By: Nichol Salvo, DPM

When a patient presents in any medical setting for initial evaluation, it is easy to focus on your area of specialty. That being said, having “tunnel vision” may cause you as the clinician to falter. A concerted effort must be made to consider the patient’s co-morbidities that factor into the etiology of their current lower extremity condition. How will this play into the treatment plan?

Consider the following case and the importance of whole patient consideration:

A 68 year-old male presents to the emergency department complaining of increased pain in the right foot with new onset edema and malodor. The patient indicates that pain was his initial symptom which presented approximately three days prior. The patient has a past medical history significant for DM, CKD, stage 3 lung cancer currently treated with chemotherapy, and major depressive disorder. Upon triage, the patient is noted to be febrile at 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit with all other vitals normal. The right foot is noted to have an ulceration to the right sub first metatarsal head with surrounding boggy, necrotic desquamation, heavy with foul odor. The right foot is noted with palpable pulses. The patient denies any knowledge of ulceration to the foot. Labs were obtained by ED staff and the white blood cell count is noted to be 16.1. Radiographs obtained reveal subcutaneous emphysema localized to the plantar medial and plantar central midfoot.

It is clear that an emergent incision and drainage is required to save the extremity. It is easy to get lost in the emergent conversion and transfer from ED to OR. The patient will require consent and it is discussed with the patient that given the circumstances, conservative options are not an option. However, what are the other details that must be considered with the current plan? What other questions will you need to present to your attending?

The patient is diabetic.

  1. What is the hemoglobin A1c? The patient should be advised during the time of consent whether this will impact his outcome.
  2. What is his current serum glucose? Is it elevated and must you consider a concomitant ketoacidosis?
  3. Is the patient NPO? When did the patient last eat or drink and will anesthesia have to be modified?
  4. The patient is on chemotherapy to treat his lung cancer. What are the other pertinent lab values? What are his neutrophils, platelets, hemoglobin, hematocrit, etc.? Based on this review, does the patient necessitate a type and screen in anticipation of a transfusion?
  5. Given his CKD and need for antimicrobial therapy, what is his kidney function at this time? Does your planned antibiotic regimen require renal adjustment to accommodate creatinine clearance?
  6. The patient may potentially require some level of amputation in addition to the planned incision and drainage. Is the patient’s depression managed or should mental health services be consulted to assist the patient in processing and managing the magnitude of what he is facing?
  7. Given his diabetic and malignant state, what is his nutrition status? Have you considered how to optimize his long-term healing by consideration of albumin and pre-albumin?

Having thought of these questions and their answers will not only provide a complete presentation but , also render better patient care. Considering the whole patient when treating the lower extremity is a necessary and critical component of your evaluation and management. There are almost always other things to consider.