Podcast 87 – Mind of the Resuscitationist: Stop Points

In this Mind of the Resuscitationist Episode, I discuss stop points: one for when you are using multiple vasopressors and especially about a cognitive stop point whenever things are going south.

2nd Vasopressor Stop Point

Rapid Ultrasound for Shock and Hypotension (RUSH) Exam

The RUSH Exam will allow rapid diagnosis of the cause of non-trauma hypotension

Abdominal Compartment Syndrome

See this crashing patient chapter for more on Abdominal Compartment Syndrome

Cognitive Stop Points for the Resuscitationist

Use this method whenever the situation doesn’t add up or is going bad:

  1. Announce you have no idea what the f**k is going on
  2. Eliminate ALL assumptions
  3. Troubleshoot like an engineer


Ken Grauer sent me a copy of his new book, ACLS 2013 Pocket Brain Book. Check it out and check out his blog site as well.

My friend Clay Smith of the KeepingUp Podcast has just put out a new, FREE!, IOS app called Upshot that combines his literature reviews and podcasts into one beautiful package.

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  1. Amy says

    I have had a similar case. Another clue was that the Pulse Ox was picking up a sat of ~ 95% and the oxygen saturation on the ABG drawn of the “a-line” was significantly different. At the time I thought the labs just ran a VBG and called it an ABG. In retrospect, it was a huge clue that the line was intravenous.

  2. Minh Le Cong says

    Hey Scott
    thanks for another insightful podcast!
    one question

    if you had measured the CVP initially rather than assessing IVC with USS, would that have been more helpful as a cognitive stop point?

    • says

      interesting question. I imagine if before the drainage of the ascites, the falsely placed a-line would have had a markedly higher pressure than the triple lumen in the neck.

  3. Simon Gebhard says

    Hi Scott,
    Thanks a lot for another one of your fantastic podcasts! They (plus a lot of other FOAMy stuff out there) make up for the lack of teaching at …anonymous hospitals. ‘Stop points’ like yours are a very useful structure for any situation in clinical life especially under pressure.
    From your case as well as from my own experience: we should honour the engineers and make “check your device/equipment” the very VERY first stop point of any list. Especially with ventilated patients with only little time to react (respirators/tubes have this tendency to do bizarre things in the middle of the night…)

    • says

      absolutely! First step in troubleshooting any vent problem where the pt is not doing well is to disconnect the vent and bag the patient on 100% fio2 with a bvm plus/minus PEEP valve if the patient was on PEEP. Then troubleshoot the vent with a test lung/exam glove rather than the patient.

  4. says

    Thanks Scott
    Love the concept of Stop Points –
    also really useful on the diagnostic side when you are stumped for a diagnosis- amazing how often you can get lost in the swirl of data /tests etc and when you stop, strip it back to the 3 or 4 key, certain points on history and exam the diagnosis becomes evident. Especially true when you come into a half-worked up case!

    I was always taught in Gas school to put in the art line, then run a couple of NIBPs to check for correlation. It is simple, but helps avoid this error. We love to believe the monitor! Often in the face on contrary data – something about those digital screens seems authoritative !

    Great stuff

    • says

      Casey, great point. What was interesting in this case is that the NBP and A-line were in agreement at the time the a-line was placed. The patient’s BP was in the toilet, which is why they placed the a-line. Very perfect trap.

      • Casey says

        Doh! That sucks.
        US probe in play? i think this makes accidental venous rarer?
        If in doubt flush the line and watch the IVC for a turbulent flow to see if it is venous?

  5. Mike Stone says


    Great post! Having had a career in computer support in between undergrad and med school I routinely bug my trainees to “check the connections”. Amazing how often you find easy fixes (likely post-intubation hypoxia b/c the BVM is actually hooked up to the room air supply as opposed to the oxygen…have seen that lead to a long unnecessary troubleshooting operation).

    Really enjoy the “mind” series – deconstructing the cognitive process behind medical decision making is, I think, the most important and often challenging aspect of effectively training new practitioners. While it’s clearly valuable for critical care and procedures (an air leak as you mentioned, or a difficult ultrasound-guided procedure due to probe (or screen indicator) reversal), I think it’s also critical, though less easily defined and taught, in stable ED patients. Probably the same set of cognitive skills employed when you step back and determine that the 40 year old woman coming in for her 3rd visit for abdominal pain after negative labs and imaging might be there due to domestic violence or some other non-abdominal cause.

    So taking this logical step-wise approach to all the elements involved is clearly a great method to troubleshoot problems. But how can we train clinicians to proactively step back, find the “stop point”, and “check the connections” without making the errors in the first place?

      • Simon Gebhard says

        You both know the answer, you both are working on it pretty effectively. Thankfully the “F” in FOAM keeps you from early retirement :-) Cheers

  6. says

    Man, thanks for the teaching. If they were hypothyroid, how would you approach fixing that in a septic patient? The TSH and free T4 levels are tough to interpret in the midst of a critical illness.
    Thanks again for this podcast. I know the case based stuff is a little nerve wracking, but this was so helpful to hear how you thought this through in it’s real life context.

    • says

      Scott – My impression is that IF the problem is hypothyroidism – then the TSH & free T4 will not be minimally (or even moderately) off, as may occur with “sick euthyroid” – but dramatically off!

      Even if the patient had “mild” (or even moderate) hypothyroidism – that probably wouldn’t be a key factor in causing/fixing septicemia – but it might if the patient was profoundly hypothyroid.

  7. Sascha Berning says

    Thanks Scott,

    …a looot for this and everything you did for my Medication. STOP POINTS are great – and lead to verbalization on what is fact and what is concept – sooo rarely done!
    Whenever there is a very low BP or I can‘t believe it: I grab a glove, place my fingers in the groin and check for pulse. With time I got a fair idea of how much the BP should be .

    Take care and carry on!

    • says

      Sacha, Old school–I love it. Sometimes though, these vasodilated shock patients have a beautiful palpable pulse despite their hypotension as opposed to those vasoconstricted hypotensive patients who demonstrate the thready barely palpable pulses.

  8. says

    Great podcast Scott !!! Rather than “STOP Points” (which is of course an excellent concept) – I always think of “telling a story” – such that when parts of the story don’t “fit” – it’s time to go back and revisit things. Even when one doesn’t know the – – – – what is going on – when the clinical course just doesn’t make sense (ie, no increase in MAP despite drawing off liters of ascitic fluid in your case) – it’s time to revisit.

    P.S. The positive commentary you’ve already received suggested perhaps you should do some more “case studies” in your wonderful podcasts – : )

  9. Valerio P.B. says

    Thanks Scott: an other example that shows how in critical care and EM you must always take into account the unlikely or the unexpected!!!!!
    Very useful the alghoritm with the stop points!!!!!!

  10. Anandan says

    Great post Scott , you are teaching me stuff that no text book can ever teach . Come over to India , we need people like you to influence and guide us .

  11. David Hersey says


    Great stuff.

    Sometimes, you need to stop and start from the top again. Plus, get the team working with you.

    Here is a wacky one. A 30 year-old with a high grade SAH arrested. Nothing seemed to work. Lucky, somebody rolled in the u/s and noted dilated cardiomyopathy. She was placed on a IABP and was discharged home a few months later without any deficits. A good outcome considering the team was close to calling it.

    Thank you,

  12. Sean Marshall says

    Last night during my shift I felt like I’d been cursed by Scott Weingart… After listening to this podcast during the day I ended up struggling to get an A.line in a ED pt who had recently arrested. The ED doc had failed the femoral A.line and the cuff pressure wasn’t picking up, carotid pulse was weak. We all assumed a technical issue with the BP cuff not picking up on the morbidly obese arm in the context of moderate hypotension. After fussing around for quite a while trying to thread a radial A.line using U/S, I finally thought I’d nailed it. (I’m not yet authorized for femoral lines). I transduced the pressure… 35/30. Crap… It must be in a vein. Weingart jinxed me!
    The nurse and I did note, however, the blood from the line was bright red. She played a hunch that it was a real BP and cranked up the pressors and fluids and within 20 min the pt had a BP of 110/70 and a good waveform on the A.line. I wish we were more aggressively resuscitating earlier but I think the doc was nervous to increase pressors in a pt with a pulse with no BP reading.

  13. Toby says

    With regard to your shout out to Ken Grauer, I have been giving his ECG pocketbooks to my med students for several years. They are some of the most practical ECG books on the market. (The’re a bit like the TARDIS, a small book on the outside and a huge amount of information of the inside.)

  14. Robert says

    Hi Scott. I’m a little slow in getting around to this podcast, but I’m glad I did. I don’t have anything to add to the clinical discussion, but the ‘Cognitive Stop Points’ concept really resonated with me. I’ve been doing the ambulance driver version for many years, and get many strange looks when I tell everyone to stop what they are doing and go back to A…B…C… I’ve found it’s great to break the circuit when everything is getting a little out of control and it’s great to have some validation for my habits from such a lofty source as yourself! Thanks!
    If you’re ever down-under I’d be happy to show you around the ambulance service and Melbourne, feel free to drop me a line.


  15. John Dyett says

    Hi Scott, I was very happy to hear abdominal compartment syndrome discussed in this podcast, as it continues to be an unrecognized (and under treated) critical illness. Take a look at this case report from one of my Senior Registrars in Melbourne: http://ccforum.com/content/16/6/452

    Keep up the great #FOAMed work!

  16. says

    Great podcast as always Scott, I think this type of case discussion is much needed as it provides the nuts and bolts to troubleshooting complex issues!

    Definitely good to create and use the concept of distinct stop points when things aren’t going according to plan.

    My one comment would be the caveat of looking at the IVC in the setting of IAH/ACS, because a “small” IVC may simply represent the net effect of IAP > CVP, hence the IVC should definitely be assessed again post-drainage, since that “hypovolemic” IVC may no longer be so!



    • says

      Phillipe, Absolutely agree, the small IVC was definitely from the IAH and it is a point worth stressing. That is why I emphasized that it was small, but not expanding with mech ventilation.

  17. John Roe says

    Gold. Loved the clinical story, but moreover, just hearing about how to think and troubleshoot was fabulous.



  18. Justin Koffer says

    Great podcast. One question: in my shop the general opinion is that adding epi to norepi to increase pvr is pointless, because all the alpha-1 receptors are already taken. And if you gave it to increase contractility via beta-receptors why did you not choose dobutamine? what is your take on that? thanks

    • says

      I you have no ceiling dose of norepi, then you can use dobutamine, but your norepi dose may go up. Many places lock the max dose of norepi at 20-30 mcg/min, in which case epi may spare norepi dose. Don’t think it much matters.

  19. YASER says

    Thanks for intresting info.
    Would run a case by you all i saw yesterday.
    pt 70year fit and healthy out playing golf, found unresponsive.
    paramedic call, was BP210/110,HR70 WEAK THREADY ??/GCS 7/15. TEMP 33.3
    Difficult to tube ,so LMA APPLED.
    On arrival seen by medical reg and ED reg.ITU REG( OH RYT IAM IN UK A&E)
    vitals above
    RSI ETT,
    ECG ON ambulance acute inf changes.
    ecg in dept LBBB.
    Radial pulses normal.
    pupils were pinpointed bilat reactive.
    chest crackles bilat bases,
    heart sounds normal
    abd SLNT
    LL, Cold ,CRF 8SEC.
    The residants had thought of ? strke vs MI .but were not sure !!!.
    so was called to see pt,
    as above,
    but noticed all pulses were weak upper and lower, weak femorals.and radials ,BP had dropped after sedation150/80.
    so i decided to scan the pt
    heart: pericardial effusion,mod, GOOD LVF dilated rt ventricle, akinetic septum, and inf lat wall,
    normal valves,
    but couldnot visuliaze aorta,no pnthx
    abd.sluggish flow AA,
    no AAA,
    xray was ordered.
    sorry for long case description,,,,
    my impression was a disecting ascending aorta with RCA EXTENSION,+STROKE EMBOLOUS.
    so i requestd urgent CT angio ( as we are not a tertitery center)
    findings: ? disection but extensive clot from arotic cusps to the superioer mesentric artery extending up all the way acending ,arch ,descending till SMA.
    ct brain was normal
    have you seen such extensive clotting of aorta?
    what to do, as my vascualr and interventional radio guys were not keen on touching the pt?

    RUSH With modification of indication, was very helpful.
    ,its a complex kinda of case . any input or learning point is very much welcomed .

    • says

      tough hypothetical case! gent needs to be in the hands of a cardiothoracic surgeon ASAP. beyond that, it sounds like you’ve done all you can in the ED. Thrombotic aortas do much worse in dissections.

  20. Sa'ad says

    Hi Sott, great podcast.

    Any thoughts on the use of methylene blue in septic shock as a last resort?



  1. […] has to go to the guru of all things ED critical care EMCrit. Scott walks us through a case in the Mind of the Resuscitationist: Stop Points were he presents us with a case were he fails to reverse the hypotension in this patient. He then […]

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