This beautiful hand-drawn image is stolen from www.america.pink. Note that the patient appears to be holding a martini glass. This moustachioed gentleman is illustrating the clinical signs of traumatic asphyxia, a 30%-weighted first part of Question 10 from the first paper of 2016. These signs consist of facial oedema, cyanosis, conjunctival haemorrhage and widespread petechii.
Not content with commonplace bread-and-butter ICU problems like base of skull fracture and fat embolism, the college decided to pull out a rarity which tripped up a whole population of candidates. Certainly, the incidence of this syndrome is such that one may spend four years in a major Australian trauma centre and never see one single case. A South Australian forensic pathology article (Byard et al, 2006)managed to scrape up 77 autopsy cases from a 25-year period (1980 to 2004), of which the majority were motor vehicle trauma and industrial accidents. Oh's Manual doesn't even mention it once. J.Dwek first described the syndrome in 1946, calling it the "ecchymotic mask"- he wrote about it on the basis of only one case, out of a busy trauma service history of treating roughly 18,500 accident victims in an area with heavy military traffic.
"Traumatic asphyxia" is defined as "a form of suffocation where respiration is prevented by external pressure on the body". It is essentially a crush injury of the thorax, with impaired respiration as the result of greatly decreased chest expansion. Failure of venous return from the upper body results in the characteristic clinical findings, all of which can be attributed to greatly increased venous pressure. Traumatic asphyxia is a common cause of death among people being crushed by a crowd in a panic, or when law enforcement officers decide to restrain an individual by sitting on them.