Tag Archives: physical exam

Amaze Your Friends! The “Greasy Blood” Sign

Today, I’m writing about a clinical observation that I’ve not seen documented in the doctor books. Maybe it has and I’ve missed it. You be the judge.

I call this particular observation the “greasy blood” sign. You have probably seen it before in your practice as a trauma professional. It is present when you see blood (usually venous) coming from an extremity puncture wound or laceration. What makes it unique is the presence of what looks like drops of oil floating on the surface of the blood.

Here are some learning points about this “greasy blood” sign:

  • What you are actually seeing is fat from bone marrow issuing from an underlying fracture
  • It is most commonly seen in blunt trauma with an open fracture
  • It generally comes from femur or tib/fib fractures, although I’ve seen it a few times from upper extremity fractures
  • If it is associated with a penetrating injury, it is always a gunshot and typically the underlying fracture is very comminuted

Have you seen this sign in your practice? If so, tweet or comment and share any nuances you’ve experienced.

The Trauma Activation Pat-Down?

Yes, this is another one of my pet peeves. During a trauma activation, we all strive to adhere to the Advanced Trauma Life Support protocols. Primary survey, secondary survey, etc. Usually, the primary survey is done well.

But then we get to the secondary survey, and things get sloppy.

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The secondary survey is supposed to be a quick yet thorough physical exam, both front and back. But all too often it’s quick, and not so thorough. There is the usual laying on of the hands, but barely. Abdominal palpation is usually done well. But little effort is put into checking stability of the pelvis. The extremities are gently patted down with the hope of finding fractures. Joints are slightly flexed, but not stressed at all.

Is it just a slow degradation of physical exam skills? Is it increasing (and misguided) faith in the utility of the CT scanner? I don’t really know. But it’s real!

Bottom line: Watch yourself and your team as they perform the secondary survey! Your goal is to find all the injuries you can before you go to imaging. This means deep palpation, twisting and trying to bend extremities looking for fractures, stressing joints looking for laxity. And doing a good neuro exam! Don’t let your physical exam skills atrophy! Your patients will thank you.

Don’t Ignore The Naughty Bits

A major part of any patient encounter is the physical exam. This is particularly true in the trauma patient, because it allows trauma professionals to identify potential life and limb threatening injuries quickly and deal with them. Unfortunately, we tend to mentally block out certain parts of the body, typically the genitalia and perineum, and may not do a complete exam of the area. I call these areas the naughty bits. For those of you who don’t get the reference, here’s the origin of this phrase:

Specifically, the naughty bits are the penis, vagina, perineum, anus and natal cleft (aka the butt crack or arse crack). These areas are more likely to remain covered when the patient arrives, and are less likely to be examined thoroughly.

In penetrating trauma, a detailed exam of these areas is extremely important in every patient to avoid hidden injuries and to determine if nearby internal structures (rectum, urethra) might have been injured.

Here are some tips for each of the areas:

  • Penis – Always look for any blood at the meatus (or a little blood in the underwear) as a possible sign of urethral injury. This is frequently associated with pelvic fractures.
  • Scrotum – Blood staining here is usually from blood dissecting away from pelvic fractures. Patients with this finding are more likely to need angiographic embolization of pelvic bleeding.
  • Vagina – external exam should always be done. Internal and/or speculum exam should be done in pregnant patients, and those with external bleeding or pelvic fractures
  • Perineum – Also associated with pelvic fracture and significant bleeding. Skin tears in this area are usually lacerations indicating an open pelvic fracture. Alert your orthopaedic surgeons early, and do a good, clean rectal exam (carefully wipe away all external blood). Rectal injuries are common with this finding, and a formal proctoscopic will probably be required.
  • Anus – Skin tears virtually guarantee that a deeper rectal injury will be found. Proctoscopic exam in the OR is mandatory.
  • Natal cleft – Usually not a lot going on in this area, except in penetrating injury. This is the only area of the naughty bits that can be safely examined in the lateral position.

Bottom line: The naughty bits are important because the occasional missed injury in this area can be catastrophic! Do your job and force yourself to overcome any reluctance to examine them.

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.

Don’t Ignore The Naughty Bits

A major part of any patient encounter is the physical exam. This is particularly true in the trauma patient, because it allows trauma professionals to identify potential life and limb threatening injuries quickly and deal with them. Unfortunately, we tend to mentally block out certain parts of the body, typically the genitalia and perineum, and may not do a complete exam of the area. I call these areas the naughty bits. For those of you who don’t get the reference, here’s the origin of this phrase:

image

Specifically, the naughty bits are the penis, vagina, perineum, anus and natal cleft (aka the butt crack or arse crack). These areas are more likely to remain covered when the patient arrives, and are less likely to be examined thoroughly.

In penetrating trauma, a detailed exam of these areas is extremely important in every patient to avoid hidden injuries and to determine if nearby internal structures (rectum, urethra) might have been injured.

Here are some tips for each of the areas:

  • Penis – Always look for any blood at the meatus (or a little blood in the underwear) as a possible sign of urethral injury. This is frequently associated with pelvic fractures.
  • Scrotum – Blood staining here is usually from blood dissecting away from pelvic fractures. Patients with this finding are more likely to need angiographic embolization of pelvic bleeding.
  • Vagina – external exam should always be done. Internal and/or speculum exam should be done in pregnant patients, and those with external bleeding or pelvic fractures
  • Perineum – Also associated with pelvic fracture and significant bleeding. Skin tears in this area are usually lacerations indicating an open pelvic fracture. Alert your orthopaedic surgeons early, and do a good, clean rectal exam (carefully wipe away all external blood). Rectal injuries are common with this finding, and a formal proctoscopic will probably be required.
  • Anus – Skin tears virtually guarantee that a deeper rectal injury will be found. Proctoscopic exam in the OR is mandatory.
  • Natal cleft – Usually not a lot going on in this area, except in penetrating injury. This is the only area of the naughty bits that can be safely examined in the lateral position. 

Bottom line: The naughty bits are important because the occasional missed injury in this area can be catastrophic! Do your job and force yourself to overcome any reluctance to examine them.

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