A 47-year-old female patient is in your ICU having had a prolonged wean from mechanical ventilation following severe head and chest injuries sustained in a motor vehicle collision. She has a tracheostomy and has been breathing spontaneously, free from ventilatory support, on an FiO2 of 0.3 via a tracheostomy mask for 24 hours.
Describe how you will assess whether the tracheostomy tube can be safely removed.
Assessment will involve history, examination and targeted investigations and may involve a trial period with the tracheostomy “capped” or occluded (with the cuff deflated!) to ensure that it can be safely removed.
The tracheostomy can be safely removed if the patient:
• Has a patent upper airway
• Has a protected upper airway
• Can adequately clear her secretions
• No longer requires mechanical ventilation
Patent upper airway
o Upper airway trauma
o Duration of translaryngeal intubation
o Indication for tracheostomy (was it placed for upper airway obstruction)
o Known grade of intubation or difficulty with intubation
o Facial or airway trauma or recent surgery
• Investigations (if indicated, not routine)
o Direct or fibreoptic laryngoscopy
o CT scans if available may offer some information
Protected upper airway
o Severity of brain injury
o Focal brainstem injury
o Current neurological status
Level of consciousness
Lower cranial nerves including cough and gag reflex
o Neurological imaging inc CT and MRI
o Barium swallow or fibreoptic assessment for aspiration
Adequate clearance of secretions
o Injuries that may impair cough
Spinal cord injury
Multiple rib fractures with flail segment
Severe lung trauma
Recurrent pneumonia or lung abscess
Lung disease e.g., bronchietcasis
Frequency of suctioning
Nature and volume of secretions
Presence of flail segment
o Neurological assessment
Peripheral neuromuscular function
Cough assessment (strength, ability to cough secretions past tube)
o Ultrasound of diaphragm (if problem suspected)
o Fibreoptic examination of vocal cord function
No requirement for mechanical ventilation
o Background and co-morbidities (OSA, smoking, lung or heart disease….)
o Nature and extent of chest injury and other injuries
o Requirement for any ongoing surgery
o Pattern and duration of weaning from ventilation (24hours of spontaneous ventilation would be a minimum for trache removal)
o Respiratory and cardiovascular examination
o Tertiary survey
o CT chest
o ABG off ventilation
The answer template is not exhaustive, merely indicative and this level of detail in this template was not required. To pass the candidate needed to demonstrate awareness of the requirement for all of:
1. Patent upper airway
2. Ability to clear secretions with a mention of cuff deflation
3. Adequate level of consciousness
4. Adequacy of spontaneous ventilation
Superficial approach. Lack of systematic approach to a common procedure done in ICU. Cuff deflation missed most often.
This college answer has left little room for improvement. One may only try to rearrange the points into something which is not specific to a trauma patient with head and chest injuries, i.e. a more generic approach to anybody with a tracheostomy. One must caution against this formulaic templated approach in the actual exam, as the examiners often complain about how the trainees have not read their carefully worded question text. It would be always important to include case-specific details in one's answer to demonstrate one's engagement with the question.
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