A 17-year-old boy comes into your ED complaining of numbness and hardening of his fingers. He is a previously healthy foreign exchange student who is staying with a host family. The symptoms started yesterday after he went snow skiing for the first time. He says he wore gloves, but he was having a hard time holding the ski poles, so he took them off midway through the day. On examination, the fingertips on both of his hands are firm to the touch, have a dark discoloration, and are without sensation. The firmness and discoloration extend only to the distal interphalangeal joint in most of the fingers, but to the proximal interphalangeal joint in the middle finger of his left hand. The thumb on his right hand has a sizeable blister. As you step out of the room, you contemplate the next steps.
How do you classify the severity of his cold injuries? Does his thumb need debridement? Should you consult a hand surgeon and/or the burn center? What is the long-term prognosis for his injuries?
The hands of the 17-year-old boy who did not wear gloves while skiing were placed in a warm water bath at 38?C (100.4?F) and gently rewarmed for 30 minutes. The pain did increase in his hand secondary to reperfusion, and all of his tissues softened except for his thumbs. You left his thumb blister intact, as it was not causing any restriction in movement and was filled with clear fluid. You placed aloe vera gel on all of his digits and loosely wrapped his hands in nonadhesive dressing. You gave him instructions to follow up at the burn center for continued outpatient therapy. He did not lose any digits, but the decreased sensation in his left thumb remained.