Home > Anaesthesia, Critical Care, Emergency Medicine, Gasclass, Neuro, Prehospital Care, Trauma, Vascular Surgery > Summary and conclusion of June Case (Term 8)

Summary and conclusion of June Case (Term 8)

June 15, 2014

Hi Team!

Thank your great comments and participation in this case. As we mentioned at the start of the case, the idea is not to lecture, but to share ideas and reflect on the generic issues that a case like this might reveal.

I thought I’d finish with a little summary and conclusion of the tricky decision making steps with regards to a case like this. These comments are my own and based on a bit of experience and background reading. As always, summoning help early and asking the experts and keeping up with relevant evidence base is super important. I am not trying to tell you how to do it, my aim is to get you to think about how you would manage a patient like this if you ever needed to.

If you have any further points please tweet us and remember the hashtag #gasclass so everyone can follow you comments.


Day 1: “Should I stay or should I go”

Day 1 posed the challenges faced by a hospital team when there is an incident near the hospital and whether to proceed to scene or stay in hospital preparing to receive the patient.

This created a wonderful discussion on twitter! Seems the general feeling was that if you have no prehospital experience but can be of great value to the patient in hospital then it is probably better to stay in hospital and prepare. Do not underestimate the prehospital environment. Keeping in mind that early basic bystander interventions without any equipment can be life saving at scene. Depending where you work and the availability of both in and out of hospital resources, you need to weigh up (as always) the risks and benefits (not just for the patient involved in the accident, but also considering the duty of care you have to the patients in your department).

I am not aware that you have a legal ability to attend – this might differ from country to country.

Ethically, I would want to ( but again, not leave my hospital patients unattended)

FYI, in this case none of the hospital staff attended the scene because the EMS arrived rapidly.


Day 2: “Unexpected turn of events”

Day 2 posed the challenges faced when a patient, who arrived really stable in ER suddenly deteriorates. In this case the patient deteriorated in the Radiology Department, which poses additional difficulties as a remote site with likely very little resources. A lonely place to be with a critically injured deteriorating patient.

For me there are several important points:

Even BEFORE the patient leaves the ER to go to radiology, an initial thorough clinical (ideally multi-disciplinary) assessment is paramount. Make sure that you haven’t missed anything and the patient IS indeed stable enough to leave the Emergency Department if that’s the plan.

Careful attention to the mechanism of injury is always essential and integral to the patient’s story. Build a picture of “worse case scenario” and actively look for clues and exclude these.

When a patient suddenly deteriorate, this will be stressful! Be aware of how this will impact on human factors, such as your own confidence, teamwork, situational awareness.

Go back to the basics! ABCD! Stabilise and resuscitate. The pilots have a saying in a emergency in flight. They: Aviate, navigate and communicate (in that order). Yes, the diagnosis is important and reversible causes needs to be addressed, but keep to the system. It can be tremendously stressful when all your mind is doing is asking :”what is going on, what did I miss…?” You might not have missed anything. Some pathology takes time to present itself clinically. Keep it simple, start at airway and work your way through the ABCD

Get the patient back to a place of safety: When stuck in the Radiology Department with a deteriorating critical patient, or on the ward, or in outpatients etc. do not hesitate to get the patient back to resus. Sometimes the scoop and run technique is best. As anaesthetic registrars doing ICU we are often called to see unwell patients on the ward. I have often prioritised a rapid transfer to critical care above prolonged interventions in a less than ideal environment.

Day 3: “Okay, back to resus then”

Day 3 took us back to resus and essentially a “re-trauma call”.

It is important to start again. As said above, stick to your system. Don’t assume anything. Try and pick up on the clues. “what has actually changed?”

Do not be afraid to remove the collar while maintaining c-spine immobilisation manually to assess the neck thoroughly. This might not have been done initially and you could miss clues.

If you are planning to perform emergency anaesthesia on this patient it is important to document all found neurological findings before RSI.

Be aware that although there were no signs of a pneumothorax in the primary assessment, this can also evolve with time and especially if there are rib fractures or in this case “a small but of fluid in the right chest underlying a seatbelt injury” (likely some blood), you need to remain vigilant when converting to positive pressure ventilation.

Alway do a glucose level in any patient who deteriorates!

The decision to RSI:

Several people on twitter suggested at this point on returning to the ER the patient should undergo a emergency anaesthesia with Rapid Sequence Induction.

I think at this point the patient is really difficult to manage, agitated / irritable, has dropped his GCS. The temptation would be to “give him something to calm him down” i.e. sedation and reach for the midazolam. This is a possible course of action, however might render the patient slightly less conscious and potentially compromise his airway and leave you in the limbo situation. It is clear he requires more imaging, likely a transfer to a neuro centre and at this point it is unclear whether he will require surgical intervention. Based on predicted clinical cause, I would probably give the patient an anaesthetic at this point.

Again, intubating combative patients with a possible or assumed head injury (or something intracranial going on) is a challenge in itself. More even so if you are a junior anaesthetist.

Trauma patients in cervical collars who are not starved, agitated, hyper or hypotensive  with possible head and chest injuries are not easy anaesthetic customers! It is tricky to assess their airways, pre-oxigination might be suboptimal, you want to maintain cerebral perfusion by not dropping the blood pressure on induction, but at the same time don’t want to increase ICP. Do not embark on emergency anaesthesia without adequate assistance and a robust plan. This is not the time to reach for drugs or equipment you have never used!! Keep it safe and simple.

Spend time preparing kit while maintaining the airway by simple manoeuvres.

Consider using a checklist (I do in any emergency anaesthetic outside of my anaesthetic room).

Optimise your first laryngoscopy. DO NOT leave the collar done up. You cannot intubate someone with a c-collar done up. Open the front of the collar and have someone maintain inline stabilisation. I very seldom put the collar back on after RSI bit maintain neural alignment with blocks, sandbags or towel strapped next to the patient’s head.

If concerned about intracraneal pathology, don’t make it works i.e. prevent secondary brain injury: Prevent hypoxia, hypotension, venous congestion, hypercapnoea, coughing that can dramatically rise ICP…

Use drugs and equipment you are familiar with: If that is propofol and suxamethonium then be it. Let it not be the first time you use ketamine because that is what all the cool kids on twitter seem to use…

And ask for help (early). It might not arrive in time, but it might.

Day 4 “Could it be a traumatic carotid dissection?”

Day 4 threw in a diagnosis: Traumatic carotid dissection. Not something you see every day.

Rightly, everyone stated that all the common reversible causes (tension pneumothorax, bleeding , hypoxia etc.) should first be identified, treated and eliminated as the cause for the polytrauma patient’s clinical deterioration. But remember that you might need to broaden your diagnostic mind and consider something like carotid dissections.

Yes, it is not that common, but several of you twitter-ratie stumbled on it, and I’ve definitely seen it a few times. Although it is rare, it is a definite consideration  in this case and should form part of your differential diagnosis. Also, it can take hour and DAYS to develop so it might be the deteriorating trauma patient on the ward that you are called to several days later….

Patients can present with headache, neck pain, facial pain, transient episodes of blindness (amaurosis fugal) partial Horner’s with miosis and ptosis, hemiparesis, necks swelling, pulsitile tints, deteriorating GCS. As many as 20% of patients present with an ischemic stroke without any warning signs.

The additional challenge that this diagnosis offer is that the treatment is anti-coagulation with heparin and then warfarin…and who of us really feel comfortable with anti coagulating an acute polytrauma patient? I know I don’t. Hence managing and excluding bleeding is essential. Weighing up the risks and the benefits is paramount! And involving specialists is definitely required (even if it is for telephonic advice).

Arranging early critical care transfer for this patient might be the best course of action after you’ve addressed what you can. It is unlikely that a CT angio would be available in small resource limited institutions and starting the process early might save time to definitive treatment. Angioplasty and stent placement might be required if a patient has persistent symptoms and contraindications for anticoagulation. Surgery has a limited role but consultation with vascular surgeons, neurosurgeons, interventional radiology and neurology will be helpful.

Final words:

Your intubated ventilated polytrauma patient gets transferred to a tertiary neuro centre with you as the anaesthetist escorting him by road, you get home at 11pm after what turned out to be a long, long Saturday shift! The patient ends up making a full recovery.

Well, that’s it folks. Hope you guys enjoyed the case and found it useful. As in everything in medicine, everything is a balance between risks and benefits and it’s is seldom easy decisions we face in critical care.

Remember, everyday is a school day!

Till next time!!


Anaesthetics and Intensive Care doctor Oxford UK

Ambulance Pre Hospital Emergency Physician and Helicopter Doctor


%d bloggers like this: