All posts by Cliff

Awesome Conference on the Sunshine Coast

The Spring Seminar on Emergency Medicine is going to Noosa in September 2016!

In case you haven’t been to an SSEM before – this is a boutique Australasian emergency conference run by a not-for-profit organisation. It is squarely aimed at EM clinicans who like to get their hands dirty. The emphasis is on practical stuff: SSEM is legendary for the quality of its workshops.

It is legendary too for its venues! The last three SSEMs have been held in the Barossa Valley, Darwin and Rotorua. The extracurricular activities are brilliant and the conference draws bright, outward-going, active clinicians from all around Australasia.

This year the academic programme has been expanded with keynotes from 3 leading EM figures, deliberately controversial panel sessions and hot topics, and six awesome workshops on Snakebite (in Australia Zoo), Wilderness Medicine (in the National Park), Difficult Ventilation, Emergency Dentistry, Focused Echocardiography and Lung Ultrasound.

Extracurricular activities include a Welcome Reception with celebrity chef Matt Golinski, early morning activities on Noosa Beach, trips to Eumundi Market and the Spirit House Cooking School and a Beach Party Conference Dinner.

The conference starts with a reception in the Boat House on Tuesday 26 September and wraps up at midday on Friday 30 September with Townsville vs Nambour Simulympics.

There are concessional rates for generalists, trainees, nurses and students. Early bird rates apply until 10 July however the workshops are booking out fast so – book now!

Declaration of interest: I have no involvement in this conference, but I wish I was going!

Why And How I Teach

the teaching hospitalsmI love education. As a trainee, I was lucky to be guided by a handful of excellent mentors along the path. The truth is however, in many places I worked inspiration and good education were hard to find.

I am driven by the desire to make my trainees and colleagues better than me. As a critical care physician, I can only save so many lives in one career. But as an educator I have an opportunity to influence patient care in regions of spacetime to which I will never have personal access.

A massive investment has gone into my medical education. My parents worked their butts off to allow me to study. State funded university education in England got me my medical degree. Taxpayers’ money paid my salary throughout my training. Most importantly, thousands of patients put their trust in me as I did my best to learn medicine by treating them, sometimes getting it right, often getting it less than optimal. I owe all of them. I owe it to them, and to myself, to make it all count as much as possible.

If I can ignite a spark in a trainee’s mind that inspires them to improve, or share a memorable clinical tip that gets recalled and applied at a critical point in a resuscitation months or years from now, then all that investment, all that sacrifice, is so much more worth it. 

Here’s a list of the principles I try to apply, especially when running courses. Underlying all of this is the goal to provide the kind of training I would have loved to have received myself.

Cliff’s Clinical Teaching Tips

Keep it case-based

This allows the nurse, the specialist, and intern to be in the same classroom. When we’re considering patients, everyone can learn something that is relevant to their professional perspective and experience.

Respect the learner

Allow everyone to question the teaching and express their opinion. Never humiliate anyone. The less threatened people feel, the more exploratory their questions will be, and the better they are able to make sense of the information discussed.

Have regular breaks, with food, water, and caffeine

If people have travelled to learn, they need to be protected from fatigue, dehydration, neuroglycopaenia and caffeine withdrawal. If they know you care about these things, they know you care about an effective learning environment, and will be more engaged.

How to make it memorable

Make it fun

Learning is great fun. We should have a good time together. If you’re bored, you won’t learn effectively. Funny or unusual stuff is more memorable, too.

Connect emotionally

Critical care is emotive. During resuscitation we have powerful interactions with ourselves and with our colleagues, sometimes negatively. Learners who are experienced clinicians have all felt pain or frustration in the resuscitation environment. Addressing these issues, by focusing on what could be done better, from a self, team, environment, or systems point of view frames the clinical teaching in more realistic and more applicable context. Sharing my own feelings about cases I’ve managed shows the learners how similar we all are inside, and I’ll be better able to convince them that they are just as capable of applying what is taught as I am. We can advise learners more effectively how to think and behave if we immerse the teaching in the reality of human experience.

Keep it simple

A quotation often misattributed to Einstein is “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. Resuscitation and critical care concepts, certainly as applied to the initial resus room evaluation and therapies, can all be explained in uncomplicated ways. It behooves any resuscitation educator to adhere to this.

Have a framework that you continually refer back to

Knowing where to ‘store’ new information and how it relates to existing knowledge or other concepts being taught is important for understanding and retention. A classic example of such a framework is the ABCDE trauma assessment, but many more can be created. It also facilitates communication of ideas though mindmaps or note taking via sketchnotes.

Tell stories

This relates to connecting emotionally, as recommended above, but there is more to it. Humans have communicated information and ideas through storytelling since the dawn of civilisation. We are hardwired so that our attention is captured by stories.

Use mnemonics

Mnemonic tools like acronyms are helpful for information that needs to be rapidly accessed, like the one I made for possible causes of a raised lactate when you’re looking at a blood gas from a patient in the resus room with a lactate of 12 mmol/l.

I’ve been in the privileged position of being able to apply these principles in courses I’ve run in various countries for over a decade. In 2016 I get to do it again in the Netherlands, Sweden, and England. I’m one very lucky educator!



Related posts and content:

How I train our Prehospital & Retrieval Medicine Team

Resus.ME courses in the UK

Education Theory for the #MedEd Clinician

Advice To A Young Resuscitationist


This talk was the opening plenary given at smacc Chicago. The title they gave me was ‘Advice To A Young Resuscitationist. It’s Up To Us To Save The World‘ but I ditched the last half because, as I point out later in the talk, I don’t think it is up to us to save the whole World. Some AV muppetry at the conference centre prevented the smacc team from being able to include the slides, so I’ll post those too at some point. You can hear the talk as a podcast at the ICN or on iTunes

The references for the talk are here


Learning To Speak Resuscitese


In the resus room, clarity of communication between team members is critical to patient safety and effective resuscitation. We are used to following standardised clinical algorithms for cardiac arrests and many other emergency presentations, but there is no standardisation of vocabulary or communication style. Communication failures are a major source of error in resuscitation, suggesting this is an area in which we need to improve.

Defining your lexicon

A contrast with the aviation industry was drawn by neonatologist Dr Nicole Yamada, who points out that pilots and air traffic controllers use an effective, concise, standardised set of words and phrases that are universally understood, for example ‘stand by’, ‘unable’, ‘read back’, and ‘cancel'(1).  She proposed adapting a similar resuscitation-specific lexicon modelled after aviation communication which ‘would aid in streamlining communication during time-pressured clinical situations when seconds count and errors can kill.‘(2)


Dr Yamada tested this approach in a small study of simulated neonatal resuscitation. Standardised communication techniques were associated with a trend toward decreased error rate and faster initiation of critical interventions.(3)

Avoiding the fluff

In the absence of standardised approaches to communication, humans in the resus room often choose language which indirectly acknowledges social hierarchies. For ad hoc teams, phrases may be chosen which are least likely to offend people with whom we’re unfamiliar, or may be deferential in cases of real or presumed authority and expertise gradients. The consequence of this is the use of ‘mitigating language‘. Examples might be:

“Any chance you could pop a line in?”

“Would someone mind letting me know if they can feel a pulse?”

“Do you want to have a think about setting up for intubation?”

“How about we get some bag-mask ventilation happening at some point?”

“If you could have a look at his abdomen that would be awesome”

These commands (imperatives) phrased obliquely as questions or suggestions are know as ‘whimperatives‘ and are found throughout resus room dialogue, when the team leader does not wish to convey the assumption of a power relationship over her colleagues. These whimperatives are an example of ‘mitigating speech’, which refers to language that ‘de-emphasises’ or ‘sugarcoats’ the command.

In the words of Peter Brindley:

‘The danger of mitigating language illustrates why, during medical crises, we should replace comments such as “perhaps, we need a surgeon” or “we should think about intubating” with “get me a surgeon” and “intubate the patient now.”’(4)


There’s nothing wrong with being polite and respectful, and mitigating language may be helpful in the team building phase. However the more critical the situation, the more an authorative/directive leadership style that clearly delegates critical tasks  is required(5). Standardised terminology (with closed loop communication) is likely to enhance clarity of the message and accelerate the sharing of a team mental model. Avoiding whimperatives and excessive mitigating phrases may further prevent ambiguity and imprecision, reducing the time to critical interventions.

These components of the content of resus room communication – unequivocal, standardised, and direct – should go hand in hand with the delivery of the words. Effective delivery requires optimal delivery speed and ‘command presence’. These factors will be discussed in a future post.

I’d be interested to hear what standard phrases or words you think should be in the resus-room lexicon.


1. Yamada NK, Halamek LP. Communication during resuscitation: Time for a change? Resuscitation. 2014 Dec;85(12):e191–2.

2. Yamada NK, Halamek LP. On the Need for Precise, Concise Communication during Resuscitation: A Proposed Solution. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2015 Jan;166(1):184–7.

3. Yamada NK, Fuerch JH, Halamek LP. Impact of Standardized Communication Techniques on Errors during Simulated Neonatal Resuscitation. Am J Perinatol. 2016 Mar;33(4):385–92.

4. Brindley PG, Reynolds SF. Improving verbal communication in critical care medicine. Journal of Critical Care. 2011 Apr;26(2):155–9.

5. Bristowe KK, Siassakos DD, Hambly HH, Angouri JJ, Yelland AA, Draycott TJT, et al. Teamwork for clinical emergencies: interprofessional focus group analysis and triangulation with simulation. Qual Health Res. 2012 Sep 30;22(10):1383–94.

Reflections on an ass-kicking



Last weekend I got my butt handed to me and I’m feeling really good about it. I entered my first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition, and was beaten unequivocally, having had to submit to avoid having my arm broken after about three minutes into the fight. So what’s to be so cheerful about? Essentially, the whole endeavour was an experiment, and the experiment was a success. I learned a heap about learning, and about myself. Lessons that can be applied to learning resuscitation medicine, or learning anything.

The 10000 hours fallacy: not all hours are created equal

I’ve been doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) for about a year, and am not very good at it. I started it because my (then) five year old son started it, and I thought it would be nice if we could share an interest in something healthful and useful for self protection. For most of that year I made 1-2 sessions a week, usually rushing to class after an emergency department or retrieval medicine shift and not really having my ‘head in the game’. Turning up. Just like it’s possible to turn up to work, get through your shift, and go home and forget about it.

I noticed something interesting about the people who started around the same time as me. Those who were entering competitions – as inexperienced and ill-prepared as they were in the beginning – progressed much faster than me. They would break down techniques and work on specific movements or positions they knew they needed to improve because of their competition experience, and they’d ask targeted questions of the coaches, aimed at maximising feedback for them to work on. It dawned on me that I was witnessing something I’d described in a lecture on Cutting Edge Resuscitation performance at the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Conference last year:

What seems to be apparent is that although many hours of practice are important, pure exposure or experience alone does not predict those who will master their subject. We may have all encountered colleagues who have many years under their belt who lack that spark you’d expect of a cutting edge expert. So merely turning up to work every day doesn’t make you better, it just makes you older. You reach a certain level where you can manage the majority of cases comfortably, after which more exposure to the same experience fails to improve performance expertise.

What differentiates the cutting edge performers from the majority in all these domains (studied areas such as chess or sports or music) appears to be the amount of deliberate practice, or effortful practice, in which individuals engage in tasks with the explicit goal of improving a particular aspect of performance, and continue to practice and modify their performance based on feedback, which can come from a coach or mentor or the results of the performance itself.

“Competence does not equal excellence” – Weingart


With this realisation, I decided to enter a competition I was extremely unlikely to win. I knew that committing (publicly) to a deadline would force me to improve my game, and I turned up more, studied the notes I’d made, and started asking more questions. In the space of a few weeks I felt that my BJJ was progressing faster than before.

The powerful combined forces of deadlines and public commitment

There’s nothing like a deadline or a high stakes test or exam to focus the mind. I’ve done several postgraduate fellowships and diplomas by examination, some of which were optional, and I’m sure each one raised my knowledge and clinical ‘game’ more than any other educational intervention I can think of.

The reality of the competition day approaching forced me to tackle my training, fitness, diet and timetable in a way I otherwise would not have found the motivation for. I had a strange moment when I took off my teeshirt in the changing rooms prior to the match and caught sight of my reflection in the mirror. I barely recognised how different my physique was compared with months earlier. Previously, I’d exercised for its own sake and not made much progress losing the middle aged paunch. But the public commitment to a BJJ fight, in a certain weight category, instilled the drive to exercise and monitor my diet. Commitment to this deadline physically restructured me!

Stress exposure training WORKS!

I’ll be 49 this year. The only people available in my weight category to fight me were aged 36-40. Age can make a big difference. Injuries are not uncommon and a significant one could put me out of training or out of work. My wife and son and friends were going to watch me, and I didn’t want to let them down or put on a pathetic performance. All my buddies who had competed before warned me of the overwhelming nervousness that can disorientate you and cloud your concentration. There were plenty of potential negative outcomes to focus on, but I ignored them all. I knew the simple formula. Breathe. Talk. See.

This basic mantra, assisted by the mnemonic ‘Beat The Stress’ (BTS) developed by Michael Lauria, is something we teach and apply in the training department of Sydney HEMS. Breathe means control and pay attention to your breathing, allowing you to reduce sympathetic hyperactivation and be ‘in the moment’. Talk means positive self-talk: a silent internal monologue that reminds yourself of all the preparation you’ve done and the potential positive outcomes of the task about to be performed. See means visualise: run through in your mind a successful performance, imagining yourself overcoming any anticipated obstacles – a practice which prepares your mind and body for effective task execution.

Less than a week ago I was running workshops on human factors for Sydney University Masters of Medicine (Critical Care) students, and covered how we submit our new HEMS clinicians to stress exposure training in order for them to practice Lauria’s BTS approach. Throughout these workshops I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to test what I teach.

On the day, my only interpretation of my adrenal surge was excitement. Even in the ‘holding pen’ after weigh-in where you wait with other competitors to have your bout, there was no anxiety, no fear. I couldn’t wait to get on the mat. The whole thing was an exhilarating buzz, and even when the can of whoopass was being unloaded on me I felt cognitively ‘available’: aware of my surroundings (and predicament!) and able to control my breathing while I self-talked my way through my limited and ever dwindling options.


It might be slightly unusual to be singing from the rooftops about a defeat, but the educational principles I’m re-learning are worth re-sharing. I took myself out of a comfort zone, and made a public commitment to be tested. This focused my learning and made me practice in a different way and more proactively seek feedback. I no longer was ‘turning up’, I was training towards a goal. This renewed sense of ownership of my training transformed my level of engagement in the learning process, instilling an enthusiasm and craving to understand and test principles rather than rote learn techniques.  I had an opportunity to test ‘Beat The Stress’ in a non-clinical setting and this mindware tool proved itself yet again. And despite the uninspiring outcome on the day, I was back sparring the following evening, with an even greater hunger for specific answers from the coaches, and with senior students remarking ‘you’ve got better’.

Further reading and listening:

Sydney HEMS training (Reid)

Achieving mastery (Weingart)

Cutting edge performance in resuscitation (Reid)

Stress exposure training (Lauria)

Martial arts and the mind of the resuscitationist – do it like you f***ing mean it’.

Gracie Barra Crows Nest

The Best Gift This Season

richRwandaDuring the holiday season, most of the people I know acquire more ‘stuff’ and enjoy an abundance of food and drink. That’s because most of the people I know do not belong to the 1.3 billion people in the world who earn less than $1.25 a day.

This season is about giving, and yet most of us spend it giving to people who don’t need anything.

Richard Johnson and his family have a better grip on global reality. Rich is an emergency physician and retrievalist based in Australia’s Red Centre. He had a life-changing experience working in Rwanda where he was shown the difference that can be made to communities stricken by poverty when you combine a relatively small amount of money with a lot of effort and love.

You can read his full story here, which is truly inspiring. In 2004, having treated a premature infant, Rebecca, who was expected to die, and subsequently seeing her nursed to full health, Rich dedicated some of his time, energy, and money to seeing that Rebecca and other orphaned children could have a chance at a safe home, medical care, and education.

He recently returned and sent this email to his friends:

I have returned from my trip to Rwanda and have a mind spinning with thoughts and possibilities. I spent three weeks visiting families and communities and seeing very difficult things and making very difficult decisions as to who we can support and who we won’t be able to.

The level of poverty that I witnessed with overt physical signs of malnutrition, poor housing, cholera outbreaks was at times overwhelming. Even though I have lived there and seen it before it seems all the more real and vivid when it is affecting people that you know and care about.

I have left money for emergency food aid, solar lights, paid for a boat to be built and fishing net, arranged for some roof repairs to weather proof houses (it is the rainy season) and arranged for primary and secondary education for some of the children. I have also employed a local man, Prince to manage the projects on the ground and whose family will be providing residential care for Rebecca during school term times to ensure her education. He is an ex-orphan and a truly remarkable man. I will personally pay his salary, the overheads costs of the project and Rebecca’s living costs. All funds raised will go to education and community support projects.

Other projects pending are further housing improvements to allow more efficient fuel use for cooking and sanitary latrines. Water security initially using filters and eventually pumps and wells. Agricultural land investment and the setting up of food and cash crop co-operative. Fishing materials. Secondary school scholarships and board to allow long term life choices via education and qualifications. Micro-finance and investment initiatives to support local enterprises.

I will be compiling a full report for those of you who wish to read it and it will be published through our website here

I estimate that we need around $15000 to set up and between $5000-$10000 per year for ten years to achieve what we are setting out. More will allow us to expand our assistance further through the community.

We have set up a crowd funding website to receive donations so please give what you feel you can and tell everybody you know about it. For those of you in Australia who would like to contribute for whom it would be cheaper to do a direct bank transfer please contact me for my account details or postal address to send a cheque; both of these latter forms of payment can be entered manually onto the website for transparency and clarity and you will receive an email confirmation and thankyou.


As I sat in my safe comfortable house with my full belly surrounded by my well nourished, hydrated, educated and immunised family I couldn’t help be inspired by a man giving a shit and sharing his energy and resources to help those who really need it. It was a tiny effort on my part to make an online donation. I’m not going to miss a few hundred dollars but a kid gets to go to school for a year for that. The next time I see a 92 year old dementia patient from a nursing home who’s been sent in with a blocked gastrostomy tube I might stop deluding myself about the ‘massive difference’ I’m making at work and consider that truly massive differences really can be made when we contribute to projects such as Richard’s.

So if you’re wondering whether you’ve given enough this season, feel free to consider a mosquito net, or a roof, or some schooling.

A Life Less Ordinary Facebook Page

We’re all African

Effective altruism – ensuring your charity donations are not wasted

Why Do Emergency Medicine?

I was in Edinburgh two weeks ago, examining for the Diploma in Retrieval and Transfer Medicine. From there I flew to Slovenia, where I ran a critical care course and then was invited to give a talk entitled ‘Why I Do Emergency Medicine’.

Little did I realise that I’d left behind in Edinburgh a department full of people who had also considered this question and provided an inspiring answer:


Wishing our colleagues and patients a safe and fulfilling Christmas & New Year


Dabigatran Reversal Agent – Idarucizumab

Thanks to Rob MacSweeney‘s fantastic Critical Care Reviews I learned of Idarucizumab, a monoclonal antibody fragment that binds the (pesky) anticoagulant dabigatran. Two industry-supported studies this week show rapid, complete reversal of anticoagulation in healthy volunteers(1) and patients who were either bleeding or undergoing procedures(2). The dose given to patients was 5g intravenously.

An accompanying editorial(3) highlights that the clinical study did not have a control group, and these patients had a high mortality. Further controlled studies examining patient-orientated outcomes will be helpful.

Of interest, another editorialist(4) lists other potential antidotes for Non-vitamin-K antagonist oral anticoagulants (NOACs) that have been or are being tested: an antidote against all oral direct factor Xa inhibitors called andexanet alpha (a recombinant activated factor X that binds direct factor Xa inhibitors), and a modified thrombin has been shown to be effective in vitro and in animals for reversal of dabigatran and potentially also other direct thrombin inhibitors.

1. Safety, tolerability, and efficacy of idarucizumab for the reversal of the anticoagulant effect of dabigatran in healthy male volunteers: a randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind phase 1 trial
The Lancet Volume 386, No. 9994, p680–690, 15 August 2015

BACKGROUND: Idarucizumab is a monoclonal antibody fragment that binds dabigatran with high affinity in a 1:1 molar ratio. We investigated the safety, tolerability, and efficacy of increasing doses of idarucizumab for the reversal of anticoagulant effects of dabigatran in a two-part phase 1 study (rising-dose assessment and dose-finding, proof-of-concept investigation). Here we present the results of the proof-of-concept part of the study.

METHODS: In this randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind, proof-of-concept phase 1 study, we enrolled healthy volunteers (aged 18-45 years) with a body-mass index of 18·5-29·9 kg/m2 into one of four dose groups at SGS Life Sciences Clinical Research Services, Belgium. Participants were randomly assigned within groups in a 3:1 ratio to idarucizumab or placebo using a pseudorandom number generator and a supplied seed number. Participants and care providers were masked to treatment assignment. All participants received oral dabigatran etexilate 220 mg twice daily for 3 days and a final dose on day 4. Idarucizumab (1 g, 2 g, or 4 g 5-min infusion, or 5 g plus 2·5 g in two 5-min infusions given 1 h apart) was administered about 2 h after the final dabigatran etexilate dose. The primary endpoint was incidence of drug-related adverse events, analysed in all randomly assigned participants who received at least one dose of dabigatran etexilate. Reversal of diluted thrombin time (dTT), ecarin clotting time (ECT), activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT), and thrombin time (TT) were secondary endpoints assessed by measuring the area under the effect curve from 2 h to 12 h (AUEC2-12) after dabigatran etexilate ingestion on days 3 and 4. This trial is registered with, number NCT01688830.

FINDINGS: Between Feb 23, and Nov 29, 2013, 47 men completed this part of the study. 12 were enrolled into each of the 1 g, 2 g, or 5 g plus 2·5 g idarucizumab groups (nine to idarucizumab and three to placebo in each group), and 11 were enrolled into the 4 g idarucizumab group (eight to idarucizumab and three to placebo). Drug-related adverse events were all of mild intensity and reported in seven participants: one in the 1 g idarucizumab group (infusion site erythema and hot flushes), one in the 5 g plus 2·5 g idarucizumab group (epistaxis); one receiving placebo (infusion site haematoma), and four during dabigatran etexilate pretreatment (three haematuria and one epistaxis). Idarucizumab immediately and completely reversed dabigatran-induced anticoagulation in a dose-dependent manner; the mean ratio of day 4 AUEC2-12 to day 3 AUEC2-12 for dTT was 1·01 with placebo, 0·26 with 1 g idarucizumab (74% reduction), 0·06 with 2 g idarucizumab (94% reduction), 0·02 with 4 g idarucizumab (98% reduction), and 0·01 with 5 g plus 2·5 g idarucizumab (99% reduction). No serious or severe adverse events were reported, no adverse event led to discontinuation of treatment, and no clinically relevant difference in incidence of adverse events was noted between treatment groups.

INTERPRETATION: These phase 1 results show that idarucizumab was associated with immediate, complete, and sustained reversal of dabigatran-induced anticoagulation in healthy men, and was well tolerated with no unexpected or clinically relevant safety concerns, supporting further testing. Further clinical studies are in progress.

2. Idarucizumab for Dabigatran Reversal
N Engl J Med. 2015 Aug 6;373(6):511-20

BACKGROUND: Specific reversal agents for non-vitamin K antagonist oral anticoagulants are lacking. Idarucizumab, an antibody fragment, was developed to reverse the anticoagulant effects of dabigatran.

METHODS: We undertook this prospective cohort study to determine the safety of 5 g of intravenous idarucizumab and its capacity to reverse the anticoagulant effects of dabigatran in patients who had serious bleeding (group A) or required an urgent procedure (group B). The primary end point was the maximum percentage reversal of the anticoagulant effect of dabigatran within 4 hours after the administration of idarucizumab, on the basis of the determination at a central laboratory of the dilute thrombin time or ecarin clotting time. A key secondary end point was the restoration of hemostasis.

RESULTS: This interim analysis included 90 patients who received idarucizumab (51 patients in group A and 39 in group B). Among 68 patients with an elevated dilute thrombin time and 81 with an elevated ecarin clotting time at baseline, the median maximum percentage reversal was 100% (95% confidence interval, 100 to 100). Idarucizumab normalized the test results in 88 to 98% of the patients, an effect that was evident within minutes. Concentrations of unbound dabigatran remained below 20 ng per milliliter at 24 hours in 79% of the patients. Among 35 patients in group A who could be assessed, hemostasis, as determined by local investigators, was restored at a median of 11.4 hours. Among 36 patients in group B who underwent a procedure, normal intraoperative hemostasis was reported in 33, and mildly or moderately abnormal hemostasis was reported in 2 patients and 1 patient, respectively. One thrombotic event occurred within 72 hours after idarucizumab administration in a patient in whom anticoagulants had not been reinitiated.

CONCLUSIONS: Idarucizumab completely reversed the anticoagulant effect of dabigatran within minutes. (Funded by Boehringer Ingelheim; RE-VERSE AD number, NCT02104947.).

3. Targeted Anti-Anticoagulants
N Engl J Med. 2015 Aug 6;373(6):569-71

4. Antidotes for anticoagulants: a long way to go
The Lancet Volume 386, No. 9994, p634–636, 15 August 2015

Inhaled nitric oxide: a tool for all resuscitationists?

NOsmThe use of inhaled nitric oxide is established in certain groups of patients: it improves oxygenation (but not survival) in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome(1), and it is used in neonatology for management of persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn(2). But it can be applied in other resuscitation settings: in arrested or peri-arrest patients with pulmonary hypertension.

Read this (modified) description of a case managed by one of my resuscitationist friends from an overseas location:

A young lady suffered a placental abruption requiring emergency hysterectomy. She arrested twice in the operating room after suspected amniotic fluid embolism. She had fixed dilated pupils.

She developed extreme pulmonary hypertension with suprasystemic pulmonary artery pressures, and she went down the pulmonary HT spiral as I stood there. On ultrasound her distended RV was making her LV totally collapse. She arrested. Futile CPR was started.

I have never had an extreme pulmonary HT survive an arrest. I grabbed a bag and rapidly set up a manual inhaled Nitric Oxide system and bagged and begged…

She achieved ROSC after some minutes. A repeat ultrasound showed a well functioning LV and less dilated RV.

Today, after 12 hours she is opening her eyes and obeying commands. Still a long way to go, but alive.


It sounds impressive. I don’t have more case details, and don’t know how confident they could be about the diagnosis of amniotic fluid embolism but the presentation certainly fits with acute pulmonary hypertension with RV failure. The use of inhaled nitric oxide has certainly been described for similar scenarios before(3). But it raises bigger questions: is this something we should all be capable of? Are there cardiac arrests involving or caused by pulmonary hypertension that will not respond to resuscitation without nitric oxide?

Nitric oxide
Inhaled nitric oxide is a pulmonary vasodilator. It decreases right-ventricular afterload and improves cardiac index by selectively decreasing pulmonary vascular resistance without causing systemic hypotension(4).

RV failure and pulmonary hypertension
Patients may become shocked or suffer cardiac arrest due to acute right ventricular dysfunction. This may be due to a primary cardiac cause such as right ventricular infarction (always consider this in a hypotensive patient with inferior STEMI, and confirm with a right ventricular ECG and/or echo). Alternatively it could be due to a pulmonary or systemic cause resulting in severe pulmonary hypertension, causing secondary right ventricular dysfunction. The commonest causes of acute pulmonary hypertension are massive PE, sepsis, and ARDS(5).

The haemodynamic consequences of RV failure are reduced pulmonary blood flow and inadequate left ventricular filling, leading to decreased cardiac output, shock, and arrest. In severe acute pulmonary hypertension the RV distends, resulting in a shift of the interventricular septum which compresses the LV and further inhibits LV filling (the concept of ventricular interdependence).

What’s wrong with standard ACLS?
In some patients with PHT who arrest, CPR may be ineffective due to a failure to achieve adequate pulmonary blood flow and ventricular filling. In one study of patients with known chronic PHT who arrested in the ICU, survival rates even for ventricular fibrillation were extremely poor and when measured end tidal carbon dioxide levels were very low. In the same study it was noted that some of the survivors had received an intravenous bolus administration of iloprost, a prostacyclin analogue (and pulmonary vasodilator) during CPR(6).

CPR may therefore be ineffective. Intubation and positive pressure ventilation may also be associated with haemodynamic deterioration in PHT patients(7), and intravenous epinephrine (adrenaline) has variable effects on the pulmonary circulation which could be deleterious(8).

If inhaled nitric oxide (iNO) can improve pulmonary blood flow and reduce right ventricular afterload, it could theoretically be of value in cases of shock or arrest with RV failure, especially in cases of pulmonary hypertension; these are patients who otherwise have poor outcomes and may not benefit from CPR.

Is the use of iNO described in shock or arrest?
Numerous case reports and series demonstrate recovery from shock or arrest following nitric oxide use in various situations of decompensated right ventricular failure from pulmonary hypertension secondary to pulmonary fibrotic disease(9), pneumonectomy surgery(10), and pulmonary embolism(11) including post-embolectomy(12).

Acute hemodynamic improvement was demonstrated following iNO therapy in a series of right ventricular myocardial infarction patients with cardiogenic shock(13).

A recent systematic review of inhaled nitric oxide in acute pulmonary embolism documented improvements in oxygenation and hemodynamic variables, “often within minutes of administration of iNO”. The authors state that these case reports underscore the need for randomised controlled trials to establish the safety and efficacy of iNO in the treatment of massive acute PE(14).

Why aren’t they telling us to use it?
If iNO may be helpful in certain cardiac arrest patients, why isn’t ILCOR recommending it? Actually it is mentioned – in the context of paediatric life support. The European Resuscitation Council states:

ERC Guideline: (Paediatric) Pulmonary hypertension

There is an increased risk of cardiac arrest in children with pulmonary hypertension.

Follow routine resuscitation protocols in these patients with emphasis on high FiO2 and alkalosis/hyperventilation because this may be as effective as inhaled nitric oxide in reducing pulmonary vascular resistance.

Resuscitation is most likely to be successful in patients with a reversible cause who are treated with intravenous epoprostenol or inhaled nitric oxide.

If routine medications that reduce pulmonary artery pressure have been stopped, they should be restarted and the use of aerosolised epoprostenol or inhaled nitric oxide considered.

Right ventricular support devices may improve survival

Should we use it?
So if acute (or acute on chronic) pulmonary hypertension can be suspected or demonstrated based on history, examination, and echo findings, and the patient is in extremis, it might be anticipated that standard ACLS approaches are likely to be futile (as they often are if the underlying cause is not addressed). One might consider attempts to induce pulmonary vasodilation to improve pulmonary blood flow and LV filling, improving oxygenation, and reducing RV afterload as means of reversing acute cor pulmonale.

Are there other pulmonary vasodilators we can use?
iNO is not the only means of inducing pulmonary vasodilation. Oxygen, hypocarbia (through hyperventilation)(15), and alkalosis are all known pulmonary vasodilators, the latter providing an argument for intravenous bicarbonate therapy from some quarters(16). Prostacyclin is a cheaper alternative to iNO(17) and can be given by inhalation or intravenously, although is more likely to cause systemic hypotension than iNO. Some inotropic agents such as milrinone and levosimendan can lower pulmonary vascular resistance(18).

What’s the take home message?
The take home message for me is that acute pulmonary hypertension provides yet another example of a condition that requires the resuscitationist to think beyond basic ACLS algorithms and aggressively pursue and manage the underlying cause(s) of shock or arrest. Inhaled pulmonary vasodilators may or may not be available but, as always, whatever resources and drugs are used, they need to be planned for well in advance. What’s your plan?

1. Adhikari NKJ, Dellinger RP, Lundin S, Payen D, Vallet B, Gerlach H, et al.
Inhaled Nitric Oxide Does Not Reduce Mortality in Patients With Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Regardless of Severity.
Critical Care Medicine. 2014 Feb;42(2):404–12

2. Steinhorn RH.
Neonatal pulmonary hypertension.
Pediatric Critical Care Medicine. 2010 Mar;11:S79–S84 Full text

3. McDonnell NJ, Chan BO, Frengley RW.
Rapid reversal of critical haemodynamic compromise with nitric oxide in a parturient with amniotic fluid embolism.
International Journal of Obstetric Anesthesia. 2007 Jul;16(3):269–73

4. Creagh-Brown BC, Griffiths MJ, Evans TW.
Bench-to-bedside review: Inhaled nitric oxide therapy in adults.
Critical Care. 2009;13(3):221 Full text

5. Tsapenko MV, Tsapenko AV, Comfere TB, Mour GK, Mankad SV, Gajic O.
Arterial pulmonary hypertension in noncardiac intensive care unit.
Vasc Health Risk Manag. 2008;4(5):1043–60 Full text

6. Hoeper MM, Galié N, Murali S, Olschewski H, Rubenfire M, Robbins IM, et al.
Outcome after cardiopulmonary resuscitation in patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension.
American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 2002 Feb 1;165(3):341–4.
Full text

7. Höhn L, Schweizer A, Morel DR, Spiliopoulos A, Licker M.
Circulatory failure after anesthesia induction in a patient with severe primary pulmonary hypertension.
Anesthesiology. 1999 Dec;91(6):1943–5 Full text

8. Witham AC, Fleming JW.
The effect of epinephrine on the pulmonary circulation in man.
J Clin Invest. 1951 Jul;30(7):707–17 Full text

9. King R, Esmail M, Mahon S, Dingley J, Dwyer S.
Use of nitric oxide for decompensated right ventricular failure and circulatory shock after cardiac arrest.
Br J Anaesth. 2000 Oct;85(4):628–31. Full text

10. Fernández-Pérez ER, Keegan MT, Harrison BA.
Inhaled nitric oxide for acute right-ventricular dysfunction after extrapleural pneumonectomy.
Respir Care. 2006 Oct;51(10):1172–6 Full text

11. Summerfield DT, Desai H, Levitov A, Grooms DA, Marik PE.
Inhaled Nitric Oxide as Salvage Therapy in Massive Pulmonary Embolism: A Case Series.
Respir Care. 2012 Mar 1;57(3):444–8 Full text

12. Schenk P, Pernerstorfer T, Mittermayer C, Kranz A, Frömmel M, Birsan T, et al.
Inhalation of nitric oxide as a life-saving therapy in a patient after pulmonary embolectomy.
Br J Anaesth. 1999 Mar;82(3):444–7 Full text

13. Inglessis I, Shin JT, Lepore JJ, Palacios IF, Zapol WM, Bloch KD, et al.
Hemodynamic effects of inhaled nitric oxide in right ventricular myocardial infarction and cardiogenic shock.
Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2004 Aug;44(4):793–8 Full text

14. Bhat T, Neuman A, Tantary M, Bhat H, Glass D, Mannino W, Akhtar M, Bhat A, Teli S, Lafferty J.
Inhaled nitric oxide in acute pulmonary embolism: a systematic review.
Rev Cardiovasc Med 2015;16(1):1–8.

15. Mahdi M, Joseph NJ, Hernandez DP, Crystal GJ, Baraka A, Salem MR.
Induced hypocapnia is effective in treating pulmonary hypertension following mitral valve replacement.
Middle East J Anaesthesiol. 2011 Jun;21(2):259-67

16. Evans S, Brown B, Mathieson M, Tay S.
Survival after an amniotic fluid embolism following the use of sodium bicarbonate.
BMJ Case Rep. 2014;2014

17. Fuller BM, Mohr NM, Skrupky L, Fowler S, Kollef MH, Carpenter CR.
The Use of Inhaled Prostaglandins in Patients With ARDS: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.
Chest. 2015 Jun;147(6):1510–22 Full text

18. LITFL: Right Ventricular Failure

Further reading
Life In The Fast Lane iNO info

LITFL on Pulmonary Hypertension