When I was a young lad, one of the things that would excite me was stories of pirates and murderous ‘cut-throats’. At the age of ten, the idea of a ‘cut throat’ was somehow synonymous with a quick death. Fast wind forward a decade or so (ahem, well maybe more) and I’m reflecting on some of the more interesting cases of 2011.
One was a young man involved in a ‘glassing’ in the local pub. He presented to the ED via ambulance, maintaining his own airway but with an obvious zone 1 neck injury. Now, I teach in the animal lab on EMST courses and it amazes me how difficult it can be to identify the appropriate place to perform a tracheostomy. We aim for the cricothyroid membrane, but I’ve seen FACEMs bugger it up completely and transect the trachea (even once the oesophagus and damn near severe the vertebral column!)
Anyhow, this chap’s assailant had obviously either been on an EMST course or had performed percutaneous tracheostomies in the ICU – because with just a broken beer glass, he’d managed to make a perfect incision in the victim’s trachea, between 2nd and third tracheal rings. OK, not the cricothyroid membrane, but otherwise a damn near perfect tracheostomy!
So we took him upstairs and performed an awake fibreoptic intubation with a surgeon scrubbed and ready to perform a tracheostomy. And the patient did OK (had an injury to posterior tracheal wall with oesophageal perforation confirmed on oesophagoscopy, but no mediastinitis and injury healed over time in ICU).
So I’ve been thinking about these sort of injuries and how best to manage them with my (limited) kit back in the bush. Although reasonably rare, both blunt and penetrating laryngotracheal injuries present difficulties for the rural GP-anaesthetist…as the airway needs to be secured ASAP.
And this is not a hypothetical – such injuries are not uncommon in the bush – the classic is ‘clothes-line’ injury where a quad or trail-bike rider impacts a fencing wire at speed, sustaining tracheal injury. Add to that ‘robust’ sports, the usual gamut of farming and motor vehicle injuries..so the rural docs needs to have some form of game plan on how to manage these. And the ‘exam answer’ for ANZCA may not be applicable for the rural doctor, with limited equipment/backup.
The danger of course is that attempts at direct laryngoscopy may cause complete tracheal disruption, with subsequent passing of the ETT tube down a false passage, development of subcutaneous emphysema, failed ventilation and a spiral down into demise.
Every now and then, one hears of paramedics just popping a suitably sized ETT tube through the hole made in a traumatic tracheostomy – a fine strategy for the penetrating injury, but not available for blunt injury or small penetrating wounds.
How then to approach this? There isn’t a great deal in the literature and my FANZCA colleagues fall back on the ‘awake fibreoptic intubation’ answer…which is fine in the tertiary centre, but impractical in a small rural hospital.
So, what to do when faced with a patient with tracheal injury and needing emergent intubation (let’s assume they are becoming obtunded or failing to keep SpO2 up). My thoughts?
– direct laryngoscopy. May seem controversial, but this is what I am best at and the equipment is readily to hand (ETT/bougie). However DL risks disruption of the larynx/trachea and a false passage, making further attempts at intubation impossible.
– do a formal tracheostomy under local. Sounds fine, especially if can delegate to a surgeon. If I am in luck there may be an ENT surgeon visiting for a fishing trip, otherwise it’s going to be a messy scrabble with a patient who may refuse to lay flat/be combative. Nasty, but potentially do-able with equipment to hand (betadine-gloves-drape-local anaesthetic-scalpel-lots of gauze-retractors-ETT-lots of light-assistant)
– indirect laryngosocopy using videolaryngoscope. I like this idea, as intuitively seems to involve less mechanical distraction of the larynx…and the KingVision allows easy passage of a bougie, then railroad ETT over the top. Parker-tipped ETT to try and avoid any ‘hang up’ at the arytenoids…
– use an iLMA to maintain oxygenation – then intubate with ETT through this using either AmbuAscope or a malleable intubating stylet such as Bonfils or Levitan. To my mind the Ascope seems to offer an advantage here as could use iLMA as a conduit then follow down to carina…ensuring no false passage – then railroad ETT over the top. The shaped intubating-stylets allow one to visualise the laryngeal inlet..but not to insert down to carina, so potentially will intubate through the cords, but suffer false passage further down.
– topicalise the airway and perform an awake fibreoptic intubation. Preferred technique of my FANZCA colleagues, but it’s hard to do enough AFOIs to keep ‘current’. Now is not the best time for a relative novice to be trying!
What do other’s think?
– any thoughts on above?
– gas induction or classic RSI?
– what kit do you have available to assist you, either now..or planned.
Bring it on…
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I am a Rural Doctor on Kangaroo Island, South Australia with interests in EM, Anaes & Trauma. I am an Ass/Prof in Aeromedical Retrieval with Charles Darwin University and hold senior specialist (retrieval) positions in NT and QLD Avid user & creator of #FOAMed; EMST & ATLS Director, Instruct & Direct on ETMcourse.com; faculty for Critically Ill Airway course and smaccAIRWAY workshops. Opinions expressed on these sites must not be used to make decisions about individual health related matters or clinical care as medical details vary from one case to another. Reader is responsible for checking information inc drug doses etc.