Category Archives: Technique

Damage Control Dressing: The ABThera (Video)

In the late 1980’s, when we started the work that would be published in the first damage control paper from Penn, we used the vacuum pack dressing. This was first described in a paper from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 1995. Prior to that, the so-called Bogota bag was the usual technique. This consisted of slicing opening up a sterile IV bag (either the standard 1 liter or the urology 3 liter bag for big jobs) and sewing it into the wound. This worked, but it freaked out the nurses, who could see the intestines through the print on the clear plastic bag.

The vacuum pack was patient friendly, with a layer of plastic on the bottom, some absorbent towels in the middle with a drain in place to remove fluid and apply suction, and an adherent plastic layer on top to keep the bed clean. As you can imagine, this was a little complicated to apply correctly. One misstep and things stuck to the bowel or leaked out onto the bed.

In the past few years, a commercial product was developed that incorporated all these principles and was easy to apply. This is the KCI ABThera (note: I have no financial interest in KCI or this product; I just wish I had invented it). The only downside is that there is a small learning curve when first using this product.

The video above shows a demonstration of the application on an abdominal mannikin. It is not as slick as the company videos, but I think it’s more practical, with some good tips.

References:

  • Damage control: an approach for improved survival in exsanguinating penetrating abdominal injury. J Trauma 35(3):375-382, 1993.
  • Temporary closure of open abdominal wounds. Am Surg 61(1):30-35, 1995.
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How To Troubleshoot Air Leaks in Chest Tube Systems

An air leak is a sure-fire reason to keep a chest tube in place. Fortunately, many air leaks are not from the patient’s chest, but from a plumbing problem. Here’s how to locate the leak.

To quickly localize the problem, take a sizable clamp (no mosquito clamps, please) and place it on the chest tube between the patient’s chest and the plastic connector that leads to the collection system. Watch the water seal chamber of the system as you do this. If the leak stops, it is coming from the patient or leaking in from the chest wall.

If the leak persists, clamp the soft Creech tubing between the plastic connector and the collection system itself. If the leak stops now, the connector is loose.

If it is still leaking, then the collection system is bad or has been knocked over.

Here are the remedies for each problem area:

  • Patient – Take the dressing down and look at the skin entry site. Does it gape, or is their obvious air hissing and entering the chest? If so, plug it with petrolatum gauze. If not, the air is actually coming out of your patient and you must wait it out.
  • Connector – Secure it with Ty-Rap fasteners or tape (see picture). This is a common problem area.
  • Collection system – The one-way valve system is not functioning, or the system has been knocked over. Click here for an example. Replace it immediately.

Note: If you are using a “dry seal” system (click here for more on this) you will not be able to tell if you have a leak until you fill the seal chamber with some water.

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Off-Label Use of the Foley Catheter

Foley catheters are a mainstay of medical care in patients who need control or measurement of urine output. Leave it to trauma surgeons to find warped, new ways to use them!

Use of these catheters to tamponade penetrating cardiac injuries has been recognized for decades (see picture, 2 holes!). Less well appreciated is their use to stop bleeding from other penetrating wounds.

foleyinheart

Foley catheters can be inserted into just about any small penetrating wound with bleeding that does not respond to direct pressure. (Remember, direct pressure is applied by one or two fingers only, with no flat dressings underneath to diffuse the pressure). Arterial bleeding, venous bleeding or both can be controlled with this technique.

In general, the largest catheter with the largest possible balloon should be selected. It is then inserted directly into the wound until the entire balloon is inside the body. Inflate the balloon using saline until firm resistance is encounted, and the bleeding hopefully stops. Important: be sure to clamp the end of the catheter so the bleeding doesn’t find the easy way out!

Use of catheter tamponade buys some time, but these patients need to be in the OR. In general, once other life threatening issues are dealt with in the resuscitation room, the patient should be moved directly to the operating room. In rare cases, an angiogram may be needed to help determine the type of repair. However, in the vast majority of cases, the surgeon will know exactly where the injury is and further study is not needed. The catheter is then prepped along with most of the patient so that the operative repair can be completed.

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