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Ultrasound for Critical Care Physicians: Ghost in the Machine

Ross Davidson, DO

Michel Boivin, MD 

Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine

University of New Mexico School of Medicine

Albuquerque, NM USA


A 53-year-old woman presented to the emergency department after a sudden cardiac arrest at home. The patient had a history of asthma and tracheal stenosis and had progressive shortness of breath over the previous days. The patient’s family noticed a “thump” sound from the patient’s room, and found her apneic. They called 911 and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Paramedics arrived on the scene, found an initial rhythm of pulseless electrical activity. The patient eventually achieved return of spontaneous circulation and was transported to the hospital. On arrival the patient was in normal sinus rhythm, with a heart rate of 110 beats per minute. Blood pressure was 80/45 mmHg, on an epinephrine infusion. The patient was afebrile, endotracheally intubated, unresponsive and ventilated at 30 breaths per minute. An initial chest radiograph was compatible with aspiration pneumonitis and a small pneumothorax. Initial electrocardiogram on arrival had 1mm ST-segment depressions in leads V4 to V6. Transthoracic echocardiography was unsuccessful due to patient’s habitus and mechanical ventilation. Because of the patient’s hemodynamic instability and unknown cause of cardiac arrest, an urgent trans-esophageal echocardiogram (TEE) was performed (Videos 1-3).


Video 1. Mid-esophageal 4-chamber view of the heart.


Video 2. Upper esophageal long-axis view of the pulmonary artery and short axis view of the ascending aorta.


Video 3. Upper esophageal short axis view of the pulmonary artery with the ascending aorta in long axis. 

Based on the images presented what do you suspect is the etiology of the patient’s cardiac arrest? (Click on the correct answer for an explanation-no penalty for guessing, you can go back and try again)

  1. Massive Pulmonary Embolism
  2. Myocardial infarction
  3. Pericardial Tamponade
  4. Unable to determine

Cite as: Davidson R, Boivin M. Ultrasound for critical care physicians: ghost in the machine. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(2):76-80. doi: PDF 

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