Securing the airway of a severely traumatized patient is fraught with difficulties. There can be anatomic difficulties associated with facial and neck injuries. There are often physiologic difficulties from uncommon causes of shock (like pericardial tamponade). But emergency physicians have all the skills needed to safely handle any trauma airway!
Mr. Johnson, a 60-year old man was found at the bottom of 3 steps at home by his wife. He is obtunded with obvious bruising to head. EMS has placed him in a C-spine collar and provided supplemental oxygen. He was swabbed for COVID yesterday due to a new cough and fever and the results are still pending.
A 70-year old female is brought to the ED after lighting herself on fire while trying to light a cigarette. She will have a 15% TBSA burn (upper anterior chest and neck only) with inhalational injury. Preparation for intubation should be an early priority. Her prognosis is poor but survivable and it will be key to discuss goals of care with the family before proceeding with intubation and further burn care. A difficult intubation should be anticipated but is not encountered in this case.
The case will start with an EMS patch indicating that they are 2 minutes out with multi-trauma from a 2 car MVC. Two patients will then arrive within 1 minute of each other. The first will have gone VSA en route from presumed blunt trauma. This patient will not regain a pulse. The second patient will arrive with significant burns from a car fire, and will have GCS of 3 necessitating intubation. All attempts at intubation will be unsuccessful, and a surgical airway must be performed. The team will need to prioritize resources between the two patients and realize that an ED thoracotomy is not reasonable in the first patient.