg vial contains 45mg of benzyl alcohol, which has been associated with a fatal “gasping syndrome” in premature infants. The individual dose syringes do not have this preservative.

Bottom line: It is probably safe to give enoxaparin to pregnant women after trauma. However, it is unclear if the dose needs to be increased to achieve adequate prophylaxis. Only consider using this medication after consultation with the patient’s obstetrician, and use only the individual dose syringes. Otherwise fall back to standard subcutaneous non-fractionated heparin (even though it is a Category C drug by FDA; it is still considered the anticoagulant of choice during pregnancy).

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Who Travels By Air?

Getting seriously injured trauma patients to a trauma center quickly is generally believed to be a good thing. And helicopters are usually faster than ground ambulances. So sending severely injured patients by air is a good thing, right?

Not quite so fast, there. There are other concerns as well. Helicopter transport is significantly more expensive. Quarters are very cramped, and you can’t just pull off to the side of the road if major patient or equipment problems arise. And has anybody really shown a survival benefit?

Although there is a (relatively) standard national trauma triage protocol from the CDC that indicates which patients should be transported to a trauma center, there is no standard protocol for who should be transported by air. The University of Rochester School of Medicine looked at 2007 transport data from the National Trauma Databank and tried to determine if the CDC protocol could be adapted to air transport as well.

Over 250,000 patient records were included in the study. As would be expected, patients flown by helicopter tended to be more severely injured, needed intubation more often, and were admitted to an ICU and stayed in the hospital longer. Average transport time for the helicopter was longer (60 mins vs 43 mins), implying longer distance traveled. Using a regression analysis, the authors found that the following subsets of patients had better survival with helicopter transport:

  • Penetrating injury
  • GCS < 14
  • Resp rate <10 or >29
  • Age >55
  • Any one physiologic criterion and any one anatomic criterion from the CDC protocol

Bottom line: A more standardized set of air transport criteria is needed. Some studies have found that as many as 50% of patients in some communities are flown who do not meet local air transport rules. Time and distance also need to be taken into account, since these will vary widely between rural and less rural areas. This study begins to lay an objective framework of criteria that can be incorporated into a more uniform set of guidelines.

Related posts:

Reference: The National Trauma Triage Protocol: Can this tool predict which patients with trauma will benefit from helicopter transport? J Trauma 73(2):319–325, 2012.

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Pop Quiz! DPL – The Answer!

You’re doing one of those (very rare) DPLs and get a surprise result. Not blood, not obvious intestinal content, but just a small amount of mysterious sediment. What to do?

Well, this is obviously not normal. Therefore, this has to be considered a positive diagnostic peritoneal lavage. Since DPL is a qualitative test (meaning that the answer is only yes or no), the patient must go to the OR.

Here are the answers to the questions posed earlier today:

  • The DPL catheter has a relatively small diameter, so leave it in place! It may be very difficult to find where it went otherwise
  • Midline laparotomy incision is most appropriate. Remember, this is a trauma case? However, you can start infra-umbilical with a limited incision.

Here’s what I found in this case:

The catheter went straight into the cecum! So we actually did a diagnostic colonic lavage! The sediment was a very small amount of stool. And as stated above, had the catheter not been left in place, it would have been very tough to find the puncture site. 

Next, I clamped the catheter to keep it in place, cut it on the hub side, and removed most of it.

Finally, I placed a purse-string stitch around the entry site in the bowel, removed the catheter and tied the suture.

But wait, we’re not done yet! The patient did have abdominal pain and a seat belt sign, so we did a trauma exploration through the midline incision. A Grade II liver injury was present which needed no further management. The patient did well  and was discharged on the fourth day.

Bottom line: Procedures can and do go awry. Reason your way through it the best you can, then use focused diagnostics, if needed, to come up with a plan. For misplaced needles and catheters, most organs can tolerate a puncture by almost anything (except the eye, maybe). Treat appropriately and monitor carefully afterwards.

Source: Personal archive. Not treated at Regions Hospital

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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!

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