Tag Archives: how to

How To: The Serial Abdominal Exam

How often have you seen this in an admitting history and physical exam note? “Admit for observation; serial abdominal exams.” We say it so often it almost doesn’t mean anything. And during your training, did anyone really teach you how to do it? For most trauma professionals, I believe the answer is no.

Yet the serial abdominal exam is a key part of the management of many clinical issues, for both trauma patients as well as those with acute care surgical problems. 

Here are the key points:

  • Establish a baseline. As an examiner, you need to be able to determine if your patient is getting worse. So you need to do an initial exam as a basis for comparisons. 
  • Pay attention to analgesics. Make sure you know what was given last, and when. You do not need to withhold pain medications. They will reduce pain, but not eliminate it. You just need enough information to determine if the exam is getting worse with the same amount of medication on board.
  • Perform regular exams. It’s one thing to write down that serial exams will be done, but someone actually has to do them. How often? Consider how quickly your patient’s status could change, given the clinical possibilities you have in mind. In general, every 4 hours should be sufficient. Every shift is not. And be thorough!
  • Document, document, document. A new progress note should be written, dated and timed, every time you see your patient. Leave a detailed description of how the patient looks, vital signs, pertinent labs, and of course, exact details of the physical exam.
  • Practice good handoffs. Yes, we understand that you won’t be able to see the patient shift after shift. So when it’s time to handoff, bring the person relieving you and do the exam with them. You can describe the pertinent history, the exam to date, the analgesic history, and allow them to establish a baseline that matches yours. And of course, make sure they can contact you if there are any questions.

How To: Insert A Small Percutaneous Chest Tube

This short (10 minute) video demonstrated the technique for inserting small chest tubes, also known as “pigtail catheters.” It features Jessie Nelson MD from the Regions Hospital Department of Emergency Medicine. It was first shown at the third annual Trauma Education: The Next Education conference in September 2015, for which she was a course director.

Please feel free to leave any comments or ask any questions that you may have.

Related posts:
How To: Insert a regular chest tube for trauma
Pigtail catheters vs regular chest tubes
Tips for regular chest tubes 

The Two-Sheet Trauma Trick

Hypothermia is always a concern in trauma patients. Even the simple act of completely exposing your patient in the trauma room facilitates it. How do trauma professionals balance the need to see everything with the equally important need to keep the patient warm?

The natural reaction is to cover them up. Sheets and warm blankets are the usual tools. But I always marvel that, as soon as the blanket goes on, there’s always a need to examine something or do some procedure. Look at a wound. Insert a urinary catheter. And every time this happens, the blanket comes off.

Here’s a clever way to deal with this problem. Don’t use just one sheet or blanket. Use two! Fold each one in half, so they are each half-length. Place one on the top half of the patient, the other at the bottom, overlapping slightly at the waist. If you need to look at an extremity, fold the blanket that covers it over from right to left (or left to right) to uncover just the area of interest. To insert a urinary catheter, just open the area at the waist, moving the top sheet up a little, the bottom down a little.

Bottom line: Keep your patient toasty! Use the two-sheet (or warm blanket) trick to avoid hypothermia. Remember, patient temperature begins to drop as soon as the clothes come off! And I don’t recommend the use of one-piece inflatable warming blankets (e.g. Bair Hugger) until the work in the ED is complete, because the whole thing has to be removed every time you need meaningful access to the patient.

Related posts:

How To: Retrograde Urethrogram

One of the hallmarks of urethral injury is blood and the meatus in males. The standard answer to the question “how do you evaluate for it?” is “retrograde urethrogram.” Unfortunately, too few people know how to perform this test, and not all radiologists are familiar. Many times it falls to the urologist, who may not be immediately available.

The technique is simple. The following items are needed:

  • A urine specimen cup
  • A tube of KY jelly (not the little unit dose packs)
  • A bottle of renografin or ultravist contrast
  • A 50-60 cc Toomey syringe (slip-tip)
  • A fluoroscopy suite

Pour 25cc of contrast and 25cc of KY jelly in the specimen cup, cap it and shake well. Draw the contrast jelly up into the syringe. Under fluoro, insert the tip of the syringe into the penis and pull the penis toward yourself, pinching the meatus around the tip of the syringe. Slowly inject all the contrast, watching the contrast column on the fluoro screen. Once there is easy flow into the bladder, you can stop the study. If you see extravasation into the soft tissues, stop the study and call Urology.

The advantages to using this technique are:

  • The contrast/jelly mix creates a contrast gel that is less likely to leak from the meatus when injected
  • The jelly makes it easy to insert the catheter if no urethral injury is detected

Normal urethrogram:

Normal urethrogram

Abnormal urethrogram:

Abnormal urethrogram

Keeping Up With Your Literature

I’ve talked a lot about how important (and easy) it is to keep up with the literature in your field. Doing this is critical to staying at the top of your game. I’m posting the link to my short video on how to do this using current technology to make it as easy as possible. 

There are three categories of sources that you should be looking at:

  • Core sources – these contain articles that almost always relate to your area of interest. I read 8 core journals each month.
  • Non-core sources – these journals occasionally contain articles important to your field. I read 15 non-core journals monthly.
  • WTF sources – Yes, WTF! (World TaeKwonDo Federation for those of you who actually don’t know what this means). These are things that are totally off topic, but interesting. They sometimes give you a kick in the head and get you thinking about things that could be important in your field. These are very important! I read 18 WTF sources, most of which are updated daily.

You can download what Scott Weingart calls “show notes” by clicking here. It summarizes and gives some specific recommendations for things discussed in the video. 

If you want to see the full list of what I read every day, click here.

Please feel free to comment and share how you keep up in your field!