Author Question: Stab Wound to the Lower Abdomen

Katerina Asks:

My character, Faith, is stabbed with a switch blade (about  8.5 cm long)  in the lower abdomen. I have three questions about this.

1. Can she die from this and how long would it take?
2. Would she have to go to the hospital?
3. If she survives will there be any permanent or semi  permanent  damage?

Jordyn Says:

Hi Katerina! Thanks so much for sending me your question.

You don’t give specifics on exactly where in the lower abdomen your character gets stabbed (left, right, or mid line). If stabbed in the lower abdomen, there are fewer things that can be hit that will cause you to die immediately— generally from blood loss. Though there is that descending aorta to worry about.

The lower abdomen mostly contains intestines, the bladder, and reproductive organs for the female. A person can die from injury to these body parts– most likely from infection leading to septic shock. This would be unlikely should your character receive medical care shortly after the injury.

If you choose to go this route, I would say death from sepsis could be as early as 48-72 hours to as long as a few weeks. On the early side if the character did not receive any medical treatment and there are some nasty germs either on the knife or the intestines are punctured leading to contamination of the abdominal cavity and no surgical repair or antibiotics are given.

Longer if there is surgery and antibiotic therapy but the person is infected with a resistant strain of a bacteria or fungus, or is immunocompromised, etc.

A stab wound of this type should be evaluated in the hospital. Again, this would be up to you as the author and what kind of conflict you want to have for your story.

It’s hard to say if this character would have any lasting effects from the wound as you don’t give specifics as to the injury.

Best of luck with your story.

Author Question: Pedestrian vs. Truck 2/2

Today, we’re continuing with Luna’s question. You can view Part I here. In short, a 24 y/o woman has been hit by a truck throwing her into the air. When she lands, her head hits a concrete divider.

What will the doctor check or say when she first arrives at the emergency department?

If EMS care has been provided as I outlined in the previous post, we would do the following in the ER:

  1. Check vital signs and level of consciousness. If vital signs are abnormal, we would address those immediately. For instance, if her oxygen level is low, then we’ll provide more oxygen and evaluate whether or not the patient needs to be intubated (a breathing tube into the lungs). EMS may have already done this. If so, we’ll check the placement of the tube. If her blood pressure is low address that by giving either more fluids, blood, and/or a vasopressor (which is a medication given via a continuous drip to raise blood pressure). Of note, sometimes giving lots of IV fluid with head injuries is problematic.
  2. Draw lab work. In this case, we would check multiple labs. Blood counts, chemistries, and labs that look at how well the blood is clotting.
  3. Radiology studies. This patient automatically buys herself a full spine series (looking for fractures in the spinal cord) and a head CT (that would look for bleeding– and other things). Other labs and studies would be ordered depending on what other injuries were found. As previously stated, this patient would likely have more than just the head injury. A chest x-ray as well particularly if intubated to check placement of the tube.

Is surgery needed? 

This would be up to you as the writer. Would there be a case in this scenario where surgery might be indicated? Yes. Hitting your head into a concrete barrier could definitely cause some fractures in the skull where bone fragments could enter the brain. This patient would get a neurosurgery consult for sure.

Does she require blood transfusion for the surgery? 

Whether or not a patient gets blood is largely dependent on what their blood counts are. We look at this by evaluating a patient’s hemoglobin and hematocrit or H&H in medical lingo. If low, the patient gets blood. In trauma patients where there is a concern for bleeding, we draw blood every few hours to trend this lab. If it’s dropping, we know the patient might be bleeding from somewhere.

What machines would be used to keep her alive?  

In this case, likely a ventilator (or breathing machine).

How long will she be in the hospital? I am writing for two days.

Unfortunately, I think this patient would be hospitalized much longer than that. A brain injured patient that requires brain surgery would likely be hospitalized for a week or more. A week on the short end if they wake up and are neurologically intact meaning that they can speak, walk, and talk. That they know who they are, where they are, and what time they are in. Also, are their cognitive abilities intact (memory, ability to do simple calculation, etc). If this patient had a simple epidural bleed, then perhaps home in a few days if the above is normal.

The reason I say a week for this patient is the concern for brain swelling surrounding this type of injury. Brain swelling peaks around 48-72 hours and patients generally get sicker when that happens.

Thanks for reaching out to me, Luna! Best of luck with this story.

Author Question: Pedestrian vs. Truck 1/2

Luna Asks:

I hope you can help me with my writing. I need some details for my character.

She is a 24 year old girl that was hit by a 4×4 pickup truck while crossing the road. She was thrown and her head hit the road divider. She was bleeding moderately (not too heavy) from her head injury. She was conscious when her friend sent her to the hospital where later the doctor said she had brain hemorrhage as a result from that accident.

Can I have the details for:

  1. Will she have shock and shortness of breath on her way to the hospital?
  2. What will the doctor check or say when she first arrives at the emergency department?
  3. Is surgery needed?
  4. Does she require blood transfusion for the surgery?
  5. What type of machines would be used to keep her alive?
  6. How long will she be in the hospital? I am writing for two days.

Jordyn Says:

Hi Luna! Thanks so much for sending me your question.

First off, this is a VERY significant trauma to this young woman. There are some specifics missing from your scenario that would be helpful in answering your questions such as how fast the truck was going when it hit your character. The fact that you mention that the victim was thrown indicates a higher rate of speed. Being thrown coupled with the fact that her head hits a very hard surface (the concrete divider) doesn’t bode well for your character.

From your questions, it sounds like you want this to be a more minor injury. If you want this to be a survivable injury (which could be doubtful) you would need to change the nature of this accident and make it less lethal. For instance, the character isn’t thrown a distance. The truck isn’t traveling at a high rate of speed. Or, your character is in a vehicle of her own.

I will answer these questions based on your scenario as is, but keep in mind, this is a very serious accident and if the character survived, she would likely have an extensive hospitalization.

Will she have shock and shortness of breath on her way to the hospital?

You don’t specify in your question whether or not 911 was called and the patient was transported via EMS to the hospital. I would recommend that you do this. You also outline in your scenario that her head wound isn’t bleeding a lot. This is another part of your question that will need some revision. Head wounds do bleed extensively and heavily. If you’ve ever seen a minor laceration to the head you’d be impressed. The scalp is very vascular (meaning lots of blood vessels supply the area and therefore a much higher rate of bleeding).

Yes, this character could be in shock likely related to the blood loss from her head wound, or her head injury, or psychologically from the fact that she’s just been hit by a truck. Keep in mind, the head injury may not be her only injury. Anyone hit by a vehicle and then thrown will likely have other injuries such as broken bones, possible internal injuries, other cuts, lacerations, and abrasions.

If the patient was transported by EMS, they would first provide for C-spine stabilization (placement of a C-collar and backboard) while simultaneously assessing her breathing. Whether or not she’s breathing would be up to you. I could see it either way in this scenario. If she’s not breathing, then they would assist with her breathing. In addition, they would control any visible bleeding by applying pressure and dressings. She would be placed on a monitor to track her vital signs. An IV would be placed and IV fluids would be started.

Since this is a lengthy question, we’ll conclude tomorrow.

Video on Treatment of Excessive Bleeding

Since I get LOTS of questions regarding bleeding, I thought this would be a nice instructional video to post regarding treatment of excessive bleeding.

The post is mildly political at the beginning and does contain some profanity (bleeped out), but at the end it is a great discussion of controlling bleeding— particularly use of tourniquets.

Thanks ZDogg, MD for the great information and keep up the good fight.

The Good Doctor S1/E6: Killing Patients

At some point in every medical person’s career, we face a time when we think or may have altered the course of someone’s life either by a medical error causing serious harm or death.

Truth is, it’s a team effort to keep patients from suffering from these complications. We are all responsible for looking out for one another regardless of scope of practice. For instance, if an EMT sees something the doctor (or new resident) is doing wrong, they should speak up to prevent harm from coming to the patient.

In this episode of The Good Doctor, the staff is dealing with an MCI or Mass Casualty Incident. A bus full of wedding guests has crashed. After several of them are treated, it is discovered that a woman is missing at likely still at the crash site.

A resident leaves with an EMS crew (this in itself is highly unlikely) and finds the missing woman. On scene, the resident diagnosis her with a flailed chest and subdural hematoma (a collection of blood on the brain).

What is a flail chest? It’s when two or more consecutive ribs are broken on the same side creating a free floating segment of the chest wall. This can inhibit the patient’s ability to breathe and also puts the patient at a higher risk of having a pneumothorax (or air collecting outside the lung inhibiting the lung’s ability to fill with air.)

The resident chooses to intubate and then drill a bur hole into the patient’s head for the swelling. Upon arrival to the hospital, the ER doctor notices that the patient’s oxygen level is low (like in the 70s— normal of 90 and above) and pulls back the tube and the oxygen levels increase.

When someone is getting intubated, it’s natural to push the tube in too far and because of the anatomy of the lungs, it will pass into the right lung. It’s later noted in the show that because the resident intubated the right lung and that’s the side that had the failed chest, the patient suffered from persistent hypoxia (or lack of oxygen) and her brain died because of that.

Was this patient’s death preventable?

Putting aside that this patient could have been hypoxic during the time she laid for an extended period of time in the ditch, this death could have been preventable if the EMS crew, who would have been monitoring the patient’s oxygen level (and so should the resident if involved in transporting the patient) had spoken up about the dramatically low level.

When a person is intubated, these are the following checks that happen to ensure the tube is in the right place.

1. Does the chest rise and fall equally. In this patient’s case, the right side of the chest would not have risen that much if several ribs were broken and the lung was deflated which should prompt the doctor to do number two on this list.

2. Are the breath sounds equal? The patient’s lungs are auscultated (listened to with a stethoscope) to determine this. They should be equal. If not, then there is a problem with that patient’s lung (one is deflated, etc) or the tube is in the wrong position. At that point, the tube could have been adjust. If the patient’s breath sounds were severely diminished on the right side (especially after trauma) then a need decompression should have been done on that side as a rescue measure to try and reinflate the lung some.

3. Are the patient’s vital signs improving? This would be primarily the oxygen level. It can take a few second to a few minutes for the patient’s oxygen levels to reach normal but they should improve. If not, then something is wrong with the tube and it should be evaluated.

4. Is there the presence of carbon dioxide measured as end tidal CO2? There are quick measure devices in the field to check that carbon dioxide is coming up through the tube. This also ensure the tube is in the right place. In the hospital setting, we will watch this number continuously.

5. Ultimately, in the hospital setting, an x-ray is done to confirm proper placement in the field but if the above items or done, the tube (or endotracheal tube in this case) should be in the right position.

If the EMS crew would have spoken up and/or if all three of the crew members had been performing their job correctly by monitoring the patient’s oxygen levels (which is a very basic thing to be monitoring) then this patient’s death could have been prevented.

It’s up to every member of the healthcare team to ensure patient safety.

9-1-1 S2/E1: What Can be Diagnosed in the Field?

Fox’s 9-1-1 series is beginning Season 2. The series is enjoyable, but there is some definite leeway the series takes when making certain field diagnosis.

In the first episode of the season, a man gets hit with an old artillery shell in his leg. As noted on the picture on the right, by simply shining a flashlight into the wound, the paramedic declares that his femoral artery has been severed. This could be more believable if there was even some mild pulsatile bleeding, even with a tourniquet in place, at the site which is characteristic for arterial bleeding.

Later in the episode, a picture of the wound is shown with a “live” shell in the anterior thigh. The fact that it is a live shell is made by a firefighter who is former military based on the color. I can’t comment on whether or not that’s true— I’m not military— but the team does make a decent choice (since the patient is stable) to not take him inside the hospital.

When the bomb squad gets there, they are able to take this sweet x-ray in the field. It is a plain, diagnostic x-ray. There is no way for an EMS crew to take an x-ray like this. Can the bomb squad? Yes. So the show is doing it’s due diligence by having the bomb squad perform this task. However, the bomb squad would not need the military to diffuse this— my law enforcement brother who used to work with the bomb squad verified this.

What other things have you seen shows diagnose in the field that they wouldn’t be able to do?

How Fast Can Someone Bleed Out? A Real Life Example with Video

I get asked often as a medical expert and host of this blog how fast someone can bleed out from a variety of injuries. When I say fast, I think many people are doubtful. I’ve said many times that all bleeding can lead to death if not controlled, whether venous or arterial.

Recently, Bo Johnson,  a friend of mine who is an ER nurse and avid outdoors man had a very close call with nearly bleeding to death. This story does have a happy ending (thank heavens.)

Bo was riding his bike to his children’s school while carrying a razor scooter in one hand. The scooter became caught in his bike and when he fell, his neck landed on the edge of the scooter, severing his right internal jugular as well as a large muscle. What follows is video of the bleeding before surgery that Bo graciously gave me permission to post here. WARNING: The following video is a graphic representation of active bleeding.

Photo Courtesy of Bo Johnson

Keep in mind, this is a large vein, and not an artery. However, the bleeding is still quite brisk and if uncontrolled would be deadly. If it had been arterial, the blood would be a brighter red in color and would spurt from the wound, and would be more difficult to control.

Bo spent two hours in surgery to repair the injury. The jugular vein could not be repaired so was tied off. The jugular vein on the other side of the neck will hopefully compensate. He spent one night in the hospital and should be back to work helping to heal others in about a month.

All who know Bo are so thankful that he is going to be okay after this freak accident. I personally publicly thank him for allowing me to share his story, video, and photo with you so you can see just how significant bleeding can be.

Speedy recovery, my friend.