Multi-Trauma: Blunt VSA and Burn

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

This case is an excellent example of the challenges faced in Emergency Medicine. Not only are learners faced with a worst-case airway scenario, but they must also manage two critically ill patients at once. In particular, it draws attention to the following:

  • The need to plan for and manage resources appropriately when faced with two critically ill patients simultaneously
  • The importance of recognizing and adequately preparing for a difficult airway
  • The acknowledgement of a failed intubation/ventilation scenario requiring expedient placement of a surgical airway

Case Summary

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.

Clinical Vignette

Before first patient:

You are working in a tertiary care trauma center. EMS patch: We have a 50ish M unbelted driver in a head-on MCV at about 60km/hr. He was ejected from the vehicle and found about 30m from the crash site with a GCS of 3. He has an obvious head injury, torso injury and unstable pelvis, which we’ve bound. Initially had RR 40, O2 85% on NRB, HR 150 and a questionable femoral pulse. Since then, he’s been pulseless. We’ve been en route about 5 minutes and should be there in about 2 min. He’s received 1mg Epi so far with no shocks advised x2. Smells of EtOH, but no other known history. There was one other car involved that caught on fire, so you’ll probably get them, too, if they survive. Please prepare for this patient.

Upon arrival of second patient:

EMS Handover: This 30ish male belted driver was in a head on MVC with both cars going ~60km/hr. His car was on fire when we got there, and he’s got 2nd/3rd degree burns everywhere. We found him outside the car, so he must have self-extricated. His GCS has been 3 the entire time with us. He’s tolerating an oral airway. His last vitals were HR 120, BP 130/80, RR 30, O2 95% NRB

How to Run the Case

At McMaster University, we successfully ran this case with our PGY4 residents. To do so, we had two confederate nurses at the bedside (one nurse per patient). We also had dedicated sim techs running each mannequin. Finally, we had three faculty instructors. One instructor to observe the management of each patient, and one instructor to play the role of the arriving paramedic and to coordinate between the two instructors and sim techs. We are able to run the case with four of our emergency medicine resident learners playing the roles of a trauma team (one team leader, one senior emerg resident, one senior anesthesia resident, and one surgical resident). It went very well and received positive feedback from the learners. Of note, this case is ripe with opportunity for incorporating other learners. In particular, inter-professional education using ED nurses, RT’s, and learners from other services could work as well.


Download the case here: Multitrauma Cric and Blunt VSA Case

Cardiac U/S for Patient 1 found here*:

FAST for Patient 1 found here:


ECG for Patient 2 found here:


(ECG source:

Pre-intubation CXR for Patient 2 found here:

Normal CXR Male

(CXR source:

PXR for Patient 2 found here:


(PXR source:

Post-intubation CXR for Patient 2 found here:

Normal Post-Intubation CXR

(CXR source:

Cardiac U/S for Patient 2 found here*:

FAST for Patient 2 found here*:

no FF

Lung U/S for Patient 2 found here*:

*All U/S images are courtesy of McMaster PoCUS Subspecialty Training Program.

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: