All posts by careflightcollective

Podcast #3 – Introducing Blair

Finally, we decided to record someone. Dr Andrew Weatherall with a new contributor, Dr Blair Munford. 

So we always meant to include the occasional podcast. Finally it might happen. This episode features Dr Blair Munford, whose career in prehospital and retrieval medicine started back in the mid-80s when flight suits probably required shoulder pads and big hair. Blair should be dropping by pretty regularly but this is an introduction with a reflection on a bit of history and a few tales of a life in retrieval (all de-identified and with clearance previously provided).

Anyway, it’s a long history (if you want to get some sense of it if you drop by CareFlight’s publications page you can see him way back at the start, around the time he was kicking off with descriptions of the CareFlight stretcher bridge in 1990).

Les Chatfield
Actual line up of potential multi-patient retrieval transport vehicles when Blair started.

Anyway, here’s the various ways to get the podcast.

Right click and choose save as to download the podcast. (That’s control-click if you’re on a trusty Mac.)

Of course you could just find the podcast over at iTunes here.

Or the rss feed is here.


Intro and outro music is here under Creative Commons via the Free Music Archive. The intro is from ‘Only Instrumental’ by Broke for Free. The outro is ‘Lewd’ by Just Plain Ant.

The image was via flickr Creative Commons and posted by Les Chatfield (and is unaltered here).

Simple Systems for Getting Things Done in Retrieval

Well this time around we welcome a new contributor. Dr Shane Trevithick is a retrieval doctor with many years experience covering prehospital, interhospital and coordination work when he’s not being an emergency doctor. He’s got a bit on simple systematic approaches that get the job done. 

One of the exciting things that practicing medicine out of a helicopter does is make you a “Rock Star” of the medical world.  Your colleagues and the general public are amazed by your method of arrival on scene, the ensuing dramatic interventions, the sexy uniform, your appearance on the evening news and your general confidence back in the hospital when you can manage dramatic medical problems which seem much easier when they are not trapped upside down in wreckage.

The problem with being a Rock Star performing in a band is that to continue being the Rolling Stones of Medicine [Ed: we would not suggest this reference is in any way a sign of author age] you feel compelled to keep releasing new albums regularly.  This can be a problem, especially with social media, as developments in medicine do not keep pace with the need to tweet and podcast and you are at risk of grabbing the latest study or technique involving patient plumbing and announcing this to the world as the next big thing in the world of Helicopter Rock Band Medicine.

This does tend to mean that you can gloss over some of the basic things which really make a difference to your medicine and your patients. Just like a Rock Star will be completely familiar with the basic things that makes playing their instrument possible, it helps if you can really nail the basics.

So here are a few tips that work for me to do a better job as a retrievalist in whichever team I’m working in.
Have a Plan

A good plan when you approach a patient makes a big difference, especially for an interhospital retrieval. This makes a huge difference to the smoothness of how your retrieval will flow and reduces your risk of making an error by omitting something.  This is a bit like having a checklist but I don’t quite use it like that because really a checklist involves a bit of call and response.  It’s not quite a strict list, more like having a systematic approach to reduce the risk of error.  If you have the same pattern to how you do things you get much quicker and slicker and you are much less likely to miss something.

It took me a lot of years to work out I didn’t have a consistent system.  And when I analysed some the mistakes and complications I had I realised they came about because, like a good anaesthetic registrar would, I modified what I did to fit the Paramedic I was working with, rather than communicating a system that would ensure I didn’t miss things.  If I had actually had any system to do the job myself then I would have avoided a lot of problems.

So here’s the system I created for myself. It might work for you, or might just prompt you to think through what system would work best for your brain.


A: Airway

  • Check ETT Size and measurement at a fixed point (e.g. teeth).
  • Check ETT Security – that means connections and how well it is tied/taped. I almost always find myself fixing something about security.
  • Check ETT Site – on an X-ray.

duncan c

B: Breathing

  • How well is the patient breathing? It’s a seemingly simple step but yes, I still remind myself.
  • What are the ventilator settings? Got it, now match them (with the transport ventilator). I tend to work with paramedics who make logistics and practicalities in a brilliant fashion. It always seems that just as I get this step done they are ready with a patient slide to transfer the patient onto the stretcher.

duncan c2

C: Circulation

  • What’s the IV access? Secure that well too.
  • What about the arterial line? Critically ill patients being moved should have this so now is the moment to make sure it’s connected, working and zeroed. This usually matches up with when my friendly paramedic is miraculously also up to the exact bit where I should be helping with the monitoring.


D: Drugs

  • Think “I need enough sedation for 3 times the anticipated length of transfer” and make sure you’re ready (plus see the bit below).
  • Also have a think about what things you have handy as downers (mostly sedation and analgesia) and uppers (like metaraminol) which might just come in handy if you get the downers bit not quite right (or for other reasons of course).

Bart Everson

E: Everything Else

  • Do you have all the equipment you brought with you?
  • Do you have the notes?
  • Do you have any scans?
  • Do you have ALL the equipment you brought with you?
  • Do you have any patient belongings, either the material ones or the relatives that also belong to them that you might be bringing?
  • No, really, do you have ALL the equipment?


Now, about that sedation

Yes, I gave this it’s own bit because it is really important. Let’s assume you’re highly skilled at drug-assisted intubation. After that there is the post intubation phase, whether you have intubated the patient yourself or whether the patient comes already intubated.

I think it is really important to make a couple of distinctions in retrieval.  One is you are giving “a Retrieval” and NOT “an Anaesthetic” or “a Sedation”.  An Anaesthetic is an art form so important there is an entire medical specialty devoted to it.  But it is basically focussed on having someone pain free, unconscious of what item number is being performed on them, and then woken to a state of bliss in a a calm quiet environment surrounded by nurses fussing over you.  Usually woken relatively quickly after the item number as well.

This does not apply to retrieval.  In a retrieval you do not want your patient to wake up.  Especially over that last speed hump on the roads leading to the hospital.  With apologies to ICU that your retrieval patient will take a day longer to wake up than someone they lightly sedated you have to remember it is not a “sedation” it is a “retrieval”.

There is very little fussing (doctor dependant) and a lot of shaking up/moving/noise/vibration/stimulation.  When I was a retrieval registrar no one discussed this with me and since I was very comfortable to treat people with morphine and midazolam either together or separately, with propofol, (ketamine hadn’t come into use again when I was a registrar) and with fentanyl I just kept running whatever the hospital had chosen assuming that since they were a hospital they had correctly chosen the right sedation for the right patient.  It was also quicker and easier to just keep running whatever they started as we didn’t have to go through the entire fuss of drawing up new drugs.

I am now, with experience, absolutely sure that this is not best practice.  Now I don’t use propofol at all for a retrieval – it is an ideal anaesthetic drug which makes it very poor for A Retrieval. Of course that is only my opinion born of experience with no published data I am aware of (there is a study for someone) however I can promise you that performing a “retrieval” after intubation requires only two drugs for maximum benefit:  Separate infusions of fentanyl and midazolam.  If you are running two inotropes and only have one pump left I will allow you to mix them together but the ideal concentrations are 1000mcg fentanyl in 50mL and 50mg of midazolam in 50mL.  Run them at 10x higher doses than you would use in ICU so you need to think about starting at 200-400mcg/hr fentanyl and heading north and 5-10mg/hr of midazolam.

And if you arrive and your patient is light and coughing on the tube, if their haemodynamics will tolerate it just give them substantial loading doses of these drugs, say 0.1mg/kg midaz and 2mcg/kg fentanyl and then start your high dose infusion.  I can promise you this will be the best tolerated, most cardiostable way of performing “A Retrieval”.

Just remember the gotcha – as your helicopter starts to land at the hospital it will shake violently for 30 seconds or so.  This will cause your patient to wake up and extubate themselves at the one time you can’t go out of  your seatbelt to fix the problem.  Remember to bolus before landing.


So there you go.  Some of the basics that can help you be the Rock Star you want to be.



All the images here are via Creative Commons on flickr and are unchanged here and put up by Izzy by the Sea, Duncan C, ThoreauDown and Bart Everson.

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Just a Prick – Things that Might Just Work with Kids IVs

Putting a cannula in kids can be… well, an experience. Dr Andrew Weatherall has a collection of tips and tricks that might just be useful. 


Cannulas. Little people. Not always a match made in heaven. At the joint I work doing kids’ anaesthesia, we often note that they are the great leveller because it doesn’t matter how special you’re feeling, you’re just one lousy cannulation day away from feeling very, very mortal.

They are sort of essential for prehospital and retrieval work though. The thing is that we know that if you’re not working in a designated paediatrics job, the chances are that the little sprocket end of the market is by far the group you see the least. Which is not ideal for gaining and retaining skills.

So short of approaching random families in the street to see if the kids have always felt like their life was missing a cannula and would they like you to help with that (and that is a terrible start-up idea, don’t do that),  you have to make your best of the opportunities you have and draw on thoughts from other people.

So collected here are a bunch of things that help me get those little cannulas in. It’s not an exhaustive list of everything everyone has ever come up with of course. It’s just stuff that works in my hands that I’m sharing, partly in the hope that other clever people will chip in with suggestions in response. There must be some experts out there that we just need to poke enough to make them vomit up their wisdom.

I’m even going to leave out the “give them an anaesthetic and get them to sleep” one because it feels a little like cheating for this scenario.  And for the purposes of this post I’m not going into ultrasound stuff because that’s a whole extra thing. Let’s just put on record that if you’re cannulating for retrieval give it a strong thought.

So in a “not necessarily the most sensible order” kind of way, here’s how I’d think through that whole cannulation palaver:

1. What’s my aim here?

Knowing why you’re bothering with that cannula might seem like a dopey place to start but it sort of determines a bunch of decisions that follow. If you’re in a prehospital setting and you’re thinking of the cannula to get analgesia happening, do you have options you can start with first (intranasal or methoxyflurane etc) that will treat the clinical problem in the short-term and buy you time (plus help the kid, family and you) before getting to the cannula you might need long-term?

Are you adding one as a precaution for transfer? Is that the best choice for the patient and you? If it’s not time-critical do you have time for local anaesthetic options to do their thing?

Do you need the sort of urgent access that might befit an intraosseous option, then quick resuscitation and then an attempt at an IV once there are actually veins that have actual circulating volume in them to work with?

In this setting, it might well be that the IV is exactly what you need of course. But making that an explicit step in your thinking is a good thing. It makes you really prioritise the vital steps for management of the patient.

2. What’s my limit?

This flows from point 1. How many attempts would you consider before you try something new (like a different form of access, or asking someone else to have a go)? If it’s a cannula that must be done, your limits are going to be different than if you have nothing to start with. If you’re in a retrieval, rather than prehospital setting through there might be lots of clever people who can help (or who could do it while you do things that only you can do).

Setting some sort of soft limit where you will stop and reassess does stop you getting into the hole that comes with “I have to get this in” to the point where you forget the primary needs of the patient and it becomes mostly about pride. I’ve been there. A pride hole helps no one.

I don’t think you run the risk of mentally setting up with an assumption that your attempt will go wrong by having that limit either. It’s just about keeping whatever the primary goal of care (which is almost never the cannula itself, but what you can provide with the cannula) foremost in your mind.

Limit Vandys
Thinking and prep time might just save you a bit of time later

3. Super prep

Preparation is pretty much everything here.

The Patient

And whoever is helping them obviously but mainly the patient. If you’re with an awake patient, then telling them what you’re going to do and why is a pretty important place to start. The style that people employ for this can vary but one thing I’d be pretty firm on is that you can’t win by being dishonest. If it’s likely to hurt, don’t promise it won’t. If they’ll still feel pushing (like when you’ve used local anaesthetic cream), probably warn them. Let them know if you’re going to get someone to do the work of keeping a limb still. Explain steps as you go.


If you can, choose to work in a position you find comfortable. Removing any degree of strain from your own posture just makes it easier to keep your later movements refined and precise. Not always possible, but working at the right height or even sitting down can make all the difference.

Look Everywhere

Way too often over my career I’ve gone to put a cannula in a spot because it seems convenient and later realised there was a much more accommodating vein somewhere else. There is something even more convenient than a vein that is close to where you’re standing. The vein that will actually help you out that’s all the way over there. Over that other side.

Check all 4 limbs, every time you can.

The Kit

Stuff for cleaning, stuff for doing, stuff for securing. Have it all ready to go (and that includes a back-up cannula ready in case you need to move on to another attempt). Once it’s in you want to be able to have it secured as quickly as possible. And once you’re under way you don’t want to be distracted by needing to reach for anything else.

A really good clean with an alcohol swab has an additional purpose. Sometimes it highlights a change in contour of the skin as the light picks it up and this reveals a vein. Sneaky and appropriate infection control.

4. The Actual Doing

Right. The pointy end. So to speak. Not so certain about this bit? Well these are all things I  do or have seen others do. Comprehensive? Probably not. For everyone? Maybe not but worth a think I reckon.

Choose your cannula

First up, examine that vein and decide which cannula you think will actually go in it. We all love a cannula big enough to rehydrate a woolly mammoth (and think how dried out those codgers would be now), but the truth of paediatric patients is that you don’t need a massive cannula to achieve good fluid loading. And you can definitely resuscitate more effectively with a smaller cannula in the vein than a bigger one in the subcutaneous tissues.

I’d even cope with a not-super-huge cannula in the cubital fossa if that’s what you need to get things rolling. At the hospital we regularly resuscitate kids without a huge cannula. It just needs a syringe and a 3 way tap (and you can actually do with most lines without a 3-way tap). Mostly it’s actually about paying attention and doing it, rather than letting it run.

Line it up

Absolutely the commonest thing I see trainees do when they are struggling is not actually lining up the cannula with the vein it is supposed to slide into. The entry point is somewhere near, but if you look at the barrel of the cannula, it doesn’t line up with the direction of the cannula. Good luck with that.

Don’t focus so much on the entry point you forget the rest of the thing.

Make a hole

OK this one is probably more for the retrieval setting (and particularly for tiny ones) though I guess in principle as long as you have good sharps management you could maybe consider it for prehospital work (I’ve never done it there though). Not sure I’d try it in an awake child without some local numbing happen either.

After you choose your cannula, get a needle bigger than the gauge of the cannula. Make a hole in the skin at your entry point. Now when your smaller cannula passes through the hole you shouldn’t have the skin dragged in with it at all. You should lose all resistance at that level actually. Do it right and pretty often you’ll feel the end of the cannula pop into the vein before any visual clue like a flashback tells you that you’ve made it.

Note that having gauze handy for any small amount of blood ooze that would obscure the entry point is helpful here.

Petras Gagilas
Look, not so big you can see light through it, but something.

The saline trick

I think this only works with non-safety cannulae. Basically you fill the hub with saline and when you hit a small vein you’ll see a super quick flashback (even just starting with a quick change in the light in the saline). This one’s particularly useful for getting early warning in tiny veins to avoid going straight through.

Short and sharp

You probably understand that you need to come really flat to the vein with your angle of approach (by all means be at a more acute angle to get through the skin, but approaching the vein should be pretty flat).

The other key bit though is short, sharp movements forward followed by a pause. I tend to find slow advancing just doesn’t do the job in little people’s veins. It’s like the slow distortion of the tissues encourages them to roll out of the way (you can even see it on ultrasound). A sharp move forward, then a pause, then repeat just seems to work better.

The Roll

You get the flashback. Victory! Except you still need to advance and you’re worried it’s a bit small that there vein. So do a really small advance. Then rotate the whole cannula (as in the needle bit as well) 180 degrees. The leading edge of the needle is now closest to the skin, and the pointy bit isn’t going to go ahead and spear the back wall. Advance a little more. Now feed off the cannula.

The Twist

This trick is more well known. Once you think you’re in that vein, twist the cannula off into the vein. In bigger kids it’s probably no help but in smaller veins it does seem to sometimes help get it not to catch up on the wall of the vessel.

Wired for Not Sound

This one is not really a prehospital thing but if in a retrieval-type situation you could consider this one. Have a think about getting familiar with wires for Seldinger options. There are manufacturers out there making short wires that will feed down a 24 gauge cannula. Arrow make one that is 0.018 inches (diameter) and Cook make one even smaller (at 0.015″). When you have one of those cannulae you really want but after you feed it off it’s all gloom, a wire can rescue you.

The technique (with appropriate cleanliness and wire precautions to ensure you don’t lose it in the vein all in place) is to gently start pulling back just the cannula until you have blood freely flowing back. If you gently advance the wire up the cannula at this point it will sometimes find its way perfectly up the vein. If so, you now have an introducer to place a cannula (maybe even one larger than the one used for access).

Not a technique to try in anger for the first time without someone who has done it nearby I’d say.

It’s also worth noting that not all wire/cannula relationships are without challenges. For whatever reason a Surflo 24 gauge cannula will absolutely not allow a 0.018 inch wire through. A 24 gauge Insyte? Well they were made for each other. Go figure.

4. The Strapping

Well that’s a completely different post. I only wish someone had good tips for things like that (like say, here).

For kids cannulas there are a lot of techniques out there and lots of strong opinions about tape. My main thoughts would be:

  • The tape has to be in contact with the actual thing it is supposed to hold. Sometimes I see people holding tapes tight as they put it across the cannula, thereby guaranteeing the tape only contacts the top surface and is then stretched onto the skin. Form the tape closely to the cannula itself. Squeeze it right on there to get maximum tape-to-cannula contact. Then lay it across the skin (no stretching) and put some pressure on it to get adherence happening.
  • Really think hard about things like boards. If they are not adding security for that cannula, you can almost guarantee they are adding annoyance for the patient.


So there’s a start. I bet people have more I’ve forgotten or don’t even know about though.

You might just find some of these tips help though. And if that’s the case you will hopefully end up not being the big prick finding it a bit of a prick to get a little prick done for a little kid.

Little kid. What did you think I was going to say?


I am not kidding about hoping people will have better tips. That’s what the comments bit is for. Go nuts. Or share the post and see if someone else has one.

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The images here were from vandys (the speed limit one) and Petras Gagilas (the tunnel thing) and used unchanged from their spot on flickr under Creative Commons.







I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now – Holding the Line

Back with another instalment in the popular series “I wish I knew then what I know now” is Greg Brown, current Education Manager / Clinical Nurse Consultant with CareFlight and former Australian Army officer.

Intravenous cannulation: the art of finding the biggest tube with a sharp point in your kit and placing it in the most proximal vein you can find so you can deliver various fluids or medications that may or may not make the patient feel better but certainly help you feel as though you have achieved something.

Okay, this might be a bit of a stretch – but in all seriousness the ability to gain and maintain dedicated vascular access in your sick patient is a vital component of medical care for nurses, paramedics and doctors alike. For many (both in and out of hospitals), the ability to find that elusive vein is a point of pride, and getting that solid red flashback in the chamber of the cannula is at times the cue for the treating team to stop holding their breath.

But the IV cannulation process is not complete once the [insert name of your service’s approved form of IV dressing] is applied. In the retrieval world, an IV cannula is almost always going to have fluids flowing through it (or at least attached to it). Having fluids attached gives the healthcare provider a ready-made flush for those medications that are used in treating the patient. Want to give a bolus of IV ketamine? You are going to need an IV flush. IV fentanyl? Flush.  IV anything? Flush. You are going to be flushing everything, so you might as well attach a 1000mL bag of “flush” via a giving set and have it ready at all times.

Herein lies the problem. For anybody who has ever had to move a patient with an IV line attached, you know just how easy it is for that line to get snagged – and before you know it, your precious cannula is now no longer in a vein and instead is irrigating the helicopter floor / CT machine / footwell of the crashed car etc. Your service’s approved form of IV dressing might be awesome at holding an IV cannula in place, but it is no match for the body weight of that burly rescue technician with the IV line inadvertently wrapped around his leg who is moving in the opposite direction to the patient.

Laws to Live By

Many years ago at CareFlight, one of our “grey beards” (Dr Blair Munford, anaesthetist extraordinaire), came up with what we now call ‘Munford’s Law of Taping’ which states:

The length of tape used on the patient should not exceed the distance between the point of injury and the receiving hospital, but anything less is acceptable.”

 Taping IV lines is a good thing, but tape doesn’t work great on wet, hairy or dusty patients. Sure, you can circumferentially tape the IV line to the arm such that the tape sticks to itself and not the patient, but that is a lot of non-stretchy tape.

Story time. Many years ago, whilst on deployment with the Army, I was tasked with transferring a civilian casualty from the scene of a vehicle accident to a landing point whereupon she was to be whisked away to a United Nations hospital by helicopter. The accident involved an overcrowded minivan which failed to negotiate a corner resulting in it rolling. The knock-on effect was a mass casualty incident halfway between two forward operating bases. Medical and security assets were despatched to the scene, including myself as a young (ish) nursing officer.

After the usual initial chaos that results when medicine and tactics collide, we dutifully set about the triage and treatment of casualties in accordance with priorities and started stacking inbound AME assets. Unfortunately, given the topography, the AME teams could not land on site; therefore, we were required to ferry the casualties from the scene to a landing point about 2km away.

One particular casualty of mine was a lady with a mid-shaft femur fracture and a handful of broken ribs. I had applied a Donway Traction Splint to the leg, some oxygen and was trying to bump up her blood pressure with crystalloids whilst controlling her pain with increments of IV morphine. I had placed an IV in her antecubital fossa and had “secured” the giving set with some tape. However, despite the accumulative administration of a lot of morphine (the exact dose escapes my memory), she was still very obviously in pain. The problem? As we loaded her into the vehicle, the IV line became looped around the stretcher handle and the cannula had dislodged.

Ordinarily I’d have just placed another IV and started again; but in this case I had two problems: (1) being a mass casualty incident my stores had been pillaged leaving me unable to place another IV, and (2) the Blackhawk was already flaring (meaning it was about to land), so I didn’t have time to go back to the scene to grab more stuff. This was a major fail when it came to managing this patient. And in addition, the woman’s pain and lack of analgesia were about to become the AME team’s problem, but the embarrassment of losing the ONLY IV access this patient possessed was mine alone.

But, in the words of S.E. Hinton, “that was then, this is now”.

Simple Solutions

There exists a remarkably simple solution to this problem, and it involves a bandage. We now teach this technique to anybody who will listen because, quite simply, there is no good reason for losing an IV. It works on the side of the road; it works in an ambulance; it works in Emergency Departments; and interestingly, it works really well in those dementia patients that occupy their time by trying to undo every single medical intervention you’ve applied during your 12 hour night duty!

Step 1: Place an IV cannula in your patient in accordance the patient’s need and your ability / scope of practice. Apply whatever dressing your service says you should.

Step 2: Attach your primed IV line as per the application of common sense. Ensure that the roller clamp on the line is as close to the bag as possible – you will need to be able to access it.

Step 3: Run the IV line down the limb around 10cm / 4in and cover in a bandage (the broader the bandage, the faster the technique), leave a loop then bandage the IV line back up the limb.

Step 4: Repeat step 3 ending with the free running end of the IV line heading towards the head of the patient (this is where you will be located; if you need to replace the IV bag it’s best if the bag is close to you).

Step 5: Secure the end of the bandage with some tape. Ensure that you leave the side injection ports of the IV line accessible. You may even wish to mark these with tape so that you can find them quickly when under stress.

When you secure the IV line with these superimposed S bends you create 40cm of dead space that will take up the strain on the line if the line is pulled. Once tension is applied to the line the loops cinch together to take up the strain. More of a visual learner? Yeah, me too. See the images below.

Bandage Secure 1

Bandage Pull

What I now know that I wish I knew then is that performing this technique takes no longer than trying to apply copious lengths of tape to a patient’s arm, especially when that arm belongs to a sweaty, hairy person. I also know that I never again want to be the clinician whose handover includes “well, there was an IV in the arm but I kinda lost it in transit…” If it is worth doing, it’s worth securing.



We bet this isn’t the only way to secure a line. Got tips for us to learn? Then put them in the comments. We like learning.

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Old School/New School – Updating Classic RSI

Respect for the classics doesn’t mean being stuck with them. Here’s a refresher on why you might not want to do RSI like they used to by Dr Andrew Weatherall. This one is a cross post picked up from the paeds anaesthesia site he chips in on, 

Everything in medicine needs the occasional reboot. I mean not as often as Hollywood thinks we need to reinvogorate a superhero franchise but at least every now and then. Sometime that’s because we learn new things (cross reference here). Sometimes it’s because our perception of what is the biggest risk changes (more on that in a second). And sometimes we suddenly realise that the original reason something became fixed practice might not have been a thing in the first place.

Which brings us to RSI, a classic so many of us have grown up with.

What is this thing?

The story of RSI starts with excellent intentions (and for this version of events I’m leaning heavily on this review by the excellent Thomas Engelhardt). In this case the idea was to come up with a safer way to get the snorkel in the all important windpipe as quickly as possible to try and minimise the risk of things that should stay nestled in the gastrointestinal tract might find their way to the lungs.

And you can understand why. Serious aspiration can, sometimes, be deadly. The first piece of the puzzle was written up by Morton and Wylie way back in 1951 who described where with the patient sitting up the anaesthetist would give intravenous barbiturate then muscle relaxant and rapidly intubate them. A rapid sequence of induction and intubation. So really it’s RSII.

8 years later a description emerged of a thiopental/relaxant/40-degree head-up tilt foot-down tilt. It wasn’t for another 2 years that cricoid pressure popped up (thanks Sellick) although interestingly it included not just a bit of pre-oxygenation but also some bag-mask ventilation prior to putting the tube in.

It was another 2 years before the other classic bit of RSII became popular, with an exhortation to avoid bag-masking because of the perceived risk for gastric insufflation and hence regurgitation.

A classic technique derived from a series of “what abouts” and “I reckons”. I mean, you wouldn’t read about it. Except you just did.

That’s not to say that medicine doesn’t have space for a bit of logical derivation of good ways forward. It might just suggest that the whole approach is open to a refresh.

Re-evaluating the Likely

If the technique was designed to prevent aspiration, maybe we should start with looking at how likely this event is in a setting a bit more modern than 1951. In 1999 the epic writing team of Warner, Warner, Warner, Warner and Warner looked at 56138 patients under 18 having procedures (elective or emergency) over 12 years to see just how big this problem was. This covered 63180 procedures.

The time frame for defining aspiration was entry into the operating room until 2 hours post-anaesthetic. To score the label there had to be direct identification of bilious secretions or particulate matter in the tracheobronchial tree or new X-ray findings after an episode of regurgitation.  A total of 24 patients met the criteria.

11 of those were emergency cases so the rate in that group was 1 in 373 compared to 1 in 4544 in the elective cases. 21 of the 24 were around induction. 15 of the 24 had no symptoms develop despite the aspiration. 5 of the other 9 did need respiratory support of some kind and 3 of them needed ventilation for more than 48 hours. Well the paper says that but actually describes ventilation for 18 days, 14 days and 33 days in those cases.

And there’s the rub. It’s really very impressively rare. But then when it goes bad, the downside can be very, very down.

So fine, let’s prevent the bad thing. We’d better get on with the classic old RSII, right?

Remembering the Even More Likely

The problem with being so rigorously focussed on avoiding pulmonary aspiration that you do things like not help the patient breathe, is there are other basic functions that don’t get looked after so well. Like oxygenating.

Gencorelli et al looked at episodes of desaturation during RSI while describing the classic drugs/cricoid/no ventilation technique. Across 1070 children included they reported a 3.6% rate of desaturation to 89% or below (1.7% of the patients being in the under 80% group). Not surprisingly the under 2s were more likely to have a desaturation.

These rates are low of course and certainly lower than in some other areas of practice. Reports from emergency departments have indicated desaturation rates anywhere from 14% to 33% (with the latter reporting rates of desaturation of up to 59% in the under 2s).

So amongst the various things we’re trying to do to prevent the 1 in 400+ event are we at risk of failing on another key thing. You know? The oxygen provision thing.

What’s the alternative?

Neuhaus and team subsequently described very well their approach to RSII, which they badged as cRSII (where the “c” is for “controlled” not some other “c” word like “cheese” which wouldn’t make sense anyway but would be a good reminder that cheese is great).

They key features for them (putting to the side “lots of preparation”):

  • 20 degrees of head up (though they say only for the over 2s)
  • Suction any NG in situ.
  • Give the drugs.
  • Avoid cricoid pressure (with a few exceptions).
  • Provide gentle facemark ventilation with peak pressures of 12cmH2O.
  • Neuromuscular monitoring to ensure the muscle relaxant has really, really worked.

This last point makes a heap of sense as active regurgitation is a problem created by airway instrumentation when you don’t have adequate anaesthesia and paralysis.

It’s a big list.

Talk is cheap though, what were their results?

They report on 1001 patients They had a moderate hypoxaemia (89-80%) rate of 0.5% and a severe hypoxaemia (< 80%) rate of 0.3% and the 8 patients this represents had a median age of 0.8 years. They had 1 patient with regurgitation but no evidence of aspiration.

That’s pretty impressive.

Putting it Together

So if we accept that we should really try and optimise oxygenation, and that the risk of this is higher than the risk of aspiration then we have to accept that modifications to that original technique are reasonable. What are a few steps for practically putting it together?

1. Assess that risk of a full stomach

It might well be that we’re going to avoid cricoid most times, but there are still a few situations where that risk of aspiration is probably higher. In the Neuhaus paper they suggested achalasia, Zenker diverticulum or post-colonic interposition patients (done for oesophageal replacement) always need cricoid.

It certainly seems worth having heightened concerns in the patient with significant increases in intra-abdominal pressure.

2. Everyone sits up

Why wouldn’t you have a bit of head up? It makes sense if you’re avoiding passive regurgitation and is a good position for pre-oxygenation, facemark ventilation and intubation. I’m not quite sure why some authors have suggested the under 2s shouldn’t be head up. This is a routine option.

3. Have that suction handy

Goes without saying maybe, but I’m saying it.

4. Pre-oxygenation, but not with distress

Yes you want to pre-oxygenate. And most times you can talk kids through that and get a full 3 minutes in. Some kids will only get more distressed with oxygenation though, and insisting on pre-oxygenation only guarantees distress. Given that you’re going to apply gentle face-mask ventilation, it’s rare you need to go to the wall on this one.

And while I’m there what about apnoeic oxygenation? Well, as discussed in this post, the evidence that’s available in kids isn’t so persuasive as to suggest it should be routine. The stuff that has been done showing extended apnoeic time actually followed effective pre-oxygenation with face-mask ventilation. So as we’re going to put that tube in quickly after the same sort of effective face-mask ventilation, extending apnoeic time for minutes seems not that clinically relevant.

5. Cricoid yes or cricoid no?

Again this is a judgment call. I know plenty of anaesthetists who still prefer to start with it but with a low threshold to remove it. I’m more likely to mostly err on the side of not using it, except for those high risk of aspiration patients.

If you are going to use it, it is worth noting that, particularly in infants, the trachea is quite often more prone to distortion by cricoid pressure than you realise. Doing flexible bronchoscopy work you’re sometimes asked to manipulate the airway and I’ve seen the whole trachea get substantially compressed and distorted by seemingly innocuous manipulation. Distort it enough and you can increase the resistance to air going in and out enough to make it easier to get down to that stomach.

In addition, as covered very nicely in this review, cricoid relies on the alignment of trachea and oesophagus and the evidence is that in kids < 8 years old 45% had displacement of the oesophagus so you’d be unlikely to get compression of the oesophagus even with perfectly delivered cricoid (at least on the CT scanning mentioned).

So for the very high risk ones I’d tend to start with it (well start with it once I’m sure the kids won’t react to it going on), but that leaves almost everyone where I would’t be too concerned. And if it is on, I’d be quick to take it off if it was impeding either view or tube passage.

Maybe I included this picture of an echidna because they have a reputation for being good at waiting and not because it’s a prickly situation.

6. Wait

We’re going to take our time with face-mask ventilation and maintain oxygenation. So where’s the extreme rush getting the tube in? Being too obsessed with that step, even though you’re achieving oxygenation, is a way to end up instrumenting the airway while the patient is only lightly anaesthetised or inadequately provided with paralysis. What was that thing we’re preventing again? The regurgitation thing that’s worse if we get going while the kid is lightly anaesthetised? Oh, right. Slow down.

The description suggests using a nerve monitor. I can’t say this is routine myself, but once the muscle relaxant is onboard I do publicly note for the team I’m working with how long we’ll be waiting on the clock before we start trying to intubate. (“The clock says 09:30 now. Once it ticks over to 09:32, we’ll start with the intubation.”)

I then remind everyone that this will take an unnervingly boring period of time and they might want to come up with a good joke to fill the time.

7. Ventilating

Yes, this is a thing that’s necessary because kids desaturate quickly. Particularly the younger ones. Achieving gentle face-mask ventilation relies on really good technique with the bag in hand. Plus it’s very therapeutic to gently squeeze that bag.

7. What about parents?

This one also needs an assessment of what might help and what won’t. For lower risk kids, as a paediatric anaesthetist doing it regularly, I’d be comfortable having them along. But if it was the sort of case that was likely to be difficult, or if I was back at the training junior doctor stage, there’d be no dilemma for me. I’d tell the parents that they wouldn’t be coming in. Having them alone to help their child relax (not always a guaranteed result of having parents in) has some advantages. But the prime job is safe management of the peri-induction period. And that might mean less people around.


So those are the simple things that have shifted over the course of my time in the big wide medical world. It’s a realignment of the priorities in a way that makes the ‘R’ in ‘RSII’ look smaller and smaller so that the oxygenation is placed at the top of the tree.

Put together though it’s a reboot worth endorsing. I mean the 60s just weren’t that great, surely?



How many bits that are really important aren’t covered here? There must be some. So leave a comment. We’ll all learn.

And if you like the post and other things around the joint, maybe throw your email in the relevant spot so you’ll get an email each time a new post pops up.

This post is a cross-post from another site that this Weatherall bloke works on called Songs or Stories. It’s about paediatric anaesthesia.

That echidna pic came from flickr’s Creative Commons area and is unchanged from Duncan McCaskills’s post.

Now to the literature, because going to the direct papers is always rewarding.

That review by Engelhardt where he makes it clear what he thinks is this one:

Engelhardt T. Rapid sequence induction has no use in pediatric anesthesia. Pediatr Anesth. 2015;25:5-8. 

The paper by the anaesthetic equivalent of the Brady Bunch or something I assume is this one:

Warner MA, Warner ME, Warner DO, Warner LO, Warner JE. Perioperative Pulmonary Aspiration in Infants and Children. Anesthesiol. 1999;90:66-71. 

The benchmarking study is this one:

Gencorelli FJ, Fields RG, Litman RS. Complications during rapid sequence induction of general anesthesia in children: a benchmark study. Pediatr Anesth. 2010;20:421-4. 

The emergency department studies mentioned in passing for their demonstration of high rates of desaturation are these ones:

Long E, Sabato S, Baby FE. Endotracheal intubation in the pediatric emergency department. Pediatr Anesth. 2014;24:1204-11.

Rinderknecht AS, Mittiga MR, Meinzen-Derr J, Geis GL. Kerrey BT. Factors Associated with Oxyhemoglobin Desaturation During Rapid Sequence Intubation in a Pediatric Emergency Department: Findings from Multivariable Analyses of Video Review Data. Academic Emergency Medicine. 2014;22:431-440. 

That paper looking at controlled techniques in kids is this one:

Neuhaus D, Schmitz A, Gerber A, Weiss M. Controlled rapid sequence induction and intubation – an analysis of 1001 children. Pediatr Anesth. 2013;23:734-740.

And that other review is this one:

Newton R, Hack H. Place of rapid sequence induction in paediatric anaesthesia. BJA Educ. 2016;16:120-3.



The Bind When It Comes to Using a Binder – Part 5

You might recall a series more than a bit ago from Dr Alan Garner covering lots of thoughts on pelvic fractures and what might make sense for prehospital care. Well, he’s back at it with a case to get things rolling.

It is amazing what you find when you go looking.

Those who are regular readers of the CareFlight Collective will be aware of my concerns about the use of pelvic binders in lateral compression (LC) type fractures.  You can find parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 here.  In short a binder in the context of a LC fracture replicates the force vector that caused the injury and may make fracture displacement worse.  There is evidence of this in both cadaver models and in real live trauma patients.  However blind use of binders without knowing the fracture type (and even where it is known to be LC) has been considered safe as there were no reports that patients had deteriorated after application – until now.

Last year one of our teams applied a binder to a haemodynamically stable patient with a LC fracture.  There was immediate haemodynamic deterioration and new leg length discrepancy which had not been present prior to application of the binder.  The case report has been accepted for publication by the Air Medical Journal and about now would be a good time to say thanks to our co-authors from Westmead Hospital, Jeremy Hsu and Anne Douglas.  You can find a copy of the accepted manuscript accepted manuscript here.  You need to go and have a read of the manuscript then come back for the following comments to make sense so I suggest you do that now.

Go on…


I can wait …



Now that you have read the case report you can appreciate that this incident caused us considerable angst.  We knew this was theoretically possible but it was still a shock when it actually happened.  It has caused us to review our practice around binders to try and find the safest approach.

But at the same time we need to acknowledge that we live in a space of considerable uncertainty because we don’t have radiographs to guide our management in prehospital care.  All we have is our reading of the mechanism (which is often pretty unclear), the clinical state of the patient and perhaps a finding of pubic symphysis diastasis on ultrasound to guide us.  We have to acknowledge that we are going to get this wrong a reasonable proportion of the time.

So here is our reasoning and the place we ended up.

Firstly we need to remember that there is still no study of any kind (RCT or cohort) that has shown a statistically significant improvement in survival with binders.  There is some suggestive case series data (mostly in anterior compression or “open book” fracture types) and the benefit observed is raised BP and possibly blood product usage, not survival.  That is it.  As it seems we can definitely cause harm, it is worth keeping in mind just how poor the evidence for benefit is as we work our way through the approach to binder application.  One of my very experienced colleagues refers to binders as “pelvic warmers” due to the almost complete lack of evidence of benefit and I can’t tell him he is wrong.


The first thing to consider is the stability of the patient.  Placing binders in stable patients with a possible mechanism has been considered acceptable practice despite the theoretical risks and indeed it is the policy of our local Ambulance service in NSW to do exactly that.

Other services such as Queensland have a more conservative approach.  They position the binder if there is a suggestive mechanism but only tighten it if the patient is unstable or becomes so.  Given that there is absolutely zero evidence that haemorrhage has ever been prevented by placing a binder I think the Queensland approach is a good one.   I know that there are reports of binders reducing fractures so perfectly that they have been hard to identify on subsequent imaging and it is impossible to say whether they would have bled without the binder, but benefit from prophylactic use has not even been investigated let alone proven.  And since we have now demonstrated that you can take a stable patient and turn them into an unstable one the summary of the published evidence now is:

  • Harm from binder application in stable patients = 1
  • Benefit from binder application in stable patients = 0

I acknowledge that prevention of haemorrhage is fundamentally difficult to prove but we have decided to join the Queenslanders.  We will position it in stable patients if we are suspicious but it is only tightened if and when the patient becomes unstable.  First do no harm.  If they are haemodynamically stable you can’t make things better, but you can makes things a whole lot worse.


Our next consideration as per the previous posts parts 1-4 is the mechanism.  If it is clearly a lateral compression fracture then there is not even a biologically plausible way a binder can help.  If you are doing an interfacility transfer, you have an Xray and it is a LC fracture, do not apply a binder no matter how haemodynamically unstable the patient is.  Every reported case who has had a rise in BP associated with a binder has had either anteroposterior compression (the majority of cases) or a vertical shear injury.  Therefore the evidence base for lateral compression fracture so far is:

  • Harm from binder application in patients with LC injury = 1
  • Benefit from binder application in patients with LC injury = 0.

Just don’t do it.

Now of course prehospital it can be really hard to know what the fracture type is.  But there are occasions where it can only be a lateral compression such as in MVAs where the impact is directly into the patient’s door with intrusion against their pelvis laterally.  Here is an example repeated from part 3:

Crash copy


In this case the car has slid into the pole sideways.  The impact is directly into the driver’s door who has been pushed across the cabin partially onto the passenger seat breaking the centre console in the process.  This can only be a lateral compression fracture and that is indeed what was found on pelvic plain film in the ED.  We no longer put binders on these patients, no matter how unstable they are – the binder has no plausible mechanism by which it can improve things.


The last part of the equation for us was the policy of application by the local Ambulance service which I have already mentioned.  We often turn up to find that a binder has already been applied.  Should we take it off again if stable?  If unstable and it really looks like a lateral compression injury?  The damage if any has probably already been done.  We are operating in an evidence free zone here of course.  Our consensus of opinion was that if it was properly applied we should just leave it there.

So we derived an algorithm which works through these steps in the reverse order that I have discussed them as that is the workflow in the real world:

Binder Algorithm

So the only patients who get a binder placed and tightened are the unstable patients where lateral compression is not likely from what we can see of the mechanism or we just don’t know the mechanism.  If you re-read part 3 this is the group we are suggesting that ultrasound may help in the decision making.  Benefit (in terms of improved BP, not survival) has only been demonstrated in patients with a widened symphysis so perhaps this is your single best clue that you have identified a patient who is likely to benefit from the intervention – if such a group actually exists.

The Wrap

The belief that pelvic binders are a benign intervention is becoming widespread even though there are already reports of serious complications such as massive necrosis from pressure injury (have a look here).  No intervention helps all patients, and all interventions carry risk.  The key is identifying the patients where the benefit outweighs the risk.  Given that proof of benefit from binders does not yet exist, think very carefully about the risk that you could make things worse by tightening it and converting a stable patient into an unstable one.  Use it only where the possibility of benefit outweighs the risk and there is just no possibility of benefit in a known lateral compression injury.  It can therefore never be justified if you know that is the injury type.  Similarly there is zero evidence of any kind for prophylactic use in stable patients, just a theory and even the theory does not make sense in lateral compression.

I find it difficult to believe that this is the first time a patient has deteriorated with a binder – we are just the first group to report it because we have been looking.  Complications are typically poorly reported in prehospital care for a number of cultural reasons (see Davis’ classic work on prehospital intubation where significant complications were picked up only by examining the monitor output; it was not reported by the clinicians).  Perhaps the temporal relationship between the binder and deterioration is not as clear as in this case, or the patient is already unstable and it is not possible to differentiate the additional bleeding caused by the binder from the bleeding that was already happening.  Or the subsequent instability is not attributed to the binder by the caregivers who think “just as well we put the binder on” without realising they actually caused it.

We would be really interested to hear if anyone else has observed this too.  But you won’t notice if you don’t look.  In the meantime I think we all need to examine our practices to ensure that are only applying the devices where there is a possibility that the patient will benefit from this as yet unproven intervention.  If there is no possibility of benefit, just don’t do it.



You could always start with public cases like this to reflect on what we could do differently with pelvic binders.

Here’s the thing on the pressure necrosis with a pelvic binder again:

Mason LW, Boyce DE, Pallister I.   Catastrophic myonecrosis following circumferential pelvic binding after massive crush injury: A case report doi:10.1016/j.injury.2009.01.101

And if you’re interested in the stuff on this site you can always find the spot on this page to get your email in there

Look Back at Analgesia

It seems like a simple thing that’s a given – delivery of good analgesia. Except for the bit where good clinicians fail over and over at this. Here’s Dr Alan Garner checking out a recent study from the Swiss that looks at some of the holes. 

As prehospital clinicians I think we all aim to provide as technically sound and evidence-based management as we can.  This is a given but when I think about what I would like for my own family or myself I also want “care”.  This is what makes health care interactions more than just an exchange of services for money. And this is what sends me crazy when I hear patients described as “clients”.

But I am digressing.  A major component of care is the relief of suffering and the most common form of suffering we see in the prehospital world is pain.  Good pain relief early might not change the patient’s probability of death in the longer term but it might well change functional outcomes such as symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.  But most of all we should do it, and do it well because we care.

There have been a lot of studies published about management of pain in emergency departments and it almost always looks bad.  People with obviously painful conditions either not getting analgesia, getting it late or not getting enough.  Given that the most common single presenting complaint to emergency departments is pain of some kind, I would argue that a fundamental KPI of good emergency care should be time to adequate pain relief and this should be reported above the 4 hour rule, access block and any other process indicator.  Waiting for a bed for hours is regrettable but waiting for hours in agony is simply barbaric.

If EDs are doing it badly you can be reasonably confident that prehospital is worse given all the additional constraints.  A new study has just been published by the guys from REGA (Swiss Air Ambulance) building on some work they have done previously around the prehospital analgesia question.  The work arose from a quality assurance project on analgesia that they have been conducting across their organisation to try and improve pain management and they are much to be commended for sharing their work on this.  They have allowed us a view into their struggle so we can learn from them.

And it has been a struggle.  In this new study they documented that one in six patients with moderate to severe pain (defined as >3 on a 0-10 numerical rating scale as reported by the patient) did not get any prehospital analgesia at all!  This is even more noteworthy given that the physician documented the pain score of >3 at the scene but apparently did not act on it for some reason.  One clue might be that a predictor of inadequate analgesia was shorter scene times and more severe injury (higher NACA score).  I was wondering if hypotension therefore might be one of the drivers for no analgesia but “circulation insufficient” was pretty uncommon being present in only 13 of the 778 conscious patients in this study (this stuff is in Table 1 in the paper).


Local Stories

Several years ago we audited the analgesia given to children by our own service.  In some cases we did not give analgesia for clearly painful injuries (like bent long bones) but there was evidence that the road paramedics who had been there ahead of us had done so.  There is no mention of this occurring in the Swiss study.  Perhaps this might partially explain the lack of analgesia given if this is also occurring in their system.  Although even if this did occur the physicians still documented pain scores >3 whilst the patient was in their care which you would have thought would prompt further analgesia.

I am not meaning to be too critical here.  In the audit of our own service that I mentioned we also found cases with clearly painful injuries and no record of analgesia given by road paramedics or our doctors.  This prompted a major rethink for us in our approach to analgesia in the field including formally recording pain scores on our observations chart to prompt our teams to keep this front of mind.  Analgesia is also included as an item in all our Carebundles for traumatic conditions, and for intubated patients regardless of the underlying pathology.  One of the risks for inadequate analgesia identified in this new study was that the patient had a non-trauma problem.  It might be timely for us to review our Carebundles for non-trauma conditions too.

Digging Deeper

Another risk factor for inadequate analgesia was severe pain from the outset (score 8 or more).  In this situation it seemed a single agent just was not enough.  Judicious use of small amounts of ketamine in addition to the opioid appeared really useful here.  And it appeared the combination was better in severe pain rather than just ketamine as a single agent.

I am also a little surprised about the narrow modes of delivery utilised with all analgesia given IV.  In our system the nasal route for fentanyl is used frequently particularly for children and it works a treat.  I also think that regional blocks have a place, particularly where the injury mechanism and your exam indicate that the injury is confined to a limb and the situation is not time critical (the time it takes is probably the major contraindication prehospital).

We have recently formally introduced fascia iliaca blocks to our service.  There are lots of other blocks you can utilise , particularly if your service carries an ultrasound machine with an appropriate probe for nerve localisation.  This is a skill you are unlikely to learn prehospital (except perhaps for femoral or fascia iliaca blocks) as you will never do enough of the other types to develop any skill.  If part of your practice is in the hospital context where you can get lots of practice however, these are well worth learning.  Done well they can completely remove the need for parenteral opiates.  The context that we have used regional blocks (other than femoral or fascia iliaca) is in limbs trapped in machinery.  Not a common circumstance but a useful tool to have in the box when it occurs.

The Other Bits We Rarely Look At…

I don’t think this was the aim of this study but it would also have been nice to see some attention paid to non-pharmacological methods of pain management.  Good splinting and packaging is the obvious first line for prehospital services and is one of the basics that is worth doing well.  We don’t carry hot or cold packs in our service due to the weight, but they are available from our local ground ambulances.  These can also help in the right patient.

Plus a Slightly Unexpected Elephant

And lastly they claim a slightly unexpected elephant is in the room.  Treatment by a female physician is reported as being associated with a higher likelihood of arriving at hospital with inadequate analgesia.  To be honest I’m not quite sure what made them look at the gender of the practitioner but there it is, written up. Before anyone assumes this was some situation induced by most of the patients being middle-aged blokes, it wasn’t about the patient gender at all.

An actual elephant not in a room as opposed to the elephant in the study that is probably not an elephant. 

So what is going on? I can’t quite figure out why this would be the case although the Swiss group has documented this previously in their own system.  Is this a Swiss peculiarity or is it more wide spread?

Well to me it looks like there are a few holes in the information provided that make me wonder if it’s a blip rather than an actual pachyderm. For example non-trauma patients were more likely to arrive at hospital with insufficient analgesia than trauma patients. I can’t construct what proportion of those patients got a physician of a particular gender by chance from this report though. Could it be that the real issue is that clinicians interpret the significance of pain differently based on the context or mechanism? If it’s “medical” pain rather than traumatic pain do we tend to wait for the medicine to fix the medical, rather than treating pain separately? There’s at least one confounder for you without even trying so I’m not convinced a strong case is made that provider gender is a crucial determinant of analgesia efficacy.

A question the physician gender stat does raise that is beyond the scope of this study is the need to consider the particularities of the provider in the mix. Beyond breaking things into much larger groups (like physician vs paramedic) I don’t recall seeing much on what characteristics of a clinician make them more or less likely to provide the good juice. If we don’t understand biases that might be in play I’m not sure we can do the most effective job of changing practice.


The bottom line – be obsessed with good analgesia.  It’s easy to get obsessed with all those interventions we think of as advanced, but the long-term quality of life of patients will probably be equally influenced by getting this bit right. Use a multimodal approach rather than just the parenteral one.  Combine agents if severe pain requires it.  Consider local and regional blocks if you have the skill.

And if anyone can figure out if the physician gender difference in this study is a blip or a real thing of some other sort hidden somewhere in the unreported elements, I’d like to know.  It’d be good to show that elephant the door.



Yes. That’s a real elephant and the photo is via @AndyDW_

Oberholzer N, Kaserer A, Albrecht R, et al. Factors Influencing Quality of Pain Management in a Physician Staffed Helicopter Emergency Medical Service. Anesth. Analg. 2017. 


The Red Line – Getting That Arterial Line

There are plenty of times in the land of retrieval (and in some prehospital settings) where you need a little bit more than the simple squeezy cuff gives you. An arterial line. Maybe we could share some tips that work for at least one person with the hope of encouraging people to share theirs. This post is from Dr Andrew Weatherall.

There are things in medicine that are more than a bit disconcerting. Clinical practice pretty regularly asks us to skate back and forth between degrees of uncertainty and deal with it. So you take your reassurance where you can and sometimes that is in the form of a red wiggly line – the arterial pressure waveform. Yes, I’m that sad.

Look, here is the very evocative image that flickr threw my way when I searched for “red line” under Creative Commons. Think about it.

Given the problems associated with other monitoring methodologies in retrieval medicine having a more accurate option for providing haemodynamic information is invaluable. Add in the option for easy blood sampling and moving a critically ill patient is clearly made a lot more appealing with an arterial cannula in place than without it.

They can be a bit of a bugger to get in sometimes though. Particularly in the area I spend most of my time which is paediatric anaesthesia. Now I don’t have a bazillion answers as to how to make it sure it always hits the spot but there are a bunch of things I always do to try and increase my chances of success. Now these might be things for deploying in little people but lets face it, adults are just big kids. Pathetic, large, disintegrating kids. Anyway, in no particular order here’s a few:

1. Check them all

It’s pretty rare that you need to specifically place an arterial line in one chosen artery for prehospital or retrieval work. Not all pulses were created equal though so it’s worth taking a moment to feel all the candidates to measure them up. Choose the best one for that first shot.

2. Get the position right

Whichever one you choose, it’s worth getting the position at its best for that particular artery. At the wrist I think a lot of us have been shown the wrist extended position, and that is usually pretty useful. It’s worth exploring how extended you need that position though. Sometimes when you go to extreme you can distinctly feel the pulse get a little harder to feel. And while a roll under the hips can make a femoral line just that bit easier, it’s worth doing a before and after check. . The bigger point is that you don’t want to just choose the best pulse, choose the best position for that pulse.

3. Know your kit

This is sort of a good rule for lots of prehospital and retrieval work. You need to know your kit and choose it well. Or if you’re utilising something at the place you’re picking up the patient, make sure you understand it. Different cannulae meet up to to the needle component differently. If you’re planning to have a wire as a back-up to get in (assuming it’s not an inbuilt option) you might want to double check the wire will get through the cannula. Know what you’re wielding. Plus at the same time it’s worth remembering that a smaller cannula in the artery is a lot better than a bigger one you can’t feed in. Choose the cannula you’re sure will get in.

Red dots
This also came up when I searched for “red line”. Bit of a fail there. That’s not a red line, it’s a line of red dots. It’s even called “Red Dots”. What gives flickr?

4. The Wire Bit

While I’m there, a wire can obviously be a pretty good friend. I know plenty of people who prefer the technique where you transfix the artery, come back and feed the wire up once the blood is flowing back freely. Plus get a smaller cannula in (see above) and that wire becomes the tool to dilate up to a larger bore cannula.

5. Sit Down

I know this seems really minor and maybe you feel strongly that you’re only doing it right if you’re in a moving vehicle and the family cat you brought with you to comfort the owner is sinking its claws into the back of your neck or up your nostril or something. The thing is trying to not let the environment control you is part of the gig. When you sit down you can set up your ergonomics a whole lot better and position yourself to take away muscular strain and fatigue while you’re doing it. So if the space allows it, sit down and get comfortable.

6. Side to Side and Up and Down

Now that you’ve hopefully found a comfortable position, it’s worth really mapping out that artery. Maybe other people have more sensitive fingers than me but I generally find that placing a single finger on the pulse and trying to centre it in the middle of the pad of my fingertip helps me get a sense of where it is. I then use that same finger to feel up and down the artery and figure out its course so I can mark it on the skin. It actually doesn’t matter a huge amount if the mark is perfect as long as I can go back, feel and understand where I’m feeling the artery in relation to the obvious mark I’ve made. I do this every time to help construct a picture in my head of how it all lies, even before I get onto ….

7. Use an ultrasound

If it’s available, then probably just use it. The evidence says that you’re more likely to get it in without incident and it’s unlikely to be a slower endeavour. Using the ultrasound well still demands good patient and clinician positioning as well as a scout scan up and down the artery to understand its course and any surrounding stuff. Small ultrasounds are now good enough that you should be able to pick up the tip of the cannula all the way into the middle of the vessel (and spot when you’ve still got a little bit of tissue indenting at the wall). Just use it.

8. Short, sharp, flat

It makes pretty obvious sense to approach without too steep an angle (though sometimes you can pop through the skin better with that sort of angle). A flatter approach maximises your path in the vessel which maximises your chances of staying in there. When it comes to movements I find an approach with short, sharp advances more successful than a slow steady push. At least in kids sometimes the latter seems to allow that artery to squeeze out of the way (but I’m happy to be pulled up on that one).

9. Also use local

If the patient is awake of course. Why?  I think that’s actually an obvious one.

Marco Galasso
This one, also came up on the “red line” search but really it’s about the dog. So maybe if you want to get arterial lines in, think more about puppies?

10. Be ready for success

You’re probably going to be brilliant so be ready for that not surprised. Having those tapes and connections ready so you can focus on the bit after the cannula (particularly trying to maintain a clean and dry field so everything sticks and you don’t have a bunch of stuff to clean up) lets you get on with actually using the monitor.


So there is my meagre collection of practical bits and pieces. In the prehospital and retrieval space I can’t always guarantee that I can set myself up like I can in an operating theatre. When I make the effort though it turns out I usually don’t have to compromise that much. And that effort usually makes the whole thing go a little bit smoother.

It’s also not an exhaustive list. So if you’ve got a top tip then hit up that comments section. I could use a tip to be better next time I’ve got to step up to the red line.



The main reference to read for this one would be this Cochrane review looking at success rates for arterial cannulation in kids using ultrasound. The short version is yes, do that.

All the images here were from Creative Commons posts on The first is from XoMEoX, the second is from Håkan Dahlström and the third is from Marco Galasso.





I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now: Simple Airway Management

This is a popular series and it’s not hard to see why. Greg Brown drops back in to talk about the airway device that is now his go to item. 

I clearly remember a time when the escalation of airway management in prehospital care resembled the fabled Underpants Gnomes from South Park and their three step plan to making a profit.

Back then, airway management looked something like this (and yes there were four steps, not three like in South Park):

  1. Patient’s own airway – bummer; that’s no fun for anyone.
  2. Oropharyngeal airway (aka the Guedel) – fun but not that inspiring.
  3. Endotracheal tube – break out the high fives, it’s a good day to be a medic.
  4. Needle cricothyroidotomy – if an ETT doesn’t do it, a 14 gauge cannula in the throat ought to fix it. Then there are the mutual backslaps.

Back in the day when I was new to military prehospital care (and at a time where not much was happening in the world) the focus seemed to be on big ticket items and not the purpose of the interventions. Indeed, it seemed to me that the drug of choice for any airway problem was plastic; and the bigger the problem, the smaller the dose.

What I know now is that the one’s choice of procedure must consider a whole lot more than just self-gratification. Airway problems are generally either an oxygenation or a ventilation issue, and the choice of procedure must take at least this into account. However, the purpose of this post on the Collective is not to discuss the differences between CICV and CICO (nor the relative advantages of DL vs VL) but simply to discuss basic airways.

Simple Is As Simple Does

There is no doubt that a patent airway that was issued to the patient at birth is best for the patient. Therefore, it goes without saying that anything that can be done by the treating professional to maintain a patent natural airway should be at least considered. I am not going to go into how best to clear an airway and position a patient as there are a myriad of reputable sources out there for you to conduct your own research but I will make two important points:

  1. In a perfect world the “ideal” position will align (and therefore open) the upper airway; seemingly minor changes in positioning can have significant detrimental impacts on airway potency (and vice versa); and,
  2. If you don’t know how to position a patient or provide manoeuvres then you might want to consider taking a step back and booking into a first aid course. Quite quickly. Like right this second. Just do it ….

Still here? Good then, on with the show.

Which means it’s time to introduce one of the heroes: a simple artificial airway. To Guedel or not to Guedel? For many years that has been the question, and the oropharyngeal airway (OPA) was definitely my plastic of choice. Simple to insert and effective – two of my favourite things in a medical device. But are they deserving of their historical gold medal for simple airway adjuncts? Well, maybe yes and maybe no.

You see when it comes to simple adjuncts I have become, over the years, a massive fan of the nasopharyngeal airway (NPA). I would argue that they are just as simple to use as their orally inserted cousins – the operator just needs to be trained in their use. And whilst there are pros and cons to all medical interventions in my mind the NPA has one big benefit over the OPA – when (if) the patient starts to rouse the NPA can stay in, a handy thing for those pesky patients whose level of consciousness ebbs and flows.

Over the last ten years the NPA has gained popularity amongst first responders with thanks to support from some international heavy hitters, and not before time. You see, the NPA was actually invented before the OPA – 38 years earlier, in fact, by Joseph Clover of the Royal College of Surgeons (he later became a founding member of the Royal College of Anaesthetists) in 1870. The first OPA was designed by…. wait for it… Frederic Hewitt in 1908. The first “Guedel” was not even invented by Arthur Guedel whose name is now synonymous with the device. He didn’t enter the scene until the 1930’s (but I will grant that he made huge improvements to Hewitt’s rudimentary designs).

However, it was not until 2002 and the widespread introduction of Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) in militaries worldwide that the NPA started gaining favour once more. With thanks to a push from the United States Department of Defense’s Special Operations Command, NPA’s started making their way into the individual first aid kits of soldiers, sailors and airmen employed in combat operations. Indeed, by 2008 every Australian serviceperson employed in combat roles carried an NPA in a pouch alongside appropriate haemorrhage control devices. NPA’s are now taught as part of C-TECC guidelines (the civilian version of TCCC) and are now commonly the first artificial airway device reached for by those employed in first responder roles worldwide.


Are there risks associated with the of an NPA? Well, this is medicine, isn’t it? Of course there are risks. The big one that everybody immediately jumps to is in the patient with suspected basal skull fracture (or a fracture of the cranial vault). The risk in inserting an NPA here is that the tube may indeed enter the cranial cavity instead of heading into the nasopharynx. But a review of the literature reveals only two cases where this occurred thus making it a rather extreme reason to be afraid of using an NPA. (Note: that same review of the literature also revealed an article advocating the use of nasopharyngeal airways in the treatment of watery diarrhoea…. Four words: single use only please!)

Putting It To Work

So how do you utilise an NPA (and I’m talking about as an airway device, not in treating diarrhoea of any consistency)? Well firstly, size matters. I am sure that at some point you, like me, have taught various methods. The first common method is to look at the diameter of the patient’s pinky finger – in theory, this is the same diameter of the nares (nasal openings). Therefore the NPA of choice should be the diameter of the patient’s pinky. Yes?

Alternately, the second common method of sizing pertains to length – in theory the distance from the nostril of choice to the tragus (that flap at the front of the ear where it meets the cheek) is the same as from the tip of the nose to the upper pharynx. Yes?

Well, research by Roberts et al in the EMJ found that a combination of the two methods is required to get reach NPA nirvana and that in fact the patient’s height was a better determinant of requisite NPA size. They used data from MRI scans to determine that, all things considered, the law averages reigned supreme. Average height male? Size 7.0mm Portex NPA. Average sized female? Size 6.0mm NPA. Or, you could await the rollout of the MRI App on your smartphone of choice…

Once you have selected the correct size NPA you simply pick the largest nostril, lubricate the outside of the NPA (the patient’s saliva is usually sufficient) and insert whilst aiming for the patient’s ear (the same side as the nostril you are using). By aiming for the ear you are pushing backwards, not upwards, thus reducing the risk of the NPA entering the cranial vault in that patient with a suspected basal skill fracture. For this reason the presence of a suspected basal skull fracture has relegated to the status of relative contraindication (no longer an absolute contraindication). If any significant resistance to insertion is felt then the attempt should be aborted and the other nostril attempted.

Be sure to consider how you will secure the NPA. Certain members of society have naturally wider nares and I’ve seen them inhale their NPA. Placing a large safety pin through the shaft of NPA just below the flange decreases the chances of this happening, but in most patients I’ve treated the safety pin has not been necessary.


So there you have it – another thing that I know now that I wish I knew then is that the NPA is not an evil device guaranteed to lead any patient who has ever experienced a blow to the head on a one way trip to the morgue. Rather, the NPA is now my simple airway of choice, an intervention that I have used countless times both on battlefields and in emergency departments, and is the only airway device that I carry on every single job. Oh, and it also has some purpose in treating patients with watery diarrhoea…apparently.



Remember if you like things on this site there’s a box somewhere where you can throw your email address so you get a regular email when a new post hits.

Want to know about how your choices of airway adjuncts can affect ventilation? Then go here.

Interested in reading more about the facts and myths of NPA’s? Try this.

Here’s a cool little video about airway manoeuvres and simple adjuncts from that good crew at Life in the Fast Lane.

And a previous post that included the use of NPA’s in the tactical environment can be found here.


Sedating Kids in Strange Spots

This post is based on a talk prepared by Dr Andrew Weatherall for the South African Society of Anesthesiologists Congress for 2017 held in Johannesburg. As invited faculty 

I think when they first offered this the plan was to do sedation in the dental chair. Which I’ve never done. And this is for a refresher course.

So we changed the topic to sedating kids in strange places. Which I have done.

But they’re strange places so by definition they should seem weird to you which means you probably haven’t done it before in which case it’s not a refresher course topic at all. Just like it’s hard to have a refresher course on swimming with sharks in bathtubs, it’s hard to have a refresher course on undertaking sedation in places people don’t do sedation.

So I guess I’ve screwed this up every which way.

Nothing for it but to sedate someone though. So let’s start with a 18 month old who has a hand injury. We’re going to sedate him to get things fixed up rather than waiting for a free operating theatre.

At the start of any sedation we need to ask some questions of ourselves. And I like to start with the Cluedo questions. The ones about “Who?” or “Where?” or “How” that help us make the choices to get this sedation done.


What are we talking about?

It’s pretty vital up front to understand what we’re describing. We need to understand what we mean when we talk about sedation.

Well as good a place as any to start is with the ANZCA documents on this (this is my low rent version of international colour for this one). ANZCA include a couple of key points:

  1. There is an implication that you’ll be using pharmacological support to improve tolerance of uncomfortable or painful procedures.
  2. They try and separate out some levels of sedation.

That latter one can be a little problematic but they do talk about conscious sedation, where the individual will produce a purposeful response with minimal stimulation, and deep sedation where there will only be that purposeful response with painful stimulation.

To be just this side of general anaesthesia however you do need to have some sort of response. Plus you need to consider if what you’re really talking about is analgo-sedation because you’re expecting some pain to be dished about.


The “Who?” is important in planning for a bunch of reasons. Is it you or someone else actually delivering the sedation? What’s their level of experience or expertise? What’s their clinical background? The background of the practitioner is highly likely to influence the choices they make, particularly when it comes to pharmacology.

The “Who?” also covers the patient at question because the needs of an 18 month old are not the same as those of a 12 year old, and aren’t the same as the needs of a 40 year old.

Lastly, the “Who?” question applies to the proceduralist. If you’re giving sedation to get a job done, then the needs of the proceduralist to get things done have to be taken into account.


Well, we’re talking about strange places, right? So that definitely matters for this scenario, but it matters for every sedation scenario. It will influence what you feel comfortable offering, and what help is available. It will also heavily influence where they get looked after when it’s done and might influence how quickly you want them back to their entirely normal state.

Wait, this is the strange places post so I should probably mention something….

Today’s patient is in a bathtub. He’s had his hand stuck down the drain for 2 hours with people trying to get it out. It’s 22:00. It’s about 6 degrees Celsius outside. Your proceduralist is the rescue volunteer with the jackhammer who is going to have to work through concrete to reach the bath and dismantle it. 

Ready then?


Well I think in this case we already know that. For other sedations though it’s worth making an assessment of when it has to be done? Does it really have to be now or can it wait a little if you have concerns with sedation. Will the timing matter for available care afterwards?

What about that fasting question? All if it helps at all there is very limited evidence that fasting intervals influence things like aspiration rate. The Pediatric Sedation Research Consortium looked at 139142 patient records in 2016. They found a total of 10 aspirations and 75 major complications. 8 of the aspirations were in kids fully fasted (though that was from 82546 records whereas the non-fasted made up 25401 cases with details). Both rates were < 1 in 10000.

Another look at 12 years of nitrous oxide procedural sedation in kids not necessarily fasted revealed 1058 cases with 0 major complications (and I think quite astonishingly only 11 cases of nausea and vomiting).

So I probably would still make an effort to fast most times, I’d also be pretty relaxed if clinical need indicated we were in a “right now thanks” scenario.


This isn’t a moment for an existential pause. It’s the key question about our goals of this sedation. Personally I find it useful to think about the ins and outs of it. Roadside Pictures Hamburgers

What are the sensory inputs we’re going to inflict on the patient and what is the level of cerebral output we’re aiming to see?

In radiology you might just need a little stillness. The inputs might be almost nothing, or just a little noise. That’s clearly different to a burns dressing, or a quick pull on a fracture.

Remember our little punter? This kid is stressed after 2 hours of messing about and there are 10 weird people in bright orange in the bathroom with him. They’re using noisy tools. His hand is sore. He is way past his bed time. The extrication is thought to be a 2 hour job.

Our goals are to achieve a comfortable light snooze that might have to deal with variable pain input.


Finally we get to it. And you might figure we’ll dive straight into drugs. Nope. This is a super short chat so I’m more interested in an approach that will work, while assuming that clever people checking this out have an armamentarium of things they are good with.

So I think when we get to the “how?” it’s easiest to remember we need to offer some REST.






Let’s work through them.

1. Rapport

In most sedations establishing a good rapport with the patient is vital. Sedation isn’t like general anaesthesia and there is the potential for recall and moments of discomfort. Establishing trust is therefore a big help, because if there is one of those moments it’s a lot more ideal if the relationship you’ve established means they’ll trust you when you try to provide reassurance. The same goes for if you’ve got a carer around.

So there are plenty of ways to work on that beyond this scope, but slowing down to take this step pays off.


Lorenzoclick clown
Look I wouldn’t try this approach personally, but whatever works for you…

2. Environment

As much as possible setting up an environment to support the sedation is ideal. Simple things like choosing a specific spot where you can, reducing noise in the area (bugger, jackhammer), ensuring easy access to the patient and controlling the numbers of people in the space can make it a much calmer experience all round. If the environment is good, really you should need less pharmacology. The environment is also a key element of …

3. Safety

Sedation is actually pretty safe overall. Biber et al have published stats showing a 4.8% adverse event rate in 12030 patients. For the really concerning ones they only observed airway obstruction in 1% of those sedations and laryngospasm in 0.6%. 1.2% of patients needed some bag-mask ventilation. Unsurprisingly issues were highest in the 0-5 age range.

Obviously we need to be actively focussed on safety though. And I’d start with your eyes, ears and hands. Personally I think delivering good sedation can be much more taxing than giving a general anaesthetic. To keep them consistently at a state of sedation, which can be a lot more dynamic than anaesthesia, requires a continuing close quarters assessment of where they are right now and what the inputs are about to be.

So being able to reach out and touch or gently stimulate the patient matters. Close observation of respiratory patterns matter. This doesn’t suggest we should abandon monitoring. We should have at a minimum pulse oximetry, a means of measuring pulse rate and BP and I’d argue that in hospital or static settings capnography is a must.

Every sedation also requires a plan for how to manage airway complications, support breathing well and manage any circulatory issues, rare as they all might be.

Safety requires a team too. The ANZCA documents suggest that beyond yourself you need at least one person available to assist you at the drop of a hat. Or a clatter of the safety helmet I guess.

Which brings me to the last point, don’t forget PPE. That’s not just for you either. Your patient might need it.

4. Therapy

We finally got there. This really comes down to two big groups:

  • Non-pharmacological, which should absolutely not be considered as a lesser item. If you have some good distraction and redirection techniques they can get you a long way there.
  • Pharmacological.

When it comes to agents this isn’t really the space to argue for one over the other. I would say that if you’re sedating in a new spot or new situation, I wouldn’t try out that cool drug someone told you about for the first time.

Each agent has its pros and cons. Propofol is great for sedation when used right but can sting a little and respiratory depression can be an issue. Ketamine has a lot to recommend it but I have seen nasty dysphoria and that shouldn’t be dismissed. Dexmedetomidine has some strengths but there’s no doubt patients are sleepy for longer afterwards. Nitrous oxide clearly works but you do need a way of delivering it and you might not want it for too long in a tight space. Opioids obviously are superb for analgesia but require caution, particularly if used as an additive to another agent.

Again the key thing is to choose agents whose characteristics feel familiar to you and use them to manage the goals you came up with in the “why?” bit.

Is it just sedation you need. If it’s painful, how painful? Is that pain likely to be consistent or variable in nature? Does the time to wake matter? Would regional options help with those inputs?

Now choose the agent that lets you get things there.

Because a strange spot for sedation is really just a different office to do your work.


Here’s your patient. You can only just see some of the elements here, but the patient is covered up in blankets. They have earmuffs on. They have oxygen going and a cannula in place. After some midazolam, fentanyl and ketamine in we managed to sneak in digital nerve blocks. From that point on we really didn’t much of the ongoing infusion to have the patient snoozing but rousable to touch. The one obvious flaw here? We didn’t control the environment quite well enough to know the family had sent in a news reporter to get a shot. 

And one hour in, with the patient relaxed we figured we might as well try a gentle pull on that hand. And it slid right out. Pity about the bath. 

And all it needed was a bit of REST. Maybe that’s not so strange after all.


It is very cool that you dropped by here. Remember that if you like the stuff we have on the site you can sign in for an email update when a new post goes up. Have a look around, it’s here somewhere.

Of course none of the posts are meant to be the final word. We’d love to learn from anyone if you have the time to leave a comment. No pressure though.

Yep I’ve had previous clearance to use this case in public.

The image of the job is as it appeared in the local paper, The Illawarra Mercury.

The other images are both from flickr in the Creative Commons area and are unchanged. The clown was posted by lorenzoclick and the sign came from Roadside Pictures.

Now, reading things:

Here are those ANZCA Guidelines.

Here are those fasting type things:

Beach ML, Cohen DM, Gallagher SM, Cravero JP. Major Adverse Events and Relationship to Nil per Os Status in Pediatric Sedation/Anesthesia Outside the Operating Room. Anesthesiol. 2016;124:80-8.

Pasarón R et al. Nitrous oxide procedural sedation in non-fasting pediatric patients undergoing minor surgery: a 12-year experience with 1,058 patients. Pediatr Surg Int. 2015;31:173-80. 

Here’s that adverse events one I looked at (though in GI endoscopy work):

Biber JL, et al. Prevalence and Predictors of Adverse Events during Procedural Sedation Anesthesia – Outside the Operating Room  for Esophagogastroduodenoscopy and Colonoscopy in Children. Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2015;16:e251-e259.

Now here’s some more general reading of things that might have some interest:

Mahmoud MA, Mason KP. A forecast of relevant pediatric sedation trends. Curr Opin Anesthesiol. 2016;29(suppl 1):S56-S67.

Alletag MJ, et al. Ketamine, propofol, and ketofol use for pediatric sedation. Pediatr Emerg Care 2012;28:1391-5.

Phelps JR, et al. High-dose dexmedetomidine for noninvasive pediatric procedural sedation and discharge readiness. Pediatr Anesth. 2015;25:877-882.

And here’s a couple of things I’ve had a chance to contribute to:

Marland S, et al. Ketamine: Use in Anesthesia. CNS Neurosci and Therapeutics. 2013;19:381-9.

Weatherall AD, Venclovas R. Experience with a propofol-ketamine mixture for sedation during paediatric orthopaedic surgery. Pediatr Anesth. 2010;20:1009-16. 

Now have you scrolled all the way down here? Then I have a bit of a treat. In the presentation version I had a multi-exposure shot of Danny McCaskill in action in his film Cascadia. You could watch it by clicking here and reflect on safety. Or maybe just watch it because it’s amazing.