The Trauma Professional's Blog
What Would You Do? The Contaminated Patient

Here’s some food for thought. Read through the scenario below, as well as the questions under it. I’m interested in some comments from prehospital providers, physicians and nurses in the ED on what you would do in this situation. 

Scenario: Paramedics call ahead to activate your trauma team for a young male who was ejected from his car during a motor vehicle crash. He was quickly extricated and was found to be in pulseless electrical activity (PEA) arrest. IVs were inserted and the Lucas automated CPR device was attached. The patient is immobilized and will arrive at your hospital in 5 minutes.

You assemble your trauma team and are patiently awaiting when the medics arrive. The patient / Lucas / backboard are rapidly transferred over to the ED stretcher and mechanical CPR continues. At that point, you are overwhelmed by the odor of gasoline, and you note that the patient’s clothing is saturated with liquid.

What would you do? 

Here are my questions for you:

  • Do you move the patient or keep him in your trauma bay?
  • What if your decontamination area is a short/moderate/longer distance from your ED?
  • What if this situation involved a farmer in arrest who smelled strongly of pesticide? Any different?
  • Or someone covered with mysterious white powder?
  • How do you balance patient survival and team safety?
  • What kind of performance improvement activities will be needed with regard to the team? The prehospital providers?

This discussion is not suited to the 140 character limitation of Twitter, so please click the Comments link below and let me know what you think. I’ll give my take on this next week.


The Three Strikes And You’re Out Airway Rule

Rapid airway control is key in critically injured trauma patients. But too many times, I’ve seen trauma professionals take far too much time to establish one. Here’s a good rule of thumb to use in these situations.

After pre-oxygenating the patient, your first pro gets a crack at it. They generally have the most time available, often 3-5 minutes before sats begin to drop.

In the unlikely situation that they are not successful, strike 1. Stop trying and resume bagging the patient. At this point, someone (trauma surgeon, lead medic) must get the crich set out. Then the next most experienced intubator gets a shot.

If they are not successful, strike 2. Resume bagging and open the crich set.

The most experienced intubator now gets their chance, using any advanced technology available. No success even now? Strike 3, use the crich set!

Bottom line: We should never allow more than 3 airway attempts, and sometimes clinical conditions will dictate fewer tries. Examples that come to mind are severe brain injury patients (hypoxia is bad) and patients who do not recover from oxygen desaturation when they are bagged. Don’t lose track of time and the number of attempts!


Trauma Surgeons And PTSD??

A number of studies have documented post-traumatic stress disorder in our trauma patients, pre-hospital providers, and combat veterans. A new study now suggests that PTSD symptoms are present in 41% of trauma surgeons(!). Can it be true??

The study was carried out using an email questionnaire that was sent to all EAST and AAST members. Respondents were directed to an online questionnaire that polled them for basic demographics, as well as a series of questions using a well-established PTSD checklist scale, the PCL-C.

Here are the factoids:

  • 1104 questionnaires were distributed, and 453 were complete enough for analysis (41%)
  • Respondents tended to be younger (68% < 50 years old), male (76%) and white (80%)
  • The majority worked in Level I (71%) urban (90%) academic centers (81%) with resident coverage (83%)
  • 85% took at least 4 in-house calls each month, 27% had 2 weeks or less of vacation each year (!), and 81% believed that trauma surgery was more stressful than other surgical subspecialties
  • 40% of respondents had PCL scores consistent with PTSD (!)
  • The only independent predictor of having PTSD symptoms was managing 5 or more critical cases while on call

Bottom line: Hmm, be skeptical of this one. Yes, it does seem to show some possible issues with PTSD in a select group of trauma surgeons. However, I don’t believe this is easily generalized, and my personal contact with surgeons around the country does not really bear this out. The survey methodology, response rate, and the skewed demographics raise some serious questions about the quality of this data. And can self-reporting of PTSD symptoms from a group of trauma surgeons really be reliable?? It does appear that a subset of surgeons who work at very busy urban centers may be at risk, and this certainly deserves further scrutiny. But this study does not really apply to the majority of surgeons practicing trauma care in this country, who don’t work in that kind of environment.

Related posts:

Reference: Unveiling posttraumatic stress disorder in trauma surgeons: A national survey. J Trauma 77(1):148-154, 2014.


Acute Ethanol Intoxication And The Banana Bag

It’s one of those time honored treatments that most hospital-based providers are familiar with. The banana bag, reserved for intoxicated patients presenting to the ED or admitted to the hospital. They’ve been around so long, we just take them for granted. But like most things that have become dogmatic, they are due to be questioned from time to time.

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A banana bag is a proprietary mix of “good” stuff, including electrolytes and vitamins, especially thiamine and magnesium. The exact content varies from hospital to hospital. Thiamine and other B vitamins give the resulting solution the characteristic color, hence the term “banana.”

Does it actually do good things like ward off Wernicke’s encephalopathy and megaloblastic anemia? A paper from Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx prospectively evaluated a series of intoxicated people entering their ED. They drew vitamin B12, folate, and thiamine levels to see if they were deficient enough to even need vitamin supplementation.

Here are the factoids:

  • These folks (only 77 patients) were very drunk! Average BAC was 280mg/dL.
  • Vitamin B12 and folate levels were not critically low in any patient
  • Thiamine was low in 15% of patients, but none had clinical evidence of a deficiency
  • Later review of prior visits revealed that some patients with low levels had received a previous banana bag within 1 month. Did it do any good?

Bottom line: Most of our intoxicated patients are not vitamin deficient, and don’t need supplementation. The real kicker is that we almost never really try to find out if the patient might be a chronic abuser and potentially at risk. We just hang the bag. Remember, everything we do in medicine has a potential downside. And if the patient really doesn’t need a banana bag in the first place, there is no benefit to balance that risk. The next time you ask for that little yellow bag, think again!

Related posts:

Reference: Vitamin deficiencies in acutely intoxicated patients in the ED. Am J Emerg Med 26(7):729-795, 2008.