You ultrasound the chest of your shocked patient in resus with fluid refractory hypotension. You see fluid around the heart. The right ventricle keeps bowing inwards, which you recall being described as ‘a little invisible man jumping up and down using the RV as a trampoline’, and you know this is in fact a sign of right ventricular diastolic collapse.
The collapse of the right side of the heart during diastole is the mechanism for shock and cardiac arrest due to tamponade, because the high pericardial pressures prevent the right heart from filling in diastole. This patient therefore has ‘tamponade physiology’ on ultrasound. A quick scan of the IVC shows it is dilated and does not collapse with respiration. This confirms a high central venous pressure (as do the patient’s distended neck veins), also consistent with tamponade physiology.
A formal echo done in resus confirms your suspicion of a dliated aortic root and visible dissection flap, so the diagnosis is now clear. This is type A aortic dissection with tamponade. The patient remains hypotensive and mottled with increasing drowsiness. Cardiothoracic surgery is based at another hospital site 30 minutes away by ambulance.
As the critical care clinician responsible for, or assisting with this patient’s care (emergency physician, intensivist, anaesthetist, rural GP, physician’s assistant, etc.), how do we get this patient to definitive care and mitigate the risk of deterioration en route? Let’s discuss the options using real life case examples, and consider the physiology, the evidence, and the dogma.
Here are four key questions to consider:
1. To drain or not to drain the pericardium?
2. To intubate or not to intubate?
3. If they arrest – CPR or no CPR?
4. How to transfer – physician escort or just send in an ambulance on lights and sirens?
The patient is obtunded with profound shock and too unstable for transfer. The resus team undertakes pericardiocentesis and aspirates 30 ml of blood. The patient becomes conscious and cooperative and the systolic blood pressure (SBP) is 95 mmHg. The patient is transferred by paramedic ambulance to the cardothoracic centre where he is successfully operated on, resulting in a full recovery.
As the patient is unconscious and requires interhospital transfer, the decision is made to intubate him for airway protection. He undergoes rapid sequence induction with ketamine, fentanyl, and rocuronium in the resus room. After capnographic confirmation of tracheal intubation he is manually ventilated via a self-inflating bag. The ED nurse reports a loss of palpable pulse and CPR is started. A team member suggests pericardiocentesis but a senior critical care physician says there is no point because ‘it won’t fix the underlying problem of aortic dissection’ and ’the blood will be clotted anyway’. After a brief attempt at standard ACLS, resuscitation efforts are discontinued and the patient is declared dead.
The patient is hypotensive with a SBP of 90mmHg and drowsy but cooperative. The receiving centre has accepted the referral and an ambulance has been requested. The critical care physician responsible for patient transfers is requested to accompany the patient but declines, on the basis that ‘these cases are just like abdominal aortic aneurysms – they just need to get there asap. If they deteriorate en route we’re not going to do anything.’
The patient is transferred but 15 minutes into the journey he becomes unresponsive and loses his cardiac output. The transporting paramedics provide chest compressions and adrenaline/epinephrine but are unable to resuscitate him.
These cases illustrate some of the pitfalls and fallacies associated with tamponade due to type A dissection.
Pericardiocentesis can definitely be life-saving, restoring vital organ perfusion and buying time to get the patient to definitive surgery. Numerous case reports and case series provide evidence of its utility, even in patients in PEA cardiac arrest(1). The authors of the two largest cases series both used 8F pigtail drainage catheters(1,2).
One key component of procedural success was controlled pericardial drainage, removing small volumes and reassessing the blood pressure, aiming for a SBP of 90 mmHg. The danger is overshooting, resulting in hypertension and extending the underlying aortic dissection which can be fatal (3).
“In the setting of aortic dissection with haemopericardium and suspicion of cardiac tamponade, emergency transthoracic echocardiography or a CT scan should be performed to confirm the diagnosis. In such a scenario, controlled pericardial drainage of very small amounts of the haemopericardium can be attempted to temporarily stabilize the patient in order to maintain blood pressure at 90 mmHg. (Class IIa, Level C)”
Deterioration of tamponade patients following intubation is well described in the literature and the risk is well appreciated by cardiothoracic anaesthetists(5). Once positive pressure ventilation is started, positive pleural pressure is transmitted to the pericardium, where pressures can exceed right ventricular diastolic pressure and prevent cardiac filling. The result is a fall in and possible loss of cardiac output. This is further exacerbated by the addition of PEEP(6). One suggested approach if the patient must be intubated for airway protection but is not yet in the operating room with a surgeon ready to cut, is to consider intubation under local anaesthesia and allow the patient to breathe spontaneously (maintaining negative pleural pressure) through the tube until the surgeon is ready to open the chest(5). Alternatively preload with fluid, use cautious doses of induction agent, and ventilate with low tidal volumes and zero PEEP. However the patient can still crash, so remember that these effects of ventilation on cardiac output in tamponade can be mitigated by the removal of a relatively small volume of pericardial fluid(6).
In cardiac arrest, external chest compressions are unlikely to be of benefit. In a study on baboons subjected to cardiac tamponade, closed chest massage resulted in an increase in intrapericardial pressure. There was an increase in systolic pressure, but a marked decrease in diastolic pressure, with an overall decrease in mean arterial pressure(7).
This would lead to impaired coronary perfusion and would be very unlikely to result in return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC). In the clinical situation described above, it is only relief of tamponade that is going to provide an arrested patient with a chance of recovery.
For patients with cardiac tamponade requiring interhospital (or intrahospital) transfer, it would seem vital therefore that the patient is accompanied by a clinician willing and capable to perform pericardiocentesis in the event of severe deterioriation or arrest en route. This simple life-saving intervention to deliver the patient alive to the operating room should be made available should the need arise.
Patients presenting in shock from cardiac tamponade often have treatable underlying causes and represent a situation where the planning and actions of the resuscitationist can be truly life-saving.
Pericardiocentesis is recommended in profound shock to buy time for definitive intervention. Controlled pericardiocentesis should be performed paying strict attention to SBP to avoid ‘overshooting’ to a hypertensive state in type A aortic dissection. In cardiac arrest, chest compressions are likely to be ineffective and pericardiocentesis is mandatory for ROSC.
The institution of positive pressure ventilation often results in worsened shock or cardiac arrest, and this is exacerbated by PEEP. Where possible, avoid intubation until the patient is in the operating room, or use low tidal volumes and no PEEP. Even then pericardiocentesis may be necessary to maintain or restore cardiac output.
Patients requiring transport who have tamponade should be accompanied by a clinician able to perform pericardiocentesis in the event of en route deterioration.
Mention the term ‘difficult airway’ and many of us will conjure mental images of some kind of distorted anatomy. However, airway management may be ‘difficult’ for a number of reasons, and no internationally agreed definition of the term exists. Given the wrong staff and circumstances, an ‘easy’ airway in your or my hands may indeed become very difficult. In their editorial “The myth of the difficult airway: airway management revisited” (1) Huitink & Bouwman state:
“In our opinion, the ‘difficult airway’ does not exist. It is a complex situational interplay of patient, practitioner, equipment, expertise and circumstances.”
Airways that are anatomically difficult (eg. limited mouth opening, short thyromental distance, large tongue, neck immobility, etc.) and physiologically difficult (hypoxaemia, hypotension, acidosis) are well described among FOAM resources (2-4). In addition to these, a third category of difficulty is well worth considering.
This last category probably surfaces more commonly than realised, particularly outside the operating room.
Imagine attending a cardiac arrest call on a medical ward. The patient is a 70 year old 120 kg male. The nurses have flattened the bed and discarded the pillow to optimise supine position for CPR. Gobs of vomitus splash from the patient’s pharynx with each compression. The wall suction system is disconnected. There is no bougie in the crash cart’s airway drawer. The nearest capnograph is on another floor of the hospital. In this scenario, no matter how excellent the critical care practitioner’s airway skills, this is a damned difficult airway.
I think Brindley’s third category is a term that should catch on, as a way of helping analyse cases that progress suboptimally and to identify factors during pre-intubation checks that can be addressed. It is terminology that I have added to my own Resuscitese Lexicon, particularly for case discussions during morbidity & mortality and airway audit meetings.
I would like to hear the ‘Situationally Difficult Airway‘ become more widely used, as it fills a gap in how we describe this important area of resuscitation practice.
My whole career has been about finding ways to optimise resuscitation. Many others also have the bug. The ‘resuscitationist movement’ is sweeping across Europe, with Katrin Hruska and Femke Geijsel about to run amazing courses for emergency teams in Sweden and The Netherlands. I have the honour of joining Clare Richmond in helping them do that. But first Critical Care in the Emergency Department is going to be run in London one more time.
This course contains the stuff I wish someone had told me as a registrar. A synthesis of my learning points in intensive care, prehospital & retrieval medicine, paediatric critical care, and being a front line ED doc for 20 years.
I’ve been running the course for over a decade, including in London, Birmingham, Basingstoke, Dublin, Stockholm, Sydney and Maribor. Each time I try to improve it, and try to squeeze one or two more learning points in. It’s a tough day – just me and fifty or so critical care cases to talk about. But no-one goes to sleep – guaranteed! Everyone has to work – to talk, think, and interact.
It is of course primarily a clinical course, focusing on optimal clinical practice. But consistent feedback from participants is that they get far more from it: a reassurance that they’re not crazy wanting to do more for their patients, and a way forward for remaining inspired and motivated to make changes to their practice and to their departments.
If you’re able to make it to London next Friday 26th August treat yourself to a day of training you’ll never forget. There are no planned future dates for this course in the UK so get it while you still can!
I’ve always had strong feelings about education. I was an uninspired and underachieving medical student, exasperated at the fact that the preclinical course at my medical school consisted of lengthy lectures about detailed aspects of basic sciences like histology and embryology. To make it worse, the teaching was delivered by basic science PhD students who were required to teach medical students as part of their contract. They taught because they had to, not because they were good at it. In other words, the best way to summarise how I was initially taught to be a doctor is this: my medical training consisted of being taught stuff I didn’t need to know, by people who weren’t doctors, and who didn’t know how to teach.
This frustrated me enormously. It wasn’t until I hit the wards as a senior medical student and then junior doctor that I would occasionally run into enthusiastic and supportive clinicians who were keen to share what they knew. They seemed to be few and far between, but the crumbs they dropped were enough to leave a trail that led me to be determined to become a doctor who could similarly inspire and motivate others to love learning.
Throughout my training I made a consistent observation: a small amount of good education was extremely motivating. The converse was also true – being denied access to education was extremely demotivating. In one department, teaching was continually cancelled due to patient load. When questioned on this, the clinical director stated “teaching is a privilege, not a right”. This influenced me profoundly, because I immediately adopted that phrase as a personal motto, except that I flipped the order of “right” and “privilege”.
A few events have converged this week to remind me of the power of good education. The first, and most important, was when my friend Rob Rogers, a renowned emergency medicine educator who has run courses on how to teach all over the world, tweeted a picture of an interesting ECG.
Rob and his team have inspired so many people with their brilliant education. Faced with a life-threatening ST-elevation MI, Rob chose to share his ECG with his Twitter followers. Later he shared details of his angiogram pre- and post-revascularisation. Now THAT is commitment to education!
The second event this week is that we are running our Sydney HEMS induction course in prehospital & retrieval medicine. This is about as full on as medical education can get, with hours of simulation, testing, and stress exposure. I am constantly amazed at the dedication and hard work of my colleagues who make up the course faculty, and the willingness of the participants to go the extra mile to improve their performance. We have the honour of inviting medics from certain branches of the Australian military to attend the course, and one such armed forces ‘graduate’ of our course recently contacted me:
He attached a document outlining a situation he faced which took my breath away. I’m not yet allowed to share it, but the bravery he showed was awe-inspiring. To think that he credits some of his preparation to the training we gave is truly humbling. It is also a reminder of the enormous responsibility of educators.
We can provide both negative and positive inspiration through our choices in what we say and how we say them, and in the teaching we deliver. As learners those educational experiences shape us and stay with us forever, influencing the choices we make and how we choose to pass on the teaching.
The humbling feedback from my military friend along with Rob’s ongoing desire to educate in the face of life-threatening illness serve to remind us of the power of education, and the responsibility we educators have to share, to inspire, and to provide the highest quality teaching.
Something Rob already seems to be working on, less than a week post-myocardial infarction …
@hayleybsa 8am on the 14th…working on the schedule now…Course is going to be FANTASTIC!
This engaging scene from ‘Code Blue‘ demonstrates a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service team managing a patient with major thoracic haemorrhage. They have done a right thoracotomy and want to clamp the hilum but there’s some kit missing from the pack.
This scene has some great discussion points for prehospital professionals, even if the specific scenario is somewhat unlikely for most people’s practice:
Non-compressible haemorrhage is possibly the biggest single clinical challenge when you’re a long way from hospital
Agitated friends and family can be disruptive – allocate a rescuer to look after them
Having blood products to give is essential
Don’t rely on the memory of individuals, who are fallible, to pack your equipment. “I was sure I put them in” didn’t cut it when the team needed forceps to clamp the pulmonary hilum and stop the bleeding. Checklists are the in thing, for good reason.
Luckily, you don’t need to clamp the hilum (which is tricky) in massive unilateral thoracic haemorrhage. You can just twist the lung 180 degrees on the hilum so it’s upside down. This can prevent further haemorrhage and air embolism.
What’s a hilar twist then?
The hilar twist manoeuvre, as it’s called, is worth learning if you’re a clinician who is prepared to do resuscitative clamshell thoracotomy for penetrating traumatic cardiac arrest. The clamshell is quick and provides excellent exposure(1) and is preferred to lateral thoracotomy(2).
The primary purpose of clamshell thoracotomy in penetrating traumatic arrest is to relieve cardiac tamponade and control a cardiac wound(3). It is well described and continues to save lives in the prehospital setting(4).
However, sometimes you’ll open the chest and the pericardium will be empty (other than containing the heart of course), and there will be massive haemorrhage on one side of the chest. Although most of these patients will be unsalvageable outside a trauma centre’s operating room, it’s worth trying something once you’ve gone to all the trouble of opening the chest. The hilar twist(5) is probably the best option for the non-surgeon, especially when some muppet’s forgotten to pack a clamp.
In order to make the lung mobile enough to twist, it’s first necessary to cut through the inferior pulmonary ligament. This is also known as simply the pulmonary ligament (because there’s no superior equivalent) and sometimes the inferior hilar ligament. It’s not actually a ligament, but an extension of the parietal pleura extending downwards in a fold from the hilum. Some describe it as hanging down from the hilum like a ‘wizard’s sleeve’, which invariably gets a giggle from some of our trainees from the United Kingdom for some reason.
After cutting the ligament completely to the level of the inferior pulmonary vein, the lung is then twisted ‘lower lobe towards you’, ie. lower lobe is rotated anteriorly over the upper lobe until the lung is oriented ‘upside down’. The twisted vessels around the hilum become occluded and further haemorrhage from that side should be limited. Other priorities in the arrested patient will be aortic occlusion, internal cardiac massage, and blood products. Packs may be required to keep the lung from untwisting, and if return of spontaneous circulation is achieved, there is a risk of dysrhythmia, right heart failure, and refractory hypoxaemia.
I’ve only done this on pigs and human cadavers so am not speaking from any reassuring level of experience or competence. The literature is out there to read, and it’s up to you to decide how you want to expand or limit your options when you’ve cracked that chest in an arrested patient.
1. Flaris AN, Simms ER, Prat N, Reynard F, Caillot J-L, Voiglio EJ. Clamshell incision versus left anterolateral thoracotomy. Which one is faster when performing a resuscitative thoracotomy? The tortoise and the hare revisited. World J Surg. 2015 May;39(5):1306–11.
2. Simms ER, Flaris AN, Franchino X, Thomas MS, Caillot J-L, Voiglio EJ. Bilateral Anterior Thoracotomy (Clamshell Incision) Is the Ideal Emergency Thoracotomy Incision: An Anatomic Study. World J Surg. 2013 Feb 23;37(6):1277–85.
By Stuart Duffin Expat Brit, intensive care physician and anaesthetist at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden. Stuart trained in the UK, and spent some time working Australian emergency departments.
One of the most striking things for me about our new/old pan-specialty of critical care, brought into focus by the world-shrinking effects of FOAM and twitter, is just how differently it falls into the domains of the established specialities in different parts of the world. This leads inevitably to comments like, “emergency physicians shouldn’t intubate”, “anaesthetists cant do sick”, “nurses cant be doing such and such”, and so on. All of these statements are clearly equally rubbish because obviously, in certain parts of the world, they do. And they do it really well. Sure there are differences between countries and continents, populations and environments, but when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter where you are, people still get sick, infected, pregnant, run over, stabbed or hit around the head with heavy things.
All over the world, in our previously quite isolated environments, these same ‘selection pressures’ have forced healthcare providers to evolve by the process of convergent evolution. Although obviously not strictly darwinian, the undeniable effects of simultaneous evolution by survival of the fittest-to-practice can be seen.
Convergent evolution is the process by which, in different parts of the world, completely different species have evolved in parallel to fill similar roles and have similar features. It didn’t matter whether it was a deer, a wildebeest or a kangaroo, there was a vacancy for a fairly big animal who liked eating grass and moved in big groups, and someone stepped up.
Unsurprisingly, critical care resuscitationists are also a little different from country to country and from continent to continent. They have different titles and work in slightly different ways. But when you really look at a critical care doc in action, or talk to one, or follow one on Twitter, we are all cut from the same cloth. I would argue that FOAM has created a critical care zoo in which the kangaroos and antelopes, lemurs and monkeys, aardvarks and echidnas and anaesthetists and emergency physicians are all chucked into the same cage. They’re all looking at each other thinking, “you look like me, but somehow not. We seem to do the same stuff, but we’re not identical – it cant be right!”.
In The United States, the idea of an anaesthetist doing a clamshell thoracotomy would be a little strange. In Scandinavia, an emergency physician doing central lines and fiberoptic intubation in resus would be just as eyebrow raising. A Swedish intensivist and anaesthetist spent some time working in Australia as an ICU senior reg. When attending a patient in resus the emergency physician there announced “we need an airway guy”. My colleague answered “I’m the airway guy”. “No an anaesthetist” replied the emergency physican. “I am an anaesthetist!” “No an….” and so it went on.
The effects of this process are of course by no means limited to doctors. Nurses, paramedics and physiotherapists are all part of this still changing ecosystem. A colleague of mine was showing a visiting Australian emergency physician our trauma bay and describing how major trauma is managed here without the involvement of emergency physicians at all. “When it’s really urgent, it’s anaesthesia and surgery” he explained. I wonder how that went down? There is an element of truth to the statement but the words are wrong. It should have been “When it’s really urgent, it’s airway, access, transfusion, invasive procedures and resuscitation thinking”.
The job title of the person who actually holds the knife/laryngoscope/needle and has what it takes to get it done isn’t important. When the push comes to shove and the bad stuff bounces off the fan, it’s more about skillset and mindset, and less about the collection of letters under your name on your badge, or after your name on your CV.
The Spring Seminar on Emergency Medicine is going to Noosa in September 2016!
In case you haven’t been to an SSEM before – this is a boutique Australasian emergency conference run by a not-for-profit organisation. It is squarely aimed at EM clinicans who like to get their hands dirty. The emphasis is on practical stuff: SSEM is legendary for the quality of its workshops.
It is legendary too for its venues! The last three SSEMs have been held in the Barossa Valley, Darwin and Rotorua. The extracurricular activities are brilliant and the conference draws bright, outward-going, active clinicians from all around Australasia.
This year the academic programme has been expanded with keynotes from 3 leading EM figures, deliberately controversial panel sessions and hot topics, and six awesome workshops on Snakebite (in Australia Zoo), Wilderness Medicine (in the National Park), Difficult Ventilation, Emergency Dentistry, Focused Echocardiography and Lung Ultrasound.
Extracurricular activities include a Welcome Reception with celebrity chef Matt Golinski, early morning activities on Noosa Beach, trips to Eumundi Market and the Spirit House Cooking School and a Beach Party Conference Dinner.
The conference starts with a reception in the Boat House on Tuesday 26 September and wraps up at midday on Friday 30 September with Townsville vs Nambour Simulympics.
There are concessional rates for generalists, trainees, nurses and students. Early bird rates apply until 10 July however the workshops are booking out fast so – book now!
Declaration of interest: I have no involvement in this conference, but I wish I was going!
I love education. As a trainee, I was lucky to be guided by a handful of excellent mentors along the path. The truth is however, in many places I worked inspiration and good education were hard to find.
I am driven by the desire to make my trainees and colleagues better than me. As a critical care physician, I can only save so many lives in one career. But as an educator I have an opportunity to influence patient care in regions of spacetime to which I will never have personal access.
A massive investment has gone into my medical education. My parents worked their butts off to allow me to study. State funded university education in England got me my medical degree. Taxpayers’ money paid my salary throughout my training. Most importantly, thousands of patients put their trust in me as I did my best to learn medicine by treating them, sometimes getting it right, often getting it less than optimal. I owe all of them. I owe it to them, and to myself, to make it all count as much as possible.
If I can ignite a spark in a trainee’s mind that inspires them to improve, or share a memorable clinical tip that gets recalled and applied at a critical point in a resuscitation months or years from now, then all that investment, all that sacrifice, is so much more worth it.
Here’s a list of the principles I try to apply, especially when running courses. Underlying all of this is the goal to provide the kind of training I would have loved to have received myself.
Cliff’s Clinical Teaching Tips
Keep it case-based
This allows the nurse, the specialist, and intern to be in the same classroom. When we’re considering patients, everyone can learn something that is relevant to their professional perspective and experience.
Respect the learner
Allow everyone to question the teaching and express their opinion. Never humiliate anyone. The less threatened people feel, the more exploratory their questions will be, and the better they are able to make sense of the information discussed.
Have regular breaks, with food, water, and caffeine
If people have travelled to learn, they need to be protected from fatigue, dehydration, neuroglycopaenia and caffeine withdrawal. If they know you care about these things, they know you care about an effective learning environment, and will be more engaged.
How to make it memorable
Make it fun
Learning is great fun. We should have a good time together. If you’re bored, you won’t learn effectively. Funny or unusual stuff is more memorable, too.
Critical care is emotive. During resuscitation we have powerful interactions with ourselves and with our colleagues, sometimes negatively. Learners who are experienced clinicians have all felt pain or frustration in the resuscitation environment. Addressing these issues, by focusing on what could be done better, from a self, team, environment, or systems point of view frames the clinical teaching in more realistic and more applicable context. Sharing my own feelings about cases I’ve managed shows the learners how similar we all are inside, and I’ll be better able to convince them that they are just as capable of applying what is taught as I am. We can advise learners more effectively how to think and behave if we immerse the teaching in the reality of human experience.
Keep it simple
A quotation often misattributed to Einstein is “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. Resuscitation and critical care concepts, certainly as applied to the initial resus room evaluation and therapies, can all be explained in uncomplicated ways. It behooves any resuscitation educator to adhere to this.
Have a framework that you continually refer back to
Knowing where to ‘store’ new information and how it relates to existing knowledge or other concepts being taught is important for understanding and retention. A classic example of such a framework is the ABCDE trauma assessment, but many more can be created. It also facilitates communication of ideas though mindmaps or note taking via sketchnotes.
This relates to connecting emotionally, as recommended above, but there is more to it. Humans have communicated information and ideas through storytelling since the dawn of civilisation. We are hardwired so that our attention is captured by stories.
Mnemonic tools like acronyms are helpful for information that needs to be rapidly accessed, like the one I made for possible causes of a raised lactate when you’re looking at a blood gas from a patient in the resus room with a lactate of 12 mmol/l.
I’ve been in the privileged position of being able to apply these principles in courses I’ve run in various countries for over a decade. In 2016 I get to do it again in the Netherlands, Sweden, and England. I’m one very lucky educator!
This talk was the opening plenary given at smacc Chicago. The title they gave me was ‘Advice To A Young Resuscitationist. It’s Up To Us To Save The World‘ but I ditched the last half because, as I point out later in the talk, I don’t think it is up to us to save the whole World. Some AV muppetry at the conference centre prevented the smacc team from being able to include the slides, so I’ll post those too at some point. You can hear the talk as a podcast at the ICN or on iTunes