Multi-trauma case: burn and head injury

This case is written by Dr. Donika Orlich. She is a PGY5 Emergency Medicine resident at McMaster University who also completed a fellowship in Simulation and Medical Education last year.

Why it Matters

Too often in the Emergency Department, we are faced with the challenge of simultaneously managing two patients who each require immediate care. This case does an excellent job of highlighting the following issues that often arise as a result:

  • The importance of delegating any tasks that may be delegated
  • The need to clarify who is taking ownership of a patient’s management when there is help available from others (such as another ED MD or a trauma team leader)
  • How essential it is to call for help early

In addition, this case also features some key medical content, including:

  • The recognition and treatment of cyanide toxicity in the context of a house fire
  • The preparation and management of a potentially difficult airway
  • The need to perform an escharotomy in a patient with circumferential chest burns and high ventilation pressures
  • The importance of checking a blood glucose on all patients with an altered level of consciousness

Clinical Vignette

Patient A: “You are working in a tertiary care ED. A 33 year old male has just been brought in by EMS after being dragged out of a house fire. He has been unresponsive with EMS and has significant burns to his chest, arm, and leg. The etiology of the fire is unclear, but the home was severely damaged.”

Midway through the case, Patient B will arrive.

Patient B (To be stated by EMS in handover): “We have a 55 year old male here who was repeatedly kicked during an altercation outside a bar. His GCS was 15 on arrival, but it just decreased to 13 in the ambulance bay, and he has become combative. We put him in C-spine collar at the scene. He has lots of bruising to face and head, but no other obvious injuries. When he was more cooperative, the patient denied other medical history or allergies initially.”

Case Summary

The case will begin with the arrival of patient from a house fire who has 30%TBSA burns. The team will be expected to recognize the need for intubation and fluid resuscitation. After successful intubation, a second patient will arrive from an altercation outside a bar. He appears to have a blunt traumatic head injury after being repeatedly kicked. The team is expected to recognize hypoglycemia in the context of a minor head injury and provide immediate glucose replacement. During the management of the head injured patient, the burn patient will continue to by hypotensive. The team will need to recognize the possibility of CN toxicity. The patient will also become more difficult to ventilate and will require an escharotomy.

A Note on Technical Requirements

At McMaster, we recently ran this case for our senior residents. It was a huge success! It did, however, require many resources. We used one high fidelity mannequin and one standardized patient actor. We also had two confederate nurses (one per patient). We had three staff physicians as instructors. One instructor was assigned to observing each patient’s management. The third instructor briefly played the paramedic and also coordinated between the two instructors and the sim tech to ensure the case ran smoothly. We ran the case with five residents participating. We had them pre-assigned to roles of trauma team leader, senior emerg resident, senior anesthesia resident, senior general surgery resident, and senior orthopedic resident. (This is often the make-up of our trauma team.)

Download the case here: Multi-trauma Case: Burn and Head Injury

CXR for Patient B found here:


(CXR source:

PXR for Patient B found here:


(PXR source:

2 thoughts on “Multi-trauma case: burn and head injury

  1. Nice case, albeit high cognitive load.

    Just little QA thing – the pelvis Xray is of a female, but your case describes 2 males.
    Learners often spot these seemingly small things, and they can distract from stuff you want them to focus on – in the sim and the debref

    Thanks for all your ongoing hard work in this series



    1. Excellent point! It takes many eyes to make all of the details of simulation cases perfect. Thank you for your contribution. We have updated the case to now include a male pelvis instead of a female pelvis.



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