Thursday, November 10, 2011
Today I was finally able to demonstrate the drill to Gerald and the residents. Since there had been no appropriate cases during the week, we bought some fresh goat heads from the market and performed burr holes and craniotomies on them. Fortunately, the electricity cooperated. The residents had a great time learning to put the drill together, practicing with the different attachments, and working on the goat heads. Among other things, we discovered that a goat’s frontal bone is very thick under its horns! We also discussed basic head trauma management, and the residents showed an excellent grasp of the relevant anatomy, physiology, and critical care despite having few opportunities to practice it. I reviewed the technique of exploratory burr holes, which I have never actually performed – because CT and angiography have been widely available for so long, few if any practicing neurosurgeons in the US have performed this technique. The residents helped me get a sense of what they try to do for head trauma patients in the ER. Since imaging is not available, they rely on the history and exam. Any loss of consciousness warrants 24-hour observation. They use the Glasgow Coma Scale, vital signs, and pupillary asymmetry to decide whether to give mannitol (intermittently available in the ER) or explore. However, even at MGH, by the time a patient exhibits the classic Cushing response or “blows” a pupil, it may be too late. Also, once a patient is admitted to the ward, such monitoring no longer occurs. It is common for patients to come in with a GCS of 13 or 14, then suddenly decompensate and die on the ward – presumably because of a rapidly expanding epidural or subdural hematoma that could have been addressed if an accurate imaging diagnosis had been available.
Anna R. Terry, MD, MPH
PGY-5, MGH Department of Neurosurgery