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Surgical Airway Summary

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Our online walkabout on the emergency surgical airway is coming to an end. I hope you’ve found this helpful, I know I enjoyed doing it. The emergent cricothyroidotomy presents many educational challenges. It is a high stakes, low-frequency procedure performed in the stressful failed airway situation, where time is not on your side.

Preparing yourself for this scenario requires several key technical and non-technical skills outlined in summary here:

  • A working knowledge of airway anatomy and the confidence to quickly identify important anatomical landmarks.
  • Familiarity with the necessary procedural skills – ideally practiced and reviewed in cadaver as well as sim labs so that the muscle memory is there when you need it.
  • Situational awareness: a term that encompasses the logistical, emotional and psychological skills necessary to take appropriate and effective action. In this case it is defined by how effectively you can identify the failed airway and move through the failed airway algorithm in order to put scalpel to skin. It includes the recognition of normalcy bias and focus lock and the danger of repetitive attempts at laryngoscopy to the hypoxic patient,

This exercise is not a substitute for good clinical training, rather it is designed to highlight key concepts by drawing together disparate online resources into a coherent and educational narrative. As the name EMBER Project (EM Bundles & Education Research) suggests, our goal is to provide bundles of educational material and to discover innovative ways to bring it to you. This time. the entire bundle of resources presented over the last couple of weeks, along with commentary and opinions from other physicians and experts will be up on the EMBER Project’s Facebook page and on Storify today for review – and for future reference. Please join the conversation and add your insight. Until then, may the airway be ever in your favor!

 

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May the Airway be Ever in Your Favor!

May the Airway be Ever In Your Favor

May the Airway be Ever In Your Favor

Presentation for the 2014 Airway Course @NYP

This year I’m giving the lecture on emergency cricothyrotomy at our annual airway course. This is a relatively simple procedure, but it’s mastery presents several training challenges. Beyond knowledge of relevant anatomy, and familiarity with a rarely performed procedure, this low frequency event almost always occurs in the high stress/high stakes environment of the failed airway.

Success in this environment requires more than knowledge of anatomy, or familiarity with the steps of a procedure: it demands leadership and teamwork, situational awareness, logistical preparedness, and insight into how the mind works in moments of stress. Unless you can move quickly through the failed airway algorithm and arrive at the point where scalpel meets skin then your technical knowledge is useless.

Over the next two weeks the EMBER Project’s daily posts will highlight these technical and non-technical skills related to the surgical airway, and the environment in which it is performed. We will curate some great online resources, and guide you through a multiplicity of concepts to create a clearly demarcated roadmap to master the material. After the course “The EMBER” (a bundle of online resources) will be posted on Storify in a concise format that will offer a permanent reference and future resource for review.

If you’re attending the course, this will be an essential addition to your learning, and will prep your knowledge base for the upcoming sim and cadaver lab work. For others who want a good review, this is a free and open access resource. Before getting started, I want to thank all the great educators and airway experts out there out there, who have taken the time to make their experience and knowledge available to all of us.

The adventure will get started in earnest tomorrow, so get ready for some cricothyrotomy madness by following here, AND on Facebook or Twitter to get the full program. See you at the head of the bed, and may the airway be ever in your favor!

 

 

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C-Spine Clearance (Hawaiian Style)

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After two wonderful years in Hawaii, I’m returning to New York to take up new clinical and educational challenges.  Before I do, I thought it was appropriate to send one last “postcard from the ED”. This one comes from a case that reminded me that when it comes to decision rules, “there are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Here it is:

A 38 year old surfer comes into the ED by private vehicle. He was driven by a friend to get some pain medication for “spraining my neck”. After being hit by a large wave and tossed around he felt a pop and began to notice severe pain in his neck. At first he tried to paddle back out, but the pain forced him to come to the beach.  After about an hour the pain had not improved and he decided he needed some stronger pain medication.

He had no other injuries, no focal neurologic deficits, and had not been drinking. On examination he had no change in his level of consciousness, he had a normal neurologic exam.  The location of his pain was para-spinal located in the upper cervical muscles by the occiput, and he said “his throat hurt”. He was unable and unwilling to rotate his neck in any direction.

Based on NEXUS this patient could have potentially been cleared clinically.  However, having lived in Hawaii for some time, I have learned to respect the power of the ocean. For me any surf related injury is a high risk mechanism until proven otherwise. If you were not to treat this as a high-risk mechanism and were using the Canadian c-spine rule, you would have gotten to the “able to rotate neck” part before slapping that cervical collar back in place, which is what I did.  Below you can see the reformatted image of a C1 fracture. The patient was accepted for transfer to the trauma center, where he was treated and released with no neurologic deficits.

In hindsight I believe the absence of midline tenderness was due to the extreme amount of soft tissue pain he was in, and the muscular splinting of his unstable C1 fracture. To me it could have counted as a distracting injury however I’m not sure I’ve ever considered para-spinal strain as a distracting injury. Maybe it is a flaw in the language, since the word distracting means “taking your attention elsewhere”. This implies that the pain should be somewhere other than the neck.

Other than mechanism, the real red flag for me was his unwillingness to move his neck. In my experience the alert patient with an unstable c-spine fracture DOES NOT want to move!!!  I’ve also come to realize, working in rural community hospitals here in Hawaii, you paradoxically see more of the isolated serious walk in traumas than you do in a major trauma center. Often the rules of tertiary care practice do not translate. Here are some of the key take away points for me in this case.

North Shore Surfing Accident

Postcards from the Emergency Department (Hawaii)

  1. A patient with a mechanism that is unfamiliar to the physician may be overlooked as high risk due to lack of experience with that type of injury.
  2. For obvious reasons clinical decision rules in trauma are designed using a patient pool which is skewed towards common injury patterns. Unusual mechanisms or patterns of injury unique to your clinical environment (in this case surfing) should be treated as potentially outside the scope of these rules.

There has been some recent trauma literature suggesting that these rules don’t apply to trauma activation criteria patients, This was a reminder that they do not always apply to non-trauma activation patients either. We teach these clinical decision rules, but it is imperative that we also teach the inclusion and exclusion criteria used in the studies, the potential flaws in the human application of these rules, and the limitations of all studies to be generalizable to all patients, so that we can better decide if they apply to the patient in our ED at any given moment.

Finally, if you do use the rules I would consider the combination of NEXUS and Canadian algorithm.  Dr Scott Weingart has a compelling argument and a nice diagram showing how the two can work in synergy.  In this case my patient would have also failed to be cleared clinically based on the combined rule.

The EMBER is a small bundle of free open access resources to deepen your knowledge. Thanks to all the educators out there putting time and energy into teaching others.

http://emcrit.org/podcasts/cervical-spine-injuries-i/

http://www.mdcalc.com/nexus-criteria-for-c-spine-imaging/

http://hsc.unm.edu/emermed/resident_readings/EDArticles_PDF/Trauma/NEJM_03-%20CAN%20C-Spine%20v%20Nexus.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21610391


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