How far we have come! It’s now commonplace to intubate trauma patients in the ED using rapid sequence induction followed by orotracheal tube placement. However, 20 years ago we were still gnashing our teeth about safety.
In 1991, the group at UMDNJ Newark looked at 100 consecutive trauma patients with suspected head injury who were paralyzed and intubated in the ED. Half of the intubations were performed by a surgeon, the other half by an anesthesiologist. Fifty seven patients were intubated orally and 40 nasally(!). Three required cricothyroidotomy after failure to intubate due to facial fractures.
The majority of these patients had head scans performed; 59% were positive and 15 required emergent neurosurgical procedures. No patients were found to have a neurologic deficit from the intubation even though seven were eventually found to have cervical spine injuries. Only one patient developed an aspiration pneumonia.
The authors concluded that paralysis and intubation in the ED was safe. It helped facilitate the diagnostic workup because they could control combative patients. Up to that time, the only alternative was heavy sedation, which carried its own risks.
Interesting points on how far we have advanced:
Intubation in the ED did not used to be routine. There was a great deal of anxiety before this procedure
Nasal intubation was still fairly commonplace
The cricothyroidotomy rate was high
Intubation was usually performed by a surgeon or anesthesiologist
CT scan is now the standard screening test for injury to the thoracic aorta. But 20 years ago, we were still gnashing our teeth about how to detect this injury.
An interesting paper was published in the Journal of Trauma 20 years ago this month on this topic. Over a 2 year period, the Medical College of Wisconsin at Milwaukee looked at all patients who underwent imaging for aortic injury. At the time the gold standard was aortogram. They looked at patients who underwent this study and CT, which was not very common at the time.
They had 50 patients who underwent aortography alone and 17 who underwent both tests. Of the 17, 5 had the injury, but only three were seen on CT. There were also two false positives. Sensitivity was 83%, specificity was 23%, with 53% accuracy. The authors concluded that any patients with strong clinical suspicion of aortic injury should proceed directly to aortogram.
Why the difference today? Scan technology and resolution has increased immensely. Also, the timing of IV contrast administration has been refined so that even subtle intimal injuries can be detected. CT scan is now so good that we have progressed from the CV surgeon requiring an aortogram before they would even consider going to the OR, to the vascular surgeon / interventional radiologist proceeding directly to the interventional suite for endograft insertion.
Today, we take for granted that fixing fractures early is a good thing. However, this topic was still under debate 20 years ago. Trauma care has always been prioritized, with life-threatening injuries taking precedence. It was very common for major trauma patients to undergo operation for their torso injuries, and then be deemed “too unstable” to undergo repair of their extremities.
Weigelt et al reported decreased pulmonary complications with early fixation in 1989. A study published in July 1990 looked at 121 early vs 218 late femur fixations with respect to more concrete outcomes. The patients were similar with respect to hypotension, transfusions and associated injuries.
They found that delayed fixation increased pulmonary shunt, especially in patients with more severe injuries, and increased the incidence of pneumonia in older patients. It also resulted in more ICU days and a significantly longer hospital stay in the more severely injured group.
This paper was a valuable addition that began to shape our appreciation for the importance of early fixation of most fractures. Major trauma makes patients sick, but they are in the best condition they will be in for weeks at the time they arrive at the hospital. This makes it the ideal time to take care of injuries that may otherwise contribute to morbidity and mortality.
Reference: Fabian et al. Improved outcome with femur fractures: early vs delayed fixation. J Trauma 30(7):792, 1990.
The pre-hospital concept of “scoop and run” was first popularized in the mid-1980’s. It came about because there was recognition that significant delays were occurring on scene. A big time sink was obtaining IV access. The failure rate for IV starts in the field was 10-40% and typical start times were in excess of 10 minutes!
As a result of “scoop and run”, the emphasis shifted to airway protection, c-spine stabilization and control of external hemorrhage. A quicker alternative to IV access was sought, and the idea of intraosseous access was revived.
IO access was first described in 1941, and was used in children due to the higher degree of difficulty in obtaining IV access in kids. It did not require visualization of the site and could be inserted in moving ambulances, including helicopters.
The authors of this paper looked at IO infusion using a sternal insertion site. This site was chosen due to the belief that only areas with red marrow were suitable. They found that delivery of fluids and drugs was virtually identical to IV. The authors did cite contraindications to using this device, including previous sternotomy, sternal fracture, osteoporosis, and congenital anomalies like pectus.
Ultimately, this paper revived interest in IO access for adults, which has now evolved to easy-to-insert tibial devices that are inserted with a power drill.
Reference: Evaluation of an Intraosseous Infusion Device for the Resuscitation of Hypovolemic Shock. Holcroft, Blaisdell et al. J Trauma 30(6): 652. 1990.
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