Category Archives: Procedures

Cricothyrotomy In The COVID Age

COVID-19 has changed everything. Our patients and even our co-workers could be harboring the virus. Workplace precautions have changed. Many of the minutiae of living have changed. All trauma professionals are concerned with protecting themselves from contagion in order to continue providing vital care to more patients.

We have a fairly good understanding of how the virus spreads. Aerosols and aerosolizing procedures are a major risk factor for involved personnel. In general, hospitals already have processes and policies in place for the most common aerosolizing procedure, endotracheal intubation. Even in emergency circumstances, this is a relatively controlled procedure.

But what about cricothyrotomy? This is far less commonly performed, and as such is prone to more variability. Surgeons at Northwestern University in Chicago tested several techniques for more safely performing this procedure. They placed three different types of draping materials commonly found in or around a trauma bay over their hands in an attempt to decrease aerosolization produced during the procedure.

They tested these drapes using a cricothyrotomy simulator based on a porcine trachea. To identify aerosolization, they atomized fluoroscein into the trachea and monitored the procedure with an ultraviolet light.

The first drape tested was a clear plastic x-ray cassette holder. The advantage of using this as a drape is its transparency. The surgeon does not need to peek under the plastic while performing the crich. Unfortunately, the stiffness and slipperiness of the plastic makes it prone to sliding off the procedure site.

A dry blue surgical towel was used next. This performed a bit better, but still slipped off the operative field. Black light inspection showed a significant amount of aerosol contamination of the edge of the towel and the surgeon’s gown.

Finally, a wet blue surgical towel was tested. The towel easily stayed in place and retained nearly all of the aerosolized fluoroscein. There was a negligible amount on the surgeon’s gown.

Bottom line: The authors recommended that wet surgical towels be placed over their hands and used as a barrier when performing a cricothyrotomy in a COVID positive or unknown patient. The reality is that this will apply to this procedure in just about any acute trauma patient you see. Obviously, this trick does not eliminate aerosolization. Rather, it dramatically reduces the amount and hence, the risk to the surgeon and other personnel in the room. It’s not perfect, but definitely worth it!

To view a video demonstrating the technique and results for each of the drapes, click here.

Reference: Emergency cricothyrotomy during the COVID-19 pandemic: how to suppress aerosolization. Trauma Surgery Acute Care Open 5(1):e000482, 2020.

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ED Thoracotomy: Kids ARE Just Small Adults

You’ve undoubtedly read this trite phrase somewhere in your training: “Kids aren’t just small adults!” There are many examples where this is absolutely true. Think about arterial extravasation in solid organ injury. Or severe traumatic brain injury. There are major differences in treatment aggressiveness for both of these.

But what about the code situation? I’ve noted a peculiar phenomenon over the years with regard to pediatric codes of all kinds. Adults tend to persist far longer at resuscitative efforts over children than they normally would on other adults. And what about that most extreme code situation, the emergency thoracotomy?

I’ve also seen the use of this procedure in children who don’t meet the usual adult criteria. But they are kids, right? They can bounce back from more severe insults, right? I hope that I’ve convinced you over the years that one can’t just assume and generalize anything. Things that seem like so much common sense often turn out to be wrong. Think back to the days of the stress / spicy food theory of peptic ulcer disease. This seems so silly now that we recognize the role of H. Pylorii.

Scripps Mercy adult and Rady Children’s Hospital pediatric trauma centers in San Diego performed an extensive review of the National Trauma Data Bank over a three year period. They focused on patients 16 years of age or less who underwent ED thoracotomy within 30 minutes of arrival at the trauma center. They focused on procedure indications and the eventual outcomes.

Here are the factoids:

  • A total of 114 patients were recorded in the NTDB, with a mean age of 10 years and median Injury Severity Score of 26 (this is the three year experience in the entire US in three years!)
  • Males were disproportionately involved at 69%, although this is less than in adults
  • Thoracotomy was performed promptly, with a median time after arrival of 5 minutes
  • Mechanism of injury was almost evenly split between penetrating (56%) and blunt (44%)
  • Blunt mechanism mortality was 94% vs 88% for penetrating
  • Penetrating injury outside of the thorax was uniformly fatal
  • Patients without signs of life on arrival, regardless of mechanism, also had a 100% mortality rate
  • Treatment at an adult trauma center, freestanding pediatric center, or combined center had no impact on these dismal outcomes

Bottom line: This is an interesting paper, and shows that the outcomes after ED thoracotomy in kids is even more dismal than in adults. This is particularly true for children arriving without vital signs and for penetrating abdominal trauma.

However, the authors go on to suggest a practice guideline for pediatric emergency thoracotomy similar to the EAST adult guidelines based on their study findings. However, I think this is ill advised. Have a look at the absolute numbers:

The largest subgroup has only 29 patients in it. These numbers are way too small to consider a guidelines change.

This paper shows that kids are just small adults when it comes to ED thoracotomy. And they seem to do even more poorly with no vital signs or penetrating injuries outside of the chest. So think carefully the next time you must consider this procedure in a child.

Reference: Nationwide Analysis of Resuscitative Thoracotomy in Pediatric Trauma Time to Differentiate from Adult Guidelines? J Trauma published ahead of print, July 6, 2020.

 

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Can Chest Tube Insertion Result In Exposure To Coronavirus?

Endotracheal intubation is considered an aerosol-producing procedure. In this new age of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, most hospitals are stepping up the level of personal protective equipment (PPE) used when performing this procedure. This has also resulted in modifications in the location where intubation is performed and the choice of drugs used.

But what about needle and chest thoracostomy? These are different than intubation in that the respiratory tract is usually not directly accessed. However, there is the opportunity for exposure to pleural fluid. In the case of needle thoracostomy, it is possible that air under pressure in the chest can force tiny droplets or even an aerosol out and into the air. There is less likelihood of aerosolization during tube thoracostomy, where liquid and droplet exposure can be anticipated.

What do we know about pleural fluid and the novel coronavirus? Basically nothing. And there is very little literature out there regarding other respiratory viruses in pleural fluid either. The only paper I could find (reference below) was published five years ago by a Spanish group. They compared the presence of bacteria and viruses in the pleural fluid of patients with community acquired pneumonia against an uninfected control group. They found only one incidence of virus in the pleural fluid in one patient, a human metapneumovirus. Is this comforting? Probably not.

Trauma patients with chest trauma are likely very different. Those with a hemo- or pneumo-thorax, by definition, had some violation of the surface of the lung. to cause the leak This injury is very likely to breach alveoli which are laden with coronavirus, thus contaminating the pleural fluid. Once that occurs, it is possible that the entire thorax surrounding the lung is contaminated. Note: this is one of those “common sense” assumptions with absolutely no data currently to back it up.

Bottom Line: This is yet another of the many questions about SARS-CoV-2 that we just don’t have an objective answer to. However, since we are already limiting exposure during or forgoing laparoscopic procedures altogether to avoid vaporizing viral particles in smoke, it makes sense to protect ourselves during procedures that involve pleural fluid in trauma patients.

Until we have more data, needle and tube thoracostomy procedures should be considered at least a droplet-prone procedure, if not an aerosol-producing one. This means that trauma professionals should don appropriate personal protective equipment as dictated by their local policies and procedures before performing these procedures.

Reference: Detection of bacteria and viruses in the pleural effusion of children and adults with community-acquired pneumonia. Future Microbiology 10(6):909-916, 2015.

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COVID-19 Thinking Cap: How To Protect Personnel During Intubation (Video)

There is a fascinating letter in the New England Journal of Medicine submitted by authors from the Boston Medical Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Like all trauma professionals, they were concerned with droplet contamination produced during the intubation process. Most hospitals have modified their intubation procedures to try to protect personnel as much as possible.

The authors designed a Plexiglas box with two holes for the arms of the intubator that is placed over the patient’s head. This should serve to shield them, and other personnel in the room if the patient unexpectedly coughs during the process. They tested this concept using an intubation mannequin. First, they placed a balloon filled with fluorescent dye in its mouth and slowly inflated until it burst. Here was the result when viewed under ultraviolet light. Sputum everywhere!

Next, they placed the intubation shield over the patient. Here is a drawing of its dimensions.

The device is open on the bottom and on the side away from the intubator. The arm holes are 10cm in diameter.

The authors then repeated the balloon experiment with the shield in place and the intubator’s arms inserted through the holes. The resulting contamination was limited to their hands and forearms, and the inside of the shield.

Bottom line: This is a very interesting yet simple and cheap device that can be built by just about anyone and should protect personnel from droplet contamination. It will not have much effect on aerosols escaping into the room, but that’s what our other PPE are for! It’s a great example of how creativity is key in keeping us all safer during this pandemic.

You can view the video on the NEJM website at:
https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2007589

Reference: Barrier Enclosure during Endotracheal Intubation. NEJM DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2007589, April 4 2020.

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Air Embolism From an Intraosseous (IO) Line

IO lines are a godsend when we are faced with a patient who desperately needs access but has no veins. The tibia is generally easy to locate and the landmarks for insertion are straightforward. They are so easy to insert and use, we sometimes “set it and forget it”, in the words of infomercial guru Ron Popeil.

But complications are possible. The most common is an insertion “miss”, where the fluid then infuses into the knee joint or soft tissues of the leg. Problems can also arise when the tibia is fractured, leading to leakage into the soft tissues. Infection is extremely rare.

This photo shows the inferior vena cava of a patient with bilateral IO line insertions (black bubble at the top of the round IVC).

During transport, one line was inadvertently disconnected and probably entrained some air. There was no adverse clinical effect, but if the problem is not recognized and the line is not closed properly, there could be.

Bottom line: Treat an IO line as carefully as you would a regular IV. You can give anything through it that can be given via a regular IV: crystalloid, blood, drugs. And even air, so be careful!

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