Wound Packing: Techniques and Considerations

The ability to pack a wound is an essential skill for the tactical medic. While a tourniquet is an excellent tool for controlling hemorrhage in extremity trauma, there are many areas that do not allow proper application of a tourniquet. The video on wound packing was produced to show the fundamentals of wound packing.

    A. Identify the bleed
    B. Pack into the bleed
    C. Pack tightly to the bone if possible

A. Identify the bleed-
It is essential that the medic identify the source of the serious hemorrhage. Simply stuffing gauze into a cavity is not always effective. Often times the pressure is not applied where it is needed and the gauze only acts as a sponge. What makes packing a wound effective is that is provides focused pressure directly on the damaged vessel. By occluding the lumen of the vessel with the gauze you get hemorrhage control. If it is not completely controlled it at least slows the hemorrhage to a point where the body’s natural clotting factors can interact with the gauze to form a clot. There are three main methods to identify the location of a bleed.

    1. Visualization
    Visualization is the preferred method, but it is often unrealistic due to ballistic patterns, flooding of cavities and tissue movement. Excess blood filling the cavity can be scooped out to give a quick look, but on high pressure bleeds and blast injuries this can be very difficult.

    2. Tactile assessment
    Feel works well if you are in a relatively calm mental state and have complete awareness of your senses. It is not a reliable source when you have been carrying heavy loads, firing weapons for long periods of time or participating in any activity that has caused your hands to fatigue. It’s also unreliable if you are wearing multiple layers of gloves.

    3. Anatomy
    A basic understanding of the vascular structure of the human body goes a long way in this situation. It isn’t as good of an indicator as visualizing the bleed, but if you are pressed for time it can be a good solution. It is best when used in conjunction with the other methods. It is also helpful when determining the best angle to pack from.

B. Pack into the Bleed
Notice what the section is titled, “Pack into the bleed”. It does not say pack into the wound. Your first few sections of gauze should go directly to the source of the major hemorrhage. After that hemorrhage has been staunched, the remaining gauze should be packed tightly around it to keep it in place. Your goal is NOT to create a sponge inside the wound, but a solid mass that applies pressure where it is needed. This is a very important point. An often-asked question is, “how much blood does the Olaes bandage absorb?” The answer is this: hopefully none. The purpose of bandages is not to absorb the most blood, it is to STOP bleeding, in order to keep blood where it needs to be: in the body. You don’t put bandages on to keep your vehicle clean.

C. Pack to the bone
The major vessels of the body are not inside muscular tissue! Most vessels run near the major bones in the body. If the wound is in a location that allows you to use the bone as a rigid object to maintain pressure on the damaged vessel, use it. Start by packing into the bleeder, and then use the gauze to squeeze the vessel between it and the bone. This creates the same effect as a vascular tourniquet, or simply holding pressure with your finger.

Educating medical directors and command surgeons in the importance of wound packing is essential. The ability to pack wounds is a necessary skill in an environment with the potential for delayed evacuation times and limited manpower. The idea that you will hold direct pressure for 3-5 minutes during a fire fight is ridiculous. Packing a wound reduces the need for this and frees the medic’s hands up to engage more important things, like the enemy. When used in conjunction with hemostatic agents, it is even more effective. We will cover how these two work together in a future entry.

Phases of Tactical Medicine

The Care Under Fire Phase (Part 2)–Considerations

The Care Under Fire (CUF) phase of treatment requires a basic management plan. The plan is comprised of basic steps. Remember, it is the basics that save lives. They are as follows:

1) Regain your situational awareness.

  1. What type of threat have you encountered? An IED?
  2. What direction is the threat coming from? Will a secondary explosion/engagement occur? Is it occurring now?

  3. Are there any casualties? Am I a casualty?
  4. What do I do now? Treat the casualty? Return Fire?

2) Return Fire and/or take cover.

  1. Because this is the CUF Phase, which means you are still under fire, you are not a medic until fire superiority has been established. As the old saying goes, “fire superiority is the best medicine.”

3) Direct casualty, if applicable, to remain engaged in the fight.

  1. This may prevent the casualty from sustaining further injuries. This must be practiced in training. As Bruce Siddle has noted in Sharpening the Warrior’s Edge, practicing to play the casualty by quitting when shot during training will hinder one’s ability to do otherwise in real-world situations (i.e., do not get in the mindset that an injury precludes you from continuing to fight.

4) If patient is unable to continue to fight, direct him/her to move to cover and/or apply self-aid.

  1. This must be done in training. Get your operators out of the mindset that “doc will do medicine.” You must train them to provided self-aid, then buddy-aid, then, when applicable, expect medic-aid. The casualty is a casualty for a reason: The point of injury is dangerous, underfire, etc. Direct him to treat himself via yelling, radio, etc. Remember, however, that ears will be ringing post-explosion.

5) Prevent patient from sustaining additional wounds (SEE 3 and 4).

  1. In addition to 3 and 4, rescue ought to be considered. Practice tactical rescues in training. Train assaulters to quickly assess casualties during the tactical rescue. For example, if the casualty is talking, then airway is good. If responsive, ask where they are hit. Look for hemorrhage. Are they complaining about difficulty breathing? These are just a few examples.

6) Stop Catastrophic-Hemorrhage. (self-aid, buddy-aid, medic-aid)

  1. Use tourniquets where applicable.
  2. Hemostatic agents with pressure dressing if tactically feasible.

7) Airway management ought to be deferred until the Tactical Field Care phase.

  1. Not always possible. Be prepared to provide a surgical airway. If an airway compromise is sever enough to need attention during the CUF phase, then 99% of the time it will require a Cric. Do you have a Cric-Kit accessible? If it is in your bag, then it is not going to do the casualty much good. You need to have one in a mag-pouch, leg-bag, etc.

The above is a loose guide. Do not limit yourself to algorithmic medicine.

Situational Awareness and Selecting a Treatment Position

It is essential for a medic to constantly update his situational awareness. The tactical environment is constantly changing and threat levels fluctuate every second. While providing treatment to a casualty is important, never let it overshadow the tactical situation around you. Unless you are in a secure area you must constantly reevaluate threat levels and balance the level of care provided with the current threat.

Selecting a proper position in the CCP or positioning yourself during hasty treatment is an essential part of this task. You should position your casualties in a manner that allows you to make quick visual assessments of potential threat areas or at least provide a visual on your security element (if you have one). Placing a casualty in a corner or along a wall forces the medic into the center of the room. Not only does it limit access to the patient, it puts the medic in an exposed position and makes it difficult for them to evaluate their surroundings. It also increases the occurrence of tunnel vision. It’s easy to lose focus when you can only see one thing. If possible, position casualties in the center of a room, just remember you want to minimize their exposure to open doors and windows just as you want to minimize your own. If the room is large, consider placing them near the walls; however, leave enough space between the casualty and the wall to allow yourself workspace and room to maneuver quickly if necessary.

A dead medic doesn’t save lives. Failure to understand what is occurring around you increases your risk of injury or death. In the demo-video, take note of the manner in which the medic positions himself in the room and how he is constantly checking his threat-areas while providing aid.

Take-away Points:
1. Maintaining situational awareness is as important as treating your casualty
2. Position yourself and your casualty so as to lessen your risks
3. Performing your duties as a medic does not relieve of your tactical responsibilities

Hypothermia: Is It a Valid Concern in a Hot Enviroment?

According to information published in the latest “Lessons Learned” from Iraq it is one of the most important variables concerning the survivability of casualties. Hypothermia, as our readers know, is one of the three components of the lethal triad–acidosis and coagulopathy being the other two. Even if it is hot outside, care must be taken to ensure casualties do not loose heat. Below you will find an abstract from an article that speaks to the importance of preventing hypothermia.

The impact of hypothermia on trauma care at the 31st combat support hospital.
The American Journal of Surgery, Volume 191, Issue 5, Pages 610-614
Z. Arthurs, D. Cuadrado, A. Beekley, K. Grathwohl, J. Perkins, R. Rush, J. Sebesta

Abstract

BACKGROUND: The primary objective of this study was to review the incidence of hypothermia, and its effect on surgical management, resource utilization, and survival at the 31st Combat Support Hospital (CSH). METHODS: This study was a retrospective analysis of all combat trauma injuries treated at the 31st CSH over a 12-month period. All trauma admissions were included. Descriptive and inferential analysis were performed using SPSS 11.0 software package (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL). RESULTS: A cohort of 2848 patients was identified; 18% were hypothermic (temperature <36 degrees C). Hypothermia was significantly (P < .05) correlated with admission Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS), tachycardia, hypotension, lower hematocrit, and acidosis. Hypothermic patients had a significantly higher blood product and factor VIIa requirement. Hypothermia was an independent predictor of operative management of injuries, damage control laparotomy, factor VIIa use, and overall mortality (P < .05). CONCLUSION: Combat trauma patients have a high percentage of penetrating injuries with variable evacuation times. Hypothermia was a pre-hospital physiologic marker, and independent contributor to overall mortality. Prevention of hypothermia could reduce resource utilization and improve survival in the combat setting.