An 85 year old man with good pre-morbid function was admitted to the ICU following emergency laparotomy for a ischaemic perforation of small bowel. He had undergone a small bowel resection and primary anastomosis. Preoperatively, the patient had been delirious and unable to consent for surgery, assent was granted by his wife.
Postoperatively, the patient required mechanical ventilation, vasopressor support and renal replacement on admission. He stabilised by day 5, but remained mechanically ventilated. On day 5 of admission, during a discussion between the surgeon and the patient’s wife, the wife admitted regret that she had not had “better” discussions with the surgeons pre-operatively and raised doubts as to whether the patient would have wanted such treatment. Following those discussions between the wife and surgical team, limitations on care were placed; renal replacement therapies would not be restarted and vasopressor support would not be escalated beyond the existing level. A DNR order was implemented. On day 10, during discussion with the duty ICU consultant, it emerged that the patient had a written advance decision refusing “aggressive medical treatment”.
The patient continued to improve but could not be weaned from ventilation. A percutaneous tracheostomy was sited on day 10. On day 15 he was liberated from mechanical ventilation and able to use a speaking valve. He had regained mental capacity sufficient to discuss his care and wished to continue given the progress he had made. It was agreed that he would not be mechanically ventilated in the event of deterioration and the existing DNR order was confirmed. Subsequently, it became apparent that the small bowel anastomosis was leaking; it was agreed that treatment would be non-operative.
In total the patient was treated on ICU for 20 days before he was placed on an end of life pathway and died.
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