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Chief Complaint: 19-year-old man with broken back.
History: Allen Dexter, a 19-year-old college student, was rock climbing when he fell 30 feet to the ground. Paramedics arriving at the scene found him lying in the supine position, unable to move any extremities and complaining of neck pain. He was awake, alert, and oriented to his current location, the date and day of the week, and the details of his fall. His responses to questioning were appropriate. He complained that he could not feel his arms and legs. His pupils were equal and reactive to light. He showed no other signs of injury except for several scrapes on his arms. His vital signs revealed a blood pressure of 110 / 72, heart rate of 82 beats per minute, respirations of 18 per minute. The paramedics applied a cervical collar, placed him on a back board, immobilized his head, and transported him to the trauma center by helicopter.
Upon examination at the hospital, Allen had minimal biceps brachii stretch reflexes, but no triceps or wrist extensor reflexes. All other muscle stretch reflexes in the upper and lower extremities were absent. His perception of sensory stimuli ended bilaterally at an imaginary line drawn across his chest about 3 inches above the nipples (i.e. everything below felt numb). He had some sensation in his arms, but could not localize touch or describe texture with any consistency there. He was able to raise his shoulders and tighten his biceps brachii slightly in each arm, but could not raise either arm against gravity. His lower extremities were flaccid, despite attempts to move them. Vital signs were taken again at the hospital and were as follows: blood pressure=94 / 55; heart rate=64; respiratory rate=24 (with shallow breathing). His oral temperature was 102.2 degrees F. His color was dusky and his skin was warm and dry to the touch.
X-rays taken upon arrival revealed a fractured vertebra at a particular location. A chest X-ray showed a decreased lung expansion upon inhalation. Blood tests were normal, with the exception of a respiratory acidosis (blood pH = 7.25). The neurosurgeons immobilized his neck by inserting tongs into the skull above the ears to hold his neck in a position so that no further injury could occur. Allen was transferred to intensive care and his condition was stabilized.
A physical examination four days later revealed normal vital signs and no change in his arm strength or sensation, but also marked spasms and exaggerated stretch reflexes of the lower extremities. He also had urinary incontinence which required the placement of a Foley catheter connected to a urine collection bag.
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