Bedside Ultrasound Clip Quiz! A 72 year old man with fever, weight loss and tachycardia. #FOAMed, #FOAMcc, #FOAMer

So a 72 year old man is brought to the ER after collapsing at home. His family had noted weight loss in the last months, and recently some fever and general weakness.  His HR is 108, T 38.8, BP 80/40, GCS 14 – somnolent – he is in lactic acidosis (4.5) and renal failure (cr 180 – baseline 120), with some vague abdominal pain, a clear chest and warm extremities.

POCUS shows a normal IVC, normal RV/LV, A profile lungs, no ascites, and this on the left flank:


What is the main diagnosis?

Scroll below for the answer:










So the clip shows fairly severe hydronephrosis, the “bear paw” with very dilated calyces.  The patient was suffering from obstructed pyelonephritis due to massive retroperitoneal adenopathy later found to be lymphoma.  A couple of hours later he got a nephrostomy tube to take care of the septic source (double J could not pass) and his sepsis resolved within a few days, and he headed off to chemo for the NHL.

The advantage of POCUS here is. once again, the speed of diagnosis. He went straight from CT to the readied urologists and source control happened within a couple of hours. His relatively benign abdomen may not have prompted a rapid CT otherwise.

See here for more POCUS!





Wicked Clinical Case: POCUS & Prone save the day! #FOAMed, #FOAMcc, #FOAMer

So I get a call from a colleague in the ED at about 2am, telling me about a 39 yr old woman post-arrest. So I start putting on my boots and warming up the car (it’s January in Montreal folks).  Apparently she had presented earlier in severe acidosis, the diagnosis is unclear, but she apparently got 2 units for an Hb of 49, then went into respiratory failure and got intubated. She arrested about 30 minutes later, cause unknown.

I tell the ICU to prepare a bed but I want to see her in the ED first. Twenty minutes later I put probe to patient and see a full IVC with spontaneous echo contrast. On that I tell the nurse to hold the fluids – there was a bag and tubing and a pump with 100ml/hr on it – and turn into a subxiphoid view to see a normal RV and a hypokinetic LV with some WMAs. She has marked consolidations  in both posterior lung fields and B lines laterally, with small effusions and dynamic air bronchograms (indicating patent airways). At this point she has a HR of about 120, but there is neither perceptible BP (by NIBP) nor saturation. She’s on levophed at 20mcg. She’s about an hour post arrest which was witnessed and brief (<10min to ROSC).

The theories about the arrest are possible hyperkalemia: she was intubated with succinylcholine before the K of 6.1 was back from the lab, and her pre-intubation pH was 7.0, and post-intubation she was only ventilated at 400 x 18, possibly precipitating a drop in pH and a rise in K. Her EKG had some nonspecific signs at this point, but also a poor anterior R wave.

So we head to the ICU, as instrumentation was needed. Cerebral saturation (SctO2) is 42% and ETCO2 is 20mmhg, which reassures me that the BP is probably in the measurable range (normal SctO2 is >60% and varies, but 47% is certainly viable)…  A jugular CVC with continuous ScVo2 and a femoral arterial line goes in:


So with a BP of 59/44 (ignore the 100/46, not sure whose arm that was on!) I start epinephrine, as the POCUS is similar, as I want some added beta-agonism. ScVO2 matches SctO2 in the 40’s. We get the BP up the the 90-1oo range, the ETCO2 goes to 30, the SctO2 and ScVo2 go up into the high 40’s, which is very reassuring, because with this I know that my epi drip is improving perfusion and NOT over-vasoconstricting. Without looking at a real-time tissue perfusion index of some sort or other, it is nearly impossible to know rapidly whether your therapy is helping or harming (will discuss tissue saturation & resuscitation monitoring in more detail in another post sometime soon).


So now the sat finally starts to record in the low 60’s. We have a PEEP of 5, so start bringing it up. We hit 16 before the BP starts to drop, and that only gets us to the mid 70’s sat%. She actually squeezes my hand to command.


At this point I take a few seconds to recap in my mind. I’d spoken to the husband briefly and she had had recurrent episodes of feeling unwell with headache, nausea and diaphoresis, and that had been out for dinner earlier and she felt fine until later in the evening when this came on and eventually brought her to hospital. There was also a notion of hypertension at an ER visit a couple of weeks ago. Her history was otherwise not significant. Nonsmoker.

Pheo? Maybe, but shock?  I repeat the EKG, and now, in I and AVL, there is perhaps a 1mm ST elevation. She’s 39 and essentially dying. Lactate comes back >15, pH 6.9.  I give her a few more amps of NaHCO3. You can see the BP respond to each amp. I decide we need to go to the cath lab and get the cardiologist on call to get on the horn with the interventional team at a nearby hospital with a cath lab and ECMO, which is what I think she needs. Hb comes back at 116, making that initial 49 that prompted 2 PRBCs probably a technical or lab error…very unfortunate. There are no visible signs of significant bleeding.

But back to the patient, because this isn’t really a transferrable case.

Recap: a 39yr old woman in cardiogenic shock AND in severe congestive heart failure exacerbated by fluids and packed red cells, with a PO2 in the 40’s and sat in the 70’s.

So I decide to prone her.


Along with draining tamponades, this had to be one of the most rapid and rewarding maneuvers I’ve done. There was a scry drop of sat to the 40’s for a few seconds (may have been a technical thing), but then within a few minutes: BP to the 130’s, SctO2 to 59% and sat 100%!




We dropped the vasopressors, the FiO2, and all breathed a collective sigh of relief. Now for the novices out there, prone ventilation improves VQ mismatch by moving perfusion from diseased, posterior lung fields to now-dependant, relatively healthy, anterior lung fields.

So transfer at this point was in the works. I planned to leave her prone until the last minute. The miraculous effect started to slowly wane within about 30 minutes, with sat and BP creeping down. At the time of transfer, we were back up to 80% FiO2.

So why is this?  Simple enough, this being simple pulmonary edema – rather than consolidated pneumonia – it migrated to dependent areas  relatively quickly. This was confirmed by a quick POCUS check:screen-shot-2017-01-05-at-10-48-06-pmscreen-shot-2017-01-05-at-10-48-26-pm

So in the still shots, you see a pristine “A” profile (normal, no edema) from the patient’s back, and a severe consolidation or “C” profile with ultrasound bronchograms in the antero-lateral (now dependant) chest. Impressive. (for those wanting some POCUS pearls see other posts and here). This is the reverse of her initial POCUS exam.

So we flipped her back and transported her – lights & sirens – the the cath lab, where they were waiting with ECMO cannulae. As an aside, it was quite refreshing to speak to the ICU fellow who spoke POCUS as well as french and english – it’s not usually the case, but I’m glad to see the change. I do believe it to be a direct effect of the influence of my friend and mentor, Dr. Andre Denault, one of the POCUS deities.

So she turned out to have a normal cath and a large adrenal mass. She did well on ECMO, being weaned off it today, and is now alpha-blocked and waiting for surgery, neurologically intact for all intents and purposes. A big thanks to the interventionists and the ICU team at the Montreal Heart Institute. Puts a smile on my face.


Take Home Points:

  1. don’t resuscitate without POCUS. I wouldn’t want anyone guessing with my life on the line, would you?
  2. keep pheo in mind as a cause of “acute MI” and shock
  3. if you’re not using some form of realtime monitor of perfusion (continuous CO, SctO2, ETCO2, ScvO2) then all you’ve got is looking at the skin and mentation, so you are essentially flying blind. Lactate and urine output are not realtime in real life.
  4. get ECMO in the house, it’ll come in handy. I’m working on it.


Love to hear some comments!





ps I’ll try to add more ultrasound clips from this case in the next few days.

Fluids in Sepsis: An EmCrit Webinar! #FOAMed, #FOAMcc

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 2.00.28 PM

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 1.43.23 PM

So a few weeks ago Scott (@EmCrit) asked me to be part of a pretty cool webinar organized by the Greater New York Hospital Association about fluids in sepsis. The gang consisted of David Gaiesky, Emmanuel Rivers and moderated by Scott himself. And for some obscure reason, he asked me to be part of it – much to my honour (terror, also), naturally.  It was only afterwards that he told me it was to help stir the pot and be controversial, challenge the “old school” etc… He seemed to have overlooked that I am Canadian, and inherently and perhaps overly polite and considerate – at least live and in “person”!

We talk about a bunch of stuff around fluids, which, how much, how to assess, etc.

Anyhow, I hope I got a few ideas across, but it was really cool to hear that these gurus do use ultrasound – don’t necessarily strictly adhere to, for instance, EGDT, and also advocate that guidelines are guidelines and not necessarily gold standards.

Here is the link to the webinar for those interested:


And here is the figure for the section where I refer to fluid responsiveness/tolerance:

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 9.25.50 AM

I further talk about this in a previous post here.

Scott and I also recorded a debrief which should be coming up in the next weeks on EmCrit – link to follow!




Resuscitation Leadership Academy: Check it out!


Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 11.05.26 AM

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 11.05.11 AM

Just wanted to invite everyone to take a look at the Resuscitation Leadership Academy (www.resuscitationleadership academy), brainchild of Haney Mallemat (@criticalcarenow) and Scott Weingart (@emcrit), neither of whom need an intro at this point, needless to say.  Much thanks to them for inviting me to the faculty, very honoured to be a part of the team!

Basically the RLA offers an online curriculum packed with great material, but more importantly the opportunity to do an online hangout with any faculty member and discuss cases, topics, etc, in an informal but very informative manner. I think this is a great resource for trainees as well as those who are in practice but either lack an academic environment or really just want to tap into some of these guys’ experience and knowledge.

Looking forward to meeting some of you in a hangout!



NIRS-Assisted Resuscitation: Following the N=1 Principle. (Part 1) #FOAMed #FOAMcc #NIRS

So for anyone who has been reading any of my stuff, you know that I believe we best serve our patients by using the information in good evidence and blending it with bedside assessment (ultrasound being an integral part of physical examination) and physiology to come up with the best therapeutic approach to the one patient we are treating.  Contrast that to the blinded and naive belief that one protocol from one study is the best thing for all patients suffering from disease X.

So I am constantly looking for a way to fine tune resuscitation to the individual patient, given his/her particular cardiovascular function, volume tolerance (not just volume responsiveness), vasopressor tolerance (blue fingers probably mean blue livers and kidneys to some degree) and metabolic reactions.

One of my friends and mentors is Dr. Andre Denault. Absolutely incredible guy who is a complete triple threat of academia (internist/intensivist/anaesthetist massively published), experience and raw neuronal power. Throw in open-mindedness and humility (he actually once picked my brain about abdominal compartment syndrome pressure monitoring) and you have a lethal package. So after killing off the filed of intraoperative/critical care TEE (yes the leading textbook is his), he’s plunged into NIRS spectroscopy and is now dragging it from the OR to the ICU, and so in the last few years he’s put me on this trail with anecdotes and his (unpublished yet but coming) findings.

So a quick few words about NIRS (Near InfraRed Spectroscopy). The technology looks at hemoglobin saturation, and does so in a predominantly venous way. Hence this behaves similarly to a central or mixed venous gas, except at the local tissue level. A gross normal is >70% but this has to be interpreted in clinical context, along with the knowledge of simultaneous arterial saturation. Hence lower values (assuming normal arterial sats) will mean one of two things: increased demand or decreased supply. The demand issue is a clinical one. What we are looking for using this type of monitoring is decreased supply, e.g. cardiac output that is inadequate for current demands.

The information gleaned from our discussions was enough to make me get some loaner time with some devices, and that was enough to have a few clinical cases pique my interest.

Here is one:

In the ICU at Scarborough General in Toronto, I admit a lady with urosepsis on a stone-obstructed hydronephrosis. We get urology to slip in a double J, but she is still very norepinephrine-dependant. She isn’t intubated, lactate about 5 and on high doses of norepi to maintain MAP 60-65. Extremities are cold and mottled and there is mottling up to the thighs. She is awake and communicating. Over the next hour or so lactate rises to 5.5. I’m not liking this.

I put on the NIRS monitor with a cerebral lead and one on the thigh. They both read in the 50’s, somewhat suboptimal.

Bedside US reveals a good sized IVC with little variation. She’s well filled. Her LVEF is 50-60%, her RV is dynamic and with a normal RV/LV ratio. The hydronephrosis is improved on the affected side.

So I have a patient who’s adequately preloaded, without obstructive or systolic failure, who is on very high doses of norepinephrine with a rising lactate, despite source control and antibiotics. However, she doesn’t “look” that bad aside from the cold and blueish extremities…

So I decrease the norepinephrine. Systolic BP drops to 80…but…cerebral NIRS and tissue NIRS rise…now in the high 50’s. Patient remains awake and communicating. Drop norepinephrine some more. Systolic 75. Cerebral NIRS 62%, tissue 61%. Systolic 70. Cerebral 59%, tissue 57%. Back up to 75%. NIRS back up.  I finally settle on 75-80 systolic. NIRS settles in low 60’s. An hour later, lactate is 4, two hours later 2.5, then normalizes. Over that time span, the mottling gradually resolves and the urine output picks up. By the next morning she is off norepinephrine, and her BP sits around systolic 85-90 on its own. Turns out her usual BP is in the low 100’s.

I’m not sure how long – without the reassurance of improved tissue saturation – I would have been able to tolerate systolic BPs in the 70’s. Remember that lactate takes time to clear and urine takes time to make.

So this case reinforced my belief that not every patient’s needs are best met by an MAP of 65, and that targeting this may be harmful. It isn’t hard to imagine a scenario (which I may very well have pursued at a more junior stage) where further fluid resuscitation, coupled with insistence on a BP value may have resulted in iatrogenic fluid overload or Paul Marik’s “salt water drowning” (more commonly thought of as “ARDS”) and tissue ischemia/organ dysfunction (partly related to over-vasoconstriction) and who knows what outcome could have transpired… And very possibly, a bad outcome may have been blamed on severity of illness… Food for thought.

So one definitely possible use for NIRS is to find the “sweet spot” for the BP/vasopressor relationship.

More on NIRS in Part 2 in the next week or so.

Limited EGDT in Zambia Study: Salt Water Drowning Syndrome… #FOAMed, #FOAMcc

So in this month’s issue of Critical Care Medicine, an interesting article was published, where investigators took a (necessarily) simplified version of EGDT to Zambia and applied it to septic patients. It turned out they had to stop it early due to an excessive number of cases of respiratory failure in the treatment group.  The difference was – you guessed it – they got “aggressive” volume resuscitation – up to 4l in the first 6 hours – guided by JVP assessment, and blood and dopamine if needed.


The amounts received by 6, 24 and 72h were 2.9, 3.9 and 5.6 l for the treatment group vs 1.6, 3.0 and 4.3 l.

Now lets keep in mind that the patients, for the most part, did not have access to critical care, so the limited resources for ventilatory support made stopping the trial a bit early the only reasonable thing to do. Mortality in the treatment group was 64% and control 60%. High numbers, but this is explained in part by the prevalence of HIV (80%) and TB (37% of the HIV positive patients), so this data can’t necessarily be extrapolated to all populations, but to me, this is physiological support for the concept that aggressive fluid resuscitation – as I have stated in prior posts/podcasts – is most dangerous in those patients where the septic source – presumably “leaky” is ill-equipped to handle extra-physiological fluid.  In these patients, as Myburgh states in a sepsis talk, “noradrenaline is the fluid of choice,” and although perhaps a bit tongue in cheek, this certainly speaks to my beliefs of resuscitating to euvolemia rather than to the lack of volume responsiveness (

Additionally, these patients were not hypotensive, and lactate was not available – local limitations of medical system. Hence the definition of severe sepsis triggering aggressive fluid resuscitation was based  on SIRS type criteria, rather than some form of volume assessment.


Bottom line?

Be cautious in aggressive fluid administration in pulmonary sepsis. What, I really dislike when people say “be careful” or “be cautious,” because let’s face it, that doesn’t really mean anything, does it?  It doesn’t tell you what to actually do… We are frontline clinicians, so I’ll say to limit fluid resuscitation in pulmonary sepsis.  2 litres up front?  Probably ok so long as I have a varying, mid-size IVC (maybe 10-15mm – arbitrary and chronic pulmonary disease and hypertension have to be factored in) and a decent heart, but I don’t want to get to the point of no longer being fluid-responsive. Rather, go to pressors a bit earlier, perhaps, and no need for ongoing “maintenance” fluids at 100-150 cc’s an hour – remember that 80% of this wonderful therapy ends up where we don’t want it to.





PS for awesome talks by amazing speakers, don’t forget to register for CCUS 2015!!! For more info: and register at

Fluids and Vasopressors in Sepsis, Wechter et al, CCM Journal: Anything Useful? #FOAMed, #FOAMcc

A couple of articles on fluid resuscitation worth mentioning. Not necessarily for their quality, but because they will be quoted and used, and critical appraisal of the content and conclusion is, without a doubt, necessary to us soldiers in the trenches.

The first one, Interaction between fluids and vasoactive agents on mortality in septic shock: a multi-center, observational study, from the october issue of the CCM Journal (2014) by Wechter et al, for the Cooperative Antimicrobial Therapy of Septic Shock Database Research Group, is a large scale effort do shed some light on one of the finer points of resuscitation, which is when to initiate vasopressors in relation to fluids in the face of ongoing shock/hypotension.

So they reviewed 2,849 patients in septic shock between 1989 and 2007, trying to note the patterns of fluid and vasopressor therapy which were associated with the best survival.  They found that survival was best when combining an early fluid loading, with pressors started somewhere in the 1-6 hour range.  I do invite you to read it for yourself, it is quite a complex analysis with a lot of permutations.

So…is it a good study?  Insofar as a retrospective study on a highly heterogeneous bunch of patients, I think so. But can I take the conclusion and generalize it to the patient I have in front of me with septic shock? I don’t think so. In all fairness, in the full text conclusion the authors concede that this study, rather than a clinical game-changer, is more of a hypothesis generator and should prompt further study. That, I think, is the fair conclusion.

In the abstract, however, the conclusion is that aggressive fluid therapy should be done, withholding vasopressors until after the first hour.  This is somewhat of a concern to me, since it isn’t uncommon for some to just read that part…

So why is this not generalizable?  First of all, I think that the very concept of generalizing is flawed.  We do not treat a hundred or a thousand patients at a time, and should not be seeking a therapeutic approach that works best for most, but for the one patient we are treating. Unfortunately, this is the inherent weakness of any large RCT and even more so in meta-analyses, unless the right subgroups have been drawn up in the study design.

Let me explain.

Patient A shows up with his septic peritonitis from his perforated cholecystitis. He’s a tough guy, been sick for days, obviously poor intake and finally crawls in. If you were to examine him properly, you’d have a hard time finding his tiny IVC, his heart would be hyperdynamic, his lungs would have clear A profiles, except maybe for a few B lines at the right base. You’d give him your version of EGDT, and he’d do pretty well. A lot better than if you loaded him with vasopressors early and worsened his perfusion. Score one for the guideline therapy.

Patient B shows up with his septic pneumonia, also a tough guy, but happens to be a diabetic with a past MI. He comes is pretty quick cuz he’s short of breath.  If you examine him properly, he has a big IVC, small pleural effusions, right basal consolidation and B lines in good quantity. He gets “EGDT” with an aggressive volume load and progressively goes into respiratory failure, which is ascribed to his severe pneumonia/ARDS, but more likely represents volume overload, as he was perhaps a little volume responsive, but not volume tolerant. An example of Paul Marik’s “salt water drowning.” ( Additionally he goes into acute renal failure, ascribed to severe sepsis, but certainly not helped by the venous congestion ( If he doesn’t make it, the thought process will likely be that he was just so sick, but that he got “gold standard” care. Or did he?

It may very well be that the studied group may include more Patient A types, and less B types, whose worse outcome will be hidden by the “saves” of the As. If you have a therapy that saves 15/100 but kills 5/100 you still come out 10/100 ahead… Great for those 15, not so much for the 5 outliers.

We, however, as physicians, need to apply the N=1 principle as we do not treat a hundred or a thousand patients at a time. I would not hesitate to be much more conservative in fluid resuscitating a B-type patient, regardless of the evidence.

Unfortunately, until trials include a huge number of important variables (an accurate measure of volume status, cardiac function, capillary leak, extravascular lung water, etc), it will be impossible to extrapolate results  to an individual patient.  These trials will, I suppose, eventually be done, but will be huge undertakings, and I do look forward to those results.

So, bottom line?

It’s as good a study of this type as could be done, but the inherent limitations make it of little clinical use, unless your current practice is really extreme on fluids or pressors. What it will hopefully be, however, is an onus to do the highly complex and integrative trials that need to be done to determine the right way to treat each patient we face.







Lawrence Lynn says:

Excellent post. This thoughtful quote should be read and understood by every sepsis trialists!!

“We do not treat a hundred or a thousand patients at a time, and should not be seeking a therapeutic approach that works best for most, but for the one patient we are treating.”

This single quote exposes the delay in progress caused by the ubiquitous oversimplification which defines present sepsis clinical trials. Bacteria (and viruses) generate “extended phenotypes” which are manifested in the host. These phenotypes combine with the phenotypic host response to produce the range of “dynamic relational hybrid phenotypes of bacterial and viral infection”. These hybrid phenotypes are also affected by the innoculum and/or the site of infection (vis-à-vis, your example of peritonitis).

Certainly Wechter et al and the Cooperative Antimicrobial Therapy of Septic Shock Database Research Group should be commended for beginning the process of moving toward the study of the dynamic relational patterns of complex rapidly evolving disease and treatment.

We are excited to see the beginning of the move of trialists toward the study of dynamic state of disease and treatment. However, before they can help us with meaningful results, trialists will need to study and define the range of “the dynamic relational phenotypes of severe infection” and then study the treatment actual phenotypes. This will not be easy as these organisms have had hundreds of thousands of years of evolution writing the complex genotypes which code for the extended of human infection. Sepsis trailists need to be encouraged by clinicians to rise to the task.

The clinicians must actively teach the trialists, (as you have in your post) that we expect trails which help to identity the therapeutic approach that works best in response to the dynamic hybrid phenotype “we are treating”.

The two linked articles below explain the present oversimplified state of the science of sepsis trails and why we clinicians must teach the trailists not to oversimplify and assure that they move quickly toward the study of the actual dynamic phenotypes of severe infection.

This is a paradigm shift so we, as clincians, must act to teach trailists this move is necessary. Otherwise we will continue to be left with hypotheses, which, while nice, are not useful at the bedside.

Lawrence Lynn