The perimortem C-section (PMCS) is a heroic procedure designed to salvage a viable fetus from a moribund mother. Interestingly, in some mothers, delivery of the fetus results in return of spontaneous circulation.
The traditional teaching is that PMCS should be started within 4-5 minutes of the mother’s circulatory arrest. The longer it is delayed, the (much) lower the likelihood that the fetus will survive.
The reality is that it takes several minutes to prepare for this procedure because it is done so infrequently in most trauma centers. Recent literature suggests the following management for pregnant patients in blunt traumatic arrest (BTA):
- Cover the usual BTA bases, including securing the airway, obtaining access and rapidly infusing crystalloid, decompressing both sides of the chest, and assessing for an unstable pelvis
- Assess for fetal viability. The fundus must measure at least 23 cm.
- Assess for a shockable vs non-shockable rhythm. If shockable, do two cycles of CPR before beginning the PMCS. If non-shockable, move straight to this procedure.
Bottom line: Any time you receive a pregnant patient in blunt arrest, have someone open the C-section pack while you assess and try to improve the mother’s viability. As soon as you complete the three tasks above, start the procedure! You don’t need to wait 4 minutes! And by the way, this is usually a procedure for surgeons only. They have the speed and skills to get to the right organs quickly. If unavailable, do what you need to do but recognize that the outcome may be even worse than it usually is.