The accompanying images demonstrate the presence of the distal end of a chest tube in the tracheal lumen just above the carina. These images are from a patient who developed coughing and massive air leak after chest tube placement. Inadvertent tracheal injury during chest tube placement should heighten suspicion for concomitant lung injury. Massive air leak in tracheobronchial disruption leads to low tidal volumes, lung atelectasis, and increased work of breathing. Consequently, respiratory distress may ensue, necessitating urgent intubation. In hemodynamically stable patients, bronchoscopy-guided endotracheal intubation is encouraged. This allows for airway examination, confirmation of tracheal injury site, and determination of the best strategy for achieving lung isolation to facilitate surgical repair.
Lung isolation allows for mechanical ventilation of the uninjured lung and helps avoid pressurization of surgical repair site, minimizing risk of further disruption. In patients with bronchial injury, advancing the single-lumen endotracheal tube or placing a double-lumen endotracheal tube into the contralateral uninjured bronchus are possible options. In patients with carinal injury, creation of a large tracheostomy through which small endotracheal tubes are advanced into bilateral main stem bronchi allows delivery of mechanical ventilation while minimizing pressurization of the repaired carina. Tenuous cardiopulmonary status before induction of anesthesia or inability to maintain adequate oxygenation during one-lung ventilation may necessitate institution of peripheral extracorporeal membrane oxygenation to facilitate surgical repair. Importantly, removal of the chest tube leads to loss of its tamponade effect on lacerated pulmonary vessels. As this can precipitate massive hemorrhage, it is important to establish invasive arterial monitoring and large-bore intravenous access before anesthesia induction.