Category Archives: PHARM

Prehospital and Retrieval Medicine

Hilar Twists & Human Error

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.

Hilar Twist

 

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.

References

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.

3. Wise D. Emergency thoracotomy: “how to do it.” Emerg Med J. 2005 Jan 1;22(1):22–4.

4. Davies GE, Lockey DJ. Thirteen Survivors of Prehospital Thoracotomy for Penetrating Trauma: A Prehospital Physician-Performed Resuscitation Procedure That Can Yield Good Results. The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care. 2011 May;70(5):E75–8.

5. Wilson A, Wall MJ Jr., Maxson R, Mattox K. The pulmonary hilum twist as a thoracic damage control procedure. The American Journal of Surgery. 2003 Jul;186(1):49–52.

Louisa in London – Prehospital Lessons from LTC2015

The London Trauma Conference remains up there on my list of ‘must go’ conferences to attend. It marks the end of the year, fills me with hope and inspires me for the future. Unfortunately this year I was torn between the conference and the demands of clinical directorship so I could only get to the “Air Ambulance & Prehospital Care Day”. At least this way I’m saved from the dilemma of which sessions to attend!
So what were the highlights of the Prehospital Day? For me, they were Prehospital ECMO,’Picking Up the Pieces’, and the REBOA update.

Prehospital ECMO
Professor Pierre Carli gave us an update on prehospital ECMO. Professor Carli (not to be confused with the equally awesome Professor Carley) is the medical director of Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente (SAMU) in Paris. They’ve been doing prehospital ECMO in Paris since 2011 and the data analysed over three years reveals a 10% survival to hospital discharge rate. We know from the work in Asia that successful outcome following traditional cardiac arrest management and ECPR is related to the speed of the intervention. Transposing the time to intervention from his 2011 – 2013 data onto the survival curve that Chen et al produced explains why the success rate is limited:

LTC2015

The revised 2015 process aims to reduce the duration of CPR, reduce time to ECMO and therefore improve survival to discharge rates. They are doing this by dispatching the ECMO team earlier.

The eligibility criteria for ECPR is also changing; patients >18 and <75years, refractory cardiac arrest (defined as failure of ROSC after 20min of CPR), no flow for < 5 minutes with shockable rhythm or signs of life or hypothermia or intoxication, EtCO2 > 10mmHg at time of inclusion and no major comorbidity.

Already there appears to be an improvement with 16 patients treated using the revised protocol with 5 survivors (31%) – although we must be wary of the small numbers.
A concern that was expressed by the French Department of Health was the fear of a reduction in organ donation with the introduction of ECPR – it turns out that rates have remained stable. In fact the condition of non heart beating donated organs is better when ECMO has been instigated; the long term effects on organ donation are being assessed.

I’m without doubt that prehospital ECMO/ED ECMO is the future although currently in the UK our hospital systems aren’t ready for this. If you want to learn more then look at the ED ECMO site or book on one of the many emerging courses on ED ECMO including the one that is run by Dr Simon Finney at the London Trauma Conference, or if you want to go further afield you could try San Diego (although places are fully booked on the next course).

Picking Up the Pieces
The Keynote speaker was Professor Sir Simon Wessely. He is a psychiatrist with a specialist interest in military psychology and his brief was to describe to us the public response to traumatic incidents. He has worked with the military and in civilian situations. After the 7/7 London bombings the population of London was surveyed: those most likely to be affected were of lower social class, of Muslim faith, those that had a relative that was injured, those unsure of the safety of others, those with no previous experience of terrorism and those experiencing difficulty in contacting others by mobile phone. Obviously there are many factors that we cannot influence however on the basis of the last risk factor our response to incidents has changed – the active discouragement to make phone calls has been changed to a recommendation of making short calls to friends and relatives.
The previous practice of offering immediate psychological debriefing to those involved in incidents was discounted by Prof Wessely – his research demonstrated that this intervention was not only not required but could actually result in harm: only a minority have ongoing psychological distress that can benefit from formal psychological input, which should occur later.
The approach that should be taken is to allow that individual to utilise their own social networks (family, friends, and colleagues) and to accept that in some cases the individual may not want or need to talk. This has led to the development of the Trauma Risk Management (TRIM) system which provides individuals within organisations that are exposed to traumatic events the skills required to identify those at risk of developing psychological problems and to recognise the signs and symptoms of those in difficulty. To a certain extent we naturally do this for our peers – I have spent many a night sitting in the ‘Good Samaritan’ pub with colleagues from the Royal London Hospital and London’s Air Ambulance – but having a more formal system is probably of benefit to enable those who have ongoing difficulties to access additional support.

REBOA update
Finally, the REBOA update – Resuscitative Endovascular Balloon Occlusion of the Aorta. One year on, Dr Sammy Sadek informed us that there are now more courses teaching the REBOA technique than there are (prehospital) patients that have received it. Over the last year only seven patients have qualified for this intervention in London, far fewer than they had anticipated. Another three patients died before REBOA could be instigated. All patients had a positive cardiovascular response. Four of the seven died from causes other than exsanguination. Is it worth all the effort and resource to deliver this intervention when such a select group will benefit?

Obviously there was much more covered in the day, this is just a taste. If you’ve never been to the London Trauma Conference then I definitely would recommend it and even if you have been before there are so many breakout sessions now there is always something for everyone.

More on the London Trauma Conference:

Merry Christmas and see you next year!

Louisa Chan

Be Like That Guy – Dr John Hinds

JHbannersm

 

The critical care and #FOAMed community lost our friend Dr John Hinds a few days ago.

We’re in the business of sudden death. As prehospital, emergency, acute medicine and intensive care clinicians, facing the reality of the tragic loss of a living person, loved by their friends and family, is our day job. This makes me think we shouldn’t really have any reason to be ‘shocked’ or ‘surprised’. But we have every right to be sad.

The news came in the same week as the tragic Flight for Life Helicopter Crash in Colorado, bringing us another unwelcome reminder of the dangers of prehospital work. My HEMS colleagues and I are always mindful of the possibility that every time we get in the helicopter it could be our last, and I’ve no doubt John appreciated this reality when responding on his motorcycle.

I admired John as he was the quintessential resuscitationist. He was not bound by specialty or location in his passion for excellence in life-saving medicine. He was a master (and innovator) of advanced prehospital emergency medicine in a region where it still barely exists. He was supportive of emergency physicians providing emergency anaesthesia. He performed the first thoracotomy for more than a decade in one hospital, prompting a review of systems, equipment and training and bringing specialties together to embrace multidisciplinary trauma management. He inspired our friends across the world with his approach to intensive care patients.

Two weeks ago John and I gave two of the opening talks at the SMACC conference in Chicago. My talk went first – entitled ‘Advice to a Young Resuscitationist’. I attempted to list a number of tips that could help a resuscitationist become more effective at saving lives while surviving and thriving in our often traumatic milieu. The talk will be uploaded soon, and I’ve listed the pieces of advice below. What strikes me now like a slap across the face with a large wet fish is the realisation that John exemplified every one of these characteristics and habits:

1. Carve your own path that takes you on a richer path than that worn by trainees in a single specialty
John was an anaesthetist, an intensivist, and prehospital doctor.

2. Never waste an opportunity to learn from other clinicians – leave your ego at the door. See any feedback as an opportunity to learn and to improve, no matter how painful it is to receive.
Despite being among the best in his field, John would on occasion discuss challenging cases and ask if we could think of anything else that should have been done (our answer being, without exception, “no”).

3. Have the confidence and self-belief to perform actions you are competent to perform when needed, to avoid the tragedy of acts of omission.
John’s amazing talk on “crack the chest – get crucified” (when no-one else would) shows how he embraced this mindset: do what needs to be done – with honourable intentions – and manage the consequences later.

4. You can’t save every one, but you can make each case count. When a case goes wrong you need to change something – yourself, your colleagues or the system.
John was a super-agent of change wherever he operated. One beautiful example is how in one hospital the thoracotomy tray ended up being named after him!

john-thoracotamysm

5. Caring is so critical to what we do, and is one of the most important things to patients and their families.
As Greg Henry taught me (quoting Theodore Roosevelt) : ‘Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care’

John was gentle, kind, and humble. So many of his tributes remark on his compassion and dedication to patients.

6. Choose your colleagues & your environment well. Greater team cohesiveness is protective against burnout and compassion fatigue.
John was proud of the teamwork he enjoyed with his ICU colleagues, and worked with forward thinking colleagues who contribute significantly to #FOAMed.

7. Strive for balance in your life and your work. Consider part time working or mixing your critical care with a non-clinical or non-critical care interest.
John was revered and loved within the world of motorcycle racing, a passion he managed to combine with his flair for critical care.

8. Train your brain to be aware of and to utilise strategies that protect it against cognitive traps and avoidable performance limitations under stress – learn the hacks for your MINDWARE.
Many of us now introduce stressors into our simulation training to help us learn to deal with the adrenal load of a difficult resuscitation. But I doubt many of us can hope to achieve the intense focus and concentration under pressure that is required of motorcycle racers. John sent me a link to this video of racer Michael Dunlop a few weeks ago with the comment ‘How about this for a scare!’

9. Maintain perspective. It’s not all about you or your resus room.The most effective resuscitationists save lives when they’re not there. They work on the systems – the processes, the training, the governance, the audit, the research.
John was a brilliant educator and systems thinker. The care given at the roadside, in the ED, the ICU and the operating room at many sites is better because of the teaching he gave and the approaches he developed.

10. Understand that everything you say and do in a resuscitation casts memorable impressions in trainees’ minds like the tossing of pebbles into a pond, whose ripples reach out and out to affect so many future lives and deaths in other resuscitation rooms.
You can imagine the obstacles and personalities John faced when trying to improve care in the environments in which he worked. But through it all he remained a gentleman. Always constructive, always collaborative, always supportive. I’ve never heard him say a bad word about any named individual or criticise another specialty. He truly embodied the non-tribal spirit of SMACC, which sets an example for us all to aspire to, and will influence future resuscitation room behaviour in far-reaching locations.

11. Behave as you would want to be remembered, and be mindful of the extent of the ripples in the pond. But don’t let that put you off throwing the pebbles – embrace the challenge of the highs and lows and above all enjoy the ride, for it is awesome.
In just 35 years of life John saved the lives of many and changed the lives of many more. He knew how to throw pebbles and wasn’t afraid to point out the lack of emperor’s clothes around many traditional aspects of medical practice. And that smile seen in all the pictures of him shows there’s no doubt John enjoyed the ride, and it was awesome. Thanks to his wit, intelligence, teaching, charm, and resuscitation brilliance, he helped us enjoy it all the more too.

I spent a lot of time preparing my talk ‘Advice to a Young Resuscitationist’. It’s clear to me now that I needn’t have bothered. Sharing the stage with John, I could have saved everyone’s time by simply saying: ‘Try to be like THIS guy’.

I am extremely privileged to know him, to have learned from him, and to have shared some moments from his days at smaccUS.

We will mourn, we will remember, and we will honour him by being the best resuscitationists we can.

You can also honour him by signing the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance petition

Pre-SMACC mini RAGE

Currently the RAGE Podcast site is recovering from a cold, so here are the show notes for the pre-SMACC mini RAGE episode released June 2015.

Here is the podcast

And here are the references:

SMACC Conference

It’s a knockout

GoodSAM
GoodSAM App

Oxygen therapy
AVOIDthis2

AVOID: Air Versus Oxygen in ST-Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction.

HOT or NOT trial: HyperOxic Therapy OR NormOxic Therapy after out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (HOT OR NOT): a randomised controlled feasibility trial.

Helicopter Emergency Medical Services
Survival benefit of a physician-staffed HEMS assistance for severely injured patients

Willingness to pay for lives saved by HEMS

Intraosseous access
Intraosseous infusion rates under high pressure: a cadaveric comparison of anatomic sites.

Intraosseous hypertonic saline: myonecrosis in swine

Intraosseous hypertonic saline: safe in swine

Discussion post about intraosseous hypertonic saline at Sydney HEMS

Handstands
Handstands: a treatment for supraventricular tachycardia?

Impact of a modified Valsalva manoeuvre in the termination of paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia

Handstands keep you awake

 

The next RAGE Podcast will air late August / early September

Post-arrest hypothermia in children did not improve outcome

Many clinicians extrapolate adult research findings to paediatric patients because there’s no alternative, and until now we’ve had to do that with post-cardiac arrest therapeutic hypothermia after paediatric cardiac arrest.

However the THAPCA trial in the New England Journal of Medicine now provides child-specific data.

It was a multicentre trial in the US which included children between 2 days and 18 years of age, who had had an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest and remained comatose after return of circulation. They were randomised to therapeutic hypothermia (target temperature, 33.0°C) or therapeutic normothermia (target temperature, 36.8°C) within 6 hours after the return of circulation.

Therapeutic hypothermia, as compared with therapeutic normothermia, did not confer a significant benefit with respect to survival with good functional outcome at 1 year, and survival at 12 months did not differ significantly between the treatment groups.

These findings are similar to the adult TTM trial, although there are some interesting differences. In the paediatric study, the duration of temperature control was longer (120 hrs vs 36 hrs in the adult study), respiratory conditions were the predominant cause of paediatric cardiac arrest (72%), and there were only 8% shockable rhythms in the paediatric patients, compared with 80% in the adult study.

The full text is available here.

Therapeutic Hypothermia after Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest in Children
N Engl J Med. 2015 Apr 25


Background: Therapeutic hypothermia is recommended for comatose adults after witnessed out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, but data about this intervention in children are limited.

Methods: We conducted this trial of two targeted temperature interventions at 38 children’s hospitals involving children who remained unconscious after out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Within 6 hours after the return of circulation, comatose patients who were older than 2 days and younger than 18 years of age were randomly assigned to therapeutic hypothermia (target temperature, 33.0°C) or therapeutic normothermia (target temperature, 36.8°C). The primary efficacy outcome, survival at 12 months after cardiac arrest with a Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, second edition (VABS-II), score of 70 or higher (on a scale from 20 to 160, with higher scores indicating better function), was evaluated among patients with a VABS-II score of at least 70 before cardiac arrest.

Results: A total of 295 patients underwent randomization. Among the 260 patients with data that could be evaluated and who had a VABS-II score of at least 70 before cardiac arrest, there was no significant difference in the primary outcome between the hypothermia group and the normothermia group (20% vs. 12%; relative likelihood, 1.54; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.86 to 2.76; P=0.14). Among all the patients with data that could be evaluated, the change in the VABS-II score from baseline to 12 months was not significantly different (P=0.13) and 1-year survival was similar (38% in the hypothermia group vs. 29% in the normothermia group; relative likelihood, 1.29; 95% CI, 0.93 to 1.79; P=0.13). The groups had similar incidences of infection and serious arrhythmias, as well as similar use of blood products and 28-day mortality.

Conclusions: In comatose children who survived out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, therapeutic hypothermia, as compared with therapeutic normothermia, did not confer a significant benefit in survival with a good functional outcome at 1 year.

Don’t just pre-oxygenate: have an Oxygenation Strategy

A key component in the planning of intubation is pre-oxygenation. Recently apnoeic oxygenation during laryngoscopy has been adopted too. These are just two components of an overall oxygenation strategy to consider when intubating the critically ill. Some patients will require proactive preparation of the components of successful post-intubation oxygenation, especially those with severe lung pathology like ARDS.

Here’s a handy list of things to consider when planning a peri-intubation oxygenation strategy. Some people like their airway stuff to begin with ‘P’, so I’ve obliged:

oxygenation-strategy

CPR in Pectus Excavatum

nussSome pectus excavatum patients have a metal ‘Nuss bar’ inserted below the sternum which can make chest compressions more difficult. In those without one, standard compression depths compress the left ventricle more than in non-pectus subjects, and might lead to myocardial injury.

This has led to a recommendation in the journal Resuscitation:

Until further studies are available, we recommend strong chest compressions, according to the current guidelines, in PE patients with a sternal Nuss bar and, to minimize the risk of myocardial injury, we suggest a reduced chest compression depth (approximately 3–4 cm) at the level of lower half of the sternum in PE patients who have not had corrective surgery.

 

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation in pectus excavatum patients: Is it time to say more?
Resuscitation. 2014 Dec 10.[Epub ahead of print]

Esmolol for refractory VF

Already well publicised on social media, the team at Hennepin County published a retrospective comparison between patients with refractory VF who received esmolol with those who did not(1). The results are impressive and I look forward to further studies on this.

I work in an ED in a hospital with no cath lab and no access to extracorporeal life support, limiting our options for patients who remain in shockable rhythms despite ACLS interventions. We now have esmolol available in our resus room. You might want to keep it in your list of options for ACLS-refractory VF, which might also include double sequential external defibrillation(2) and even stellate ganglion block.

The dose of esmolol used was: loading dose 500 mcg/kg, followed by infusions of 0, 50, or 100 mcg/kg/min

An important point to note in the esmolol study is that almost all patients received high-quality mechanical CPR with the combined use of an impedence threshold device to augment venous return and cardiac output. The authors “speculate that this additional hemodynamic support may be essential given the hypotensive effects of esmolol.”

1. Use of esmolol after failure of standard cardiopulmonary resuscitation to treat patients with refractory ventricular fibrillation
Resuscitation. 2014 Oct;85(10):1337-41


INTRODUCTION: We compare the outcomes for patients who received esmolol to those who did not receive esmolol during refractory ventricular fibrillation (RVF) in the emergency department (ED).

METHODS: A retrospective investigation in an urban academic ED of patients between January 2011 and January 2014 of patients with out-of-hospital or ED cardiac arrest (CA) with an initial rhythm of ventricular fibrillation (VF) or ventricular tachycardia (VT) who received at least three defibrillation attempts, 300mg of amiodarone, and 3mg of adrenaline, and who remained in CA upon ED arrival. Patients who received esmolol during CA were compared to those who did not.

RESULTS: 90 patients had CA with an initial rhythm of VF or VT; 65 patients were excluded, leaving 25 for analysis. Six patients received esmolol during cardiac arrest, and nineteen did not. All patients had ventricular dysrhythmias refractory to many defibrillation attempts, including defibrillation after administration of standard ACLS medications. Most received high doses of adrenaline, amiodarone, and sodium bicarbonate. Comparing the patients that received esmolol to those that did not: 67% and 42% had temporary return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC); 67% and 32% had sustained ROSC; 66% and 32% survived to intensive care unit admission; 50% and 16% survived to hospital discharge; and 50% and 11% survived to discharge with a favorable neurologic outcome, respectively.

CONCLUSION: Beta-blockade should be considered in patients with RVF in the ED prior to cessation of resuscitative efforts.

2. Double Sequential External Defibrillation in Out-of-Hospital Refractory Ventricular Fibrillation: A Report of Ten Cases.
Prehosp Emerg Care. 2015 January-March;19(1):126-130


Background. Ventricular fibrillation (VF) is considered the out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OOHCA) rhythm with the highest likelihood of neurologically intact survival. Unfortunately, there are occasions when VF does not respond to standard defibrillatory shocks. Current American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines acknowledge that the data are insufficient in determining the optimal pad placement, waveform, or energy level that produce the best conversion rates from OOHCA with VF.

Objective. To describe a technique of double sequential external defibrillation (DSED) for cases of refractory VF (RVF) during OOHCA resuscitation.

Methods. A retrospective case series was performed in an urban/suburban emergency medical services (EMS) system with advanced life support care and a population of 900,000. Included were all adult OOHCAs having RVF during resuscitation efforts by EMS providers. RVF was defined as persistent VF following at least 5 unsuccessful single shocks, epinephrine administration, and a dose of antiarrhythmic medication. Once the patient was in RVF, EMS personnel applied a second set of pads and utilized a second defibrillator for single defibrillation with the new monitor/pad placement. If VF continued, EMS personnel then utilized the original and second monitor/defibrillator charged to maximum energy, and shocks were delivered from both machines simultaneously. Data were collected from electronic dispatch and patient care reports for descriptive analysis.

Results. From 01/07/2008 to 12/31/2010, a total of 10 patients were treated with DSED. The median age was 76.5 (IQR: 65-82), with median resuscitation time of 51minutes (IQR: 45-62). The median number of single shocks was 6.5 (IQR: 6-11), with a median of 2 (IQR: 1-3) DSED shocks delivered. VF broke after DSED in 7 cases (70%). Only 3 patients (30%) had ROSC in the field, and none survived to discharge.

Conclusion. This case series demonstrates that DSED may be a feasible technique as part of an aggressive treatment plan for RVF in the out-of-hospital setting. In this series, RVF was terminated 70% of the time, but no patient survived to discharge. Further research is needed to better understand the characteristics of and treatment strategies for RVF.

Difficult airways can’t be reliably predicted

This paper1 proves what Rich Levitan has been saying (and writing) for years – that there is no method of prediction of difficult intubation that is both highly sensitive (the test wouldn’t miss many difficult airways) and highly specific (meaning those predicted to be difficult would indeed turn out to be difficult). Most importantly, this means one should always have a plan for failure to intubate and failure to mask-ventilate regardless of how ‘easy’ the airway may appear.

This study of a large prospectively collected database captured anaesthetists’ clinical assessment of likelihood of difficult intubation and difficult mask-ventilation, and compared them with actual findings. These studies are always difficult, due in part to the lack of standard definitions of difficult airways, but the take home was clear – the large majority of difficulties were unanticipated and not suspected from pre-operative clinical assessment.

This issue was brilliantly summed up by Yentis in a 2002 Editorial2:

I dare to suggest that attempting to predict difficult intubation is unlikely to be useful – does that mean one shouldn’t do it at all? To this I say no, for there is another important benefit of this ritual: it forces the anaesthetist at least to think about the airway, and for this reason we should encourage our trainees (and ourselves) to continue doing it.”

1. Diagnostic accuracy of anaesthesiologists’ prediction of difficult airway management in daily clinical practice: a cohort study of 188 064 patients registered in the Danish Anaesthesia Database
Anaesthesia. 2014 Dec 16. doi: 10.1111/anae.12955. [Epub ahead of print]


Both the American Society of Anesthesiologists and the UK NAP4 project recommend that an unspecified pre-operative airway assessment be made. However, the choice of assessment is ultimately at the discretion of the individual anaesthesiologist. We retrieved a cohort of 188 064 cases from the Danish Anaesthesia Database, and investigated the diagnostic accuracy of the anaesthesiologists’ predictions of difficult tracheal intubation and difficult mask ventilation. Of 3391 difficult intubations, 3154 (93%) were unanticipated. When difficult intubation was anticipated, 229 of 929 (25%) had an actual difficult intubation. Likewise, difficult mask ventilation was unanticipated in 808 of 857 (94%) cases, and when anticipated (218 cases), difficult mask ventilation actually occurred in 49 (22%) cases. We present a previously unpublished estimate of the accuracy of anaesthesiologists’ prediction of airway management difficulties in daily routine practice. Prediction of airway difficulties remains a challenging task, and our results underline the importance of being constantly prepared for unexpected difficulties.

2. Predicting difficult intubation–worthwhile exercise or pointless ritual?
Anaesthesia. 2002 Feb;57(2):105-9

High flow systems for apnoeic oxygenation

nascaniconApnoeic oxygenation during laryngoscopy via nasal prongs has really taken off in the last couple of years in emergency department RSI, and is associated with decreased desaturation rates in out-of-hospital RSI.

More effective oxygenation and a small amount of PEEP can be provided by high flow nasal cannulae with humidified oxygen (HFNC)

A logical step in the progression of this topic is to consider HFNC for apnoeic oxygenation, and Reuben Strayer wrote about this nearly three years ago.

In a Twitter conversation today, Dr Pete Sherren highlighted a new article describing its use in anaesthesia for patients with difficult airways. This is labelled Transnasal Humidified Rapid-Insufflation Ventilatory Exchange (THRIVE). A reply from Dr Neil Brain points out that when used in kids, the bulkiness of the apparatus may get in the way of bag-mask ventilation (if that becomes necessary).

But does HFNC apnoeic oxygenation confer any advantages over standard nasal cannulae?

In an apnoeic patient, 15l/min via standard cannulae should fill the pharyngeal space with 100% oxygen, and you can’t improve on 100%.

HFNC provide some continuous positive pressure, but this may be cancelled by the necessary mouth opening for laryngoscopy.

One issue with apnoea is of course a rise in carbon dioxide with consequent acidosis. The authors of the THRIVE paper (abstract below) point out that in previous apnoeic oxygenation studies, the rate of rise of carbon dioxide levels was between 0.35 and 0.45 kPa/min (2.7-3.4 mmHg/min), whereas with THRIVE the rise was 0.15 kPa/min (1.1 mmHg/min). They suggest that continuous insufflation with high flow oxygen facilitates oxygenation AND carbon dioxide clearance through gaseous mixing and flushing of the deadspace.

So should we switch from standard nasal cannula to high flow cannulae for apnoeic oxygenation? I think not routinely, but perhaps consider it in patients:

(1) with pressure-dependent oxygenation (eg. ARDS) although I’m not sure any CPAP effect would be sustained during laryngoscopy

and

(2) in patients with significant acidosis in whom a significant rise in carbon dioxide could be detrimental (eg. diabetic ketoacidosis).

I look forward to reading more studies on this, and to hearing from anyone with experience of this technique in the comments section.

Transnasal Humidified Rapid-Insufflation Ventilatory Exchange (THRIVE): a physiological method of increasing apnoea time in patients with difficult airways.
Anaesthesia. 2014 Nov 10. doi: 10.1111/anae.12923. [Epub ahead of print]


Emergency and difficult tracheal intubations are hazardous undertakings where successive laryngoscopy-hypoxaemia-re-oxygenation cycles can escalate to airway loss and the ‘can’t intubate, can’t ventilate’ scenario.

Between 2013 and 2014, we extended the apnoea times of 25 patients with difficult airways who were undergoing general anaesthesia for hypopharyngeal or laryngotracheal surgery. This was achieved through continuous delivery of transnasal high-flow humidified oxygen, initially to provide pre-oxygenation, and continuing as post-oxygenation during intravenous induction of anaesthesia and neuromuscular blockade until a definitive airway was secured. Apnoea time commenced at administration of neuromuscular blockade and ended with commencement of jet ventilation, positive-pressure ventilation or recommencement of spontaneous ventilation. During this time, upper airway patency was maintained with jaw-thrust.

Transnasal Humidified Rapid-Insufflation Ventilatory Exchange (THRIVE) was used in 15 males and 10 females. Mean (SD [range]) age at treatment was 49 (15 [25-81]) years. The median (IQR [range]) Mallampati grade was 3 (2-3 [2-4]) and direct laryngoscopy grade was 3 (3-3 [2-4]). There were 12 obese patients and nine patients were stridulous. The median (IQR [range]) apnoea time was 14 (9-19 [5-65]) min. No patient experienced arterial desaturation < 90%. Mean (SD [range]) post-apnoea end-tidal (and in four patients, arterial) carbon dioxide level was 7.8 (2.4 [4.9-15.3]) kPa. The rate of increase in end-tidal carbon dioxide was 0.15 kPa.min(-1) .

We conclude that THRIVE combines the benefits of ‘classical’ apnoeic oxygenation with continuous positive airway pressure and gaseous exchange through flow-dependent deadspace flushing. It has the potential to transform the practice of anaesthesia by changing the nature of securing a definitive airway in emergency and difficult intubations from a pressured stop-start process to a smooth and unhurried undertaking.