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Case Study - Blunt Chest Trauma: Patient Course

Day 1

An 18-year-old male was thrown 20-30 meters from the rear-seat of a car when it rolled.

On admission approximately 45 minutes later, his

Glasgow Coma Scale score was 14, and he was complaining of right chest pain with dyspnea and hemoptysis. A fractured clavicle and subcutaneous air with decreased breath sounds were noted on the right side. Abdominal tenderness was found. A 32F intercostal drain was inserted in the right side of the chest to relieve a hemothorax and pneumothorax. Within 15 minutes the patientís condition had deteriorated and intubation became necessary. During intubation dark red foam was seen to flow from the larynx. He was manually ventilated with 100% oxygen and 15 cm H2O PEEP with an initial good response. He was subsequently placed on mechanical ventilation with PEEP.

Day 2

In the early hours of the next morning, a double lumen tube was placed and differential lung ventilation initiated because of deteriorating gas exchange and increasing air loss from the right chest.

An additional chest x-ray film revealed persisting pneumothorax on the right, which was treated with a second intercostal drain.

Two hours later, deteriorating oxygenation required a repeat chest x-ray film. The x-ray revealed a left pneumothorax which was drained using another chest tube.

Resuscitation was continued with fluids and inotrope support, and he maintained an adequate blood pressure and urine output. Later that morning a

Swan-Ganz catheter was inserted and positioned in the right pulmonary artery. High pulmonary artery pressures of 60/35 mm Hg were measured with a mean pulmonary artery pressure of 45 mm Hg and a wedge pressure of 24 mm Hg. The cardiac index was satisfactory at 4.1 L/min/m2.

Day 3

In the afternoon on Day 3, the patient underwent a right thoracotomy which found his right lung to be full of blood with large lacerations in the upper lobe and in the apex of the lower lobe. There was no tracheal or main bronchial tears. The lacerations were cleaned and packed with hemostatic foam. The thorax was closed with three new drainage tubes in addition to the three already in place.

For the remainder of that day, and the next two days (4 and 5), the patient was maintained on differential lung ventilation with conventional settings to both lungs, but his gas exchange was precarious and the leak from the right lung continued unabated.

Day 4 and 5

On days 4 and 5, the right lung was maintained on constant positive airway pressure (CPAP) without ventilation, with the left lung on conventional settings, but this resulted in a rapidly rising PaCO2 with no reduction of the air leaks.

Day 6

Therefore, on day 6, high frequency positive pressure ventilation was started.

Right Lung
  • Respiratory Rate = 100 breaths per minute
  • Tidal Volume = approximately 150 mL
  • FIO2 1.0
  • PEEP 30
Left Lung
  • Respiratory Rate = 16
  • Tidal Volume = 400 mL
  • FIO2 1.0
  • PEEP 12


This change immediately brought about a dramatic improvement in both oxygenation and CO2 removal, such that in 3 hours his PaCO2 fell from 75 to 59 mmHg, and his PaO2 rose from 68 to 95 mmHg.

Day 7 - 11

This management was continued with steadily improving gas exchange until day 11 when low frequency ventilation was attempted on the right lung but was abandoned because of falling PaO2 and rising PaCO2. The double-lumen tube was changed for the second time because of blockage by secretions. Later the patient was successfully changed back to conventional ventilation via a single-lumen tube to both lungs.

Day 17

On day 17 direct laryngoscopy revealed laryngeal edema only. A tracheotomy was performed and ventilatory weaning begun.

Day 19

On day 19 a tracheal aspirate, taken on day 15, was reported to be growing Enterobacter organisms and antibiotic therapy was started and continued for 10 days.

Day 21

On day 21 the drainage from the right intercostal drains had become frankly purulent and was also growing Enterobacter organisms.

Day 31

On day 31 he was extubated and discharged well on day 44.