Know The Status of Cervical, Thoracic, and Lumbar Spine Stability on All Postoperative and Trauma Patients
Rachel Bluebond-Langner MD
When a patient returns from the operating room following spinal surgery it is important to establish with the surgical team the stability of the spine as well as the integrity of the dura. This information is critical should the patient need to be reintubated, vomit, or elevate the head of bed. There would be no greater catastrophe than for a caregiver to cause a spinal cord injury by incorrectly manipulating a patient who has an unstable spine, particularly the cervical spine (Fig. 183.1).
In the patient with an unstable cervical spine requiring reintubation there are three options: direct laryngoscopy with in-line immobilization; fiberoptic intubation; or an emergent surgical airway. Direct laryngoscopy with in-line stabilization (avoiding traction on the spine) is unquestionably challenging for the uninitiated but should be attempted first. Fiberoptic intubation provides a more optimal view of the airway but requires that the equipment be readily available and that the patient is relatively stable and noncombative. Emergency surgical airway should be reserved for circumstances in which oral intubation has failed. It should be stressed that a patient does not need to be intubated to be ventilated. If the bedside provider has knowledge of an unstable cervical spine and can adequately oxygenate a patient with a bag valve mask, it may be prudent to do so while obtaining the services of an experienced airway professional that may be more adept at the procedures listed earlier.