Decisive clinical diagnosis was elusive, but a strange hodge-podge of clinical maneuvers (if you could call them that) were enlightening to the battle tested old surgeon. Observations were also key element of the work up. A "sweated brow" or "a hypovigilant countenance" suggested a septic process. Jaundice suggested some sort of hepatic dysfunction and a strange blue periumbilicular coloration signaled an internal bleed.
The exam of the acute abdomen consisted of, euphemistically, what would be termed palpitation, percussion, and auscultation, but was really poking, pushing, lifting, listening, and twisting limbs around with gusto, much like a pretzel.
The psoas test was performed by forcefully flexing the thigh while rotating the foot outward. The test was contraindicated with concaminant orthopedic injuries. A positive response elicited a vociferous verbal response from the hapless
A shake test was of great value when the patient had difficulty identifying the area of maximal belly pain. While in a supine position the patient's hips were slightly elevated off the bed while a vigorous to and fro shake was delivered. Dr. Slambo, my favorite general surgeon, had an interesting method of augmenting the shake delivery that only applied to ambulatory patients weighing less than 75 kg.
With the physician and patient standing back to back with arms interlocked together at the elbows a gentle elevation is initiated by the good doctor leaning forward. The optimal height was with the patient's feet about 6 inches off the floor. The abdomen is bowed such that the viscera are near the surface while a side to side shimmy/shake elucidates the problematic quadrant. The technical name of this procedure (according to Dr. Slambow) was the elevated, gyrating, gambol gambit and it was far better than one of those new fangled CT scans when it came to elucidating the exact focus of abdominal distress..
Dr. Slambow also knew how to augment just about any type of palpation technique with a miraculous gooey, slippery substance known as ordinary Surgilube. He began with a full tube, superior to the umbilical concavity and began squeezing until there was a generous pool of goop. He then began exploring the aching quadrant with his hand gliding across the abdomen like a shoe that stepped on a banana peal. The quantity of Surgilube used during the procedure also provided valuable insights when planning the surgical intervention. More than 1/2 a tube of the gelatinous goo signaled problematic obesity that called for extra long instruments and a platform for Dr. Slambow to stand on while he looked down into the wound.
Fist percussion commonly known as a blow to the upper bread basket was performed along the anterior thoracic wall by placing one hand on the skin and beating it with a fist. Exquisite pain evidenced by vociferous howls indicated cholecystitis or hepatic issues.
Murphy's inspiratory sign can be demonstrated in acute cholecystitis by asking the patient to take a deep breath while pressure is judiciously applied below the right rib cage. As the liver descends, the inflamed gall bladder is brought into contact with the abdominal wall causing immediate cessation of the inspiration.
I really liked scrubbing on acute abdomens because the offending problem was identifiable and fixable. There was no better feeling than seeing a seriously ill person stroll out of the hospital with a new appreciation of life. Viewing that so vulnerable prepped abdomen supine on the table awaiting the surgeon's ministrations always put me in a contemplative mood with the realization that despite all our political and religious differences we are all just meatsacks enjoying an undeserved period of wellness so no matter what or who, With this thought lurking in the back of my foolish mind, I tried to be nice to everyone and treat patients as though they were my mother, father, or child.