Category Archives: General

AAST 2011: Video-Assisted Intubation Edges Out Direct Lanyngoscopy

Intubation is the one procedure that provokes the most anxiety for trauma professionals. What about those facial fractures? What if you can’t get it? Video-assisted intubation is now readily available and at a reasonable cost. And it seems like a great idea, but does it make intubation easier?

A paper to be presented at the AAST next week looked at intubation success among relatively inexperienced users, junior residents. They compared success rates of video assisted (VA) intubation in an ICU (74 patients) with direct laryngoscopic (DL) intubation performed in an ED (54 patients).

All patients were successfully intubated by the junior resident, or by a more senior backup if they were unsuccessful (fellow or attending). The junior residents were successful in 96% of the VA intubations, but in only 76% of DL intubations. Less experienced residents (<20 intubations) were successful in all 96% of the VA intubations but in only 40% of the DL. And the least experienced, those who had done less than 5 intubations, obtained an airway with VA 37% of the time vs 7% for DL. The number of desaturations to less than 80% and hospital mortality was the same for the two groups.

Bottom line: Video assisted intubation is superior to the old-fashioned direct laryngoscopic technique. Even inexperienced providers have a better success rate with the video assisted technique. Over the next few years, it will become the standard for intubating patients, both in the field by medics and in the hospital.

Related posts:

Reference: The emergent airway: video-assisted intubation is superior to direct laryngoscopy for teaching junior residents. AAST 2011 Paper #65.

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AAST 2011: The Initial Hematocrit Matters

Traditional teaching is that we bleed whole blood, and it takes time to pull volume out of the interstitial space to replace it. Therefore, the initial hematocrit should be normal when a fresh, bleeding trauma patient rolls through the doors.

An observation I have made over the years is that this is not necessarily so. A few patients have low initial hemoglobin or hematocrit readings, and they tend to be bleeding briskly from somewhere. A paper to be presented at next week’s AAST meeting in Chicago shows just that.

The authors retrospectively reviewed 198 trauma patients requiring emergency surgery at a Level I trauma center. Patients with lower initial hematocrits tended to have lower systolic blood pressure, lower GCS, lose more blood, and require infusion of more blood products during surgery. They also had a higher ISS and mortality. The biggest jump in these indicators occurred when the Hct dropped below 37.

Bottom line: A low hematocrit on the first blood drawn during trauma resuscitation is more helpful that previously thought. Be sure to check those lab values early, and if the hematocrit value is in the mid-30s or lower, start looking for significant sources of bleeding.

Reference: The initial hematocrit matters in trauma: a paradigm shift? AAST 2011 Annual Meeting, Paper 38.

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Weird Trauma: Pruning Shears to the Head and Neck

This case made the national news yesterday, and I wanted to make a few comments on the ideal management of this type of injury.

An 86 year old Arizona man was trimming plants in his back yard and fell on his pruning shears. One of the handle grips pushed into his orbit and through his pharynx into his neck. How do you think through something like this?

First, always check vital signs. If the patient is hypotensive, they must go to the operating room. Even if vital signs are stable, ongoing bleeding necessitates an operation before anything else.

If vital signs are stable, then a road map showing vial structures is essential. The patient should be taken to CT so the exact position of the object can be determined. Any involved structures (carotid artery, esophagus) can be identified and a proper plan can be developed. 

Then and only then can a stable patient be taken to the OR. Appropriate incisions should be placed so that key portions of the foreign object can be viewed as they are removed. In this case, incisions were made under his lip and into the maxillary sinus wall to monitor the removal process. The carotid artery had been cleared by CT. Once removed, any remaining bleeding can be addressed. 

A final point: any problem like this that has the potential to involve the airway requires that a skilled anesthesiologist be present with appropriate airway management equipment, and the surgeon needs to have all equipment ready to place a tracheostomy on short notice.

This patient did well after removal and was treated with about 3 weeks of antibiotics for his sinus injuries. His inferior orbital wall was rebuilt, and overall he did well postoperatively. He is seriously reconsidering doing any gardening again.

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AAST 2011: Patients Evaluated But Not Transported By EMS

Injured patients transported to the ED are just the tip of the iceberg. There are some patients who are evaluated by EMS, either at the scene or in their home, but never transported. These patients do not appear in any trauma registry and little information is known about how they do after their evaluation.

Stanford University reviewed county data and found 5,865 patients out of 69,000 who were evaluated by EMS but not transported (3 counties, 3 years of data). Over a quarter (29%) presented to an ED later and 92 were admitted (2% of the total). By linking available vital statistics data, at least 7 were found to have died.

Bottom line: Patients who are evaluated by EMS but ultimately not transported to a hospital may have unsuspected problems. The mortality is very low (0.14%) but these may represent preventable deaths. It is not practical to force everyone to go to the ED. However, it should be cost-effective to at least make a followup call the next day on these select patients to see if they should be urged to get further evaluation in the ED.

Reference: The forgotten trauma patient: outcomes for injured patients evaluated by EMS but not transported. AAST 2011 Annual Meeting, Oral Paper 46.

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AAST 2011: CT Evaluation of Penetrating Neck Trauma

In the old days, stab injuries to Zone 2 in the neck meant a trip to the operating room. Then it became acceptable to evaluate stable patients with this injury via endoscopy, angiography and a swallow study. Most chief residents didn’t have the patience for this and opted for OR anyway. CT now promises to simplify the evaluation process, rolling these studies into one fast and simple one.

USC+LAC and the University of Maryland directed a prospective multicenter study that looked at the sensitivity and specificity of using CT angiography of the neck to evaluate penetrating injuries.All patients underwent a structured physical examination of the neck. If hard signs of injury to the vascular tree or aerodigestive tract were present, they were immediately taken to OR (6%). Nearly all of these patients had an injury that required repair. If they had no signs, they were merely observed (51%). None had a missed injury.

The remaining 159 patients had a positive exam (minor oozing, small stable hematoma) underwent CT angio of the neck (54% stabs, 42% gunshots, 4% other). The majority were in Zone 2 (41%), but 24% were in Zone 3, 21% in Zone 1, and 14% crossed multiple zones. Overall sensitivity was 100% and specificity was 97%. CT angio was nondiagnostic in 3 patients due to missile fragment artifact.

Bottom line: CT angio of the neck is a fast and accurate exam that can be used in stable patients with an abnormal physical exam but no hard signs of injury. This fits my bias, and we have already been using the scanner this way for stabs. I would now recommend cautiously extending its use for select gunshots as well.

Hard signs of neck injury:

  • Unstable vital signs
  • Large, expanding, or pulsatile hematoma
  • Active bleeding
  • Air bubbling
  • Voice or airway disturbance
  • Hematemesis / hemoptysis
  • Thrill / bruit
  • Neurologic deficit

Reference: Evaluation of multidetector computed tomography for penetrating neck injury: a prospective multicenter study. AAST 2011 Annual Meeting, Oral Paper 61.

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