Emergency physicians may overlook spinal cord injury in patients when the direct impact of a gunshot on the spine is lacking.
A 30-year-old man who was shot on his right chest wall was brought to the emergency department. He arrived in a state of shock and underwent emergent thoracotomy for massive hemothorax. After surgery, he was found to be paraplegic. Magnetic resonance imaging of the spine showed T4 spinal cord contusion.
The penetrating bullet dissipates energy to the surrounding tissue and contuses the spinal cord. Another assumption of the spinal cord injury is the impairment of blood supply to the cord. No effective treatment exists for gunshot-related indirect injury to the spinal cord.
These reported cases reminded emergency physicians that after stabilization of the patient with a gunshot wound, a complete neurologic examination should be performed to discover occult spinal cord injury.