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.

Author Question: Gun Shot Wound/Severed Brachial Artery

Sandy Asks:

I am writing a scene where my heroine gets shot in the scuffle with the bad guy. If she’s shot in the brachial artery in her left arm, is it conceivable that she’d pass out and bleed a lot? Her firefighter hero is there and immediately rips off his shirt and balls it up to stop/slow the bleeding. He then uses a strip of fabric from another shirt to tie around that and then carries her to a waiting police car to get her to the hospital—in this case, an ER clinic.

How much danger is there of bleeding out? Is the pressure wrap enough? Can she survive? What would be the treatment? Surgery, I assume, and blood transfusions. Would she remain unconscious and for how long?

Jordyn Says:

Yes, it is conceivable that she would pass out and bleed a lot. The brachial artery will bleed briskly and quickly and without direct intervention she could bleed to death in a matter of minutes (3-6 min). I think both methods to control the bleeding need to happen quickly. The firefighter can direct a bystander to apply direct pressure while he fashions the tourniquet as he will have more experience. The tourniquet should be applied above the level of bleeding. After those two measures, I would have the firefighter continue direct pressure at the sight with a compression dressing. This will be better than continuing to hold direct pressure.

To your specific questions:

Without intervention, this character is in great danger of bleeding out. With immediate intervention, she should be all right.

I would do both the tourniquet and the pressure dressing.

Initial treatment by EMS would be to establish IV access very quickly and start supporting the fluid loss with IV fluids. A set of vital signs. Possibly oxygen if her heart rate is really elevated, her oxygen level is low, or she’s exhibiting any kind of distress.

Since she is being transported by a police car, these would then become the initial steps performed in the ER.

Upon arrival to the ER, labs will be drawn to check her blood counts. If low, then blood transfusion would be warranted. Repairing a severed artery will require surgery.

Whether or not the character goes unconscious depends on a lot of factors. A person can just pass out from looking at blood and the stress of being shot in addition to blood loss. If a person passes out from blood loss, they should regain consciousness as soon as their blood pressure is normalized either with IV fluids and/or blood transfusions.

You mention an “ER clinic”. I’m not quite sure what you mean by this, but a free standing ER, urgent care, or an “emergency” room outside a major hospital can have limitations in the type of care they can deliver. So, if it’s such a situation, the patient would need to be transferred to a larger hospital (for surgery, admission, etc).

Best of luck with this story!

911 S2/E2: Determining Death

In Episode 2 of this season’s Fox series 9-1-1, a devastating earthquake has hit LA county.

The team is searching for victims when they come upon a patient where only her lower legs are visible. The paramedic reaches down and assesses her pulse at her foot and determines that she’s dead. Time to move on.

Can you feel someone’s pulse in their foot? Yes, you can. He’s palpating what’s called the dorsalis pedis pulse.

Should it be used to determine if the patient is dead? To this, I would say no. The problem is, when the body goes into shock, it shunts blood toward the central aspects of your body to ensure blood flow to your vital organs so even though the person is alive, you may not be able to feel the pulses in the feet. This is why when checking for life, the use of central pulses is encouraged— for instance the femoral or carotid pulses. Also, this victim could just have two broken legs with compromised blood flow to her feet causing the lack of pulse.

However, I’m not going to give them too much grief for this. In a mass casualty situation, sometimes you do just need to move on and save who you can.

Author Question: Stab Wound to the Abdomen in a Young Girl

Loinnir Asks:

There’s a scene in my story where one of the main characters, a short and slightly underweight 13 year old, is stabbed in the abdomen (I was thinking the epigastric region) with a 4-5 inch blade which is almost immediately ripped out by the perpetrator. Around 25-30 minutes pass before she arrives at the hospital (she is transported by car, not an ambulance as the witnesses don’t have any way to call one).

So, I was wondering how likely she is to survive, the type of treatment and expected length of recovery, and what would the protocol be for the witnesses (her five friends, all minors)?

Jordyn Says:

Thanks for sending me your question.

I think the biggest risk in an underweight (thin child) being stabbed with a 4-5 inch blade (which is fairly long) in the epigastric region is hitting the descending aorta (or one of the large veins). Particularly if the blade is pulled out, there would be little to stem the bleeding. Of course, it would depend on the angle and depth of the blade but this would be one of the more concerning injuries. If the blade is angled up, you could also hit the diaphragm, a lung, and possibly the heart. Angle the blade to the side and you have the spleen on the left and the liver on the right.

Biggest risk of death for this victim would be hemorrhage. Considering she is being transported by car versus ambulance, she would die in just a few minutes if her descending aorta or heart were hit. A lung injury could be survivable if care is given within thirty minutes depending on how much of the lung is deflated.

If you want her to live, I would also avoid hitting the liver or spleen on either side as she would bleed to death before getting to the hospital.

Getting stabbed in this area could also injure the small intestine. This is probably the more survivable injury. It would require surgical repair and a short hospital stay if the surgery went well and there was no other damage. They would have to ensure her bowels were working, she was passing gas, and could tolerate food and fluids before discharging home.

Medical treatment in the ER for a stab wound would be a set of vital signs, continuous monitoring of ECG, oxygen levels, and breathing. IV placement (likely two—one in each arm in the antecubital space), normal saline fluid boluses, labs (particularly those that measure blood levels and organ function of the abdomen) and blood if needed. They’ll check her urine for blood and if she’s menstruating she will get a pregnancy test. She would likely get x-rays of her chest and abdomen as well as a CT scan of her abdomen checking for injuries. Antibiotics would likely be warranted if her intestine had been perforated. Then to the OR to repair any injuries.

I’m not sure what you’re asking as far as the five minor witnesses. I checked with my brother who works in law enforcement and he said there are no legal issues in interviewing a juvenile witness. If your question is concerning medical care, I don’t see a reason for these kids to be evaluated if they are uninjured. At the scene, they would likely be held until parents arrived to pick them up.

Best of luck with this novel.