Category Archives: Tips

Best Practice: Laundry Basket In The Resus Room?

How do you get patients out of their clothes during a trauma resuscitation? Most of the time, I bet your answer is “with a pair of scissors.” And once they are off, what do you do with them? Admit it. You just throw them on the floor. And sometime later, someone’s job is to find it all, put it in a bag, and store it or hand it over to the police.

There are more problems than you might think with this approach. First, and most importantly to the patient, their stuff can get lost. Swept up with all the other detritus from a trauma activation. And second, their belongings may become evidence and it’s just been contaminated.

So here’s an easy solution. Create a specific place to put the clothes. Make it small, with a tiny footprint in your trauma room. Make it movable so it can be kept out of the way. And make sure it is shaped so it can contain a large paper bag to preserve evidence without contamination.

And here’s the answer:

Yes, it’s a plain old laundry basket. The perfect solution. And best of all, these are dirt cheap when you are used to seeing what hospitals charge for stuff. So your ED can buy several ($14.29 ea on Amazon.com) in case they can’t be cleaned anymore or just disappear.

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Don’t Repeat Trauma Activation X-rays!!

You are in the middle of a fast-paced trauma activation. The patient is awake, and mostly cooperative. The x-ray plate is under the patient and everyone stands back as the tech gets ready to fire the x-ray machine. At that very moment, your patient reaches up and places his hand on his chest. Or one of the nurses reaches over to check an IV site.

The x-ray tech swears, and offers to re-shoot the image. What do you do? Is it really ruined? They have an extra plate in hand and are ready to slide it under the patient bed.

The decision tree on this one is very simple. There are two factors in play: what do you need to see, and how hard is it to see? The natural reaction is to discard the original image and immediately get a new one. It’s so easy! Plus, the techs will take heat from the radiologist because of the suboptimal image. But take a look at this example of a “ruined” chest xray.

It’s just the patient’s hand! You can still see everything that you really need to.

Bottom line: You are looking for 2 main things on the chest x-ray: big air and big blood. Only those will change your management in the trauma bay. And they are very easy to see. Couple that with the fact that an arm overlying the image does not add a lot of “noise” to the image. So look at the processed image first. 99% of the time, you can see what you need, and will almost never have to repeat. [Hint: the same holds true for the pelvic x-ray, too. You are mainly looking for significant bony displacements, which are also easy to see.]

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The “Dang!” Factor

This tip is for all trauma professionals: prehospital, doctors, nurses, etc. Anyone who touches a trauma patient. You’ve probably seen this phenomenon in action. A patient sustains a very disfiguring injury. It could be a mangled extremity, a shotgun blast to the torso, or some really severe facial trauma. People cluster around the injured part and say “Dang! That looks really bad!”

It’s just human nature. We are drawn to extremes, and that goes for trauma care as well. And it doesn’t matter what your level of training or expertise, we are all susceptible to it. The problem is that we get so engrossed (!) in the disfiguring injury that we ignore the fact that the patient is turning blue. Or bleeding to death from a small puncture wound somewhere else. We forget to focus on the other life threatening things that may be going on.

How do we avoid this common pitfall? It takes a little forethought and mental preparation. Here’s what to do:

  • If you know in advance that one of these injuries is present, prepare your crew or team. Tell them what to expect so they can guard against this phenomenon.
  • Quickly assess to see if it is life threatening. If it bleeds or sucks, it needs immediate attention. Take care of it immediately.
  • If it’s not life threatening, cover it and focus on the usual priorities (a la ATLS, for example).
  • When it’s time to address the injury in the usual order of things, uncover, assess and treat.

Don’t get caught off guard! Just being aware of this common pitfall can save you and your patient!

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Another Worthless Test? Serum / Urine Myoglobin

We often rely on diagnostic testing to augment our physical examination skills. These tests may be in the form of imaging that allows us to see things that we normally cannot, or measurements of body composition using laboratory testing.

If you look at the “menu” of tests that your hospital laboratory offers, it is very extensive. You can order just about any assay imaginable on any body fluid or tissue. Diagnosis of many of the clinical diseases or disorders that we treat has come to rely on some of these assays.

Let’s take rhabdomyolysis, for example. I’ve been writing about compartment syndrome in the last few posts. One of the byproducts of a full-blown compartment syndrome is muscle breakdown. Two of the well-known substances released from injured muscle are creatine kinase (CK) and myoglobin.

Many textbooks advise the clinician to monitor levels of these substances, since myoglobin is toxic to nephrons and may lead to kidney injury. So most trauma professionals routinely write orders for serial CK, myoglobin, as well as creatinine to monitor renal function.

But most clinicians do not know their laboratory as well as they think. Your lab has the capability to perform commonly requested tests rapidly and on site. But what about assays that are rarely ordered? Does it make sense to have the reagents necessary for these uncommon tests on hand at all times? They degrade over time, and may very well expire before they are ever used, costing money to replace.

So most hospital labs send uncommon assays out to larger labs that perform the test for a large geographic area. But how does the “send out” specimen get to that lab? By courier (if local) or more commonly, by delivery service (if remote). And obviously, this takes time. And some assays are complex and may take hours or days to perform.

At my hospital lab, a serum or urine myoglobin assay is a “send out” test. And if you ask, the lab will tell you that it takes 3-4 business days to get the result. So if you send it out Wednesday, you will have the result the following Monday! Does it make any sense to get serial myoglobins? Or even a single myoglobin test? By the time you get the result, your patient will be treated and gone!

Bottom line: Think about the tests that you order very carefully. If you are ordering something out of the ordinary, check with your lab. Is it a “send out” test? How long does it take to get a result? And more importantly, how expensive is it? These tend to be pricey due to the low frequency of processing.

Then do the math. Is it worth the wait and expense? Or can you get the same information using routine, in house testing? In the case of rhabdomyolysis, serum CK levels are good markers, as is visual inspection of the urine. If it’s any darker than a light yellow, there may be myoglobin present. A quick and dirty way to confirm is some inexpensive testing: a urine specimen that is dipstick positive for blood, and with microscopic analysis shows few if any RBCs usually means myoglobin. Voila! Diagnosis now, not in 4 days.

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