An ambulance crew rushes into your emergency department with a 56-year-old man. He is severely short of breath, sitting upright on the stretcher, using his accessory respiratory muscles, and gasping for air. You find that he is diaphoretic, tachypneic, and in severe respiratory distress. You ask him, “What’s going on?” He replies: “I…can’t…(pauses and inhales a shallow breath)…breathe!”
The paramedics inform you that they received a call from the patient’s wife about 6:30 that morning, saying that her husband was short of breath and sweaty and that he had vomited once. The wife told them that she and her husband had returned from a long trip the night before and that her husband had not taken his “water pills” because he did not want to stop for frequent restrooms breaks during their drive. When they got home, he still did not take his pills because he wanted to sleep through the night. His breathing problems woke him during the night, and he tried to get more comfortable by adding pillows under his head to the point that he was almost sitting up in bed.
You thank the paramedics and turn back to the patient, who now looks even worse. He is more short of breath, and you sense that he is getting tired, about to give up. He looks like he is about to collapse. What is your next step?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
by Ramin Tabatabai, David Hoffman, and Tiffany Abramson, USA
A 68-year-old male presents to the emergency department (ED) with audible wheezing, and he is in severe respiratory distress. He is speaking in 2-3 word sentences, and he is diaphoretic and slightly confused. Per the paramedic report, the patient is a two pack per day smoker. On physical examination, the patient demonstrates poor air movement, and you note that he has a “barrel chest.” As you pick up the phone to call the respiratory therapist for airway management, you wonder, “What other interventions should I initiate and are there other diagnoses I should be considering?”