Laceration Repair: A Rural Encounter

The word “emergency” carries some connotation with it. A lack of time to act, a situation that demands speed, a sense of acuity. Medicine on the other hand is related to healing, soothing and improving, a slow and gentle process. I sometimes wonder if the name of the specialty (Emergency Medicine) is an oxymoron.

Etymology aside, this specialty of medicine has meant at least two different things to me at two different settings. I have worked as an intern at Patan Hospital, a tertiary care center and as an in-charge of emergency services of Beltar Primary Healthcare Center (PHC), a government establishment in rural Nepal. I intend to describe my perspective and illustrate what different experiences of emergency medicine in different settings has to offer. I hope in doing so, I’ll be able to illustrate some of my workarounds that make the difference less overwhelming.

I have been posted at Beltar PHC, Nepal for the past 18 months. The center has been running primary emergency services. Initial stabilization and proper referral are two major ways Beltar PHC helps to save lives. The nearest city where cases are referred to are Dharan (50.5 km away) and Biratnagar (92 km away). Emergency personnel includes one doctor on call, one paramedic, two sisters for delivery and one office assistant. Laboratory and X-ray services are not available apart from office hours. Emergency investigations available include ECG, UPT and Obstetric USG. The government freely supplies medical equipment and a limited number of medicines.

Entrance to Emergency Services at Beltar PHC
Former Emergency Setup at Beltar PHC
Former Emergency Setup at Beltar PHC

A 27-year-old male

A 27-year-old male with a cut injury on his right forearm was brought to the PHC. It was a quiet day at the Emergency Department (ED) and most of the cases were OPD cases that did not make it on time.

One-way ED helps people here, albeit not an ideal way, is to act as a rescue for patients who travel long distances to get to the OPD if they do not make it on time.

The patient had a clean wound, about 5 cm long with smooth edges. We washed the wound using tap water; a practice equally efficacious to using saline but way more affordable for a rural setup. To suture the wound, we made our equipment ready. A long suture thread was cut from a nylon thread roll sterilized in betadine, some gauze pieces prepared by our office assistant that had been autoclaved and stored in an old dressing drum were taken out.

Suture materials at Beltar PHC
Dressing Drums at Beltar PHC

The thread was inserted into a needle, probably too big (turns out what needle size to use and when was a dilemma of privilege). Sometimes, we use needles that come with 2 ml syringes instead; they are sharper for skin penetration than the big suture needles our government freely supplies. The wound was sutured and the patient discharged.

That night I reflected on how things would have been subtly but significantly different at Patan Hospital. A sterilized suture set, autoclaved, packed and ready to use along with a ready to use surgical suture would be available. The procedure would have taken place in a more private space and not where visitors had the opportunity to peak in through our foldable privacy screen. Maybe the patient would have had to wait longer to get attention but the difference would not have been much, considering the time it takes to prepare every instrument here.

Each minor aspect of this difference deserves to be heard, talked about and their solution sought for. I plan to write about each of these as a series of article that follows. Proper resource allocation is a time and economy intensive goal; nevertheless the ultimate one. Maybe small workarounds are what we need during the period of transition, especially for places like Beltar.

Laceration repair is a common procedure in every emergency department. Setting differs and with it the availability of resources. Nevertheless, the core principles that govern patient care and the science behind it remains the same. While we wait for more convenient and sophisticated solutions, which all patients deserve, here are some points to remember regarding laceration repair that can help provide an acceptable standard of care even in resource-limited settings.

  • While working in rural, one should be well aware of its limitations. Some lacerations that require surgical consultation and need to be referred include (1):
    • Deep wounds of the hand or foot
    • Full-thickness lacerations of the eyelid, lip, or ear
    • Lacerations involving nerves, arteries, bones, or joints
    • Penetrating wounds of unknown depth
    • Severe crush injuries
    • Severely contaminated wounds requiring drainage
  • Non-contaminated wounds can be successfully closed up to 18 hours post-injury while clean head wounds can be repaired up to 24 hours after injury (2).

  • Drinkable tap water can be used for wound irrigation instead of sterile saline. At least 50 to 100 ml of irrigation solution per 1 cm of wound length is needed at a pressure of 5 to 8 psi for optimal dilution of wound’s bacterial load. The wound can be put under running water or can be irrigated using a 19-gauge needle with a 35 ml syringe (3).

  • Local hair should be clipped, not shaved, to prevent wound contamination(4).

  • Strict sterile techniques are unnecessary to be followed during laceration repairs. The instruments touching wound (sutures, needles, etc.) should be sterile, but everything else only needs to be clean(1). Clean non-sterile examination gloves can be used instead of sterile gloves during wound repair(5).
  • Local anesthesia with lidocaine 1% or bupivacaine 0.25% is appropriate for small wounds while large wounds occurring on limbs may require a regional block (1). Epinephrine should not be used in anatomic areas with end arterioles, such as fingers, toes, nose, penis, and earlobes.
  • Maximum doses of local anesthetic are as follow (6):
    • Lidocaine (without epinephrine): 3 – 5 mg/kg
    • Lidocaine (with epinephrine): 7 mg/kg
    • Bupivacaine (without epinephrine): 1 – 2 mg/kg
    • Bupivacaine (with epinephrine): 3 mg/kg
  • The suture used for skin repair include non-absorbable sutures (nylon and polypropylene) while absorbable sutures (polyglactin, polyglycolic) is used to close deep lacerations. For skin closure, silk sutures are no longer used because of skin abscess formation, their poor tensile strength and high tissue reactivity. In general, a 3–0 or 4–0 suture is appropriate on the trunk, 4–0 or 5–0 on the extremities and scalp, and 5–0 or 6–0 on the face (6).
    • Sterilization of sutures can be done by complete immersion in povidone-iodine 10% solution for 10 minutes followed by rinsing in sterile saline/water. Sutures that can be sterilized or re-sterilized include monofilament sutures (Prolene or Nylon) and coated sutures (Vicryl, Ethibond) (7).

Timing of Suture Removal (6)

Wound Location Time of Removal (Days)
Face
3 - 5
Scalp
7 - 10
Arms
7 - 10
Trunk
10 - 14
Legs
10 - 14
Hands or Feet
10 - 14
Palms or Soles
14 - 21

Tetanus Prophylaxis (8)

Wound Previous Vaccine Tetanus Vaccine
Clean Wound
Previous vaccine ≥3 doses - The last dose within 10 years
No Need
Previous vaccine ≥3 doses - The last dose more than 10 years
Yes
Previous vaccine ≥3 doses - NOT RECEIVED
Yes
Contaminated Wound
Previous vaccine ≥3 doses - The last dose within 5 years
No
Previous vaccine ≥3 doses - The last dose more than 5 years
Yes
Previous vaccine ≥3 doses - NOT RECEIVED
Yes + TIG

Factors that may increase chances of wound infection (9)

  • wound contamination,
  • laceration > 5 cm,
  • laceration located on the lower extremities,
  • diabetes mellitus

Antibiotics

  • Prophylactic systemic antibiotics are not necessary for healthy patients with clean, non-infected, non-bite wounds(10). 
  • Prophylactic antibiotic use is recommended for (11): 
    • human bite wounds 
    • deep puncture wounds
    • wounds involving the palms and fingers
  • Topical antibiotic ointments decrease the infection rate in minor contaminated wounds. 

References and Further Reading

  1. Forsch RT. Essentials of Skin Laceration Repair. Am Fam Physician. 2008 Oct 15;78(8):945-95
  2. Berk WA, Osbourne DD, Taylor DD. Evaluation of the ‘golden period’ for wound repair: 204 cases from a third world emergency department. Ann Emerg Med. 1988;17(5):496–500.
  3. Wheeler CB, Rodeheaver GT, Thacker JG, Edgerton MT, Edilich RF. Side-effects of high pressure irrigation. Surg Gynecol Obstet. 1976;143(5):775–778./ Moscati RM, Reardon RF, Lerner EB, Mayrose J. Wound irrigation with tap water. Acad Emerg Med. 1998;5(11):1076–1080.
  4. Howell JM, Morgan JA. Scalp laceration repair without prior hair removal. Am J Emerg Med. 1988;6(1):7–10.
  5. Perelman VS, Francis GJ, Rutledge T, Foote J, Martino F, Dranitsaris G. Sterile versus nonsterile gloves for repair of uncomplicated lacerations in the emergency department: a randomized controlled trial. Ann Emerg Med. 2004;43(3):362–370.
  6. Forsch RT, Little SH, Williams C. Laceration Repair: A Practical Approach. Am Fam Physician. 2017 May 15;95(10):628-636.
  7. Cox I. Guidelines for Re-Sterilising Sutures. Community Eye Health. 2004;17(50): 30.
  8. Kretsinger K, Broder KR, Cortese MM, et al. Preventing tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis among adults: use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccine recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR Recomm Rep. 2006;55(RR-17):1–37.
  9. Quinn JV, Polevoi SK, Kohn MA. Traumatic lacerations: what are the risks for infection and has the ‘golden period’ of laceration care disappeared? Emerg Med J. 2014;31(2):96–100.
  10. Cummings P, Del Beccaro MA. Antibiotics to prevent infection of simple wounds: a meta-analysis of randomized studies. Am J Emerg Med. 1995;13(4):396–400.
  11. Worster B, Zawora MQ, Hsieh C. Common Questions About Wound Care. Am Fam Physician. 2015 Jan 15;91(2):86-92.
Cite this article as: Carmina Shrestha, "Laceration Repair: A Rural Encounter," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, June 21, 2019, https://iem-student.org/2019/06/21/laceration-repair-a-rural-encounter/, date accessed: December 8, 2019

Secure With Square Knot

Topic

Today, we just wanted to emphasize a vital part of the suturing procedure which is sometimes forgotten. This is square knot. Simple, easy and important. 

Problem

Suturing is one of the most common procedures performed by medical student/interns in the ED. Although they are learning by practicing under supervision, many of the medical schools and clerkship programs still may not have formal suturing training sessions. Therefore, there are various fundamental differences in wound closure techniques. 

Many physicians may ignore the importance of square knot.

What do we want?

In the wound closure, we want to gather two sides of the wound and ensure that they stay in that position until the healing occurs. So, we need to keep the wound edges in the exact position. Therefore, we use different wound closure techniques. Suturing is one of them. If we do not consider securing the stitch with the square knot, wound edges may be separated by time, and some cosmetic or infectious consequences happen. 

What to do?

Every physician should pay attention to use the square knot if they want to secure the wound edges in place.

One minute video

Here is a sample from our video archive.