Monday, April 11, 2005

Difficult Airway

So as a fellow I usually just help out where I can. I'm at the point in the fellowship where I staff rooms as the attending about twice a week. So today I'm helping out this morning and then this afternoon I figure I can sit in the library and work on a lecture I'm giving to the medical students later this week (another responsibility of my increasing faculty duties).

I'm sort of sleepy there looking at my laptop screen in the anesthesia library... and I hear "Anesthesia Staff Stat to ER!" This is not normal. This is usually our safety system in the OR, if something crazy is happening in the OR and you need emergency help or an extra hand, anyone can call overhead to get someone into the room. Residents, CRNAs, or even faculty anesthesiologists can call out and get help. i.e. "Anesthesia staff stat to OR 12." So to hear this page at all means something isn't going well. This is the first time I've heard this call to somewhere other than the OR. Usually that is reserved for the Anesthesia group pager or the code Blue pager. So I figure I'd better get off my butt and see if they need a hand. I walk quickly down the hall (I never run, because 1.If I fall on my face they'll be two patients instead of one 2.I'm out of shape ) A couple of other staff are headed the same way. One of them is relatively new and she doesn't even know where the ER is so she joins us. We cruise down the stairs, swipe our IDs through the security door and head toward the trauma bays. Quite a few others are there already in addition to the ER people, some various nurses and other doctors.

I look at the patient and you know they're in trouble. In medical circles it's sometimes referred to as FLK... funny looking kid... A small really tiny kid with small receding jaw with a massive overbite. Almost Pierre-Robin like in look (GIS for Pierre-Robin) I know immediately that he's going to be difficult to intubate. Now as misunderstood as I usually claim anesthesiology is, most would agree that in addition to the ENT surgeons, we are airway specialists. I see them take a look with a laryngoscope and they see nothing. They look with a fiberoptic scope and they see nothing... by now they've called ENT and peds ENT for a possible emergent tracheostomy. Peds anesthesia has been called to bring their code box and airway equipment. Lucky they are barely able to mask ventilate the patient. I also notice the scar on the patient's neck indicating a previous tracheostomy. They're still having no luck with using a fiberoptic scope for intubation. Incidentally someone mentions that this "kid" is 28 years old.... something like 60 pounds and change.
He's starting to breathe now. He had stopped breathing earlier for some still unknown reason. Seizures and sleep apnea are mentioned. Since he's breathing now and still maintaining his oxygen saturation we decide to get up to the OR where more instruments (and a more controlled setting) are available.

So we run up and this patient recieves and awake tracheostomy, which is the ultimate in secure airways. Ends up that this "kid" as an unknown syndrome and some history of autism (though lives on his own) and has been trached in the past for losing his airway during a seizure eight months ago.

This is an anesthesiologist's nightmare. We have all sorts of tricks and techniques to control the airway. But sometimes we fail. The trick is knowing when to call for help as a good senior anesthesiology resident did, and when you've tried things and they aren't working to call for a definitive surgical airway when necessary. It's hard to ask for help. In this case I think we saved this guy's life. Now someone just needs to figure out why he's having seizures (already on two anti-seizure medications)


Anonymous said...

Good story. Yeah, he needs a good neuro.

By the way, good luck on the boards. Are you retaking? urgh. that must be painful.

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